Unlike many surnames derived from a trade or occupation, it is fortunate that the surname GILBEY is relatively unique. This made the task of tracing its origins much easier. The surname has evolved over the centuries with the chief variants being GILBEY, GILBY, GILBEE, GILBIE and GYLBY.
Although documentary records indicating lineage fade out about the beginning of the 17th century, it is still possible to trace usage of the surname prior to this time using the vast data resources of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. (LDS). I conducted lengthy research over different time periods doing a demographic survey of usage and location of the name over time. The further back in time I went, the geographic area covered by usage of the name also shrank in size. A broad area of North Lincolnshire was the smallest and earliest area that could be identified.
The earliest occurrence of the surname so far traced was the recorded birth of a Thomas Gylby in Ashby, Lincolnshire in the year 1320. Ashby was one of four villages which now form the town of Scunthorpe. About 10 miles from Ashby is site of the now disused Gilby Village just south of the village of Pilham. Gilby Village was first mentioned in documents in 1138/9.
This was an area that the Vikings settled in and research indicates the word ‘Gilby’ is probably Norse in origin. There are three possible derivatives of the name in ancient Norse.
1. Gilby means ‘pledge’ in ancient Norse.
2. The word ‘BY’ in ancient Norse means homestead and Gil-by could mean the home of Gil.
3. Gilby was apparently also an ancient Norse god of grumpiness.
Although it is not possible to establish a definitive answer, the strong circumstantial evidence indicates that Gilby Village is probably the English source of the name and that Gilby is Norse in origin.
The circumstantial evidence is also strongly reinforced by another member of the Gilby/Gilbey family and a contributor to this site who reports he has undergone a genetic mapping test indicating the presence of a Norwegian/Finnish connection in his gene pool.
The demographic survey also proved useful in identify migration trends of people with the Gilby surname over the centuries. In broad terms it appears that in the main, the name spread southwards down through Suffolk and then divided probably about the late sixteenth century and spread into Cambridgeshire and Essex. There was some northwards migration of the name but the main trend was southwards.