Taken from 'A History of the Orfeur Family' by N.B. Orfeur

The history of the Orfeur's can be traced from the many families bearing the name in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to the present day. 

The family is first recorded in 1307 in Cumberland. A number of successful marriage alliances with families of distinction and the acquisition of land and armorial bearings was followed by a period of modest wealth and influence in the community. This happy state ended with sudden financial ruin and the family were reduced to living in straightened circumstances. In addition a high infant mortality rate in male offspring resulted in, as far as records show, the survival of only one male descendant to carry on the name.

This one male survivor left the county of his birth in the middle years of the eighteenth century, took to the sea, and settled in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. He is therefore the founding father of all subsequent generations. During the second half of the eighteenth century and for most of the nineteenth century his descendants, with a few exceptions, followed him as master mariners, trading under sail.

This dangerous occupation resulted in much loss of life at sea. In the latter years of the nineteenth century and in to the twentieth century the Orfeur's took to a safer and more conventional way of life in business and the professions.

We are fortunate that the following circumstances have made it possible to record a history covering a period of nearly seven hundred years.

Towards the end of the fourteenth century the family acquired armorial bearings - now commonly referred to as a 'coat of arms' or simply 'arms'.

In 1530 the system of Herald's Visitations was introduced. These were periodic tours of the country, county by county, made by senior officers from the college - the Kings of Arms. At these visits the right of all the families in the county claiming Arms was checked and confirmed or rejected. The pedigree of those who were entitled to Arms was then put on record at the College of Arms.

In 1665 William Orfeur submitted a certified pedigree of the family to Sir William Dugdale, Morray King of Arms, at his Visitation to the county of that year. The pedigree was accepted as correct and is now on record at the college of arms.

While there is some doubt as to the accuracy of some of the early entries research has shown that it is by and large correct. This Visitation pedigree is the only record we have of the first nine generations.

In the absence of finding any evidence to the contrary, I have had the advantage of being able to assume that from the middle of the fourteenth century, ours has been the only family to bear the name 'Orfeur'.

Two characteristics of the Orfeurs - interest in their family and a disinclination ever to throw anything away - have left me with a large amount of written material preserved over the years by various members of the family.

These records include two family histories: 'The Orfeurs of Highclose' by W. Jackson, the Cumberland genealogist written in conjunction with John Orfeur (1805-1884) and published in 1877 and 'Pedigree of Orfeur' by W. Ashford - an amature genealogist related to the family through marriage. This is a handwritten manuscript recording research carried out by W. Ashford and Frederick Howard Orfeur (1855-1889).

The family papers also include many letters, newspaper cuttings, a history of the Orfeur Timber Company, diaries, ships' and yachts' logs, literary works and a large collection of genealogical notes prepared by the authors father and cousin Ronald Orfeur (1896-1959) and some of unknown origin.

Origin of the name

It has always been understood that the name was derived from the french word 'orfevre' - a goldsmith - by the change of the 'v' to a 'u' and the removal of the final 'e'; both of these changes commonly occur in the change from Old English to modern spelling. However W. Ashford in his 'Orfeur Pedigree' traces the name further back to the latin word for a worker in gold - aurifaber - derived from the latin words 'aurum' - gold and 'fabir' a smith, and surmises that the name came to Britain as an industrial name at the time of the Norman Conquest. If this theory is correct then our name is of Norman French origin and is derived directly from the Latin ' Aurifaber' or from the Norman French 'le Orfevre' which is itself derived from the Latin 'Aurifaber'.

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