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Q I have a question that I would like an opinion on regarding a surname that has been puzzling me for some time. Sarah BLAKE married Joseph SALIS at Otham near Maidstone on 5th September 1832. Sarah is my great-great-aunt. Their children were baptised at All Saints, Maidstone, with the surname SALIS, as were the children of John, Joseph’s brother. Both men were in the army: when Joseph’s son, Henry Norman SALIS, was baptised on 12th April 1835, Joseph was a sergeant in the 13th Light Dragoons; on the 1841 census of Maidstone Barracks, Joseph is a commissioned officer. He was a sergeant major when his son William was baptised that year. The mystery starts in 1843 when Matilda Anna DE SALIS is born to Joseph and Sarah in Cape of Good Hope. The added ‘De’ appears to every child born to the couple after that. In 1871, Sarah is a widow living in Hadlow Road, Tonbridge, Kent, as an army major’s widow – I understand Joseph died on 25th December 1863 in South Africa or Hale, Surrey, and Sarah returned home to England. Joseph was born in Bristol in 1811 and was the son of William and Jane SALIS. Please can you give me some advice on how to search for more on Joseph? Furthermore, why would this name have the ‘De’ added? Could the family be in some way connected to the DE SALIS family in Switzerland or Sligo in Ireland?

Mrs Celia Cole

A Why the family adopted the ‘De’ could either be because they were returning to an earlier form of the surname or inventing a new version of it. It is highly unlikely that you would find evidence of the latter being formally recorded. Possibly it was just affectation. Nevertheless, as DE SALIS may have been an earlier form of the family name you will need to research the family further back in time. Also, investigate to see if siblings or cousins of Joseph used the ‘De’ at any time. How was Joseph described at his death? I see you don’t actually know where he died (South Africa or Surrey) so do not yet have that record. I note that the death of a Joseph SALIS was registered in Farnham Registration District in the December Quarter 1863. As you believe that Joseph was born in Bristol in 1811, the son of William and Jane, have you looked for his baptism there? Unfortunately there were 20 or so parishes in Bristol. You could also investigate Joseph’s army records to see how his surname is recorded in these. It appears to be uncertain if he was actually a commissioned officer. Brother John was discharged before 1854 and therefore his soldier’s documents are indexed in TNA’s Online Catalogue ( The entry gives ‘John SALIS, born Clifton, Gloucestershire, served in 13th Dragoons, discharged aged 47’. Possibly if you examine the actual documents you may learn more about the family. If Joseph was an ordinary soldier and died in service then there would be no documents surviving for him. But if he was discharged to pension after 1854 then his documents may survive at TNA. If he was indeed an officer, then again any relevant documents will be at TNA, and he should appear in the published Army Lists which are available in several other libraries and record offices. Whether the family are connected to the DE SALIS family in Switzerland or Sligo in Ireland you will only discover by continuing your research in the appropriate areas. Be prepared to face the other variant spellings of Sallis, Sallice and so on.

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