This has to be one of the less common English surnames!

At school it seemed rather a liability and earned me a certain amount of childish mockery (sadly, it sometimes still does :-). Since then, however, I have come to appreciate how extraordinary it is - when I come across someone with the same name they are almost certainly related to me through some ancestral line I can possibly trace.

A Dictionary Of British Surnames by P. H. Reaney (Routledge and Keegan Paul 1958 - 1976, ISBN 0 7100 8106 5) lists a Gervase atte Stumble of 1296 and a Juliana Stumbel of 1311 and suggests a meaning (derived from Old English stumbel) of 'Dweller by the tree-stump'

I wonder if this name referred to an occupation - as with Smith, Cooper, Miller etc. - in this case someone whose livelihood was coppicing woodland: cutting trees down to the stumps in order to harvest the straight, slender wood that re-grows when this is done. Can any scholar of early English comment?

Other early spellings of the name include Stumbels and Stumbells.

The first person I heard of researching the family lines was (the late) Mrs Maude Stumbles of Derby: she found my father's name in the telephone directory and wrote to him in 1978 asking for information about his line of the family. She has collected some of the information here, and some I haven't yet put up.

According to information I have gleaned from the correspondence between Maude Stumbles and my father, (including my father's transcription of the "Uncle Tom" letter) the Stumbles (I use the name 'Stumbles' to mean plural as well as singular) seem to be traceable to the South Hams area of south Devon in the early 18th Century. From there branches of the family seem to have spread out to South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe), Australia, the USA and Canada.

This was all the information I had about Stumbles until mid 1995. Then ...

I heard (by email) from Tim Stumbles in the USA (from the South African -> Rhodesian/Zimbabwean line) who found me in the Four-11 directory (which now seems to be part of Yahoo).
(I have no idea how I got onto 411/Yahoo, nor how they've got two records for me, both with incorrect data!)

Incidentally Tim's grandfather founded the law firm Stumbles and Rowe.

And (also by email) from Doug Kelly ( on Prince Edward Island, Canada.
Doug says he found me using one of Netscape's Net Search tools.

Doug sent me lots of information on the early British Stumbles as well as his own branch of the family.
(Doug's Great-grandfather married Edith Laura Stumbles, daughter of William Washington Stumbles who is suposed to be related to a cousin of George Washington.)
In December 1995 he followed this up with the results of a search of the LDS (Mormon) archives showing records of Stumbles in Devon, London and Liverpool from the 17th to 19th Centuries.

In the summer of 1995 I went to Salcombe, where I used to go for summer holidays as a child and where my father and his parents were born. We camped at Bolberry near Malborough village, a couple of miles from Salcombe, on the farm of a Mr Stidston. He told me he had met a man with a similar name in a town (MOdbury) a few miles away, and learned that some of his ancestors -- three brothers, as I recall -- had emigrated to the USA, and that one had given his name to what is now known as the Stetson hat.

Aside from this, Mr Stidston told me that there was still a tea room at North Sands in Salcombe run by the Stumbles family. We went there and met the family: Paul Stumbles is a cousin of my father (and they look somewhat alike) and runs the tea room (in an unusual and attractive hexagon-shaped annex to the family house) with his wife -- who he married in the same year as my parents married -- and two granddaughters.

Whilst in Salcombe we also visited the Overbecks Museum (run by the National Trust). This is part of the house of Otto Overbeck (the rest of the house is used as a youth hostel), but the house originally on the site was built by my father's grandfather Albert Smith Stumbles. It was torn down by a previous owner and the present house rebuilt on the site, with very attractive gardens established exploiting the almost mediterranean climate of the area).

In the course of my work at the University of Reading I helped Roslyn Wells, an Australian singing teacher, by setting up her laptop computer before she returned to Australia. Knowing that Maude had heard of a townful of Stumbles in Australia I asked Roslyn to look out for any, but she said she'd already come across one in Australia - a singer, called Kevin Stumbles. A friend of Roslyn's in Sydney knew, and passed on the address of some Australian relatives of the Stumbles family, and Shirley Carter in the UK who has done some research on the family.

I wrote to Shirley who sent me a couple of family trees -- one for my own branch of the family, and one for some of the decendants of John Stumbles (born around 1690) whose line includes the Australian family Roslyn told me about.

Shirley also referred me to Ann Brining, who during 1994 corresponded with my father. Ann is distantly related to Maude (her father's cousin through marriage) as well as being the great granddaughter of a (Martha) Stumbles. Ann has studied Maude's papers as well as conducting her own research, and has drawn some family tree diagrams (which I will scan and put up here Real Soon Now :-).

Meanwhile Tim Stumbles has also been searching the 'net and discovered Pete in Australia, who emailed towards the end of 1995. At the time of his email Pete said that he was doing exams at University, but I haven't heard from him since.


In early 1996 I had an email from Tim bearing information about his side of the family. I have rather crudely converted it to HTML and put it up here

Whilst staying with my parents over Xmas '95 I borrowed my father's copy of Devonshire Clockmakers.
This booklet discusses - amongst others - William Stumbels of Totnes, who lived from around 1700 to 1769, and has pictures of the Powderham Castle Stumbels clock and "The Kingsbridge Stumbels".
(The photographs in the booklet haven't scanned very well - I'll try to get a better reproduction, as well as HTMLising the text I transcribed .... sometime :-)

I'm always interested to hear of (or from) more Stumbles: if you have any information please email me at
I need good ways to record and display the information I have: I'm still a real beginner at genealogy.

To my home page.

South Africa

East London

An article in the Daily Despatch (date unknown but sometime during WWII) shows five elderly figures:
newspaper photo

The Stumbles family whose ages total 402 years. The eldest, Miss Mary Anne, is 90 years old and lives in a house in Oxford Street, East London, with her two sisters, Miss Lillian (71), and Miss Hannah (77). There were nine in the family, but three married sisters and one brother have died. The two surviving brothers are the Rev. Mr. A. B. Stumbles (83), of Bathurst, and Mr. Christopher Stumbles (81), of Matatiele. They are the sons and daughters of the late Rev. Mr. Robert Washington Stumbles, who brought his family out to South Africa in 1860. His mother was a cousin of George Washington, "the boy who never told a lie." From left to right: Miss Lillian, Mr. A. B. Stumbles, Miss Mary Anne, Mr. Christopher Stumbles and Miss Hannah.

GIF image of newspaper clipping (over 200K)

Another clipping (dated 30/11/1976) from a newspaper called the Chiel (? - or was this the name of a column in the Daily Despatch?), refers to the earlier article and brings in the connection to Maude Stumbles:

More than 30 years have passed since a young airman stationed in South Africa with the Royal Air Force during World War II sent a cutting from the Daily Despatch to his mother in England asking her if a family whose picture appeared in the newspaper at that time was related to his own. The young airman, Henry Stumbles, died during the war and now another member of the Stumbles family in England, Mrs Maude Stumbles, has written to the Chiel seeking more details about the people in that newspaper picture of long ago. The picture was of five Stumbles - brothers and sisters - who lived then in these parts. Mrs Mary Anne Stumbles was 90 when the picture was taken and her two sisters, who shared a house with her in East London, Miss Hannah Stumbles and Miss Lillian Stumbles, were 77 and 71 respectively. Their two brothers were the Rev. A. B. Stumbles (83) of Bathurst, and Mr. Christopher Stumbles (81) of Matatiele. When the picture was taken (I have not been able to establish the exact year) their ages totalled 402 years. Mrs Maude Stumbles of 33 Alfreton Road, South Normanton in Derby, England, addressed her letter to the Chiel on November 4, 1976, hoping through this column to make contact with any relations of those South African Stumbles. Mrs Stumbles says there are 25 descendants of the British Stumbles living in Australia and one of them intends to write a book about the family. Known from the caption to the Daily Dispatch wartime picture of the local Stumbles is that their parents came to South Africa in 1860. Their father was the Rev Robert Washington Stumbles, so named because his mother was a cousin of George Washington.
JPEG image of clipping (Over 100K)


Maude Stumbles mentions that one town in Australia was pioneered by Stumbles (unfortunately she doesn't mention the name of the town!) and that she had recieved a letter asking for information from 'a Mr A. James in Australia ... a classics teacher at a University" (again she doesn't mention where!). Apparently Mr James was writing a book about Stumbles, but I don't know if it was ever published ...

The Western Mail (Wales) for Tuesday March 20th 1973 lists, amongst the Australians in the President's Overseas Squad to play (Rugby Union football) against Scotland at Murrayfield on March 31, a B. D. Stumbles

New South Wales

My singing teacher friend has given me the names and addresses of three people in New South Wales (two of them a brother and sister, the other the ex-pupil of the singing teacher).


My interest in the Stumbles family tree was rekindled (prompting me to create these Web pages) by an email message out of the blue from Tim Stumbles, living in Washington State in the USA. He tells me that his father brought their family to the US from Johannesburg, South Africa, and that before that his Grandfather had been Speaker of the House in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and founder of the law firm Stumbles and Rowe. He, presumably, was a son (or possibly grandson?) of one of the Stumbles pictured in the photograph in the Daily Despatch, as Tim says that their family is originally from East London.


Prince Edward Island

Doug Kelly ( has given me a lot of information on the PEI and other branches of the Stumbles family.