Anyone who has undertaken an in-depth investigation of their surname (a one-name study) will know that the main method of collecting information is to search sets of data which are rich in names. The list is endless but some of the most common ones are birth, marriage and death indexes, historic censuses, street directories and old newspapers. They are often available online and when a new source becomes available it is possible to spend many hours trawling through lists of people who carry the relevant surname. We recently decided to splash out on a subscription to Newspapers.com, thinking that it would give us a lock-down project, ticking off the Swinfields we already knew about and filling in a few gaps in our research.
Regular readers of this blog will know that Swinfield is an unusual surname with the biggest clusters in Leicestershire and Warwickshire, England and New South Wales, Australia. There are hardly any instances in the USA although the name is often used there as a forename and one of the things we want to do one day is to document these people more fully and find out why they were given the name Swinfield. When we searched Newspapers.com for instances of Swinfield in the USA there were some forename hits, as we had expected, and we got ready to work through them. What we hadn’t expected was a huge number of hits about one particular Swinfield who lived in the 1920s and 1930s in New York and Kentucky.
This Swinfield was a racehorse, a black male thoroughbred who was foaled in 1927, all racehorses having their official birthday on 1 January. The Equibase website states that he had 31 outings during a career from 1929 to 1931, with five wins, eight second and seven third places. He was bred by Walter J Salmon, a New York real estate investor, and trained at Belmont Park by Pat Dwyer. He appears to have had a fairly successful career, earning a total of $15,750 and considered at one time to be a hopeful for the Kentucky Derby. Although he didn’t quite manage that his wins included the Hilltop Purse at Pimlico, Baltimore in April 1930 and the Claiburne Purse and Homestead Purse at Hialeah Park, Florida, both in early 1931.
So why was he called Swinfield? Well, there appears to be no obvious reason, apart from the fact that his sire was called Swinburne. All genealogists like to see a well drawn and documented pedigree and the racing world doesn’t disappoint. The Equineline website has a five generation pedigree showing Swinfield’s male line back through Swinburne to Swynford and then John o’ Gaunt. We’ve spent many years disentangling human Swinfields from the posher Swinfords and it seems that the same aspirations to the nobility apply in the bloodstock world.
Many of the newspaper reports we found were accompanied by a grainy photo of the leading horses crossing the finish line but it took a while of searching before we could find a definite image of our namesake. Here he is finishing third (but promoted to second after the disqualification of the second placed horse), wearing number 9 at Havre de Grace, Maryland on 26 April 1930.