The root of the surname comes from the Village of Cartmel, in the Lake District of NW England. It is therefore a toponomic surname, or a "place" name. It is quite unique and ranks 29,814th in the US Census records. This is as opposed to the ranking of Smith, which is the most common surname in US Census records. This makes Cartmill/Cartmell/Cartmel a bit easier to research, as it is unusual. There are many variations of this surname, as early record keeping was entirely manual, and many times the hand written clerical records used a spelling based or how the clerk or census taker interpreted it. These may include Cartnall, Cartmale, Cartmile, other such corruptions of the original surname.
There is often a question of whether the surname is based in England or Ireland, as there were many Carts that migrated across the Irish Sea and settled in Northern Ireland, mainly in Armagh County. In general we find that most of the English descendants used the Cartmell spelling, while the predominance of Irish descendants used the Cartmill spelling. While this is not 100% true, it is a guide to the researcher. While the actual roots are from Cartmel Village in England, many of the immigrants who came to the American colonies were from Ireland.
I have met many distant relatives on the Internet, and we have an informal group working together to sort out our family lines and share information. I have used several books, as well as census and land records to trace my roots. There are few written records of births and deaths in the public records in the early 1700s, which has made research difficult. Most researchers attempt to connect with Nathaniel Cartmell, who was the first to arrive in America in 1685 and settled in the Quaker Triangle of Chester Co. PA, Cecil Co. MD, and New Castle Co. DE. Very few researchers are aware of Henry and John Cartmill who appear in Chester Co. PA in the early 1700s. There is mention of Nathaniel and his wife Dorothy in the Quaker archives, but no evidence that John and Henry Cartmill were Quakers. Even though there are three states referred to above, it is important to note that these early Carts all lived within a radius of 30 miles. Martin Cartmell, son of Nathaniel owned land in Cecil Co. MD before moving to Frederick Co. VA about 1735.
I have created separate files representing, to the best of my ability, the three major Cart lines that originated in the Triangle. As mentioned above, the first was Nathaniel Cartmell. Much of this family's history is recorded in T. K. Cartmell's book The Early Settlers of the Shenandoah Valley and their Descendants. The second line is that of Henry Cartmill, who is reported being born in Chester Co. PA in 1716, although there are no records of his birth there. It could be that he came to the area from Britain. This family is well documented in Dr. Lloyd Poland's book The Cartmill & Hubbard Kin. This book was researched and self- published by Dr. Poland in 1989.
Both of these books, supported by census and land records, supplied much of the information that we have compiled. I chose to record these lines as they were well researched and provided a basis for identifying and separating the known Carts, from those who were unknown on census and land records. In going back through my own line, I find my earliest known ancestor was John Cartmill, born (or immigrated) about 1712 in Chester Co., PA. and brother of Henry Cartmill. (To my knowledge there is no book which compiles the history of the John Cartmill line.)
I would insert a note here that the Cartmell and Cartmill spelling of the surname seems to be used almost interchangeably in all three family lines down through the generations. T.K. Cartmell uses the Cartmell spelling exclusively in his book, but I have a copy of a deed to Nathaniel Cartmill granted by Lord Fairfax in 1760, which indicates that the spelling differed even in the very early days. In those days of hand written records it was a simple thing to spell it either way. This has even occurred within the same family in the same generation in later years The Cartmel spelling has also been used be certain branches of Cartmill line.
It has long been assumed that Henry Cartmill and John were brothers, and this has been confirmed by DNA samples, from tests of living descendants of these men. Record research in Chester Co. PA has revealed little and it has not been determined whether Henry and John were born there or immigrated from Britain in the early 1700s. A DNA test of a living Nathaniel Cartmell descendant has confirmed a 99% probability that all three of these early settlers have a common ancestor in England somewhere around 1600 to 1650. Since Nathaniel arrived 30 years before the appearance of John and Henry, it is quite possible that he was an Uncle, or even possibly the grandfather of Henry and John. At the same time there is no evidence that the family of Nathaniel was in any way associated with the families of John and Henry even though they lived in close proximity to each other in the 1700s. Nonetheless a relationship did exist, based on DNA samples.
Nathaniel Cartmell settled in New Castle, DE. After his death, his widow Dorothy moved to Frederick Co. VA (Winchester) around 1735 along with her son Martin. This family prospered in that area for several generations, although there was a branch that moved to TN and another large branch that moved to Clark County, OH about 1813.
Henry Cartmill moved from Chester Co., PA to Augusta Co. VA about the same time as Nathaniel's widow and family, but later made Botetourt Co. VA his home. His son James, settled near Charleston, WV and there are many Cartmill families in that area today.
John Cartmell also moved from Chester Co. PA to Augusta Co. VA. He settled on the Cowpasture River. His son Thomas moved to Bath Co. KY in 1788. Thomas's son Andrew migrated to central IL and several of his descendants moved westward into MO and OK. Thomas's son William, moved to Madison Co. OH in 1813 and there are many descendants of that family still living in that area. Thomas's son John lived in Harrison Co. KY and his descendants primarily went to Indiana, and these families tended to use the Cartmel spelling of the surname.