Recorded in several spellings including Rackstraw, Raikstraw, Rakestraw, Raikstray, Rexstraw, and Racster, this is an English surname. It is well recorded in the International Genealogical Index for the city of London, from Elizabethan times, although it now seems that the name was most popular in Lancashire and Yorkshire. According to the research carried out by the Victorian etymologist Canon Charles Bardsley in about the year 1880, the name was thought to be occupational either for what we would call a refuse collector, or more likely for a farm contractor, one who went from farm to farm to assist in the harvesting. Later though he changed his mind for reasons unknown, and concluded that in fact it was probably locational. This would imply that it came from a place, but if so Canoon Bardsley was not able to identify it, and neither have we, a century or more later. It is possible that the surname does originate from a now 'lost' medieval village, if only because it has been proven that at least three thousand surnames of the British Isles do have this provenance. What we do know is the surname is very old, with William Rakestraw being recorded in the Poll Tax rolls of Yorkshire in 1379, and George Raikstray of Ulverston and Thomas Rakestraw of Heysham, both being recorded in the Wills Register of Richmond, in the year 1616.
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