The earliest document showing our surname that I know of is dated 1168 and refers to Holbertus Venator. (Is this old man Hulbert?) There is also mention of a John Holdebert in a document dated 1205. Since surnames did not really exist as such until the middle of the 15th century it will never be possible to trace our ancestry back further than this without involving a great deal of supposition and subjective judgment.
Surnames changed also depending on a person's occupation or where he was born for example John who lived by an ash tree in a village may come to be called John Ash to distinguish him from the other Johns in the village. However, if he took up the occupation of blacksmith he might later come to be known as John Smith and if he then moved away from say the village of Ditchingham to the village of Redenhall where they already had a blacksmith he might then become known as John Ditchingham. Furthermore friends and relatives from Ditchingham might still continue to call him John Smith or even revert to John Ash! Very few written documents were kept since the literacy rate was very low.
The higher up the social scale a family moved the more likely it would be that they would be mentioned in documents. This is why the Wiltshire derived Hulberts figure in most genealogies because they were a comparatively wealthy family for a long period of history. Because of this information it is believed that the Wiltshire Hulberts' family name derives either from the Norman line or from before the Norman invasion as the original Anglo-Saxon name Holdbeorht (meaning Gracious and Bright). Other Hulbert family names probably did derive form local prowess as Hurlbats on the hurling field, but village hullbatters were less likely to have their names recorded in documents as their social standing wasn’t very high. Consequently, we are left with records only from the noble or landowning Hulberts or those with official positions in politics, local government or religious organizations.
The Hulberts in Scotland. Before the Vikings invaded France they had already invaded the Orkneys and Northern Scotland in about 870 AD under the command of Stirgud the Stout so may well have introduced the Hulbert name directly to Scotland and not via France and England several years after. However, it is also possible that Norman Hulberts who were heavily involved in English politics after the battle of Hastings may have moved to Scotland during the 12th century along with other Norman families as followers of Earl David of Huntingdon who would later become King of Scotland. Of course, later, in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, England and Scotland were ravaged by religious and political conflict. The Monarchy, the Church and Parliament fought for supremacy and these conflicts and pogroms were the catalyst for many to immigrate to the USA.
The Hulbert family tree can be traced back through the Counties of Essex, Surrey and Wiltshire to Gloucestershire where Thomas Hulbert was born in about 1777.
(Text taken from an email sent to the Hurlbut/Hurlburt genealogy site by Jeremy Hulbert)