late 14c., referren, "to trace back (a quality, etc., to a first cause or origin), attribute, assign," from Old French referer (14c.) and directly from Latin referre "to relate, refer," literally "to carry back," from re- "back" (see re-) + ferre "to carry, bear" (from PIE root *bher- (1) "to carry," also "to bear children").
The meaning "to commit to some authority for consideration and decision" is from mid-15c.; sense of "to direct (someone) to a book, etc." for information is from c. 1600. Related: Referred; referring.