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An excerpt from www.HouseOfNames.com archives copyright 2000 - 2014

Origins Available: English, Scottish

Where did the English Willis family come from? What is the English Willis family crest and coat of arms? When did the Willis family first arrive in the United States? Where did the various branches of the family go? What is the Willis family history?

Willis is a name of ancient Norman origin. It arrived in England with the Norman Conquest of 1066. The Willis family lived in Berkshire. Their name is derived from the Old English word welle, meaning well, and indicates the original bearer's residence near such a facility.


Endless spelling variations are a prevailing characteristic of Norman surnames. Old and Middle English lacked any definite spelling rules, and the introduction of Norman French added an unfamiliar ingredient to the English linguistic stew. French and Latin, the languages of the court, also influenced spellings. Finally, Medieval scribes generally spelled words according to how they sounded, so one person was often referred to by different spellings in different documents. The name has been spelled Willis, Wilis and others.

First found in Berkshire where they held a family seat at Hungerford Park, a baronetcy granted by King Charles I. They are believed to be descended from Baron Welles, the Duke of Somerset, and the grandmother of Henry VII, a Norman Baron from Welles in Normandy who was granted Rockingham Castle but was beheaded. Junior lines adopted the name Willis.


This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Willis research. Another 185 words(13 lines of text) covering the years 1207, 1279, 1214, 1576, 1656, 1621, 1675, 1614, 1690, 1664, 1734, 1614, 1701, 1659, 1660, 1665, 1666 and are included under the topic Early Willis History in all our PDF Extended History products.


Another 279 words(20 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Willis Notables in all our PDF Extended History products.


Some of the Willis family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt. Another 109 words(8 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products.


To escape the political and religious persecution within England at the time, many English families left for the various British colonies abroad. The voyage was extremely difficult, though, and the cramped, dank ships caused many to arrive in the New World diseased and starving. But for those who made it, the trip was most often worth it. Many of the families who arrived went on to make valuable contributions to the emerging nations of Canada and the United States. An inquiry into the early roots of North American families reveals a number of immigrants bearing the name Willis or a variant listed above:

Willis Settlers in the United States in the 17th Century

  • Anne Willis settled in Virginia in 1620
  • Ann Willis, who arrived in Virginia in 1620
  • Ann Willis, who landed in Virginia in 1620
  • Nathaniel Willis settled in Boston Massachusetts in 1630
  • Nathaniel Willis, who settled in Boston in 1630

Willis Settlers in the United States in the 18th Century

  • Jacob Willis, who landed in Pennsylvania in 1702
  • Matthew Willis, who arrived in Virginia in 1714
  • Ellioner Willis, who arrived in Virginia in 1717
  • Pheebe Willis, who landed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1772

Willis Settlers in the United States in the 19th Century

  • Mary Ann Willis, who landed in New York, NY in 1811
  • Margaret Willis, who landed in New York, NY in 1811
  • James Willis, who arrived in New York, NY in 1812
  • Eleanor Willis, who landed in New York, NY in 1816
  • Ellen Willis, aged 18, landed in Mobile, Ala in 1820-1873


  • Elizabeth Willis (b. 1961), American poet, a literary critic and a professor of literature and creative writing
  • Walter Bruce Willis (b. 1955), American two-time Emmy Award-winning, Golden Globe Award-winning and four-time Saturn Award-nominated actor and film producer perhaps best known for his "Die Hard" series of movies
  • Harold "Chuck" Willis (1928-1958), American blues, rhythm and blues, and rock singer and songwriter
  • Pharmacist's Mate First Class John Harlan Willis (1921-1945), American Navy sailor awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1945
  • Robert "Chick" Willis (1934-2013), American blues singer and guitarist
  • Henry Willis (1821-1901), English organ builder who built or restored many of the Cathedral organs of Britain
  • Norman David Willis (b. 1933), English trade union leader
  • Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis (b. 1945), American science fiction writer with ten Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards
  • Mr. William Willis (d. 1912), aged 66, English Third Class Steward from Southampton, Hampshire who worked aboard the RMS Titanic and died in the sinking
  • Ted Edward Henry Willis (1918-1992), Baron Willis of Chislehurst, British author



  • The Family History of Nathaniel Purdue Willis of Eason, Oklahoma Territory by Kathryn S. Carter.
  • Some Willis Families of New England by Aurie Willis Morrison.

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  1. Williams, Dr Ann. And G.H. Martin, Eds. Domesday Book A Complete Translation. London: Penguin, 1992. Print. (ISBN 0-141-00523-8).
  2. Reaney P.H and R.M. Wilson. A Dictionary of English Surnames. London: Routledge, 1991. Print. (ISBN 0-415-05737-X).
  3. Ingram, Rev. James. Translator Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 1823. Print.
  4. Cook, Chris. English Historical Facts 1603-1688. London: MacMillan, 1980. Print.
  5. Browning, Charles H. Americans of Royal Descent. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print.
  6. Hitching, F.K and S. Hitching. References to English Surnames in 1601-1602. Walton On Thames: 1910. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-0181-3).
  7. Virkus, Frederick A. Ed. Immigrant Ancestors A List of 2,500 Immigrants to America Before 1750. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1964. Print.
  8. Skordas, Guest. Ed. The Early Settlers of Maryland an Index to Names or Immigrants Complied from Records of Land Patents 1633-1680 in the Hall of Records Annapolis, Maryland. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1968. Print.
  9. Weis, Frederick Lewis, Walter Lee Sheppard and David Faris. Ancestral Roots of Sixty Colonists Who Came to New England Between 1623 and 1650 7th Edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1992. Print. (ISBN 0806313676).
  10. Bede, The Venerable. Historia Ecclesiatica Gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History Of the English People). Available through Internet Medieval Sourcebook the Fordham University Centre for Medieval Studies. Print.
  11. ...

The Willis Family Crest was acquired from the Houseofnames.com archives. The Willis Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

This page was last modified on 3 October 2014 at 09:14.

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