Willis History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

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.

Early Origins of the Willis family

The surname Willis was 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. Not all of the family emigrated to England as Hugh and Robert de Wellis were listed in Normandy in 1198. Effric de Welles held the fief or Wellis, Normandy in 1180. [1]

Johannes Willeson was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax Rolls of 1379 [2] and Walter filius Wille held lands in Dumfries in 1214. [3] Walter Willys was listed in the Subsidy Rolls of Staffordshire in 1327 and Roger Wyllys was found in Kent in 1438. Years later, Richard Willys was listed in the Feet of Fines of Essex in 1517. [4]

Early History of the Willis family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Willis research. Another 93 words (7 lines of text) covering the years 1207, 1279, 1214, 1576, 1656, 1590, 1645, 1642, 1643, 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 and printed products wherever possible.

Willis Spelling Variations

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.

Early Notables of the Willis family (pre 1700)

Outstanding amongst the family at this time was Thomas Willis (1576-1656), a member of the English landed gentry and Clerk of the Crown in Chancery at the outbreak of the English Civil War, owing to which he suffered the loss of his position and some of his estates; George Wyllys or Wyllis (1590-1645), born at the manor of Fenny Compton in Warwickshire, an English-born, early American politician who served as the 4th Governor of the Connecticut Colony (1642-1643); Thomas Willis (1621-1675), an English doctor who played an important part...
Another 89 words (6 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Willis Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Willis World Ranking

In the United States, the name Willis is the 172nd most popular surname with an estimated 136,785 people with that name. [5] However, in Canada, the name Willis is ranked the 869th most popular surname with an estimated 6,125 people with that name. [6] And in Australia, the name Willis is the 266th popular surname with an estimated 12,818 people with that name. [7] New Zealand ranks Willis as 286th with 2,126 people. [8] The United Kingdom ranks Willis as 236th with 24,919 people. [9]

Ireland Migration of the Willis family to Ireland

Some of the Willis family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 61 words (4 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.


United States Willis migration to the United States +

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 United States in the 17th Century
  • Anne Willis, who settled in Virginia in 1620
  • Ann Willis, who arrived in Virginia in 1620
  • Ann Willis, who landed in Virginia in 1620 [10]
  • Nathaniel Willis, who settled in Boston Massachusetts in 1630
  • Nathaniel Willis, who settled in Boston in 1630
  • ... (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)
Willis Settlers in United States in the 18th Century
  • Jacob Willis, who landed in Pennsylvania in 1702 [10]
  • Matthew Willis, who arrived in Virginia in 1714 [10]
  • Ellioner Willis, who arrived in Virginia in 1717 [10]
  • Pheebe Willis, who landed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1772 [10]
Willis Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Mary Ann Willis, who landed in New York, NY in 1811 [10]
  • Margaret Willis, who landed in New York, NY in 1811 [10]
  • James Willis, who arrived in New York, NY in 1812 [10]
  • Eleanor Willis, who landed in New York, NY in 1816 [10]
  • Ellen Willis, aged 18, who landed in Mobile, Ala in 1820-1873 [10]
  • ... (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Canada Willis migration to Canada +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

Willis Settlers in Canada in the 18th Century
  • William Willis, who settled in Quidividi, Newfoundland, in 1703 [11]
  • John Willis, who landed in Nova Scotia in 1749
  • Penolope Willis, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1750
  • Josiah Willis, who settled in Kiers Cove, Labrador, in 1766
Willis Settlers in Canada in the 19th Century
  • Isaac Willis, who arrived in Canada in 1834
  • Miss. Mary A. Willis, aged 17 who immigrated to Canada, arriving at the Grosse Isle Quarantine Station in Quebec aboard the ship "Jessie" departing from the port of Cork, Ireland but died on Grosse Isle in July 1847 [12]
  • Miss. Martha Willis, aged 10 who was emigrating through Grosse Isle Quarantine Station, Quebec aboard the ship "Jessie" departing 18th April 1847 from Limerick, Ireland; the ship arrived on 26th June 1847 but she died on board [13]
  • Mr. William Willis, aged 27 who was emigrating through Grosse Isle Quarantine Station, Quebec aboard the ship "John Bolton" departing 13th April 1847 from Liverpool, England; the ship arrived on 10th June 1847 but he died on board [13]

Australia Willis migration to Australia +

Emigration to Australia followed the First Fleets of convicts, tradespeople and early settlers. Early immigrants include:

Willis Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century
  • Mr. Henry Willis, English convict who was convicted in Bristol, England for 7 years for stealing, transported aboard the "Asiatic" on 5th June 1819, arriving in New South Wales, Australia [14]
  • George Willis, English convict from London, who was transported aboard the "Adamant" on March 16, 1821, settling in New South Wales, Australia [15]
  • Thomas Willis, English convict from Southampton, who was transported aboard the "Asia" on April 1st, 1822, settling in New South Wales, Australia [16]
  • Mr. William Willis, British convict who was convicted in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England for life, transported aboard the "Competitor"18th March 1823, arriving in Tasmania ( Van Diemen's Land) [17]
  • Mr. John Willis, British Convict who was convicted in Worcester, Worcestershire, England for 7 years, transported aboard the "Coromandel" on 25th June 1838, arriving in Tasmania ( Van Diemen's Land) [18]
  • ... (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

New Zealand Willis migration to New Zealand +

Emigration to New Zealand followed in the footsteps of the European explorers, such as Captain Cook (1769-70): first came sealers, whalers, missionaries, and traders. By 1838, the British New Zealand Company had begun buying land from the Maori tribes, and selling it to settlers, and, after the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, many British families set out on the arduous six month journey from Britain to Aotearoa to start a new life. Early immigrants include:

Willis Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century
  • Richard Willis, who landed in Nelson, New Zealand in 1842
  • G. Willis, British settler travelling from London aboard the ship "Queen of the Deep" arriving in Auckland, New Zealand on 14th June 1854 [19]
  • Mr. Elias Willis, (b. 1796), aged 60, British settler travelling from London aboard the ship "Joseph Fletcher" arriving in Lyttelton, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand on 24th October 1856 [20]
  • Mrs. Frances Willis, (b. 1798), aged 58, British settler travelling from London aboard the ship "Joseph Fletcher" arriving in Lyttelton, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand on 24th October 1856 [20]
  • Mr. William Willis, (b. 1838), aged 18, British settler travelling from London aboard the ship "Joseph Fletcher" arriving in Lyttelton, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand on 24th October 1856 [20]
  • ... (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

West Indies Willis migration to West Indies +

The British first settled the British West Indies around 1604. They made many attempts but failed in some to establish settlements on the Islands including Saint Lucia and Grenada. By 1627 they had managed to establish settlements on St. Kitts (St. Christopher) and Barbados, but by 1641 the Spanish had moved in and destroyed some of these including those at Providence Island. The British continued to expand the settlements including setting the First Federation in the British West Indies by 1674; some of the islands include Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Island, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica and Belize then known as British Honduras. By the 1960's many of the islands became independent after the West Indies Federation which existed from 1958 to 1962 failed due to internal political conflicts. After this a number of Eastern Caribbean islands formed a free association. [21]
Willis Settlers in West Indies in the 17th Century
  • Mr. William Willis, (b. 1618), aged 17, British settler travelling from London, England aboard the ship "Alexander" arriving in Barbados in 1635 [22]
  • Mr. John Willis, (b. 1606), aged 29, British settler traveling aboard the ship "Paul of London" arriving in St Christopher (Saint Kitts) in 1635 [23]

Contemporary Notables of the name Willis (post 1700) +

  • 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
  • Robert "Chick" Willis (1934-2013), American blues singer and guitarist
  • Pharmacist's Mate First Class John Harlan Willis (1921-1945), American Navy sailor awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1945
  • Harold "Chuck" Willis (1928-1958), American blues, rhythm and blues, and rock singer and songwriter
  • Elizabeth Willis (b. 1961), American poet, a literary critic and a professor of literature and creative writing
  • Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis (b. 1945), American science fiction writer with ten Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards [24]
  • Norman David Willis (b. 1933), English trade union leader
  • Henry Willis (1821-1901), English organ builder who built or restored many of the Cathedral organs of Britain
  • Max Frederick Willis RFD, ED (1935-2021), Australian politician and senior Army Reserve officer, President of the New South Wales Legislative Council (1991-1998), Member of New South Wales Legislative Council (1970-1999)
  • Mr. Gavin Willis M.B.E., British recipient of Member of the Order of the British Empire on 8th June 2018, for services to British foreign policy [25]
  • ... (Another 8 notables are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Empress of Ireland
  • Mr. George Oswald Willis, British Smokeroom Steward from United Kingdom who worked aboard the Empress of Ireland and died in the sinking [26]
HMAS Sydney II
  • Mr. Percy John Christian Willis (1900-1941), Australian Plumber 1st Class from St. Peters, New South Wales, Australia, who sailed into battle aboard HMAS Sydney II and died in the sinking [27]
  • Mr. Lloyd Martin Willis (1922-1941), Australian Cook from Five Dock, New South Wales, Australia, who sailed into battle aboard HMAS Sydney II and died in the sinking [27]
  • Mr. George Boyd Willis (1908-1941), Australian Able Seaman from Naremburn, New South Wales, Australia, who sailed into battle aboard HMAS Sydney II and died in the sinking [27]
  • Mr. Ronald Verdun Willis (1916-1941), Australian Steward from Manly, Queensland, Australia, who sailed into battle aboard HMAS Sydney II and died in the sinking [27]
HMS Hood
  • Mr. Herbert Willis (b. 1922), English Marine serving for the Royal Marine from Mortenhempstead, Devon, England, who sailed into battle and died in the sinking [28]
  • Mr. Albert T Willis (b. 1919), English Stoker 1st Class serving for the Royal Navy from Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, who sailed into battle and died in the sinking [28]
HMS Prince of Wales
  • Mr. William E Willis, British Stoker, who sailed into battle on the HMS Prince of Wales and survived the sinking [29]
RMS Titanic
  • 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 [30]
USS Arizona
  • Mr. Robert Kenneth Willis Jr., American Seaman First Class from Louisiana, USA working aboard the ship "USS Arizona" when she sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941, he died in the sinking [31]


Suggested Readings for the name Willis +

  • 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.

  1. ^ The Norman People and Their Existing Descendants in the British Dominions and the United States Of America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1975. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-0636-X)
  2. ^ Bardsley, C.W, A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames: With Special American Instances. Wiltshire: Heraldry Today, 1901. Print. (ISBN 0-900455-44-6)
  3. ^ Black, George F., The Surnames of Scotland Their Origin, Meaning and History. New York: New York Public Library, 1946. Print. (ISBN 0-87104-172-3)
  4. ^ Reaney, P.H and R.M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames. London: Routledge, 1991. Print. (ISBN 0-415-05737-X)
  5. ^ https://namecensus.com/most_common_surnames.htm
  6. ^ https://forebears.io/surnames/
  7. ^ https://forebears.io/australia/surnames
  8. ^ https://forebears.io/new-zealand/surnames
  9. ^ https://www.surnamemap.eu/unitedkingdom/surnames_ranking.php?p=10
  10. ^ Filby, P. William, Meyer, Mary K., Passenger and immigration lists index : a guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. 1982-1985 Cumulated Supplements in Four Volumes Detroit, Mich. : Gale Research Co., 1985, Print (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8)
  11. ^ Seary E.R., Family Names of the Island of Newfoundland, Montreal: McGill's-Queen's Universtity Press 1998 ISBN 0-7735-1782-0
  12. ^ Charbonneau, André, and Doris Drolet-Dubé. A Register of Deceased Persons at Sea and on Grosse Île in 1847. The Minister of Canadian Heritage, 1997. ISBN: 0-660-198/1-1997E (p. 60)
  13. ^ Charbonneau, André, and Doris Drolet-Dubé. A Register of Deceased Persons at Sea and on Grosse Île in 1847. The Minister of Canadian Heritage, 1997. ISBN: 0-660-198/1-1997E (p. 99)
  14. ^ Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 14th July 2020). Retrieved from https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/atlas
  15. ^ State Library of Queensland. (Retrieved 2016, October 27) Adamant voyage to New South Wales, Australia in 1821 with 144 passengers. Retrieved from http://www.convictrecords.com.au/ships/adamant/1821
  16. ^ State Library of Queensland. (Retrieved 2016, October 27) Asia 1 voyage to Van Diemen's Land, Australia in 1822 with 190 passengers. Retrieved from http://www.convictrecords.com.au/ships/asia/1822
  17. ^ Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 5th March 2021). Retrieved from https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/competitor
  18. ^ Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 19th March 2021). Retrieved from https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/coromandel
  19. ^ New Zealand Yesteryears Passenger Lists 1800 to 1900 (Retrieved 26th March 2019). Retrieved from http://www.yesteryears.co.nz/shipping/passlist.html
  20. ^ New Zealand Yesteryears Passenger Lists 1800 to 1900 (Retrieved 17th October 2018). Retrieved from http://www.yesteryears.co.nz/shipping/passlist.html
  21. ^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_West_Indies
  22. ^ Pilgrim Ship Lists Early 1600's retrieved 28th September 2021. (Retrieved from https://www.packrat-pro.com/ships/shiplist.htm)
  23. ^ Pilgrim Ship's of 1600's (Retrieved October 4th 2021, retrieved from https://www.packrat-pro.com/ships/shiplist.htm)
  24. ^ Constance Willis. (Retrieved 2010, September 27) Constance Willis. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connie_Willis
  25. ^ "Birthday and New Year Honours Lists (1940 to 2019)." Issue 62310, 31 October 2019 | London Gazette, The Gazette, June 2018, https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/62310/supplement/B1
  26. ^ Commemoration Empress of Ireland 2014. (Retrieved 2014, June 17) . Retrieved from http://www.empress2014.ca/seclangen/listepsc1.html
  27. ^ HMAS Sydney II, Finding Sydney Foundation - Roll of Honour. (Retrieved 2014, April 24) . Retrieved from http://www.findingsydney.com/roll.asp
  28. ^ H.M.S. Hood Association-Battle Cruiser Hood: Crew Information - H.M.S. Hood Rolls of Honour, Men Lost in the Sinking of H.M.S. Hood, 24th May 1941. (Retrieved 2016, July 15) . Retrieved from http://www.hmshood.com/crew/memorial/roh_24may41.htm
  29. ^ HMS Prince of Wales Crew members. (Retrieved 2014, April 9) . Retrieved from http://www.forcez-survivors.org.uk/biographies/listprincecrew.html
  30. ^ Titanic Passenger List - Titanic Facts. (Retrieved 2016, July 13) . Retrieved from http://www.titanicfacts.net/titanic-passenger-list.html
  31. ^ Pearl Harbour: USS Arizona Casualties List Pearl Harbour December 7, 1941. (Retrieved 2018, July 31st). Retrieved from http://pearl-harbor.com/arizona/casualtylist.html


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