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Sample History: Williams

The Welsh name Williams is a patronymic surname derived from the personal name William, which is in turn derived from the Old German names Willihelm and Willelm (the Norman French version was Guillaume). Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, William became for a time, the most popular personal name in Britain. Williams comes from beautiful Wales, the mountainous land of the ancient Britons.

After the exodus of the Romans in the 5th century A.D., the ancient Britons were left in possession of Western England, present day Wales and Cumbria, while the Germanic invaders, the Saxons, Jutes and Angles continued a determined invasion from the South-East of England. It was in the year 616, and the Battle of Chester, that the Celts were divided, and Wales, though still a group of kingdoms, came to be a distinct nation. Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great), was the first great Welsh warrior king. In 855, through skilful alliances and practical marriages, he became the king of Powys and much of the rest of Wales. He died in 893, giving Wales to his three sons. Anarawd became King of North Wales, Cadalh became King of South Wales and Mervyn became King of Powys, or mid Wales.

The Williams surname shares its ancient history with these Welsh chronicles. Bearers of this name were first found in in Breconshire and Monmouthshire on the English/ Welsh border from very ancient times.

From the early records examined, manuscripts such as the Domesday Book, the Pipe Rolls, Hearth Rolls, the Black Book of the Exchequer, and the Curia Regis Rolls, your family name, Williams, was found with many different spellings. Spelling variations of Williams include Williams, Quilliams, Guilliam, Guilliams and these changes in spelling frequently occurred, even between father and son. It was not uncommon for a person to be born with one spelling, marry with another, and have yet another on his or her headstone. Preference for a particular spelling variation could signify a connection with a certain branch of the family, a religious adherence, or an affiliation with a political party or cause. On the other hand, variations could also occur due to regional dialects, translations back and forth between languages, and the way that the clerks and church officials of the day chose to record the spelling of a name.

The Norman Conquest of Wales in the 11th century was less than conclusive, in fact Wales was not actually subdued until the conquest of Edward I in 1301. A testimony to the Welsh fighting spirit is that there are more castles, or ruins of castles, to the square mile in Wales than anywhere else in the world. But even as peace gradually returned to this picturesque country, many Welsh, attracted by economic opportunity, moved eastward into the English cities.

The distinguished Welsh family name Williams emerged in Monmouthshire where they are traditionally descended from Brychan Brecheiniog who was Lord of Brecknock at the time of King Arthur of the Round Table. Their mediaeval seat was at Llangibby Castle in County Monmouth. More recently they were descended through Rhys Goch, the red haired Lord Ystradyw from Caradog Vreichvras, although the first to adopt the surname Williams was Sir Roger Williams of Llangibby Castle about 1500. Junior branches of the name claimed Penrhyn Castle to the north in Carnarvon, and Dandreath Castle in Merioneth. The family name held many castles throughout Wales and Cornwall. Perhaps the most famous Williams was Oliver Cromwell, whose great-grandfather changed his name from Williams to Cromwell in the time of Henry VIII. Prominent amongst the family during the late middle ages was John Williams, Archbishop of York in 1641 and Edward Williams (1747-1826) Welsh poet; and Roger Williams (c.1604-1683) English/American clergyman. Also of note was William Williams of Connecticut, signer of the American Declaration of Independence.

For the next two or three centuries the surname Williams flourished and played an important role in local county politics and in the affairs of Britain in general.

The power of the Church, and the Crown, their assessments, tithes, and demands, imposed a heavy burden on rich and poor alike. Many looked to the New World for salvation. Some, such as Captain Morgan, even became pirates who roamed the islands of the West Indies.

The Plantation of Ulster, in Ireland, by the British crown, offered an opportunity for settlers to obtain land in exchange for pledging to remain protestant. Those who immigrated to Ireland were granted lands previously owned by the native Catholic Irish. Census records in Ireland show the Williams name in Antrim and many other counties. Here, it should also not be confused with McWilliams, an entirely different name.

The lure of the New World also beckoned the Welsh. They sailed to the New World aboard dangerous, overcrowded sailing ships that sometimes arrived with only 60 or 70% of the original passenger list left alive.

Immigrants to North America bearing the Williams surname or one of its spelling variations include the Williams settlers in Bay Bulls, Newfoundland, traditionally descended from Vaughan's Welsh Colonists, who arrived in 1763. David Williams settled in Virginia in 1623, and Edward in Virginia in 1624. Others include: Elizabeth, to Virginia in 1623, Henry and Hugh to Virginia in 1623, Richard Williams to Maine in 1630, Robert Williams, his wife and child, who settled in Virginia in 1622 and many more. Many with this name can be found on the United Empire Loyalist lists, including John, David, Elijah, Henry and Robert Williams. The 1984 edition of the Report of Distribution of Surnames in the Social Security ranks the name Williams as 3rd most popular surnames in the United States.

Among many notable contemporary bearers of this name are Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) Composer, Emlyn Williams (1905-87), Playwright and Actor; Sir William Fenwick Williams (1800-83), Tennessee Williams (1911-1983), American playwright, Archie Williams (1915-1993) American engineer/ Olympic gold medallist in 1936, Richard Williams (b. circa.1913) tennis player, Charles Cootie Williams (1908-1985) jazz musician, Sir George Williams (1821-1905) English social reformer and founder of the YMCA, Hiram King Williams, original name of Hank Williams, Sr.; as well as Robin Williams (b. 1952) American entertainer/actor/comedian.

Whilst researching a Coat of Arms born by a bearer of the Williams family name, we attempted to find the most ancient grant of Arms.

The Coat of Arms found was:

A shield divided gyronny ermine and black, with a gold lion rampant.

The Crest was:

A talbot passant divided per pale ermine and gold.

The ancient family Motto for this distinguished name was:

Cywir in gwlad

This page was last modified on 14 February 2011 at 14:47.

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