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Our 2,768 members have registered
2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

The Whillans One-Name Study commenced seriously in 1983 and concentrated on using parish and census records to link all those surnamed as or descended from Whillans to the family of James Whillans born in Roxburghshire Scotland during 1688 - to date, some 3,890 persons have been identified by name as his descendants. This research has been founded upon 'The Chronological Table of the Whillans Family of Jedwater, Parish of Southdean Roxburghshire Scotland', compiled over 180 years ago during August 1823 by Rev William Whillans of London Ontario.
In 1997, this study extended to its homonyms. Since then, as only one example, two groups of Wealleans (numbering 1,030 and 1,100 descendants) have been compiled, and work continues to link Whillans with Wealleans and its other homonyms.

Variant names

A supporting website provides details of the various homonym groups currently been researched.
Several homonyms for the Whillans surname exist, with the principal of these being Wealleans, Whellans, Whillance, Whillas, Whillis, Willans, as well as Wheelands/Wheelans/Weelands & Whealands/Whealans/Wealands - it is claimed that all these different spellings occur due to different regional and temporal influences on how the name was heard and recorded by ministers. With the considerable support from other genealogists, research on some of these has been well progressed, eg Whillans from Roxburghshire, Whillas from Berwickshire, Wealleans/Wheallens/Whellens from Northumberland, Weelands/Wealands from Durham, and Willans from Leeds Yorkshire.
There is strong evidence that Wealleans, Whillans, and Whellens are genetically related.
The surname Williams, though a very common misspelling of Whillans, is unconnected.
DNA data indicate no connection with Willing nor Whalen surnames.

Name origin

Considerable discussion on the Whillans surname's origin has occurred via the Whillans Rootsweb List, with no definite resolution. One hypothesis has argued that the last part of our surname 'lands' is quite obvious, with the first part arising from the Anglo-Saxon word for spring water 'Quelle'. Therefore the 'spring-lands' emerging near the headwaters of the Liddel River within the Castleton parish of Roxburghshire has led us to the present day surname Whillans. The Whillans were, it is argued, the people who farmed those holdings called the Wheel Lands in the early 1600s. These Liddesdale features included the Wheel Causeway (fit for wheeled traffic), Wheelrig Head (a 448m hill rising next to the Causeway), Wheel Kirk (erected about 1170AD, probably on the nearby Wheelrig Ridge and near the still unplaced €˜Whele village). The adjoining lands were referred to as Over and Nether Wheelkirk.  It is hypothesised that when the Castletown reivers were dispersed by Charles I about the 1620s, the clan moved out to adjoining districts.
Another more ancient but not incompatible hypothesis is that the name had originally been of Welsh origin from the Anglo-Saxon Wealleas, but it had moved soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion and was linked to the MacQuhillans of the 'Route' in northern Antrim of NE Ireland. The clan lost the greater part of its Irish lands at the close of the 16th century to the MacDonalds/MacDonnells, who scattered our numbers initially to the opposite shores of Argyllshire in Scotland, and eventually south, mostly to Roxburghshire Scotland and Northumberland England.

Historical occurrences of the name

The Whillans surname has been located in written records as early as 1622 in Coldingham Berwickshire Scotland, when a James Quhillans was a witness at a granting of legal possession of feudal property ('Qu' = 'W' in old Scotland).
Whillans forebears:
*  Don Desbrow Whillans (English mountaineer): Whillans Hut (UK), Whillans Harness.
*  Ken Gilmour Whillans (Brampton Ontario mayor): Ken Whillans Square, Whillans Lake (both in Ontario).
*  Ian Morley Whillans (Antarctic glaciologist): Mount Whillans, Whillans Ice Stream, Lake Whillans (all in Antarctica).
The earliest Wealleans progenitor was born during the 1630s. Many of his descendants lived in Flotterton House at Harbottle Peels of Northumberland overseeing their very significant land & stock properties.

Name frequency

The surname Whillans originally was most frequent in Roxburghshire, while Whillas was most frequent in Berwickshire (to its north-east), Wealleans & Whillis in Northumberland (to its south), Weelands & Wealands in Durham (further to the south), and Willans in Yorkshire's West Riding (even further to the south).

Distribution of the name

Both the use of telephone books in 1983 and the International Genealogical Index placed the main concentration of the Whillans surname within Roxburghshire Scotland, especially in or near Hawick & Jedburgh. After the substantial emigrations during the 19th century, many were to be found in Vancouver British Columbia Canada and Brisbane Queensland Australia.
The Inaugural Whillans Family Reunion, pictured above, was held over 15-16th August 1998 in New South Wales Australia, to celebrate the birthdays of Jessie Putland nee Whillans (95yo, b12aug1903), Eric Whillans (90yo, b14aug1908), and Anne Crockett nee Whillans (60yo, b14aug1938). Jessie Roesler nee Whillans (75yo, b09aug1923), in attendance, remarkably escaped our attention. Mark Augustine Whillans (28yo) met his seventh cousin Mark Alexander Whillans (30yo), and Teresa Whillans (27yo) met her seventh cousin Kylie Whillans (25yo).


Frank Whillans collects all references to the surname and its several homonyms up to the present day and maintains his data using Microsoft Word. Extracts can be provided as soft copy to those with a genuine genealogical interest in these surnames. Frank manages both the Whillans/Wealleans Rootsweb List and the Whillans Family Tree DNA Project, and also produces an annual e-newsletter.


A DNA study commenced during 2007 in order to determine whether the names Whillans, Wealleans, and other homonyms (Wealands, Wealens, Wheallens, Wheelens, Whellens, Whillance, Whillas, Whillis, Willans), are genetically related,€™ as hypothesised, that is, only differing due to the spellings used by different ministers in different counties.
The study to date shows a very strong match between the limited number of Whillans, Whellens, and Wealleans participants.
These DNA results do not support the literature which indicates that Whillans may have been a sept of (and presumably intermarried with) the MacDonald clan, nor part of the MacQuhillans of the 'Route' in Antrim. Likewise, testing has so far shown no link with the surnames Willing nor Whalen.
If you are a male with one of the above homonyms or one very similar, you can greatly assist our project by taking a simple and painless Y-DNA test involving simple swabbing inside your cheek. The Y-DNA37, a 37-marker paternal test, is the test recommended. Because this is a group study (under the auspices of GOONS and Family Tree DNA), the cost (2014) is about US$130+/-$10. Request a Y-DNA test