About the study
Willing is a surname derived from a place-name. It probably originated in South Devon, specifically in the area between Dartmoor and the sea, known as the South Hams. Willing Farm, near Totnes, is the probable origin of the name (see photo above). The name is also found in Germany and the Netherlands, but as far as I know, is not connected to the English Willing families. Some descendants of Dutch and German Willing families migrated to the UK, though.
Willings has a different origin, so far undetermined. Never very common, most of the earliest occurrences are in Castle Camps, SE Cambridgeshire.
Distribution of the name
- Leonard Willing (d 1634) who married Ann Lewis in 1607 in Plymstock. This line appears to be the most prolific and is the line to which I belong.
- Michael Willing (d 1650) who first appeared with his wife Elianor in 1602 in Modbury.
- Richard Willing (d 1750) who married Miriam King in 1694 in Loddiswell. Richard was of Holbeton, but their descendants lived in Loddiswell.
- James Willing (1759/60-1829) who married Elizabeth Scobell in 1782 in Aveton Gifford. James was of Stoke Damerel, and their descendants lived there.
Apparently unrelated trees are also found in other parts of England, such as Somerset. The family of Thomas Willing (1731-1821) of Philadelphia originated in North Somerset, and may be traced back to John Willing (d 1597), who lived with his wife Joane at Claverham in the parish of Yatton. There is a line which can be traced back at present to Samuel Willing (d 1735), who lived in Portbury, Somerset with his wife Ann, and had a son Thomas Willing (1733-1791), who married Mary Fowles or Vowles. Their son Thomas Willing (1760-1834) married Rachel Haydon in 1785 at Backwell, and had many descendants there. It seems likely that Samuel (d 1735) was baptised in Wraxall in 1696, a son of Thomas and Mary Willing, and was thus also descended from John Willing (d 1597). There is a possibility that the line of James Willing of Stoke Damerel originates here as well.
There is a line which has so far been traced to two brothers who both married on the same day in 1841 at St Pancras, London. James Willing (1810/1-1885) married Emma Skones and William Willing (1815/6-1860) married Esther Daye, but their origins have so far proved elusive.
There is another line which has so far been traced to Thomas Willing or Willan who married Ann Thompson in 1799 in Sunderland. Thomas is said to have come from Devon, but so far no baptism has been found.
Willings is apparently unrelated to Willing, although the two names are often confused. Most people named Willings are descended from a line which can be traced back to Edward Willings who married Elizabeth Waples in Cambridge in 1635. They lived in Castle Camps, Cambridgeshire. Edward Willings may have been baptised in 1606 in Bedford St Peter, Bedfordshire, but this connection has not yet been fully investigated.
Another Willings line has been traced to Thomas Willings who married Mary Grice in 1838 in Kirby Grindalythe, East Riding of Yorkshire. Thomas was born in 1809 in Cayton, North Riding of Yorkshire, the son of George and Sarah Windle or Windels. Both Thomas and his sister Sarah were baptised as Windle or Windels and married as Willings, but the reason for the change of name is not yet known.
The name Willing also occurs in Germany and the Netherlands, and some German and Dutch people named Willing have migrated to the UK. The Dutch Willings have been traced back to Mozes Barend Wing (d 1776) who first appeared in Amsterdam in 1740 and whose grandchildren changed their surname to Willing in 1812.
- All the BMD entries from the General Register Offices for England & Wales (1837 to date) and Scotland (1855 to date).
- All the entries from the probate registers for England & Wales (1858 to date) and Scotland (1876-1936).
- Census entries from all available years, 1841 to 1911.
- Parish register entries from Devon and many other areas.
- Entries from directories, newspapers, phone books and many other sources.
In September 2008 I set up a DNA Project for the surnames Willing and Willings at Family Tree DNA. One of the aims of the study is to create a list of DNA results, so that if you do not know where your family originates you can take a DNA test and see if you get a match with anyone in the project.
We now have a total of fourteen DNA results from seven different Willing families. These include representatives of the three main Willing families in Devon, Plymstock, Loddiswell and Modbury. There is also a participant from the Dutch Willing family, and two descendants of one of the two brothers who married in 1841 in St Pancras, London.
Four members of the Willin Surname Project have recently joined our project. Three of them belong to an American family of German origin, and the other one is descended from a man who was adopted into this family.
We also have a member who traces his line to 18th century Delaware, USA.
I would like to include representatives from more families in the project. For more information, see the link below.
The DNA project provided final proof of the ancestry of my great-great-great grandfather Nathaniel Willing, whose elusive baptism was the reason for starting my one-name study several years ago. He was the son of Nathaniel Willing and his first wife Mary, nee Edwards, and was probably baptised in Wembury, near Plymouth, around 1782/3.
If your name is Wealleans, Whellens, Whillance, Whillans, Whillas, or Willans you may be interested in the Whillans DNA Project. Testing has so far shown no link between Willing and Whillans/Weallans/Whellans. For more information, see the link below.