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About the study
George Redmonds (an authority on surnames) says that much of what has been written previously about surname history is assertion; you need to marry surname study with FH as much as etymology. Each surname is unique beginning with one person or family at a particular time and a particular place.
History of the name
Some of these names more likely original forms of the name Wileman or Willman.
I found 2 people surnamed Willsman, born Germany, living USA - so perhaps their Willsman surname evolved in a different way.
I also checked for one of my registered variants, Welsman (124 of them), and the distribution was similar - predominantly Devon, which is reassuring, with a healthy sprinkling over Dorset & Middlesex.
All this confirms my theory that Willsman is a Devon surname.
I checked the most recent Electoral Roll online and discovered that there were only 6 people surnamed Willsman registered! The name is becoming rarer.
Distribution of the name
The overall concentration of Willsman seems to be Devon, which is what I suspected, having conducted many census searches over the years as part of my family history. However, I do wonder if my findings throw some doubt on the surname history I bought.
My next steps:
1. I have joined the Devon Family History Society and I hope that extractions from their indexes will give me a more rounded picture of the surname.
2. Continue the census extractions for those years I am missing for my variants.
3. I have neglected Vital Records, so will search them.
4. A trip to the Devon Record Office to at least get a feel of what's available there.
I am excited to announce that the Willsman/Wilsman/Welsman/Wellsman DNA Project has been established at Family Tree DNA, and it is ready for participants to join and order a test kit. This is the project's page below.
The goals of the project are to:
* Discover information to help with our family history research
* Discover which family trees are related
* Discover information to help with brick walls
* Confirm surname variants
* Validate family history research
* Get on file a DNA sample for trees at risk of extinction of the male line
* Discover information about our distant origins