Guild of One-Name Studies
One-name studies, Genealogy
Variants: Wellsman, Welsman, Wilsman
Category: 2 - A study where research using core genealogical datasets and transcriptions is well under way, but currently in some countries only.
DNA website: www.familytreedna.com/groups/willsman/about/background
Contact: Liz Craig
I started tracing my family history about 20 years ago and discovered that my great grandmother Ivy Edith's surname was Willsman. I didn't realise just how unusual the name was/is until I started tracing her ancestral line. I also became aware during census searches etc that the surname seemed to be Devon-centred. Aware that the name was unusual, I collected all references I found to the surname Willsman just in case it might come in useful later. I have always been interested in the history & origin of names. Then I heard about The Guild of One Name Studies! Through my membership of the Guild, I have learned a great deal about how to study a surname in a thorough and systematic way. I also learned that it is important to think flexibly about the spellings of surnames.
When I started researching the name, I looked up the meanings of the variant spellings of W*lsman. The National Trust Names website said “English - Occupational Name; Ending with *man”. The Public Profiler website also said it was of English origin. My own research into the W*lsman variants point to the name possibly originating in Devon, so this, at least, seems accurate.
Many years ago, I naively bought a surname history from a market stall selling computerised surname histories. In examining its claims closely, I have come to realise that these potted surname histories are not the most reliable of sources. One of its theories is that Willsman perhaps might mean son of William, but I have not yet found any evidence to support this.
I looked up the meaning of a similar name - Wellman. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, Wellman/Welman means dweller by a well or stream. The Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames says that Wellsman/Welsman means Welshman. Variants are Welshman & Welchman. Willsman was not included in the initial scope of the project which gave rise to this publication (The Family Names of the UK Project) as it had under 100 name bearers at the time of the 1881 census, but there is a second wave of the project, which will include rarer surnames.
An esteemed expert on surnames, George Redmonds, says that much of what has been written previously about surname history is assertion; it is important to combine surname study with family history as much as etymology (the study of the origin and history of words). The study of words and sounds is not enough to reach a conclusion as to the origin of the name. Each surname is unique, beginning with one person or family at a particular time and a particular place. The metamorphosis of Welsman to Wellsman and Willsman illustrates this perfectly.
My market stall surname history said: “The surname Willsman is a baptismal name the son of Gilmyn. The name was brought to England in the wake of the Norman Conquest of 1066. Early records of the name mention Gilaman filius Gilandi, 1100, Yorkshire. Other names mentioned include John Wylemin of Bucks in 1273, William Wyleman of Cambridge and John Wyleman of London all in the same year. Also documented at the same time were Walter Gilmin of Oxfordshire, John Gyleman of Bucks, Gylemin Coc of Kent. Cristopher Gylemyn was documented during the reign of Edward III (1327-77) in Somerset. Gilmyn Rogeri of Yorkshire was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379 as was Johannes Gyleman. Waldeof filius Gilmin was recorded in Yorkshire in the year 1400. There was the record of a marriage license issued to John Carter and Gylmen Haverd in 1546 in the Faculty Office. Later records include Harold Gilman (1878 - 1919) an English artist born in Rode, Somerset. The name is also spelt Gillman and Gilmin.” To me, these names closely resemble original forms of the name Wileman or Willman – but not W*lsman. In all its variants, the W*lsman name has always retained its central 's'; I have yet to find a variant of this surname which does not have it.
Looking at distribution maps of the W*lsman name, W*lsman did not appear in Yorkshire until much later, and the family who lived there were descended from a Devon Welsman family.
I found 2 people surnamed Willsman, born Germany, living USA - perhaps their Willsman surname evolved in a different way. However, I have checked the Digital Dictionary of Surnames in Germany and there were no entries for Willsman or its variants.
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.
According to the Public Profiler website (2008), Welsman/Willsman is an English surname. Historically, the highest concentration of W*lsman has always been in Devon, but there are early instances of the name in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and a handful of other instances in Sussex and Suffolk.
Highest incidences of the name in the UK are in (descending order) Devon, Newport, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, and Northamptonshire. In New Zealand, the Willsman surname occurs in Queenstown, Dunedin City and Christchurch; this family descend from the Devon Willsman family.
However, as the W*lsman name is so unusual, I have established another Willsman/Wilsman/Welsman/Wellsman project, also at Family Tree DNA, which is open to both men and women.
The yDNA (male name-bearers) project is here
The autosomal (male & female W*lsman descendants) is here
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
You may find our other Guild websites of interest: