Ellis Surname Genealogy

Elis (from the Greek Elias and the biblical Elijah) was a popular
medieval name, having been adopted by some early saints. It
became in Old English Elys or Elis and then Ellis.
In Wales this surname seems to have absorbed forms derived from the Welsh personal name Elisedd, meaning one who is kindly and benevolent. Ellis developed from an early time as a surname in North Wales and in the West Ridings of Yorkshire.
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Select Ellis Ancestry

The Welsh patronymical style, such as Ellis ap
Griffith, first applied. Ellis as a surname dates from about 1600
at Ystumllyn near Criccieth in Carnarvon.

The name later was to be found more in
Merioneth (present
day Gwynedd). This rural part of Wales became a hotbed first of
nonconformity and then of nascent nationalism. The farmer Rowland
, a convert to Quakerism, left Dolgellau for
Pennsylvania with a
hundred like-minded enthusiasts in 1686. They settled in
Bryn Mawr, named after his farmhouse in Dolgellau and now a famous
women’s college. Other Quaker Ellises left for Pennsylvania in
1690 and 1707.

Land evictions were a problem in the 19th
century. Tom Ellis, the son of an evicted Bala tenant, was
elected MP in 1886 on a nationalist program at the tender age of
27. Sadly he died young before his promise could ever be

England. The Yorkshire
Ellises were equally as numerous.

Yorkshire Sir
John Ellis built Kiddal
near Barwick in the
late 14th century and it stayed with the family for nearly four
hundred years. There were clusters of Ellises in Halifax and
elsewhere in the West Ridings. Ellis was a common name around
Ossett. Joshua Ellis from Ossett bought into the Savile woollen
mill in Dewsbury in the 1820’s. The mill of Joshua Ellis and
Company, one of
the oldest in Yorkshire, lasted into the 21st century but was closed
down recently.

A Quaker Ellis community established itself in Rotherham and later,
further south and in a more substantial way, in Leicester.
Starting as farmers, branches of this family in Leicester moved into a
variety of merchant and banking businesses. John Ellis began the
Leicester and Swimmington railway in the 1840’s and became an MP
and mayor of the borough.

Less monetary-minded were a Quaker
couple from Bradford, James and Mary Ellis, who moved to the west coast
of Ireland at the time of the potato famine and embarked on a Quaker
relief program for the people of Letterfrack.

There was as well an early Quaker Ellis community in Cornwall near St.
Just. The Ellis name was to be found from the 1620’s in Penzance
and Redruth and in the Scilly Isles. And the Ellis name also
cropped in Dartmoor villages such as Modbury, Chagford and Belstone
in Devon.

An Ellis family in Cambridgeshire has been traced back to Bourn where
they held a manor around the year 1500. They were prominent landowners
at Meldreth in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Ireland. Ellis appeared
as Elys in Dublin in 1283 and has recurred frequently in Irish records
in subsequent
centuries in Dublin, Cork, and in various parts of Ulster.

Patrick Henry Ellis from Dublin was one of the first English settlers
South Africa, arriving there with British troops when they occupied the
Cape in 1795. An earlier rover was Henry Ellis, from an English
family in Monaghan County, who became a slave trader and was appointed
governor of the British American colony of Georgia in 1757.

Canada. Ellises from
Ireland were early immigrants into Newfoundland, from the 1790’s.
The town of Elliston is named after the Rev. William Ellis, a Methodist
missionary from county Down. William Ellis ran a construction
business in St. John’s and helped rebuild the town after a devastating
fire in 1892. He was appointed mayor of St. John’s in 1910.

Edward and Mary Ellis were early settlers in Puslinch township
southwest of Toronto. Edward donated the land for the Ellis
Methodist chapel that was built there in 1861.

There were a number of Ellises who headed west as the 19th
century proceeded; such as Robert and Eliza Ellis who homesteaded near
Walsh in Saskatchewan in 1885; and Thomas and Sarah Ellis who moved to
Calgary in 1886 and then onto Nanaimo in British Columbia in 1894.

America. Ellis Island
New York Harbor was the arrival point for immigrants to America in the
late nineteenth century. The name was nothing special. A
New York tradesman, Samuel Ellis, had bought the uninhabited island in
the 1770’s and gave it his name. But he resold the island thirty
years later.

There were Ellis arrivals there or elsewhere on the
East Coast from England, Wales, and Ireland:

  • the descendants of
    John Ellis were to be found in Sandwich, Massachusetts for many
    generations. A branch ended up in Maine.
  • Edward Ellis
    arrived in Virginia in 1636. Later Ellises settled in Tennessee
    and North Carolina. Daniel Ellis of Tennessee spun his Civil War
    stories into a popular book, The
    Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis
    , that was published in
  • and Archibald
    was one of the pioneer farmers of Butler county,
    in the 1860’s.

Texas Other
Ellises moved onto
Texas. In
fact, by
the 20th century, the state of Texas had the largest number of
Ellises in the United States:

  • Richard Ellis had left Virginia for Texas in 1834 while it was
    part of Mexico. He set up his cotton plantation in Bowie County,
    attended the Texas convention in 1836, and was the one who signed the
    Texas Declaration of Indeprendence.
  • William Ellis ran his sugar
    plantation in what is now Sugar Land before the Civil War on slave
    labor and after the war on convict labor.
  • while later arrivals included
    MG Ellis, who started a cattle business in north Fort Worth, and James
    Ellis, who was a property
    developer in south Dallas
    at the turn
    of the century.

Other Ellises.
Ellis is sometimes in America a Jewish surname, probably originating
from Lithuania. Abraham Ellis and his family were recorded
as arriving in New York from Lithuania in 1888.

The name could also be
Mediterranean. Toufic Kmeid was an immigrant in
the 1920’s from Lebanon who changed his name to Ellis (after his
grandfather Elias). He
started out as a travelling peddler and, after making some money, was
able to buy his own store in a small town in upstate New York. In
Kisses from a Distance, Raff
Ellis chronicled this family history, his parents’ marriage and
migration to America and their struggle to raise a family and make ends
meet during the Great Depression.

Caribbean. John Ellis was
an early settler in Jamaica, having arrived there from Wrexham in the
1670’s. The Ellises became one of Jamaica’s leading planter
families in Jamaica (as well as holding estates in Curacao) until the
19th century when their estates became saddled
with debts.

The Ellis name has lived on in Jamaica – with Alton
Ellis, the godfather of Rocksteady, and Hortense Ellis, who is
acclaimed as Jamaica’s First Lady of Songs.

South Africa. Patrick Henry Ellis arrived in the
Western Cape with British troops in 1795 and married a local Afrikaans
woman. They have many descendants in South Africa.

Australia. Elias and
Rebecca Ellis were early Jewish migrants to Australia. They
arrived from England in the 1820’s and made their home on Pitt Street
in Sydney. Louis Ellis became sheriff of Victoria and his
daughter Constance one of the first woman doctors in Australia.

Select Ellis Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Ellis Names

Sir John Ellis
was the forebear of the Yotkshire Ellises in Kiddal Hall.
Rowland Ellis led the Welsh
Quaker migration to Pennsylvania in the 1680’s.
Samuel Ellis
(or Dutch Sam) is the boxer credited with
having developed around 1800 the uppercut punch.
Richard Ellis was the signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence
in 1836.
John Ellis was a prominent
Quaker businessman in Leicester.
Webb Ellis
was the
Victorian clergyman often credited with the invention of the game of
rugby football while a schoolboy at Rugby School.  Dowel Ellis was the mayor of Johannesburg after whom Ellis Park,
South Africa’s national rugby stadium, is named.

Select Ellises Today

  • 85,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Essex)
  • 70,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas).
  • 44,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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