Nelson Surname Genealogy

is patronymic – from the personal name Neil or Neal
adopted by
Scandinavians in the form of Njal and introduced by them in the
north of
England and East Anglia where they settled.
There are many more Nelsons in America than in England, by a factor of six to one.  Most of the American Nelsons have a Scandinavian origin, from the Swedish Nilssons or the Danish Nielsens.  Nelson in recent times has become popular as a first name.
Select Nelson Resources on The Internet

The Nelson surname
started to appear in the 14th century. An early family was the
Nelsons of Maudsley in Lancashire, starting with Richard Nelson
recorded there in 1377.

the name John Nelleson was recorded in
the Wakefield rolls of 1324 and John Nelson was a Catholic martyr in the late
16th century. The county had the largest
number of Nelsons
by the 19th century:

  • Nelsons
    were seamen out of the port of
    Whitby in the 19th century.
  • while James Nelson was the forebear of a prosperous 19th
    century family of iron founders in Leeds. One of his
    descendants Captain Robert Nelson was an explorer with Henry Stanley in
    Africa (where he died).

was a long-established family of Nelson clergymen at Hiborough in
which produced Horatio Nelson, the English naval hero. His Lord
Nelson title passed after his death at Trafalgar in 1805 first to his
elder brother William and then to his nephew Thomas who adopted the
Nelson name. Another
branch of
this Nelson family resided at Holme House on the Norfolk coast.

Scotland. The Nielson
name appeared in Ayrshire, the Craigcaffie Nielsons, as early as the
14th century. Another line appeared at Corsock further south near
Wigtown. John Neilson of Corsock was a noted Covenanter who was
executed in Edinburgh in 1666 “after having been tortured with the

The Nielson name had generally become Nelson by the 18th
century; and most Nelsons were to be found in and around Glasgow by the
19th. Alexander Nelson was a tanner from Glasgow who enlisted in
the British army in the 1750’s and later settled in Nova Scotia.

Ireland. Scots Nelsons
brought the name to Ireland where it was to be found in Dublin,
Antrim, and Armagh.

Thomas Nelson, a merchant from Cumberland known
as Scotch Tom, came to Virginia around 1705 and made his home Yorktown
he built Nelson House). His
became one of the leading Virginia colonial families. Son William
Governor of Virginia and his son Thomas a signer of the Declaration of

This Nelson family became closely connected with another leading
Virginia family, the Pages. Both were impoverished by the Civil
War. But Thomas Nelson Page later thrived as a writer who served
up an idealized version of the old Antebellum South.

The largest numbers of Nelsons today are in Minnesota, a state noted
its Scandinavian immigration.

Anders Nilsson, for instance, changed his name to Nelson on his arrival
in New York from Sweden in 1854. He later settled down in Chisago
county, Minnesota. Carl Nelson moved to a
Scandinavian settlement
in Nicollet county in 1857 and survived an Indian raid there five years
later. From Swedish roots came Ozzie Nelson and the 1950’s teen
idol Ricky Nelson.

Canada. William Nelson
had come to Quebec province as a teacher from Newsham in Yorkshire in
1781. He had what turned out to be two firebrand sons, Wolfred
and Robert, who led a short-lived revolt against British rule in
1837. Both were exiled but later allowed to return. Wolfred
in fact became mayor of Montreal in 1854. Dr. Horace Nelson of
this family was the inventor of Nelson’s inhaler.

Nelson Miscellany

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

Select Nelson Names

was Governor of Virginia in 1781 and one of the signers
of the Declaration of Independence.  
Horatio Nelson
was the famous and celebrated English naval
commander, the victor at Trafalgar in 1805.
Ricky Nelson was a teen idol
and second only to Elvis Presley as the most popular rock and roll
artist of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
is the legendary American country singer/songwriter.
Prince Rogers Nelson is more
commonly known as the musical artist Prince.

Select Nelsons Today

  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 175,000 in America (most numerous in Minnesota)
  • 63,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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