Wilson Surname Genealogy

Wilson is a patronymic English name, meaning “son of Will,” a contraction of
William. It is mainly found in the north of England, as opposed
to Wills and Willis which are far more common in the south. In
Scotland, the thinking has been that the Scottish Wilsons were
originally of Viking origin and that Wilson was instead a corruption of “wolf’s son.”

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England. The Wilson surname first came into use in
England in the late 1300’s. At that time, a Yorkshire line ran
William son of John de Waldershelf to John Wilson de Bromhead.
family was later resident at Jerusalem Hill near Sheffield.

Then there were the
Wilsons of Eshton Park in Malhamdale. Mathew Wilson from
Westmoreland had purchased the Yorkshire estate in 1646. He was a
supporter during the Civil War and the ghost of the Royalist leader in
north, James Fairfax, was said to have haunted the grounds. The
stayed with
the family until 1960. A notable 20th century descendant was Peter Wilson,
the man who put the art auction house Sotheby’s on the global map.

There were other Wilson estates in the north of
England from the 17th to the 19th century – at Bank Hall in Cumberland,
Casterton Hall in Westmoreland, Forest Hall in Durham, and Melton Hall,
Sneaton Hall, and Tranby Croft in Yorkshire. From Thomas Wilson,
a Leeds wool merchant of the 17th century, came one line in London and
Sir Robert Wilson, a British army general, and another line in
Yorkshire that inherited Melton Hall near Doncaster.

Harold Wilson’s
Yorkshire forebears are to be found in the manorial records of Helmsley
Ryedale. His great great grandfather James Wilson, born in 1790,
was a cordwainer and farmer

Scotland. The Wilson clan in Scotland may have
taken its name from Will Gunn who held the title of “Crowner” of
Caithness around 1464.

However, the name had surfaced earlier on the
Scottish borders. There were the Wilsons of Croglin near
Dumfries and
Wilsons in Berwickshire (where John Wilson was a burgess in
1467). Wilsons featured initially as a Border clan. By the
17th century,
with the Border pacification, some of these Wilsons had drifted
southwards into England.

The Wilson
name had become fairly well established in Ayrshire and also in
Lanarkshire and
Stirlingshire by the 18th century. In 1684 Margaret Wilson, the martyr
of Wigton
, was drowned for her Covenant faith, whilst
her brothers fled Ayrshire for Ulster. Later Wilsons were:

  • Robert
    , living in the late-1700’s, who was
    the forebear of the Wilsons of Kilwinnet in Ayrshire.
  • a Wilson family from East
    Forth in Lanarkshire who started up the Wilsontown ironworks in the
  • and
    nother Wilson family,
    merchant weavers at Bannockburn near Stirling, who have handed down
    records of
    the tartan trade from 1750 to the early 1900’s.

Ireland. The Wilson
name is also to be found mainly in Ulster, and in particular in
The name could have been an anglicization of the Gaelic word O’Shauaghor
“fox.” However, most Wilsons there are probably of Scottish
ancestry. Some 70% of Irish Wilsons are to be found in Northern

America. The Wilson family was a
prominent landowner in
Norfolk county, Virginia and later of Corntuck county, North
Carolina. Colonel James Wilson, of
probable English roots, was the forebear of this family, arriving there
in 1693.

Some of
the later Wilson arrivals were Scots Irish:

  • John
    from Derry who came to Cumberland county,
    Pennsylvania in 1729
  • William Wilson from Antrim who came to Lancaster county,
    Pennsylvania in the
  • and Charles Wilson, also from
    who came to
    Augusta county, Virginia in 1737.

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th American President, was also from this Scots
stock. His grandfather James Wilson had
arrived from county Down around 1805 and worked as a printer in
before heading west to Ohio. His father
was the Rev. Joseph Wilson, a Presbyterian minister

Two notable Wilson arrivals from Scotland were:

  • James Wilson who came to America from Fife in 1765 and
    established a law practice in Philadelphia. He was one of the
    signers of the Declaration of Independence and in 1789 one of the first
    six Justices of the Supreme Court.
  • and Alexander Wilson who came to Philadelphia from Paisley
    1794. He became
    so well known for his studies and drawings of birds that he is now
    considered as the
    father of
    American ornithology.

Wilson, a Loyalist from Vermont, was an early settler in 1794 at Oshawa
on the
Lake Ontario shoreline when it was still wilderness.
first house was a deserted log cabin once used by the French
as a fur trading post.
, born of Irish
parents outside of Toronto in 1859, headed west as a young man and
became a
famous early guide of the Canadian Rockies.

Wilson Miscellany

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

Select Wilson Names

was a Scots-born American ornothologist of the 18th
was the 28th President of the United States. He
America through the end of World War One but failed to get American
backing for the League of Nations.
Sir Henry Wilson was Chief of
the Imperial General Staff during World War
One. He was assassinated by Irish extremists in 1922.
Bill Wilson was the founder of
Alcoholics Anonymous in New York in the 1930’s.  Edmund Wilson was an American
writer and literary critic.
Harold Wilson was the British
Prime Minister in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Brian Wilson was the founding
member and lead singer of the American Beachboys group.

Select Wilsons Today
  • 228,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 295,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 134,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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