Some general observations can be drawn from our Y-DNA test results:
1. The Willis surname did not originate from a single patriarch. This is no surprise, given that those who first bore the surname were sons of men who had the name William. William was a very popular name in the 1200s, which is about when the Willis surname originated. In our project to date there are 72 different genetic Willis lines.
2. The Willis surname originated in south-central England. This can be seen visually by going to the website http://gbnames.publicprofiler.org, clicking on the large blue circle, selecting the year 1881, and entering Willis in the box. This is confirmed in our project. Every member whose earliest known Willis ancestor was born before 1750 and can be traced back to a specific location in England, traces him to south-central England.
Using the http://gbnames.publicprofiler.org website, one can see that the similar surnames Williamson, Williams, Wilson, Wills, and Willis originated in different geographic areas of Great Britain:
Williamson: Scotland and northeastern England (assignment of the suffix -son perhaps having a Scandinavian influence)
Williams: Wales and western England (In Wales, surnames were often created by adding a simple "s" after a father's given name.)
Wilson: southwestern Scotland
Wills: far southwestern England (Cornwall)
Willis: south-central England
The reason for the differences in suffix assignment must have had to do with the ways of speaking in these different locations, and perhaps also different dates of adoption of surnames (for example, surnames were adopted earlier in southern England than in many other parts of Great Britain).
3. There has not been much crossover between Willis and the names listed above or similar sounding surnames, such as Wallace or Wells.
The following is a count of our participants.
I. Y-DNA test
The Southern Group - 46
Subtotal - Grouped – 172
surname – 48
Surname other than Willis – 49
– Ungrouped – 97
Total Y-DNA test – 269
Grand Total – 400
The Willis DNA Project now has 400 participants.
The two most popular DNA tests by our participants are the Y-DNA test and the Family Finder test:
Two-thirds of our participants have taken a Y-DNA test. This test looks at the Y chromosome, which is possessed only by men. It is passed down virtually unchanged from father to son. If you are a male whose surname is Willis, the Y-DNA test is the one to take to find or verify your connection to your patrilineal (Willis-surname) ancestors. FamilyTreeDNA is the only major company that offers a Y-DNA test.
Family Finder Test
Most of our participants who not have not chosen a Y-DNA test have taken the Family Finder test. This test looks at autosomal DNA, which is the DNA that is mixed together from both the father’s and mother’s sides. An autosomal DNA test, with different names, is also offered by other testing companies.
Participants in our Willis Project who take the Family Finder test are males or females whose birth surname may not be Willis but who are trying to find or prove a link to a Willis-surname ancestor or relative. Because autosomal DNA is mixed together, interpreting Family Finder test results can be a challenge, so it is helpful to have some experience in genealogy and knowledge of DNA. Many are uploading their Family Finder results along with their family tree (their GEDcom) to an outside company called GEDmatch. GEDmatch looks for matches between your data and data from other DNA testing companies.
Another benefit of an autosomal DNA test such as Family Finder is that it can tell you in what parts of the world your distant ancestors may have lived. For this reason an autosomal DNA test is far and away the most popular DNA test chosen by those in the general public who are not genealogy hobbyists.
Today our 300th participant joined the project. Over the past four years we’ve averaged about 35 new participants per year. This is faster than our previous rate of about 15-20 new participants per year. The increase is due to participants whose surname is not Willis, but who have a Willis in their ancestry. They are selecting FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder DNA test.
March 12, 2016
DNA testing has helped many of our participants to sharpen the focus of their research by ruling out rabbit trails. A recent example:
"The results are back and it is a great success. We see that we are part of The North Carolina Group and also realize that we are NOT related to the neighboring Willis family that lived in the same county at the same time (they are part of the Southwest Virginia and Kentucky Group). That eliminates researching anything that is in their tree and the match gives us where to start researching.... Hopefully, we are working closely with some new cousins."
March 16, 2015
In 2007, DNA testing proved that Jarvis Willis, born 1758 in Dorchester County, Maryland, was
related to the Dorchester County patriarch John Willis Sr. (died.1712).
The exact link between the two men had been unknown. But recent research of
early Willis families of the eastern shore of Maryland by participant Gary
Noble Willis has identified the exact link: John Willis Sr. to
Andrew Willis to John Willis to Jarvis Willis.
As of today, we have 250 participants.
June 24, 2014
We have 231 participants.The Maryland and Virginia Group has been split into two groups: (1) Old Rappahannock, Virginia, and (2) The Maryland Group. These two groups may have a common patrilineal Willis-surname ancestor, but if so, he probably will never be identified because he lived too far back in time.
July 11, 2013
Today our 200th participant joined the project.
Of our 200 participants, 166 (83%) have done a Y-DNA test (the test of their Willis lineage).
Of those 166, 114 (70%) match another participant, indicating that they share a common patrilineal ancestor.
The 114 participants who have found a match are divided into 18 independent Willis-surname groups (participants related within the group, but not to other groups). These 18 groups, from largest to smallest, are:The Southern Group - 29 participants
September 3, 2012DNA test results were reported for two descendants of Stephen Willis, born in 1703 in King William County, Virginia. The results connect Stephen Willis to America's largest group of related Willises, which in this project is called "The Southern Group." The results are a step forward in understanding the early ancestry of this group.
July 27, 2012The project now has 165 participants.
June 14, 2011
Today, DNA test results were reported for a
descendant of Jacob Willis of Morris County, New Jersey (born about
1770). They proved he is related to, and is possibly a descendant of,
Joseph Willis of New Jersey, who was born about 1680:
am pleased with the results. I thought Joseph Willis of 'The New
Jersey Group' might possibly be the ancestor of Jacob Willis (abt.
June 9, 2010Today, a match was found between two participants whose ancestors lived in the northeastern part of the United States in the late 1700s. One ancestor is Abraham Willis, who was born in 1796 in New York, lived in Schuyler, Herkimer County, New York in 1820, and later moved to Fairfield Township, Huron County, Ohio. The other ancestor is Melatiah Willis, who was born in 1767, died in 1823, and is buried in Corinth, Orange County, Vermont.
June 4, 2010
The project now has 113 participants.
DNA testing has answered a question for Willises descended from Henry Willis of Long Island (1628 – 1714). For the first time, test results were reported for a descendant of Henry's eldest son, William Willis of Long Island (1663 – 1736). This descendant’s DNA matches the DNA of descendants of Henry’s youngest son, John Willis (1669 – 1745). John Willis had moved to Pennsylvania in 1692, and in the mid-1700s his grandsons were living in western Virginia and Pennsylvania. Thanks to DNA testing, any question about the link between John and Henry has been removed.
July 31, 2009
The project now has 100 participants. It is growing at a rate of about 15 participants per year. DNA results confirm that the Willis surname originated in different locations, primarily in south-central England.
Since its inception in April 2003, the project has advanced our knowledge of Willis families, especially in America. The project has identified the largest related Willis group in America, which in this project is called "The Southern Group." participants of this group may have descended from one or more men who settled in Virginia or North Carolina in the 1600s or early 1700s.
March 14, 2009
We now have 92 participants.
Test results for our newest participant, whose most distant known Willis-surname ancestor is Thomas Willis of Rowan County, North Carolina (ca.1734–1794), are a match with the test results of another participant, whose most distant known Willis-surname ancestor is William Willis, also of Rowan County, North Carolina (married Cicily Coats in 1810). We have created a new group, called the "Rowan County, North Carolina" group, for these two participants. DNA test results of a third participant, who lives in Australia, show that the Willis-surname ancestors of these two Rowan County participants may have a more distant link, in England, with the Australian participant's most distant known Willis-surname ancestor, William Willis of Cambridgeshire, England (born in 1674 in Linton, Cambridgeshire, died in Linton in 1716).
November 3, 2008
We now have 87 participants.
November 14, 2007
We now have 72 participants.
DNA testing has confirmed a link between a descendant of Joseph Willis, born about 1759, who lived first in Essex County, New Jersey, then in Greene County, Pennsylvania, and later in Columbiana County, Ohio, and a descendant of a Joseph Willis who was born about 1680 in New Jersey:
"Yesterday I received welcome word that the two Willis men, my first cousin...and...., who I persuaded to join the Willis DNA project, were a match. Our paper trails show that our first common ancestor was Joseph Willis of Essex, New Jersey, b. 1680. He married a Patience Thompson. I'm very happy about this, of course. It gives me great pleasure to be able to confirm the family research that my father did, not to mention to go beyond it for several generations."
July 1, 2007
We now have 63 participants.
DNA testing has linked two large groups of Willises whose ancestors lived in North Carolina. One group is descended from Benjamin Willis, an early settler in Mitchell County, North Carolina, who was born in North Carolina about 1765. A son of Benjamin Willis was Rev. Thomas Willis, husband of Keziah Grindstaff. According to an interview with Rev. Willis' son Steven Morgan Willis in 1930, one year before Steven's death, the family was originally from England. The other group of Willises is descended from Henry Willis, who died in Caswell County, North Carolina in 1820.
February 1, 2007
DNA testing is helping descendants of early Willis-surname settlers in Maryland confirm their ancestry:
"My DNA tests have helped confirm Jarvis Willis born 1752 in Maryland as the father of my William Willis. Jarvis Willis lived for some time in Franklin County, Tennessee which is adjoining Warren County, Tennessee. Also, I was able to establish that John Willis was a son of Jarvis Willis and he is the ancestor of William Marion Willis .... William Marion Willis' father was James Willis, a son of John Willis ... I have been studying these families since the 1970's and DNA testing has broken down my brick walls!"
DNA testing shows that the DNA of Willis-surname descendants of Jarvis Willis are an almost exact match with the DNA of a descendant of John Willis of Dorchester County, Maryland, who was born about 1695.
January 6, 2007
We now have 55 participants. About 60% of our participants have a DNA match with at least one other participant in the project.
We recently confirmed the DNA of a Willis family who lived in Gloucester County, Virginia and Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County, Virginia during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. DNA testing has shown a close match between two project participants who are both descendants of Lewis Willis (born in Fredericksburg on November 11, 1734). Lewis Willis is a son of Col. Henry Willis of Gloucester County, Virginia and his third wife Mildred Washington (aunt of General Washington). One of these two project participants is descended from Lewis Willis' son William Champe Willis (born about 1770), the sixth child of Lewis Willis and his first wife Mary Champe, through William's son John Whitaker Willis or brother who settled in Mississippi. The close relationship of this project participant to John Whitaker Willis had been suspected, but not confirmed. Recently we received the DNA test results for a second project participant, who is descended from Byrd Charles Willis (born August 29, 1781), son of Lewis Willis and his second wife Ann Carter. The DNA test results of this participant match the DNA results of the John Whitaker Willis descendant.
The DNA test results of a new project participant who is descended from John Willis of Old Rappahannock, Virginia (born about 1648 in Old Rappahannock, died 1716 in Richmond County, Virginia) are a close match with the DNA test results of four other project participants. One of these four other project participants is descended from John Willis of Dorchester County, Maryland (born about 1695). The earliest-known Willis-surname ancestors of the three other project participants lived in Alabama, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland during the 1800s. The test results for these three other project participants are a closer match to John Willis of Dorchester County, Maryland than they are to John Willis of Old Rappahannock, Virginia.
May 29, 2006
We now have 43 participants in our project.
Family Tree DNA recently confirmed that one of our participants (a descendant of William Willis of Alabama, born 1820) is a direct patrilineal descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages, who established a dynasty of chieftains that dominated Ireland for six centuries.
One group of our participants has established through DNA testing that his Willis-surname ancestors who lived in Gallatin County, Illinois are descended from or related to Rev. Joseph Willis (about 1713 - 1784), who lived in the eastern part of North Carolina (Craven County).
Five of our participants, whose earliest-known Willis ancestors have been shown though DNA testing to be related to each other, lived in different western locations (western Virginia, western North Carolina, western Tennessee, Iowa). None of these locations was settled until about the mid-1700's or later. Because these related ancestors are scattered, they may have an earlier Willis ancestor who lived in one of the earlier settled areas of America.
DNA test results show that one of our newer participants, a descendant of William Marion Willis of Alabama (born 1856), is descended from or related to John Willis of Dorchester County, Maryland (born about 1695).
February 18, 2006
The project now has 38 participants and is growing at a pace of about one new participant per month. We recently had a participant join from Canberra, Australia. His ancestor is William Willis, born in 1674 in the town of Litton, in Cambridgeshire, England.
We now have seven groups of two or more related Willises. The DNA test results of about 60% of our participants match the results of at least one other participant. Some of the remaining 40% will find a match in the future as the project continues to grow.
July 23, 2005
Good news! Participant 27263 received 25-marker test results that show an almost perfect match (24/25) with participant 9461. The ancestors of both participants (James Willis, b. 1790's in North Carolina, lived in Tennessee) and David Willis (b. 1799 in Tennessee) were born about the same period and lived in Tennessee.
March 15, 2005
Our project now has 23 participants. We have a group of four participants whose results show a likely common ancestor who probably lived some time after the the adoption of the Willis surname ca 1200. These four ancestors are (1) Austin Willis of North Carolina, born c.1820, (2) Peter Willis of North Carolina and Tennessee, b. c.1765, (3) Abner Willis of Virginia, m. 1803, and (4) an unknown ancestor, possibly John D. Whitaker, b. 1805 in Mississippi. A descendant of each of these men has had 25 markers tested. There is a match on 22 of 25 markers for Austin Willis and Peter Willis, with only a one-step difference on the three unmatched markers. This indicates a possibility of a common American ancestor for Austin Willis and Peter Willis. For other two ancestors (Abner and the Unknown ancestor), there is a match on 21 of 25 markers.
August 11, 2004
Good news! Today participant 20484 received his 25-marker test results, which matches on 24 of 25 markers with participant 10590. It is almost certain that his ancestor, William Willis, who died before 1830 in Warren County, Tennessee, is descended from or related to John Willis, born about 1695, Dorchester, Maryland, ancestor of participant 10590.
July 1, 2004
June 8, 2004
We now have 15 participants and 13 results reported. Yesterday, one of our newest participants (20484) received results for the first 12 markers of the 25 markers he has chosen to test. His results matched the results of one of our other participants (10590) on 11 of the 12 markers. Most likely, these two participants have a common Willis ancestor. The ancestor of participant 20484 is William Willis, who died before 1830 in Warren County, TN. The ancestor of participant 10590 is believed to be John Willis, born about 1695, Dorchester, MD. We will know more once participant 20484 receives the results for the other 13 markers in the next few weeks.
So far we have the following groups in our project:
August 27, 2003
We have 11 participants in the Project. As of today, nine participants have returned their Kit to Family Tree DNA. Of the nine kits that have been returned, results have been reported for six participants. The results may be arranged into three groups:
"Info from "Willis Family of Maryland 1680-1805 by William P Hunt 1975 pg 1 "THE ORIGINAL EMIGRANT. John Willis, Granted 5 A of land in Barbados, he landed in St. Michaels, MD in 1680. He is later mentioned in the famous "Quit Rents" of 1704 as being a "Planter" (On file in the Library of Congress and the London Public Record Office. "Quit rents" were an early form of taxation) [His son Andrew was born about 1682, less 20 years would put John's birth about 1655-1660]"
July 21, 2003
DNA results were posted for a descendant of Henry Willis of Rich Creek, in what is now Giles County, Virginia, just south of Monroe County, West Virginia. All seven of Henry's sons moved to southern Ohio in the early 1800s. The results proved that Henry Willis of Rich Creek is a descendant of Henry Willis of Long Island. This was a surprise to many of those who had researched this line for many years. The following announcement was made by our participant for whom today's DNA results were posted:
"Family Tree DNA reported my ... results today. I am a 25/25 match with ... and ..., and a 24/25 match with .... I believe this now proves that Henry Willis of Monroe County, WV was the brother of Isaiah (b. abt. 1742, ... PA and John Willis (b. abt.1732, ... PA) and is the son of Henry Willis (b. ..., Chester County, PA) ... The belief of all the researchers (including Robert M. Willis whose genealogical works are in the Ironton, OH Library and were put on line by Oma Griffith) that Henry of Monroe was born before 1740 and twice married in Gloucester Co, VA has proved to be erroneous. The Gloucester Co. courthouse has burned twice and only erroneous family traditions survived ... This information will also be quite a surprise to a number of Willises that descend from the seven sons and four daughters of Henry of Monroe that for the most part all settled in the Lawrence County, OH area in the early 1800s."
June 16, 2003
A descendant of Abner Willis of Pennsylvania joined the project. "I am interested on behalf of my brother with whom I have discussed this idea. Our Willis family remained in Pennsylvania until his generation. The genealogical trail established so far runs to Abner Willis c.1750 in Cumberland/York/ Lancaster counties ... "
A descendant of John Willis born c.1695, Dorchester County, Maryland, joined the project.
"I ... thought that my John Willis was descended from Richard Willis (Willous) d. 1689, who patented "Roaley" (Rodley, Roadley or Rondley), 260A, in Dorchester Co, on the main branch ("Willis Dam Branch") of Transquaking River in 1687 (The Early Settlers of Dorchester County and Their Lands, by Calvin W and Mary I Mowbray, v II, p 171). This land went to his sons Richard and John Willis via will dated 21 Oct 1689, (4 1/2 Old 1). John and Richard's mother, Frances Unknown/Dawson/Willis/Fisher in a 26 Jul 1718 deed, sold other lands to the brothers with the proviso that they sell Rondley to their step brother, John Dawson (7 Old 63). All this occurs on the eastern shore of Maryland, with the group moving north into what became Caroline County ... I am now led to believe by some research done by others that this might not be my group after all. The Willis Dam crowd is for the most part Quaker, with numerous marriage, birth and death records preserved by Third Haven Monthly Meeting and with references to Transquaking and Tuccahoe Creek meetings. Thus, any proof of a tie or proof of no tie to Quaker immigrants will be beneficial to my research."
May 29, 2003
We now have five in the project. Four are descended from Henry Willis of Long Island, through three different lines, descended from Henry's son John, that branched off in the early 1700s, the fifth is descended from James Willis of North Carolina, who was born in the 1790s. It will be good to have James Willis' DNA profile on record for comparison with the many Willises down the road who will do Y-DNA tests.
April 18, 2003
Birthdate of the Willis project at Family Tree DNA.
April 14, 2003
Family Tree DNA reported results for the first two Willises tested. The results confirmed paper evidence that John Willis, b. abt. 1732, East Bradford Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, d. 1800, Franklin County, Virginia, was a brother of Isaiah Willis, b. abt. 1742, East Bradford Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Both John Willis and Isaiah Willis are sons of Henry Willis, b. abt. 1699, Thornbury Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, d. 1761, Newberry Township, York County, Pennsylvania, who is a grandson of the American Quaker immigrant Henry Willis of Long Island, New York. The significance of this DNA match is that there is now a confirmed DNA baseline against which any other Willis can compare their own DNA test results to determine if they are related to Henry Willis of Long Island. [Five books have since been published on the ancestry and descendants of Henry Willis of Long Island by David W. Willis, the Administrator of this website. They include: Henry Willis of Long Island, Vol. 1: 1550 - 1800 (2008); Henry Willis of Long Island, Vol. 2: Northern Branches (2012); Henry Willis of Long Island, Vol. 3: Southern Ohio Branch (2013); Henry Willis of Long Island, Vol. 4: Isaiah Willis (2009); and Henry Willis of Long Island, Vol. 5: Other Branches (2010).]
"I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me, those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front, to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond.
"And their eyes were my eyes.
"As I felt, so they had felt, and were to feel, as then, so now, as tomorrow and forever. Then I was not afraid, for I was in a long line that had no beginning, and no end, and the hand of his father grasped my father's hand, and his hand was in mine, and my unborn son took my right hand, and all, up and down the line that stretched from Time That Was, to Time That Is, and is not yet, raised their hands to show the link, and we found that we were one, born of Woman, Son of Man, had in the Image, fashioned in the Womb by the Will of God, the Eternal Father.
"I was of them, they were of me, and in me, and I in all of them."
From How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn
What is DNA?
A complete copy of your DNA exists in every cell in the body. One strand of DNA, called the Y chromosome (or Y-DNA for short), is possessed only by men. It is passed down from father to son, and is virtually unchanged from generation to generation.
How a Y-DNA Test Can Help Your Willis Family Research
The Y-DNA test examines the part of your DNA that is possessed only by men and passed down from father to son. The test provides you with the set of DNA numbers that is unique to your particular line of Willis-surname ancestors.
We compare the DNA numbers to those of other Willis participants. If there is a match or near match with another participant, you are very likely to be related. If there is not a match, the results become available for comparison with future participants.
Besides helping with your Willis family research, your Y-DNA numbers can tell you in what part of the world your distant patrilineal ancestors may have lived thousands of years ago.
How to Have a DNA Test Done
1. Go to the Family Tree DNA website, click on "Projects," and select "Willis."
2. Fill out the information and make a discounted group rate payment: $149 for the popular 37-marker Y-DNA test, or other options.
3. In a week or so, you will receive a self-addressed envelope, along with two small swabs and bottles.
4. Rub the swabs on the inside of your mouth, put them in the bottles, and mail them back in the envelope.
5. In four to five weeks, you will receive the results.
Your name is kept confidential.
Click here to visit the Family Tree DNA website. You can join our database at their website by clicking on "Projects" and selecting "Willis."
Click here to email the Project Administrator.