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NELSON Family History

This notable surname is of early medieval English origin, and is a patronymic form of the Middle English personal name Nell or Nele, itself coming from either 1)the Old Gaelic-Irish personal name Niall, thought to mean "champion", or  2) a pet form of Elias.  It is argued that the former was adopted by Norsemen in the form "Njall", and was brought to Northern England and East Anglia by Scandinavian settlers. Among the Normans (although French speaking, themselves of Scandinavian origin) it is said to have taken the form "Ni(h)el", which was usually Latinized as "Nigellus" through an incorrect association with the word for black/dark. One Willelmus filius (son of) Nigelli was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 for Berkshire, and a Willelmus filius Nele in the 1304 Subsidy Rolls of Yorkshire.


From the Middle English personal name Nelle, which is either a variant of Nele (Latinised Nigellus),  or a pet form of the personal name Elias, the Latin and New Testament Greek form of Hebrew Eliyahu 'Jehova is God'.

The surname Neilson is a variant.

According to Woulfe the Gaelic surname Mac Neighill was anglicised to Neilson, Nielson and Nelson.  It is most likely that this is a Scottish-Gaelic surname, derived from the Norse form Njall.

Early bearers: Adam Nel, Oxfordshire 1273 (Hundred Rolls) John Nelleson, West Yorks 1324 (Wakefield Court Rolls); Johannes Nelesone in Lincolnshire 1377 (Poll Tax); Thomas Nelson in Lancashire 1458 (Fines).

The main location for the surname in 1881 was Lancashire and West Yorkshire with a combined frequency of over 2, 600.   In 1891 the frequency of the surname Nelson in Lancs stood at 3,073, which was 24% of the England & Wales population.  There was another group of Nelson households in Norfolk with a frequency in 1881 of 500.

Joseph Nelson (b. 1809) was a Cornishman convicted UK on 24th March 1835 and sentenced to 7 years penal servitude for forging half crowns; he was transported to Australia aboard the ship "Recovery" on 26th October 1835.

The famous British admiral, Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), came from a family in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk.

A significant group settled in Northern Ireland, several of whom such as John Nelson, taking ship in 1833, settled in New Brunswick, Canada.


1881, 1891 Census

A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, C.W.E. Bardsley, London 1872-96

Homes of Family Names in Great Britain, H.B. Guppy, London 1890

Surnames of the Unoted Kingdom, H. Harrison, London 1912

Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall, P. Woulfe,  Dublin 1913

Surnames of Ireland, E. MacLysaght, Dublin 1985

The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain & Ireland, eds Hanks, Coates, McClure 2016

Cornwall Online Parish Clerks: retrieved from




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Anthony Barrett

(Part 1 of 3) The Nelson name has a long history in the British Isles, but now DNA and some recorded history says their origin is from the Emerald Island. The Nelson story [dominated by DNA tribal marker R1b-L513, Subgroup B2] can trace their origins to the Finn Valley in Donegal, Ireland from 50 BCE. Perhaps the journey begins with the Clanna Dedad; Deda, son of Sen or Deda Mac Sin. The Nelson surname origin is from Clan Domnaill [DNA Tribe R1b-L513, Subgroup B1] and relations who remain in Ireland take the modern surname (O’)Donnelly, (O’) Donoghue, Donohue and Hughs in Ireland.

Anthony Barrett

(Part 2 of 3) According to research, the Domnaill name is also found in Brittany, France. It is a very old name which appears in the 5th century Roman inscriptions as Dumnovellaunos in Brittany meaning “Deep Valour” equivalent to Irish Domhnaill. But how could this be? Recent discoveries from DNA testing are unlocking the migration patterns of Celtic tribes as late as 800 CE to 1200 CE. The Nelson story begins in pre-history Donegal then moves to north-east Ireland where the family can be traced back to the Dal Riata. An ancestor and many of his kin will then move to Scotland during the Dark Ages.

Anthony Barrett

(Part 3 of 3) Discover their newly found untold story and how forgotten texts bring their story back to life. From the ebook, “The Tribe Within” learn how DNA unfolds this amazing tale and if you look in the right places, how history narrates this evidence. There is another written account of their story, but it is camouflaged in smoke and myth – it will become the tales of King Arthur. Come follow in the footsteps of Deda Mac Sin and visit


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