52 ancestors Thomas Willis

23 Mar

Thomas Willis was my Great Great Grandfather, he was born at Barnard Castle, County Durham in 1828, part of a large family. His father Joseph married twice and had 12 children, Thomas was the son of the first wife Ann Kipling, Thomas is possibly working as a man servant to a farmer in the 1841 census, living at Aislaby, near Yarm, but I’m not certain it is him. He went out to America around 1850 (have found a possible passenger record for him then) and in 1852 married Rachel Halden in Chicago, Illinois, the story is they went to see the parson to discuss their wedding plans and he offered to marry them there and then, so they agreed. When they returned home, Rachel’s brother was so horrified at the news, he ran away and was never seen again!

Halden Willis marriage

It must have been quite brave to move from County Durham to the USA; interestingly in 1870 in America his sister (half sister) Katherine is living with the family, I wonder if she stayed in the USA? Also the family paid a visit back to England in 1873.

New York Passenger List 1873 May 13th Willis family

Passenger list May 1873.

Thomas and Rachel had eight children but only two Katie Elizabeth (Kitty) and Eleanor Eaton (Nellie) lived to any age (84 and 80 respectively), Thomas also lived until he was 80, dying in 1908.

Rachel died in childbirth in the USA and when Nellie was about five Thomas returned with his two daughters to England where they were brought up by an Aunt. Many of the houses Thomas built in the USA burnt down in The Great Fire of Chicago as did the girls’ birth records. On returning to England Thomas apparently never worked again, although on the 1881 census he is described as a builder, not a retired builder, he was a member of the Masons and this photograph shows him with his masonic sword. In 1880 he married a second wife,  Ann Longstaff but by 1891 he is widowed and living with his daughter Katie/Kitty.

My Grandma told me that he used to sit her on his foot when she was a baby and sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to her which she joined in with as “Yannee Nannee Noona” she was Winifred, so Winnie for short, so he called her Winnipeg and from that Peggy. My twitter name Jopeg comes from Grandma saying she thought of me being Jopeg (like her Winnipeg) because of my name being Joanna Margaret and Peggy being a derivation of Margaret.So Thomas Willis has in an indirect way made his mark on Twitter!


Thomas Willis with his masonic sword.

Thomas Willis with his masonic sword.


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3 responses to “52 ancestors Thomas Willis

  1. dan

    April 1, 2014 at 1:40 am

    what a great little background story. nice 1


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