Select Nelson Surname Genealogy

Nelson in England 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 iin recent times has become popular as a first name.

Select Nelson Resources on The Internet

England.  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.

Yorkshire 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).
There was a long-established family of Nelson clergymen at Hiborough in north Norfolk 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 boot."

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.

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

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 for 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.

Select Nelson Miscellany

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

Select Nelson Names

Thomas Nelson 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.
Willie Nelson 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)

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

Return to Main Page