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James Henry Ellis

James Henry Ellis ca 1840-1922

Frederick John Ellis 1873-1932

Olive Alice Ellis 1913-1985

The Ellis line is one of our biggest brick walls. 


My great-grandfather’s early life is a mystery, although his second marriage certificate says his father had the same name and was a sailor, and the census records show that he was born in Portsmouth.  So far we have no further evidence of this.  There are also rumours that they were gypsies - again to be proved.


We do know they were poor, but no doubt proud, with James Henry having raised his young family in Hastings, before, returning to Portsmouth.  His son Frederick was more successful - a stevedore, though he died relatively young.  His daughter, my mother, also married a sailor.  


During my researches I have met ‘virtually’, other relatives, with the same brick wall.  We are all struggling and hope, like the tree in the picture, to one day break through.

Hastings, Portsmouth


meaning and origins

A popular name in medieval England derived from the Hebrew Elijah or the Greek Elias meaning ‘Jehovah is God’.  And I always thought it was Welsh - and indeed I also found that in Wales the surname absorbed (how does a surname absorb?) forms derived from the Welsh personal name Elisedd a derivative of elus meaning ‘kindly’ or ‘benevolent’.

Another version is that is from the latin, meaning ‘of ely’, with ely being a marshy area.

It’s a fairly common surname though - one sourceclaims it is the 76th most common surname in the UK today and the fourth most common in Portsmouth!


And then I found all of this too:

"This ancient surname of many spellings, is a "crusader" import into Europe from the Holy Land. Recorded as Elliss, Elix, Ellice, Eles, Elias, Heelis, and many other forms, it derives from the Greek "Elias", itself from the Hebrew "Eliyahu", and meaning "Jehovah is God". The name became popular among Christians in the Middle Ages partly because of its adoption by various early saints and martyrs including a 7th Century Bishop of Syracuse, but mainly as a reult of soldiers and pilgrims from the 11th and 12th century crusades. These people on their return home, often christened their children with the ancient names of the Old Testament in memory of the father's efforts to free the Holy Land from the Saracens. The fact that there were twelve such expeditions and all were unsuccessful, does not appear to have dimmed their enthusiasm.The earliest of all hereditary surnames and their recording, was in England, and it is here that we find the first examples of the surname. These include in the year 1202, William Elis in the charters relating to the Danelaw of the county of Lincolnshire, and Robert Elys or Helys, who was listed in the Calendar of Documents for the county of Essex, in 1250. One of the first settlers in the New England colonies was Richard Ellis, aged 29 yrs., who left London on the ship "Bonaventure", bound for Virginia in January 1634. The first recorded spelling of the family name anywhere in the world, is believed to be that of William Elyas, which was dated 1200, in the tax returns for the county of Yorkshire. This was during the reign of King John of England , 1199 - 1216. Throughout the centuries surnames in every country have continued to "develop", often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling."


Elis, Ellice, Elys, Alce, Elliott, Eliot

distribution in England and Wales

In 1891 the Ellis’s were very definitely centred on Yorkshire, Lancashire and London, with the next two largest contingents in Devon and Essex.  Hampshire is an also ran county as far as the Ellis’s are concerned.

Today they are said to be most prevalent in Dorset, London, Essex and Cheshire.

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