Woolsey's Myths

Woolseys - Wolseys - Wolseleys

by Wilford Whitaker

The Myth

The surnames WOOLSEY (WOLSEY), WOOSLEY and WOLSELEY are interchangeable and related.

Source of the Myth

". . . this notable English family name, WOLSEY, emerged as an influential name in the county of Stafford where they were a very ancient family who assumed their surname from the SAXON Lords of WLSELEI. Specifically, Lord Siward, who was seated at WOLSLEY before the Norman Conquest. Descended from this source was Ralph WLSELEI, Baron of the Exchequer in England at the time of Edward IV. They branched to Newton in Norfolk, and to Cottingham in Suffolk. Of this latter branch was the celebrated Cardinal, Thomas WOLSEY, Archbishop of York, in 1514. Their present family seats are at Mount WOLSELEY, and WOLSELEY. Notable amongst the family at this time was Siward, Lord of WLSELEI." [ ]

Brewer, Hester (Woolsey). Family of George Wood Woolsey and wife Sarah Nelson Woolsey. Tuttle Publishing Co, Inc. Rutland, VT. 1940. "The name Woolsey is said to have been of ancient Anglo-Saxon origin and derived from the baptismal name of Wulsig and Wulsi. It is found on the old English records in the various forms of Wulsi, Wulsy, Wolsy, Woolsye, Woosey, Wolsay, Wollsey, Wolsey (England), and Woolsey (America). . . . added that of Wolseley since receiving a letter from Mr. Scott Bradford of Fort Morgan, CO, who wrote me 15 Mar 1939: ‘I knew Lady Beatrice Knollys Wolseley ver well — I presume Woolsey and Wolseley are the same family as Lady Wolseley said her husband and the Cardinal’s family were connected, how closely she never said.’". . . . "Among earliest records . . . were William Wulsi of Cambridgeshire in 1273 and Robert Wolsey of Ipswich, who was the father of Thomas Wolsey who became Cardinal during the reign of Henry VIII. . . .

Straightening the Record

Although the ancient family of WULCI of Suffolk and Norfolk were of SAXON origin, the very earliest records indicate that there remained two distinct families, one pronounced with two syllables, "WOL-SEY or WUL-CI and the other family pronounced with three syllables, WL-SE-LEI or WOL-SE-LEY.

"The name is an old one in Norfolk and Suffolk, for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was born at Ipswich [Suffolk] in 1471. The first mentions of the family are found in Norfolk, where the name was indifferently spelled Woolsey, Wolsey or Wulcy. . . . in 1447, when John Wulcy of Langle, laborer, was sued for a debt [de Banco Plea Roll 742, dors. 389]. . . . . in 1478 William Wolcy of Longstratton, husbandman, and George Wolcy of Longstratton, husbandman, and others, were sued for a trespass [Coram Rege. Roll 867]. The last was perhaps the same George Wulcye who in 1519 by his attorney brought an action of trespass against John Broke of Langhale, husbandman [Idem, Roll 1033, mem. 42]. Robert Wilsye of Langall Cum-kyrksted in the County of Norfolk, Singleman, made his will 1 Jul 1557 in which he names his brothers and sisters." [In this will the name is spelled Wilsye, Wulsye, and in his sister Agnes’ will, it is spelled Wolsye.] [Delafield, Vol. 2:644]

What the Facts Tell Us About the Myth

The name WOLSELEY appears in Virginia Colony quite early, but is quite distinct from the WOOLSEY family who appear in Washington County, Virginia, before 1771.

The name WOOSLEY is a more common name, and follows the same general migration as the WOOLSEY family, e.g. from Virginia through Kentucky. Careful research shows that they are definitely two distinct families, even though in a few instances, they were carelessly interchanged. One must be sure enough of one’s family to be able to tell when this has happened.

Be aware there is another WOOLSEY family in Virginia during the middle and late 1600's. This family has also been researched enough for the careful researcher to be able to distinguish between the two.

If you have myths to suggest, or evidence to add supporting or further refuting a myth, please send your message to Wilford Whitaker - Editor and Chief of Woolsey Myths.


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