Big Wells & Little Wells

"Big Wells" versus "Little Wells"
and other general topics

Frequently we get the questions:

What are the "Big Wells" and "Little Wells" families?
Are they completely separate from other Wells families?
What are the origins of these two families?

In the early 1600's there were several Wells families present in Maryland, as anyone who has tried to sort them out to find an ancestor is probably painfully aware. Among these familes were the descendants of James Wells b: Cir 1640 England whose children included James Wells b: Cir 1675.

James Wells II and his wife Ann (surname unknown at this point) were the ancestors of all of the present branches from this family of which we are aware today. James and Ann Wells were the parents of 9 known children among which was Col. Richard Wells b: 15 Mar 1722 Baltimore, MD. He is the Richard Wells who married Ann "Nancy" Brown and it is this pair that everyone seems to want to claim as their ancestors whether it is correct or not. This is the family that is called "The Little Wells"

Another family present in the Baltimore area at the same time were the descendants of John Wells b: Cir 1675. He and his wife Margaret (surname not proven) had two known children. Their son Charles Wells b: Cir 1702 married Mrs. Sarah Arnold and it is through this pair that all of the known descendants of this line are traced. This is the family that is referred to as "The Big Wells"

This has NOTHING to do with the book written by Judge J. W. Wells "The Big Wells Family". Rather, it had to do with their stature. It is said that the members of the "Big Wells" family, both men and women, were very tall and very heavy people. The members of the "Little Wells" family were smaller in stature - probably more what we might term "normal".

These two families did intermarry and some moved together to areas such as Brooke County, West Virginia; Licking County and Ross County, Ohio.

Apparently it was not uncommon for a large group of family members to travel together on social visits. The story goes that when a group of the "Big Wells" family were seen it was not uncommon to hear the remark "Here come the Big Wells". This is how they are supposed to have gotten their nickname. The "Little Wells" have probably been given their nickname by recent genealogists just to differentiate them from the "Big Wells".

Origin of the Wells name

Yet another question often received is:
Do you know origin of the Wells name?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this. At the time surnames came into being people took surnames from a variety of sources. Those who lived by the town well sometimes took the name Atwell, Wells, Welles, de Wells and some other variations that over the years corrupted into Wells. During the period of about 1100 to 1400+ there were also the members of the de Welles barony in England located for the most part in Lincolnshire. Members of this family originally used the name de Welles.

The direct male descendants of the line, as far as can be reliably documented, died out when the last Baron de Welles and his son were beheaded. The Uncle John de Welles took over the Barony and was also known as Viscount de Welles. He married the daughter of King Edward but they had no offspring. When he died the title was declared abandoned.

There were probably other male non-heir descendants of the family, but I have never seen any proof they have left descendants who still carry the name today.

Then there were the folks who had other name corruption's such as Wills, Wyllys, Wels (Germanic) and Welz (Slovic apparently - at least one example came from Russia). In the north of England Wales was/is pronounced the same as Wells and this caused some changes. Other surnames such as Weld have sometimes been corrupted as well. Some acquired the name through adoption, name change (for a variety of reasons) and were given the name at an orphanage etc.

There is some evidence that some of the name actually came from the town of Wells in Somerset. The only one which appears plausible in this case was an Edward de Welles who owned property in this town which was named after the water springs and not a family. He was the father of Bishop Hugo de Welles and Bishop Jocelyn de Welles. There is no evidence that either of these men fathered children despite what you might read in some early genealogies on Wells families. Bishop Simon de Welles appears to have been somehow related to Hugo (AKA Hugh) and Jocelyn de Welles but it is not clear whether he was a cousin or another brother. The same applies to Simon de Welles, in that he did not have offspring we know of. If you see writings that claim these two (Hugo and Jocelyn) were with William the Conqueror, or that they or the Barons de Welles were the ancestors of any (let alone all) of those who carry the name today, disregard it.

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