Wedding of my 2x Great Grandparents: William Nicholls & Susannah Kingsnorth, at the Wesleyan Chapel, Faversham in Kent on 30 October, 1895

The aim of The Willis Tree website is to gather together research and remembrances relating to the history of my family.

It’s a history that’s rooted in the English county of Kent, particularly around the coastal town of Dover. From there the family has spread across the globe so that today there are descendants living in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.

The information, images and memories presented on this site come from numerous sources, including a large number of cousins and fellow amateur genealogists whose own family trees interlink with mine.

I started researching my family history in 2008 and it’s a journey I find fascinating.

I sincerely hope that the information on this site will help you discover your ancestral roots and rediscover your living relatives!

Paul Willis

My dad (right) with his brother and parents, c1955
My dad (right) with his brother and parents, c1955

Dad’s Family

Most of my Dad’s family have their roots in the county of Kent. The Willis surname can be traced back to Dover in the 1660s, before moving on to Barham near Canterbury; the Kingsnorth and Alefounder surnames came from Faversham in north Kent, and from the east coast came the seafaring Greenland family from Folkestone and the Suters from Dover.

Then there’s the strand from Devon – the Nicholls and Pyne families from rural hamlets near Torquay and the Mayne family of stonemasons from North Devon.

A day at the beach: Mum (far left, in hat) with grandparents, parents, aunt, siblings and cousin!) c1950
A day at the beach: Mum (far left, in hat) with grandparents, parents, aunt, siblings and cousin!) c1950

Mum’s Family

My Mum’s family are firmly rooted in Kent.  The prolific Hopper clan can be traced back to the 15th Century in Ickham near Canterbury. The  Collards are from the Dover area, whilst the Huggins and Calloway families originate from Chatham in the north of the county. Then there’s the non-Conformist Gurnseys from Rochester and the Harvey and Hare lines from Canterbury.

Finally, the Robinson family from Loughrea in County Galway, Ireland.

Meet My Grandparents

Click on an image to read more details about their lives – a great way into my family tree

George Willis (1909-1981)
'Grandad Willis' (Dad's dad)
Alfred Hopper (1910 - 1991)
'Grandad Hopper' (Mum's dad)
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Nelly Gurnsey (1912 - 1991)
'Granny Hopper' (Mum's mum)
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Family  Stories

Families are nothing without stories. Genealogy focuses on the uncovering of dates: births and deaths,  baptisms and burials, marriages and military records etc.

But it’s stories that give a family’s history its colour.

Stories are often handed down through generations. Funny anecdotes, stories of family tragedy, and mystery.

“Grandad’s parents were told by his Uncle George that if Grandad was born on January 1st he would inherit a lot of his money. 

As he arrived on 31 December he inherited nothing!”

These stories deserve to be told.  But before the telling there needs to be research.  Stories that sound authentic need fact-checking to prise away the myth that has grown up around them. 

The Stories section of this site contains a collection of articles which add colour, depth, context and perspective to the genealogical data. Each narrative has been fully researched and resourced from personal documents and records and from online resources.

(You can explore the Stories from the menu at the top of the page.)

The Willis and Greenland families on a day out, c1930