Davis Family History

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The Davis surname is an English and Welsh name which means 'son of David.' Although Davis originated in Europe, it is extremely popular within the United States. In both the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census, the name was the seventh most popular.

History of the Davis Surname

The Davis surname originated in Wales before the 12th century, but one of the most well-known instances of the name involved a 13th century Wales man, David ap Gryffydd, who was executed by King Edwards I of England in 1276. By the 12th century, the name had moved into England and Scotland and, four hundred years later, into Ireland. However, most with the Davis name in Ireland came during the 17th century when Britain offered free land for a vow to remain protestant. By the early 17th century, it is also found in North America.


In the United States, the Davis family name can be traced back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony when Thomas Davis arrived from England in 1635. By 1688, a Cornelius Davis was living in nearby Havermill, Massachusetts. A map based on the 1920 U.S. Census shows the surname concentrated in 13 states - with nine of them being east of the Mississippi River. The present day ranking compiled by Public Profiler lists the top five states as:

  1. Alabama
  2. Mississippi
  3. Arkansas
  4. South Carolina
  5. Tennessee


Despite its origin in Wales, Davis is the 45th most popular name in Wales and Great Britain. This is partially due to variations in spelling. A few of the variations include:

  • David
  • Day
  • Davison
  • Dawes
  • Davies
  • Davidson
  • Dawson

Famous Davises

Throughout history, there have been several famous individuals with the Davis surname. In the United States, one of the most well-known Davis is Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. Other famous Americans include:

  1. Jim Davis (cartoonist & creator of Garfield)
  2. Professional football player Keith Davis
  3. Actor Ossie Davis
  4. Singer Sammy Davis Jr.

Sources for Additional Information

For individuals with the Davis surname, the best approach for learning more about a specific branch is to start locally with what you already know. If you are researching in the same location where recent generations of your family lived, begin at your library and read Davis surname histories. Build on that information by using the sites listed below:

  • Access Genealogy: Besides providing a history of a surname, this site also includes a list of related research links.
  • Cyndi's List: One of the first non-commercial genealogy sites on the Web, Cyndi's List has compiled a list of links associated with the Davis surname.
  • Family Search: A product of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Family Search has a wealth of information and resources for any surname. The records range from Census to family histories.
  • Genealogy Today: This site has both common and obscure links associated with a surname. Some of the most interesting links include cemetery records and links to various family history books. Many of the links lead to fee-based sites.
  • Heritage Quest: Owned by Ancestry.com, Heritage Quest is often free at public libraries, (although at home, you will have to register and pay for access.) Besides Census records and city directories, which can prove helpful, the site features nearly 30,000 family and local history books.
  • Surname Database: Just like it sounds this is a searchable database of surnames and search results return the name's history, U.S. map showing the popularity of a name, and resource links from the Web.
  • World Vital Records: This site has more than 11 million records associated with the Davis surname. Although most of the records are fee-based three record groups are free: Revolutionary War Pension records, Service Records of Confederate Soldiers and U.S. Naturalization Records.

Researching Your Surname

Researching a surname is just the beginning of learning about your heritage. Once you have an understanding of a surname's country of origin, you have a better understanding of where your research should end as you work your way back through your family tree. Before you begin your search, download a free family tree chart and browse other genealogy resources.

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