Thursday, August 14, 2014

Coupling Up Surnames

New tech toys always fascinate. Ditto online conveniences. While we've been on the subject of John Grenham and all things Irish Times, it's provided a likely excuse to go explore the website to see what could be found in their "Irish Ancestors" section. You know me: ooh, shiny.

So I found myself on their page labeled "Surname Search." I took the bait and entered one of my husband's Irish surnames. Hint: I didn't go with Stevens. I'm feeling more and more wobbly about the heritage of that surname. But Tully? Or Flanagan? Sure.

I started with Tully. After all, in honor of the woman whose many saved letters, photographs, and even old memo pads led me to a fuller understanding of my husband's Irish heritage, I felt they should be the guinea pigs have the honored first place in this grand expedition.

According to a brief history of the surname, the Tully line includes many name variants—oh, lucky researcher that I am—and seems to be derived from a root meaning "flood." There were apparently four hundred sixty five households across Ireland in the mid nineteenth century claiming some form of that surname (according to details extracted from the Primary Valuation property surveys completed in the years between 1847 and 1864). Of course, we know of at least two of those households which left their homeland shortly after that first survey, heading to Canada West by 1848. But it helped to see, on The Irish Times site, that their ancestral home, County Tipperary, was listed as having at least nine households with that Tully surname.

Since I liked what I saw, exploring these pages with my Tully surname, I thought I'd get a bit bolder and see what searching for Kelly would do. Apparently, looking for the second-most-popular surname in Ireland (at the time) produced a bit more action. The website produced a nice page of its own for that surname—including, of course, all its variants.

The Irish name from which Kelly is derived was originally a given name. It meant "bright haired" or "troublesome." I dunno. Does that mean we can take our pick? On second thought, I can think of a lot of old movies about blondes where "troublesome" could be considered part of the plot line...

Whatever you read into it, the Kelly name as a surname spread throughout all Ireland. Trying to zero in on "just my Kellys" via the Primary Valuation property surveys would be foolhardy: even though I know the county for one set of our Kellys—the John Kelly family which emigrated from County Kerry to Fort Wayne, Indiana—there are well over two hundred households sporting the Kelly surname in that county, alone. Trying to find just one John Kelly among them? Think again.

Poking around the wealth of resources at the Irish Ancestry section of The Irish Times, I found another toy to play with: after entering one surname in the "Surname Search" box, on the result page, I could add a second surname. Priceless. This might whittle down those two hundred Kellys in County Kerry to a more manageable amount.

Since, of all my husband's Irish forebears, I've already managed to know the maiden names of three of the couples, I thought I'd give that search option a twirl. For my Kelly search, I entered the corresponding Falvey, for Johanna Falvey, wife of our John Kelly from County Kerry. My consolation: though the result didn't directly reveal a count of households—and really, how could it? The Valuation didn't include maiden names of spouses—it did show which counties included both surnames. Of course, for a price, I could request a report showing a count of such households by parish. Handy information, to be sure—but information I'll consider to be part of the price of traveling there, myself, for research in October.

And so it was with the couples game. After playing with the Kelly and Falvey combination—and assuring myself of the resident possibilities of the winning combination Tully and Flannery in County Tipperary—I moved on to that of our mystery man, Stephen Malloy. Or Molloy. Or Mulloy. We've already learned that his wife was Ann Flanagan. Besides, I have a copy of an envelope addressed to her in 1849 showing us she lived in County Limerick. Because of her brother's headstone, we know even the parish from which the family originated in Ireland. But would the results on The Irish Times' website be of any help?

Depending on the spelling variation used to begin the search, it turns out it will yield different results. For one thing, there are multiple more variants than the ones I've already been researching.

Oh. Groan.

The primary variation turns out to be Molloy, of which Ireland in the mid 1800s boasted over fifteen hundred such households, nineteen of which were in County Limerick and—keeping in mind our family's address and parish straddling the county boundary—nine households in County Cork. Of course, just as in the situation with our Tully family, our Malloy/Molloy left for America just a year after the first of the now-published property surveys.

So, what can be found by coupling Molloy—or its variants—with Flanagan? With the spelling as Mulloy, nada. Simply nothing found in either Cork or Limerick. Malloy with Flanagan yields results for County Limerick (and County Mayo, which is outside our interests for this surname). Going for the widely-prevalent Molloy, though, in combination with Flanagan yields widely distributed results across the entire island, including—yes!—both counties Limerick and Cork.

For the winning combinations—Tully and Flannery in County Tipperary, Kelly and Falvey in County Kerry, and the variants Malloy and Molloy with Flanagan in either of their two possible counties of residence, Limerick or Cork—we have at least a slight confirmation that there were families of those surnames in those counties. (Note: though I usually prefer to hyperlink to online sites and pages which I've referenced in my posts, the one unfortunate downside to this website is that some URLs—specifically of pages that are search results on the surname section—do not bring the reader directly to the results page, but back to the originating search page. With my apologies, you will have to recreate the search to replicate these results, if you want to check them out for yourself by going to this originating page.)

The key, though, will be to confirm the parishes in which they lived—a challenge already surmounted for two of those couples, but still pending for the third. That third one: it would have to be for the Kellys. These things don't come easy.


  1. This is an example of the mathematical concept(s) illustrated by Venn Diagrams!

    :) And while marriages are "unions" - in actuality, you are looking at "intersections"

    1. Fun observation, Iggy. Sounds like it's more of a road map than a diagram.

  2. I keep reading "John Grisham." It gives me a start! As I was reading this post, I kept thinking it all sounds familiar. When I went to the site, I realized I had been there before. However, I didn't know about searching a second name. I searched Sheehan and Sullivan.

    1. See, Wendy? That's what comes of reading too many novels at poolside ;)

      Glad you got to experiment with the two-name search device. Fun, huh?

  3. Oh my! What a challenge Jacqi. The explosion of fun tools surely is opening things up, but I cringe when I hear people talk about genealogy being easy now because of the tools. True, in many respects, things may have become *easier* but as you demonstrated, it is still take a lot of brain power to bring it all together.

    1. Agreed, Michelle. It takes a lot of perseverance to ferret out those hidden details. Sometimes, I think brain power is the key: figuring out strategies, eliminating dates or other possibilities, comparing records to see what was missing or added in one versus the other.

      However, when I think back to some of the microfilm reader cranking I did, putting in hour after nauseating hour, trying to find that golden family-member needle in the media haystack, I am so thankful for digitized search capabilities. It has certainly sped up the process--which, in the end, enables me to do yet more searching than I could have done in the era when a microfilm search could shoot an eight hour day with (possibly) nothing to show for it at the end, anyhow.


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