In doing genealogical research, we often focus on the pertinent details of a person’s life—what was his name, when was he born, who did he marry, when did he die—and then move on to a chain of further inquiries, namely, who were his parents, what were their names, when were they born, when did they marry. This endless chain of inquiries would be repeated without end, except for the infamous brick walls that keep us moving backwards in time, ad infinitum.
Somehow, within that endless cycle, we need to be able to lift our researching noses off that grindstone and take a look around at our historic surroundings. It helps to know something about the context of the times in which each set of ancestors lived. Or take in the view from their perspective—find out something about their home town, their neighborhood, where they attended school, where they worked.
While it’s unlikely I’ll find any newly-discovered ancestors before our trip to the homelands of our Irish ancestors, this remaining month before taking off can serve handily as an opportunity to seek that enrichment of understanding. And I’m game to do it.
It occurred to me that this would be a great time to get to know more about the local history of each of the counties of Ireland in which our ancestors lived, and to uncover any history of each particular surname I’ve been researching. I’ll review them, one by one, and share what I’ve discovered so far. And since we’ve just been discussing the Falvey surname, I’ll pick up with that specific name today, following up each day with another.
Falvey was the maiden name of my husband’s second great grandmother, who emigrated from County Kerry to Fort Wayne in the American state of Indiana. While Johanna Falvey had already married John Kelly in Ireland, she had left a number of references to her family name, and to her origin—as one obituary put it—near “the Lakes of Killarney.” Then, too, she and her husband were the last of all my husband’s ancestors to immigrate to the United States, arriving in their New World sometime between the 1867 birth of one daughter in Ireland and the 1869 arrival of one of their sons in Indiana.
There isn’t much that can be found on the surname Falvey. I had thought, when I first ran across a record showing Johanna’s maiden name, that it must have been a rare name, indeed—a good omen, I guessed, hoping that that would mean relatively easy searching progress for me.
Once I started looking in Ireland, though, I discovered that surname was better known there. That certainly dashed my hopes that combining that “rare” surname with one so common as her husband’s—Kelly—might moderate the outcome and allow me to find some significant leads.
Depending on where you look for history of Irish surnames, you will find the origin and meaning of the name Falvey to be represented differently. The surname page on Ancestry.com claims Falvey is the “reduced Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Fáilbhe ‘descendant of Fáilbhe,’ a byname meaning ‘lively.’”
The Wikipedia entry has much more to say than that, stating that Fáilbhe means “lively, pleasant, sprightly, merry, cheerful.” Or, the explanation continues, another unnamed historian held it to mean “joker.” If any of that can be claimed to be genetic, I can see where both Frank Stevens—as you’ve seen in his many letters home during the World War II era—and his son (my husband) received their wit and good humor.
The Falvey surname is supposedly the same as that called O’Falvey. The Gaelic Ó simply means “descendant of.” If this is so, somewhere in our Falvey roots may have been the early king of Ireland—Conaire—or the rulers of Corcu Duibne, a prehistoric kingdom in what is now County Kerry. I’m not saying those are our roots—I certainly don’t have any such documentation—but that is the legendary connection of the family name. Much like the many people today who claim to trace their heritage to Charlemagne, or to other famous names of bygone centuries, there are likely hundreds of people today who may be the descendants of that originating King of Ireland.
If you are tracing your Falvey line in the United States and abroad, you might be encouraged to know that Ancestry.com claims to have well over sixty thousand historical documents containing the surname Falvey. Their name origin page for Falvey includes a map showing the U.S. distribution of the surname for three census enumerations. For the 1880 census, for instance, it appears most immigrant Falveys settled in the Midwest (particularly in Illinois) or the Northeast (the greatest number in either New York or Massachusetts).
While the Ancestry surname distribution map shows various results over the years of United States history, their map of the Falvey name in either England and Wales, or Scotland (the other two choices that may be selected on that page) are obviously of little help.
Moving to a different online resource for maps of worldwide surname distribution, the emigration of the surname Falvey may be traced to several countries. Besides the United States and Canada, the Falvey surname may be located in western Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand. (Unfortunately, the link will only bring you, by default, back to the home page and the term must be re-entered to gain the results again.)
Since I discovered that a Falvey sibling of Johanna had moved to New Zealand, I was interested to see that two regions of the south island have a “high” distribution of the Falvey surname.
As for the distribution of the Falvey surname in Ireland, itself, there is a preponderance of Falveys in the southwest portion of the island. This has held steady since the time of Griffith’s Valuation, with the most Falveys living in County Kerry. Likewise—though two decades beyond our Falveys’ departure from Ireland—births in the 1890s were recorded in the greatest number in the southwest region of Ireland, particularly County Kerry.
All this to say, whether I am ultimately able to claim the Molahiffe civil parish origin of those birth records mentioning a Johanna Falvey Kelly as our own family, taking a walk through County Kerry will bring us back as close as we can get to the likely roots of this branch of our family.