NEW BOOK! Origins and Descendants of James Bole

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, The Origins and Descendants of James Bole of Westmoreland and Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania.  At this Lulu link, under “More Detail”, you can obtain a preview before deciding whether to buy.

Many years in the making, and coming in at 411 pages, the book covers the revised ancestry and descendants of James Bole (1752-1836), who married Mary Painter and settled in Westmoreland and Armstrong counties, Pennsylvania. The couple have left family spread throughout the nation. The book contains full references and an every-name index. Maps and photos are included. The volume supersedes the obsolete 1986 publication by providing the true origins of the family, adding many descendants, and correcting a number of errors.  The Scottish and Irish background of the family is treated at length.

There is a full index in the Lulu preview, or you can consult it using the link provided at my Bolesbooks publication website.  I’m happy to introduce so many long-lost Kelburn Boyle descendants!


28. The Kelburn Thistle and the Boyle Family

On this day, October 2nd, 753 years ago – in 1263 – a small Scottish force met an equally small invading Norwegian force on a beach near Largs, Ayshire. Although the Norwegians were able to hold the field after fierce back-and-forth fighting, they were subsequently forced to gather their dead and retreat to their ships. It was the beginning of the end of Norwegian overlordship of the western seaboard of Scotland. Three years later, by the Treaty of Perth, King Magnus VI Haakonsson of Norway ceded the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to King Alexander III of Scotland.

By military standards the action had been a small one, tactically inconclusive even though it ultimately proved strategically significant. In a sense the invasion had even been accidental, for while the Norwegians had amassed a vast armada of ships, it had been a storm that prematurely drove some of the boats onto the beach, triggering the Scottish reaction. Similarly, it was weather that forced the armada to retreat to Norway.

A Fateful Thistle

Beyond the bare historical account there is a curious, romantic story about the Battle of Largs that holds great cultural significance for Scotland. According to tradition, the Norwegian presence on the beach at Largs was unsuspected until one of the barefoot Norsemen stepped on a thistle, crying out in pain. The Scottish troops were alerted, and the battle was on. As a result the thistle has become a symbol of Scotland itself.

Is the thistle story true? There appears to be no primary source for it. But as early as 1470, King James III used the thistle as a national symbol on coinage. In 1540, King James V created the Order of the Thistle, an honorary title for Scottish knights. The thistle today is regarded as the oldest of the national flowers, and it decorates many a coffee mug and T-shirt in tourist shops in Edinburgh.

Kelburn in the Battle of Largs

The thistle tradition holds a special place in my heart, because tradition also places the Boyle family of Kelburn Castle at the Battle of Largs, aiding King Alexander [1]. Possibly commemorating that, in the 19th century, Kelburn Castle had a turret that terminated in what was said to show “the finishing personality and nationality of Scottish architecture — the crest of the Laird surmounted by the thistle.” [2]

Was the fateful thistle a Boyle one? Largs is only two miles from Kelburn Castle. Given that the site of battle is not entirely certain, and that lordly domains extended over large distances, it is not out of the realm of possibility. However, most likely not. In the middle and late 13th century, the lordship of Largs was held by the Baliol family [3], and that likely encompassed most if not all of the possible battle sites.

Thistles at Kelburn

Nevertheless there are still thistles at Kelburn. Earlier this year my wife and I toured the castle gardens. We found among the proliferation of flowers in the Plaisance, the brilliant rose of the thistle (photo). Whether the traditions are true or not, my ancestral estate of Kelburn recognizes its place within the colorful, historical Scottish landscape.


Postscript: Developments in the Boyle of Kelburn Ancestry

This is only one of several blog entries I have written on the Boyles of Kelburn. Others include “8. The Kelburn Castle Origin of the Boles Family: A DNA Success Story”, and “24. Tartan Day and Our Scottish Origins”.

As outlined in the first of those blog entries, there is Y-DNA evidence that my ancestor James Bole (1752-1836), of Westmoreland and Armstrong counties, Pennsylvania, was descended from the Kelburn Boyle family. In a book I expect to release in January 2017, I include a lengthy “Origins” chapter that outlines the most likely line of descent of James from the Kelburn family – and beyond.

The story runs through known Boyle settlers of the Plantation of Ulster under King James I of England (VI of Scotland), back to Boyles of the west coast isles, before coalescing with the ancestry of the Boyle Earls of Glasgow around the year 1495. The book is titled, “The Origins and Descendants of James Bole of Westmoreland and Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania.”

Meanwhile, if you are a Boyle or Boles, please consider Y-DNA testing! Any male bearing the Bole/Boles/Bowles/Boyle name, of these or other spellings, who is thought to have Irish origins and a Protestant background but whose background is otherwise unknown, has a legitimate shot of descending from the Kelburn family.

You can obtain further information from the project webpage at Clicking on the “visit this site” link provided there will show the range of tests available. It is strongly recommended that 25 or more genetic markers be tested, as the 12-marker test is not very diagnostic. Besides providing you with evidence bearing on your own origins, your test results will be of considerable benefit to the Bowles DNA Project — even if you know little about your exact ancestry.


[1] Tales From Scottish Lairds (1985). Norwich: Jarrold Colour Publications.

[2] Millar, A.H. (1885). Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Castles and Mansions, of Ayrshire. Edinburgh: William Patterson.

[3] Chalmers, G. (1890). Caledonia: Or, A Historical and Topographical Account of North Britain. Paisley: Alexander Gardner, v. 6.

Picture attribution:

Personal photo.

24. Tartan Day and Our Scottish Origins

Happy Tartan Day! It’s probably safe to say that most Americans don’t know about this commemoration of Scottish heritage, or that the U.S. Senate in 1998, the House in 2005, and the President in 2008 recognized it. Whether official or not, it has spread to other countries of the Scottish diaspora — notably Canada, Australia (although there it is celebrated on July 1st), and Argentina. It has even gotten back to the home country of Scotland, where regional councils are attempting to promote it as a global celebration [1].

Why April 6th? That was the date in 1320 that the Declaration of Arbroath was signed, declaring Scottish independence from England. I have written about the declaration previously on my Bolesbooks Facebook page. Considered by many a foreshadowing of our own Declaration of Independence, it denied the divine right of kings and left to the nation the choice of its sovereign.

Some Scottish Origins

In the case of my family tree it was understood from an early date, certainly the early 1960s if not previously, that we had discernible Scottish origins among its many roots. However, this came from an indirect assessment of surnames more than from direct evidence. Ancestral “Mc” surnames such as McCrosky, McFadden, and McIntire were recognized as most probably either Scottish or Scotch-Irish, even though repeated searches failed to turn up evidence of specific places of origin. The later additions of my wife’s ancestral families of McClain and McMurtrie fell into the same vaguely Scottish category.

Today we have hints of whispers of the origins of a couple of these families: Possibly co. Antrim, Ireland, for the McCrosky (McCoskery) family, and co. Antrim, Ireland, for the McMurtries, who in both cases were therefore most likely Scotch-Irish [2]. But actual hard evidence of specific geographic locations has been slow in coming. Below I’d like to highlight three ancestral lines for which hard evidence exists, namely the Ellyson, Boles, and McQueen families.

The Ellyson Family

I descend from Virginia’s Ellyson family through my mother. Her ancestor Deborah Harbour’s mother was a Thomas, her mother was a Jordan, and her mother was Susanna Ellyson, daughter of Joseph Ellyson, a Quaker of New Kent county, Virginia. From there the line is traceable to two Robert Ellysons, father and son, who lived in Gloucester and James City counties. The two are almost universally confused both because they shared their given name, and because they died nearly simultaneously (1668/9 in the case of the son, and about 1669 in the case of the father) [2,3].

Their distinctness, however, is attested by an extraordinary family Bible entry written in the late 1700s, reciting the ancestry of one Robert Allison (Ellison) three generations back to the younger Robert Ellyson, then to his father Robert, and finally to the immigrant ancestor John Allison. The entry concluded with a geographic payoff: John was stated to have come from Windyedge, co. Lanark, Scotland, sometime before 1625 [3].

This account has been sufficiently corroborated through other evidence that it can be taken as largely accurate. One thread of evidence is that an Alison family is historically known at Windyedge, a farm located in Avondale parish in the vicinity of Strathaven. One member was James Alison, born 1621, who resided at Windyedge. His sons John, Michael, and Archibald all took up the cause of the Covenanters, a nationalist Presbyterian movement that dominated Scottish politics between 1638 and 1651, but which was doomed to defeat by the forces of Oliver Cromwell and later King Charles II [3,4]. John was taken prisoner at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, and banished to Virginia. Michael fled to Ireland after the military defeat at Airsmoss in 1680, and was at the siege of Londonderry in 1688/9. Archibald, however, was the most unfortunate. He was executed at Edinburgh in 1680, his dying statement appearing in the book A Cloud of Witnesses [3].

The Virginia Ellyson family, incidentally, provides a major royal descent from King Edward I of England, as well as from a raft of noble families. This thread came into the family from the marriage of the younger Robert Ellyson with a Gerard wife, about the year 1655 [2,3].

The Boles Family

I have written extensively about the Boles family origin in a previous post, 8. The Kelburn Castle Origin of the Boles Family: A DNA Success Story. The American ancestor was James Bole (1752-1836), who died in Armstrong county, Pennsylvania, and whose son William (my ancestor) added the friendly ending “s” to the name [2].

For many years we thought the Boleses might be English. However, their true origin began to emerge when it was discovered, from the apparent statement of a grandson, that James was born in Ireland. That, and his known Presbyterian religion, pointed clearly to a Scotch-Irish origin. In other words, James was almost certainly the descendant of a Scot who had crossed to Ireland, probably specifically to Ulster [2].

The next realization was the family might ultimately have been from Kelburn, Ayrshire, Scotland. This hypothesis emerged as it began to be appreciated that the spelling of the surname varied in American records, and Bole could sometimes appear as Boyle. A family named Boyle, now Earls of Glasgow, have been seated at Kelburn castle continuously since at least the late 1200s, plenty of time to generate cadet lines, one or more of which may have crossed to Ireland. Furthermore until early in the 20th century, the surname Boyle was pronounced in Ayshire as Bole, potentially explaining how the Bole and Boyle spellings could refer to the same family.

The Kelburn hypothesis recently received a ringing confirmation when it was discovered that a male-line descendant of James Bole has a Y chromosome with similar genetic markers to that from a male-line descendant of John Boyle (1688-1740), the 2nd Earl of Glasgow and a member of the Kelburn family. The relationship certainly was not close; my ancestor may have left the castle, never to return, around 1430. Nevertheless it affords a second specific Scottish location to feel a connection to, one that is all the more meaningful because it connects me to the origin of my surname.

The McQueen (MacQueen) Family

The family most appropriate to recognize this Tartan Day, however, may be the McQueens. Unlike the Ellysons and Boleses, who were Lowlander families having little to do with tartans, the McQueens were Highlanders and presumably did wear the plaid (see graphic).

The MacQueen Tartan

I have written extensively about my ancestor Dugal McQueen (ca 1666?-1746) in two posts, namely 4. Dugal McQueen, Scottish Rebel and Gateway Ancestor to Royalty, and BRIEFLY NOTED: A McQueen 300th Anniversary. It is sufficient to say that he is known to have been of Pollochaig, Moy parish, co. Inverness, Scotland, a location made possible to identify through an English prison record establishing his Moy origin [2]. Today the manor house at Pollochaig is in ruins but can still be visited at its location near Tomatin.

Dugal’s known ancestry is very extensive, being known in his male line for an additional two generations back to 1644, with a family presence at Pollochaig likely back to about 1510, and for many generations back through his mother and numerous intermarried Scottish families [2].

Dugal came involuntarily to Maryland in 1716, exiled and probably in chains, having been captured in the Battle of Preston the previous year [2]. Whatever one’s views of the failed Jacobite rebellions of the 1700s, their participants saw them as nationalist expressions of freedom from English overlordship. That seems appropriate to recognize on Tartan Day.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty of genealogically “jumping the pond” to Scotland should not be underestimated. Looked at together, the three geographic locations I’ve described were all the result of unusual discoveries. They included a remarkable family Bible entry, a converging pair of Y-DNA tests, and an obscure prison record from a failed rebellion. Other families, like the McClains, McCroskys, McFaddens, McIntires, and McMurtries, have so far proved impossible to trace back to Scotland. In most cases this is due to the stretch of years taking family origins beyond available church records, and in some if not most cases due to intervening lost generations spent in Ireland.

Nevertheless unusual records sometimes exist, and they make good material for the genealogist’s craft. Keep weaving your threads together! But on today’s Tartan Day, feel free to celebrate your Scottishness no matter how it is known.


[1] Information retrieved from (2016).

[2] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry: 589 Documented American and European Lines, 2nd edition. Available for download through Lulu.

[3] Boles, D.B. (2005). Snyder-Harbour Ancestry. Available for download through Lulu.

[4] Information retrieved from (2016).

Picture attribution: Owner Celtus, “MacQueen tartan (Vestiarium Scoticum).png”, retrieved from Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.


16. The Good and the Bad of Abstracted Records, and the Ugly Case of Luther Martin

Ancestral research is rewarding, but record access becomes more and more problematic as pursuit goes on. The more generations that are traced, the more likely it is that ancestors lived far away. The trip to the courthouse that sufficed for recent generations becomes prohibitively expensive for remote ones, a problem magnified by an ever increasing number of ancestral lines.

One alternative is to rent microfilms of original records through the Family History Libraries of the LDS Church. However, at several dollars a reel this can itself become pricey. As a result most researchers gladly turn to abstracted records to avoid the expense as well as time and trouble of consulting the originals.

Whether published in book form, left unpublished in manuscript form, or posted to the web, abstracts are a compact and convenient means of accessing hundreds to thousands of records that might otherwise be poorly accessible. However, with this convenience comes not only the good, but the bad and the ugly.

The Good

Abstracters are the saints of the genealogy community. They contribute hundreds of hours of their own labor to save others from a similar investment. Although some obtain compensation from sales of their volumes to libraries and individuals, it’s a safe guess that very few are able to trade their day jobs for full-time pursuit of poorly decipherable script on fading pages.

The good news is that abstracters are often local history experts, having spent many years pursuing their own research in the immediate geographical area of their abstracted material. This generally leads to greater accuracy. Local history experts know which names commonly appear in a given period of time and which do not, with the latter calling for greater scrutiny. They may also have extensive experience with the handwriting of the clerks who created the original records.

As another “good”, did I mention that abstracts save great time and expense? Throughout what follows, this needs to be remembered.

The Bad

As in any genealogical enterprise, mistakes are made during the abstraction of public records. Some errors are simple mistakes of detail, for example, a misread place name or date. Some have greater impact, as when a personal name is misread. If the given name James was abstracted as Jacob, and you are looking for James, you may discount as irrelevant a record pertaining to your ancestor. Errors in family names are even more impactful, because as a researcher you will likely miss the records completely.

Abstracts of gravestone inscriptions have these same problems, magnified by the weathering of stone. In the 1960s my father and I abstracted the gravestone of a James Bole in Freeport, Armstrong county, Pennsylvania, as indicating that he died in 1854, age 78. Decades later it was discovered that the age was actually 73, as reported in an abstract that had been made in 1903 when the stone was less weathered. Furthermore the younger age was backed by a contemporary merchant’s diary in 1854 stating that James had just died, age 73 [2]. In my experience, and certainly in this one, the digits “8” and “3” are frequently confused. So are “1”, “4”, and “7”, and “5” and “6”. Weathering easily obscures short segments of numbers and letters, making one resemble another.

Another high-impact error is the complete omission of records. This can happen in a moment of inattention during the abstraction of text, or when two pages are turned instead of one.

How bad can it get? Occasionally, an earlier volume of abstracts is so riddled with errors that an entirely new effort is undertaken. One example with which I am familiar is C.G. Chamberlayne’s 1937 volume, The Vestry Book and Register of St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent and James City Counties, Virginia, 1684-1786. One of the motivations for its publication was specifically to correct numerous errors in a 1904 publication, The Parish Register of St. Peter’s, New Kent County, Virginia, from 1680 to 1787.

The Ugly

I reserve the term “ugly” for abstraction errors so bad that they actually change the course of genealogical research. Fortunately these are rare.

486px-LutherMartinBigUnfortunately one of them concerns my wife’s putative near-descent from Luther Martin (1748-1826), a member of the Continental Congress and U.S. Constitutional Convention, as well as counsel for the defense in the 1807 treason trial of Aaron Burr. Through the Hickey and Robinson lines, my wife descends from a Washington county, Pennsylvania, settler named Zephaniah Martin, widely claimed on web pages to have been Luther’s brother. Both were certainly from New Jersey. In Zephaniah’s case he moved to Pennsylvania about the year 1786, coming from Mendham township, Morris county, New Jersey [2, 3].

Zephaniah’s relationship to Luther seems proved by a will abstract appearing in the New Jersey Archives, partially reproduced here:

1755, July 1. Martin, Benjamin, of Piscataway, Middlesex Co.; will of. Wife, Philerato. Sons — Benjamin, Nathanael, Peter. Daughter, Zerviah, wife of Jeremiah Blackford. Grandchildren– Athanasius, James, and Luther; Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Ruben, sons of Benjamin; Mary, Isaiah and Benjamin, children of John and Hannah Blackford; Benjamin and Nehemiah, children of Nehemiah and Elizabeth Bonham; Zerviah, daughter of Zedekiah and Anna Bonham…. [1]

From this, family historian Louise Martin Mohler quite reasonably concluded that my wife’s ancestor Zephaniah was a son of Benjamin Martin; a grandson of testator Benjamin Martin and his wife Philoretta; and a brother of the famous Luther Martin. She published an influential book stating exactly that, namely The Martin Family of America, first released in 1983 and then revised in 1987.

However, something about the abstract bothered me. In the intervening years I have forgotten what, but it may have been simply the semi-colon between Luther and Jeremiah. I wrote to Louise, questioning the Luther Martin relationship.

She then did something remarkable. She ordered a copy of the original will — and when the results turned out catastrophic for the Luther Martin relationship, she passed a copy along to me and admitted that an error had been made. Here is the corresponding section of the original will, with all details except the names and relationships removed for clarity:

… I Benjamin Martin of Pisataway in the County of Middlesex and Eastern Division of the province of New Jersey … unto my True and well beloved wife Philerata Martin … son Benjamin Martin … to his son Nathanael Martin … son Peter Martin … Athanasius Martin son of my said son Benjamin … [unreadable] him to Jeremiah Blackford son of John And Hannah Blackford … Grandson James Martin son of my said son Benjamin … Grandson Zephaniah Blackford son of John and Hannah Blackford … my grandson Reuben Blackford son of said John and hannah Blackford … Daughter Zerviah Blackford wife of Jeremiah Blackford … Grandson Benjamin Bonham son of Nehemiah and Elizabeth Bonham … grandson Hezekiah Bonham son of Nehemiah and Elizabeth Bonham … Grand Daughter Zerviah Bonham Daughter of Zedekiah and Anna Bonham … grand Daughter Mary Blackford Daughter of John and hannah Blackford … Grandson Luther Martin son of My said son Benjamin … Grandson Isaiah Blackford son of John and Hannah Blackford … Benjamin Blackford son of John and Hannah Blackford … [4]

Some of the heirs were renamed later in the document. But despite the presence of a few unreadable words, one thing that is crystal clear is that Zephaniah Martin was not named in the will. It is equally clear that the fundamental error in the New Jersey Archives abstract was that “Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Ruben, sons of Benjamin” were actually Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Reuben, sons of John and Hannah Blackford. But there was another error as well: “Benjamin and Nehemiah, children of Nehemiah and Elizabeth Bonham”, were actually Benjamin and Hezekiah, children of Nehemiah and Elizabeth Bonham.

As it happened the loss of the connection between my wife’s ancestor Zephaniah Martin and Luther Martin was not completely catastrophic, although that was not known to me in the 1980s. Eventually they did prove to be related. In fact recently acquired records, covered in [2], have allowed the conclusion that Zephaniah Martin was the son of a James Martin of Middlesex and Morris counties, New Jersey. James was himself a great-grandson of immigrant John Martin (ca 1618-1687), who initially settled at Dover, New Hampshire, before moving to New Jersey. Zephaniah Martin and Luther Martin were 3rd cousins, not brothers.

Lessons Learned

Without question, abstracts are valuable resources in genealogical research. They make records available that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive and troublesome to collect. In my experience they are far more likely to be correct than incorrect.

The problem is that introducing human intervention between an original and its abstract unavoidably increases the chance of error. An additional factor is that the state of the original itself may be such that readings are ambiguous. That is hinted at by the unreadable words in the Benjamin Martin will, and more definitely by the weathered James Bole gravestone. Ambiguity can likewise lead to error.

As genealogists, the way we should respond is to always maintain a healthy skepticism about abstracted sources. A misplaced semi-colon; a contradiction of other records; an implausibility as to name, time, or place; all of these may be reasons to doubt an abstract.

In such cases we should be willing to go the extra mile, and spend the extra dollar, to seek the original record and determine for ourselves what it truly says. If the original is itself problematic, then perhaps earlier abstracts or other evidence will resolve the problem. For if genealogy is a massive, interlocking, and endlessly fascinating puzzle, we should make sure we’re assembling the right pieces.


[1] New Jersey Archives, 1st series, v. 32, p. 216.

[2] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry. Available for download through Lulu.

[3] Boles, D.B. (1993). Barth-Hickey Ancestry. Troy, NY: Private print. Available from Bolesbooks.

[4] Original signed will, Middlesex co, NJ.

Picture attribution: Public domain.

9. The Irish, The Not So Irish, and The More Irish Than The Irish

For more on the families mentioned in this post, please see The Omnibus Ancestry, available for download through

St. Patrick’s Day is a good time to review genealogical transplants from the Ould Sod. That’s surely an apt term for loveable old Ireland given its ubiquitous peat mires and boggy weather. My wife and I have contrasting connections, for hers were Catholic immigrants while mine were Protestant. But as will be seen, distinctions can blur.

The Irish

My favorite Irish immigrant on my wife’s side is Patrick Hickey, who sailed from Ireland in 1849 at the peak of the potato famine. My wife’s grandmother helpfully referred to him as “Paddy Hickey from county Cork” shortly before denying it, while another family member claimed he was from co. Wexford [1]. Those very Irish statements of family origins seem likely to remain the final word until my dying day, if ever I live that long.

Counties of IrelandTraditionally the Hickeys have been considered Celtic in background, with a presumed history extending back thousands of years in Ireland. The surname, it is said, derives from the Irish word “iceadh”, meaning “healer”. Surname expert Edward MacLysaght has stated that the Hickeys are “A medical family of the Dál gCais” [13], referring to a tribe claiming descent from Cormac Cas, a King of Munster of the 3rd century AD. Its septs include the Clancys, Kennedys, MacMahons, MacNamaras, and O’Briens among others [2]. At some point earlier or later, legend fades into myth and the Dál gCais claim descent from Milesius, the supposed ancestor of all Irish Celts, living around 1000 BC give or take a couple of hundred years [3].

Unfortunately for these traditions, modern Y-DNA testing indicates that the Dál gCais families do not share a common ancestor [4]. Even among the Hickeys themselves there are multiple origins [5]. Perhaps that’s to be expected of an occupational surname, for surely many Irish families had healers.

The Not So Irish

The Not So Irish were the interlopers, settlers in Ireland from Scotland and England. They were the orange to my wife’s green, good Protestants all. I recently wrote of my own Scotch-Irish family in “The Kelburn Castle Origin of the Boles Family: A DNA Success Story”. It was a family that originated in Ayshire, Scotland, went to Northern Ireland probably after 1606 when Scottish migration began in earnest [6], perhaps settled in co. Londonderry (known as Derry by the Green Irish), and then sailed to America after 1752 [1].

But there were others in my background as well. Cunninghame is a district of Ayrshire that gave its name to the Cunningham family. My ancestor Mary Cunningham was a “small sister” among three who came to America from Dublin in 1729, in the company of a couple employing the eldest as an indentured servant. Mary was 12 but already a Quaker [1]. She was thus a genealogical treasure for her numerous descendants by her eventual husband Richard Robinson, for the Quakers were among the most careful record keepers of the time. Her ancestry can be traced three generations in Ireland, through the Cunningham, Tomey, and Auliffe families [1].

Those names show how distinctions can blur. Tomey is a form of O’Twomey, a native Irish name meaning “descendant of Tuama” [8], while Auliffe is a form of MacAuliffe, believed to be Norse as it derives from the name “Olaf” [7]. Twomey is well known in counties Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, Ireland [1]. Daniel Tomey, Mary Cunningham’s great-grandfather, is in fact first known as a resident of the city of Cork in 1645. MacAuliffe is also a southwestern Irish name prominent in co. Cork [13], although in this case the great-grandfather, Edward Auliffe, was of co. Kilkenny about 1671 [1]. Both families were almost certainly Catholic shortly before these 17th-century dates, attesting to Quaker success in gaining converts — and blurring the presumed Scottish Presbyterian origins of the Cunninghams.

Another Not So Irish ancestral family of mine was the Hollingsworth family. Its earliest known ancestor was Henry Hollingsworth, whose name appeared on a 1630 muster roll in Oneilland Barony, co. Armagh. His family also became Quaker [1]. He was certainly of English extraction, the surname ultimately deriving from a place name in co. Chester, England [9].

The More Irish Than The Irish

“More Irish than the Irish” is a term used to refer to descendants of soldiers in the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries [10]. The invasion started in 1169, undertaken at the behest of Dermot MacMurrough, deposed King of Leinster. The portion of the island that was occupied reached nearly half by 1200 and three-quarters by 1250 [11].

Why more Irish than the Irish? Because over generations, many of the newly settled families acquired the customs and language of the Irish, as well as their sons and daughters as husbands and wives. Religion was not an issue, for the Protestant Reformation was still centuries in the future. The families were and largely continued to be Catholic. In many cases the only way to tell that they were not completely ethnic Irish was by the evidence of their surname.

Among many others the early settlers included the Sinnotts and Colfers, Flemish mercenaries of the Normans [11]. They are my wife’s ancestors. Catherine Sinnott, the immigrant ancestor, was one of six sisters who came from Kilmore parish, co. Wexford, in the 1850s and 1860s. She married Patrick Hickey in Ohio, the couple later removing to Illinois. The family is traceable in Irish Catholic church records, with Catherine’s grandfather John Sinnott (1734/5-1823) having married a wife from the Colfer family [1].

The Unexpected Melting Pot

As these examples show, Ireland has been a melting pot to an extent not widely appreciated by American descendants of its people.   Many of us are used to thinking in terms of two groups at most: The Catholic native Irish, and the Presbyterian Scotch-Irish. But the Irish could also be Norse, English, and Flemish, as illustrated in the relatively recent ancestry of just my wife and myself [1]. True, we’ve not yet traced back to any of the shipwrecked sailors of the Spanish armada, a more controversial contributor to Ireland’s population [12]. But one never knows what the future holds when pursuing The Genealogist’s Craft.

For more on the families mentioned in this post, please see The Omnibus Ancestry, available for download through


[1] Boles, D.B. (2016).  The Omnibus Ancestry.  Ebook available for download through

[2] Information retrieved fromál_gCais (2015).

[3] Information retrieved from (2015).

[4] Information retrieved from (2015).

[5] Information retrieved from (2015).

[6] Information retrieved from (2015).

[7] Information retrieved from (2015).

[8] Information retrieved from (2015).

[9] Information retrieved from (2015).

[10] Information retrieved from (2015).

[11] Roche, R. (1970). The Norman Invasion of Ireland. Tralee, Kerry, Ireland: Anvil Books.

[12] Information retrieved from (2015).

[13] MacLysaght, E. (1980). The Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.

Picture attribution: Retrieved from Used by permission.