I keep talking about the importance of knowing and checking variants of a surname.

Sometimes there can be problems due to simple misspellings or not remembering  some small details correctly. This was a common problem when applicants of the Old Age Pension requested a search of the 1841 & 1851 census to prove their age. Fortunately at this time the searchers were also aware of the problems that could be encountered and took this into account.

I thought it would be a good idea to give you some examples of things that we have noticed while transcribing the records for ireland-genealogy.com.

When Andrew Armstrong requested a search he said that he lived in Skerry, Co. Antrim at the time of the census. He also stated that his father’s name was Andrew and his mother was Sarah. The searcher who checked the census stated that there was no family who fitted this criteria.  They did however make note that a family had been found with a father named ARTHUR. The mother’s name, the address and all other criteria matched including the fact that there was an 11 year old son named Andrew.

Mary Eliza Galbraith was found in 1851 where she said she would be, with the parents that she named but with a surname of GILBREATH.

Ellen Rocks said that in 1851 she was living in her grandfather’s house (Bernard Rocks) with her mother (Elizabeth Rocks) and her aunts (Sally, Margt, Mary, Esther, Ellen). The searcher in this case knew that despite the misspelling they had the right family when they recorded the following:-    1851 Bernard ROX married 1820, Mary-wife, Saley 30, Mary 27, Wm.25, Esther 23, Elisa 21-married 1849, Matilda 7-niece, Elinor 11 months-granddaughter.

Thanks to the detailed information given by Ellen when making the application, the mistake in the spelling of their surname in 1851 did not prevent the searcher from confirming her age.

It has to be remembered that back in 1841 & 1851, when these censuses were compiled, many people did not know how to read & write never mind how to spell their names. It is not surprising then that so many errors were made.

It’s just another one of those hurdles that have to be overcome when you’re researching your family tree!

And now we’ve introduced Soundex searching on the Ireland Genealogy search engine, you can find more options in your searches for surnames and forenames that ‘sound-alike’. Just  check the ‘Soundex’ box before you search!

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I laid down the challenge to guess what the next name I examined would be and no-one guessed – so here it is.

The 2nd most recurring name on www.ireland-genealogy.com is DOHERTY or ÓDochartaigh in Irish.

A very small number of the alternative spellings O’Doherty, Dougherty and Docherty can also be found on the site. Other alternatives are O’Dogherty & Daugherty – however I have not come across either of these variations.

It turns out that when I add all of the alternatives to the more common spelling there are hundreds and hundreds of Doherty applicants.

This actually makes Doherty the most recurring name on the site and relegates Kelly to number 2. I wonder how often this will happen as I analyse the most popular names and discover their alternatives.

In Ireland “Docherty” would not be a common name and is regarded as the more Scottish form of the name, so when I discovered that there were some Docherty’s on the site I decided to take a closer look.

There are only 11 applicants that have given this particular variation as their surname but in each and every case the application has been made from Scotland. When the search has been made of the 1841 or 1851 census and the results recorded, it shows that not one of the families actually spelled their name “Docherty” at the time of the census.  It once again proves the need to know and check all variations of a name.

As with the Kelly’s, I decided to see where the Doherty’s were living in the middle of the 19th century. The vast majority were in Donegal and, unsurprisingly as they are right next door, Londonderry and Tyrone accounted for another few hundred. In fact almost five hundred of the applicants were living in Ulster.

One of the most famous holders of the name is Sir Cahir O’Doherty who was the last Gaelic Lord of Inishowen, Co Donegal.

Although allied with the English and himself knighted under the recommendation of Sir Henry Dowcra, the Governor of Derry, he subsequently had a falling out with Sir George Paulet, Dowcra’s successor.  Paulet who was contemptuous of Sir Cahir punched him in the face and the resulting retaliation caused the death of Paulet, the burning of Derry & Strabane and a revolt that threatened to spread as factions of other families came out in rebellion.

It also ultimately led to his own death as he invaded mid-Ulster. A counter attack by the Kings Marshal resulted in the city of Derry being recovered and Sir Cahir being killed.

Although the rebellion spluttered on, it was eventually quashed by the combined efforts of the King’s Marshal and Sir Arthur Chichester, amongst others, with great loss of life. Sir Arthur Chichester afterwards received a grant of O’Doherty’s lordship of Inishowen and later that year following O’Doherty’s rebellion, the Summer Assizes of 1608 had judged that almost all of the counties of Tyrconnell (Donegal), Coleraine (Co. Londonderry), Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh and Cavan were in the king’s hands….

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It is generally accepted that the most common surname in Ireland is Murphy, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

On www.ireland-genealogy.com, the name that appears the most is Kelly – so I have decided to give you a little information on this name.

The Irish for ‘Kelly’ is ó Ceallaigh, with the most common alternative spellings of this name as O’Kelly, O,Kelley, Kelley &  Kellie.

So when researching your family history, remember to check all derivations of the name to make sure that you have not missed anything.  This being said, of the hundreds records we have where the applicant’s surname is Kelly, only one uses an alternative! (O’Kelly).

Taking this one step further, I thought I would see where these Kellys were living in the middle of the 19th century.

There were Kelly’s nearly everywhere but no Kelly’s in Carlow or Laois (Queens) applied for a search of the 1841 or 1851 census to be done. The top 5 in the search were :

5) Roscommon

4) Mayo

3) Tyrone

2) Londonderry

..and the prize for the county with the most Kelly’s applying to have a search made of the census goes to…………


There are a lot of famous Kelly’s out there also. I don’t think that there is such a thing as a list of the Top 10 famous people with the surname Kelly, but if there was, the Irish actor Frank Kelly who plays Father Jack in the hysterical TV series Father Ted would have to be in there. And who could forget the beautiful, elegant Grace Kelly or the incredibly handsome and talented Gene Kelly. I wonder how many “famous” Kelly’s could claim that they have Irish roots!

Next time I’ll give you some information on the 2nd most recurring name.

Can anyone guess what that might be?

If you’re the first person to guess correctly on our Facebook page I’ll do your surname also!

And I’ll give you one big clue; it is not “Murphy”…


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I came across this only this morning. I only live 30 minutes away from NUI Maynooth so I’ll be there next week to see this this exciting historical document and to check my family names!


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This is a fantastic free resource for free eBooks to help our Irish Family History research!

The author lists over 500 free books, including a selection of educational books from PRONI.

Visit http://freeirishgenebooks.blogspot.co.uk/ for more details!

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I was recently looking through the web for some more information to send out to our subscribers, and I found this delightful blog / essay by renowned Irish Genealogist, John Grenham – http://www.gov.ie/en/essays/genealogy.html

It is of great worth to anyone starting out their Irish research, and even for us old hands who perhaps need reminding of what is available in this information age!

Only one problem though – we’re not mentioned!

- Josephine

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