Frequently Asked Questions


  • How are you, the webmaster, related to the family in this site? Answer

  • Did our family come from Ireland? Answer

  • Why do I not find the spelling 'O'Kelley" living in Ireland at the time our Ancestor is believed to have come to America? Answer

  • What does the "O" and "Mac" mean? Answer

  • Is our first America Ancestor James or Thomas?  Answer

  • I am a male descendent of this family, would a DNA test benefit the family research? Answer

  • I submitted a DNA sample and many of the matches are to people with names other than Kelly, what is the deal? Answer

  • Does your site have errors?  Answer

  • Why can I not find a marriage document on some of my line?  Answer

  • Is Rev James O'Kelly related to our family? Answer

  • How did our O'Kelley name evolve?  Answer

  • Were our ancestors Catholic?  Answer


1 Question:  How are you, the webmaster, related to this family?

Answer:  I descended from James, Charles, Charles Dean, James Stamps, Charles Williams, Albert Henry, Conley Horton line. 

2 Question:  Did our family come from Ireland?

Answer:  My DNA results indicate that my immigrant ancestor came from somewhere around Kells Co Meath Ireland and both DNA and the family tradition story of Ruth Barton Pullium indicates were are the O'Kelley fo Tara, the O'Kelley of Bregia

3 Question:  Why do I not find the spelling "O'Kelley" in Ireland at the time our Ancestor is believed to have come to America?

Answer:  Surnames came into use in Ireland around 900 AD and when rarely written those names were spelled in Gaelic based upon their sound.  There were no language rules, only a few Bards and Poets could read and write so most of the time those who could read and write were pretty much making it up as they went along.  The English invaded Ireland in the twelfth century and having to live on the island it forced the Gaelic Irish and the English Irish to attempt to find common ground for communications.  Both languages used a lot of extra letters in their words and English used a lot of extra "e".  The tiny number of landed Gentry O'Kelleys who may have used the English language early would have spelled their name in English with extra letters.  It seems certain that our O'Kelley family at Tara would have been one of the first because we came into contact with the English first.  It is likely the earliest English spelling was O Kellie but may have been O Kelleyee.  It is difficult to know because there are few written documents available on line to consult.  It was during the time of Queen Elizabeth that she forced ruling Irish to learn the English language and change their name to English version which including dropping the "O" and "Mac" from their names, those that refused lost their lands and titles.  As English became more standardized and rules were created the unnecessary extra letters were stripped out and in our that that resulted in the large number of Kelly spellings in the world today.  There is no right or wrong, one is free to use any spelling they desire but my family has a long held tradition that we have always used O'Kelley and that we descend from the "Old Irish Kings" and that may be true. 

4 Question:  What does the "O" and "Mac" mean?

Answer:  The Irish did not have surnames as we think of them.  They referenced descendents as the "son of", "grandson of", "daughter of", or "grand daughter of".  The Gaelic spelling of the living head of the Kelly family was Ceallach so the sons were MacCeallaigh, grandsons were Ua Ceallaigh, daughters were Nic Ceallaigh, and grand daughters were Ni Ceallaigh.  Over time Ceallaigh meaning descendant of Cealach came into being and that is probably the source for the English spelling of the O'Kelley name.  Because these names were not surnames as we think of surnames, when a woman married a Kelly she did not change her name because she could not become a daughter or grand daughter or descendant of Ceallach as the result of marriage.  What really complicates this is one may find a name like Teige MacDonald O'Kelly. What this tells the Irish reader is Teige was the son of Donald and a grandson or descendant of Ceallach.  Sometimes the O'Kelly might be dropped by the next generation and they would become McDonald.

5 Question:  Is our first American Ancestor James, Thomas, or William? 

Answer:  The 1752 Lunenburg Tithe Census and 1782 Virginia Census for Mecklenburg Co both indicate the only Kelly in the records is a William and if one accepts Macon's book this was the name of the first grandson to be born in America, the son of Charles and Mary was named William and their next child a daughter was named Elizabeth Dean.   I have great doubts this William Kelly is of our family as another line of Kelly has a family tree that includes the same William Kelly and I think they are correct.  I think that all these William Kellys living in and around our ancestors descended from Giles Kelly.  None of the Giles Kelly descendents appear as O'Kelley while all our ancestors do and I think that sets the two families apart as not being related.  After four years intense investigation, I believe our ancestor was James O'Kelley born about 1715 and he first married Nancy (Anna) Dean maybe in Ireland and she bore him Rev James, Thomas, George, William and Benjamin then she died about 1758 and James married her much younger sisiter Elizabeth Dean and she bore him Charles born in 1760 and not 1756 as Macon gives, Francis, John, Elizabeth, and Nancy.  In the time of James, Nancy, and Elizabeth marrying a dead spouses sibling was common but in the 1800s this was considered a sin so I think for religious reasons descendents hid what they believed was their ancestor's sin.  I believe James O'Kelley was the James Kelly who died Sept 11 1777 at the Battle of Brandywine. 

6 Question:  I am a male descendent of this family, would a DNA test benefit the family research?

Answer:  If you have descended from one of the other brothers, from Thomas, Francis, Benjamin, George, or William Denis the answer is yes.  If you descended from my line which is Charles then your DNA results should be almost identical to mine.  By having other males from these different lines join the Kelley project it would better tell us how we are related to other Irish Kellys.  Click on the Kelly project link and I recommend you purchase a 37 marker test which is about $150.   Only a male O'Kelley can do this, if your mother or grandmother was an O'Kelley this test will be of no benefit to the O'Kelley research.  If a descendent of Rev James O'Kelly joins the project and submits a sample it would confirm or deny his relationship to our family.   To date I know of only one such descendent and he has provided no response to my request that he submit a sample. 

7 Question:  I submitted a DNA sample and many of the matches are to people with names other than Kelly, what is the deal?

Answer:  The Irish were a warrior race. They not only fought as mercenaries in foreign wars but raided their Irish and English neighbors taking the men as work slaves and the women as sex slaves.  In those days the spoils of war also included sexually raping the women of the conquered and certainly some children were born as a result.  There are certainly some O'Kelleys who didn't descend from an O'Kelley ancestor and there are some of other surnames who did descend from an O'Kelley ancestor because of this practice and because of Irish naming customs.  We like to think of our early ancestors as these warm and gentle Christians but the truth is Christianity had little impact on the day to day behavior of many warrior races.  The word "berserk" was invented to describe how our ancestors fought.  The Romans would hire them as mercenaries and there are accounts of entire legions going into battle totally nude and fighting like men in an uncontrollable rage.   They would win just because they scared their enemy into defeat.  Another common practice to try to keep the peace between Irish clans was they would exchange their eldest sons as hostages.  This way if war broke out, the son would be killed giving each side a greater incentive to behave but this didn't work very well peace would be for a brief time and during that time the hostage son would be forced to marry one of his enemy's daughters.  Because of the way the Irish naming rules were applied an O'Kelley being held hostage by the O'Farrell clan and forced to marry a daughter of an Farrell, their off spring would bear the name of O'Farrell and not O'Kelley because of their relationship to their mother and her relationship to the clan.  It wouldn't be wise to have a flock of children in the O'Farrell clan names O'Kelley and the same tradition applied with the O'Farrell hostage held by the O'Kelley clan.   But there were other customs.  The Irish nobility would send their children to be fostered and raised by other families and Irish men held the right to return a wife and her children back to her family.  Irish women did not take their husbands name so when children were put out by their father they could and did take the name of their mother.  These customs of course makes genealogy with the Irish much more difficult and these customs are not widely known so many have no idea that they were in practice.   We can't apply our values when we are doing our research.  Source:  "The Short History of Ireland" by Dr Johnathan Bardon

8 Question:  Does your site have errors?

Answer:  Yes, nothing created by humans is perfect and certainly this site has some guess work in it.  Even if the data is backed up by government documents or church records that does not mean the civil servant that created the document didn't make an error.  For example, many of the early marriage documents are probably the date the license was obtained and not the date the marriage actually occurred. 

9 Question:  Why can I not find a marriage document on some of my line?

Answer:  This is going to come as a shock to many but one of the "common law" rights that English won from their King was the ability to marry without government or church intervention. George and Martha Washington setup house and ran an notice in the local paper announcing their marriage.   For many marriage was a simple formality where the priest would say a few words and enter their names in the church registry.  State and church marriage was expensive and it has been estimated that at least 30% did not seek a state or church marriage because they could not afford it but some did later when they could afford it seek such a marriage which explains why sometimes children would appear born four or five years before the marriage record.  It wasn't until the early 1800s that mostly southern states began to enact marriage licensing laws as a way to prevent blacks and whites from common law marriages.  You may not find marriage records because at the time and place they may not have been required. 

10 Question:  Is Rev James O'Kelly related to our family?

Answer:  Without official documents only a DNA sample from a male descendent of Rev James O'Kelly will tell us for certain.  In my opinion there are more reason to believe he was than to believe he was not. 

  1. Rev James O'Kelly is documented by Elon University and their researchers believe he was born in Mecklenburg Co Virginia between 1735 and 1738.  Given that our ancestor is believed to have lived in Mecklenburg Co Virginia at the about the time Rev James was born gives some cause to believe he could be related to our family as this is where many of our first America born ancestors were born. 

  2. The 1838 Bible pages records the first born child of Francis O'Kelly was James OKelley and it was the tradition of the Irish to name their first born male after the paternal grandfather so clearly the name of James does appear often in our early family but it also appeared often in many early American families so by itself this has no weight but when added to the rest it can be an indicator.

  3. Peter Jefferson Kernolde's claim in his early 20th century book titled "Lives of Christian ministers: over two hundred memoirs" where he states that Rev John P O'Kelly, James O'Kelly, and Francis D O'Kelly (descendents of our family) are descendents of Rev James O'Kelly.  He doesn't support his claim with documentation so by its self this isn't a valid claim but added to everything else it makes it more possible.

  4. A George and Delilah Crowder also appears in the Elon University Rev James O'Kelly collection.   This was an 1804 marriage of John Kelley and Frances Crowder and the best man was a Charles Kelley.   The line just above this was the marriage of Frances O'Kelly and Delilah Crowder and George Crowder is mentioned indicating a possible connection.

  5. Rev James's gravestone bears the name O'Kelley and his stone was set just about the time our family began to use the O'Kelley spelling of the name.

  6. About 1904 Dr Thomas K O'Kelley submitted a Civil War Pension application and he included with that application his family tree that he reportedly copied out of one of his ancestor's bibles. We do not know who that bible belonged to but copies of Dr O'Kelley's pages have come to be known as the O'Kelley bible pages and those pages not only give our ancestor as James O'Kelley but also lists a son missing for our traditional telling of our ancestor, a son named James O'Kelley born in 1735 the same year as Rev James O'Kelly was believed to be born.  This supports item #2 above. 

  7. I think it likely that Rev James O'Kelly is the first born son of James and Anna O'Kelley.

11 Question:  How did our O'Kelley name evolve?

Answer:  No one can say for certain but there is considerable reason to believe that before the 1500 some translated the name into English probably because they were either exporters or importers or wealthy and educated and before the influence of the printing press most spelling was regional so one could spell their name anyway they wished.  I have found early examples where the double "e" spelling was used but after the printing press and the mass distribution of books because of profit many words and names were streamlined as to fit more words on a page.    What we do know is in Gaelic at the time our ancestor was believed to come to America the name was spelled as Ceallaigh which is pronounced "O Kelley".  We know that Colla Kelly the Irish Lord of the Manor of Screen changed his name at the request of Queen Elizabeth somewhere around 1601 to the English form of "Kelly" giving us an insight as to why our ancestor may have changed his name from its Gaelic form to the English form.  There were at least three other Irish lords that did the same including the Ceallach of the clan.  We know from Sir James Ware's 1705 book titled "The Antiquities and History of Ireland" that even before Colla there were Ceallaighs around Galway that were using both o Kelly and o Kelley so when the Irish tell us that the double "e" spelling was never used in Ireland you can point then to Ware's book as proof that there was.  It is very likely our ancestor came to America either as Kelly or Kelley without any "O" as we see documents for first American born ancestors as Kelly and Kelley.  It appears during or after our Revolutionary War the reason to spell our name to please our English masters was no longer valid and we begin to see the impact of our newly established freedoms as the OKelly spelling of our name began to appear.  The 1838 Bible pages reveals Francis as an O'Kelly then we can see how his children were listed as OKelley then we see how his grandchildren appear as O'Kelley.  The apostrophe was never used by the Irish in the Gaelic spelling, and it only seems to appear in the English spelling in Ireland in books written after 1800.  Just like most Americans, our name has been altered to fit the need, make it easier to pronounce and to fit the every changing English rules. The apostrophe was added in the early 1800s I suspect because of the effort to standardize its use.  

I have been told that descendents of Rev James O'Kelley never used the O'Kelley spelling of our name but we know that isn't entirely true.  Rev James gravestone certainly bears "O'Kelley" although it was put there by friends and James Franklin O'Kelly appears in two US Census as an O'Kelley, I could see one mistake but not two.  I do know there are O'Kellys and O'Kelleys to appear on modern gravestones from members of the same family in OKlahoma.  I wonder if the reason Rev James never used the double "e" spelling had something to do with his father marrying Elizabeth Dean after the death of his mother Nancy.

12 Question:  Were our ancestors Catholic?

Answer:  DNA proves that was true because our ancestors came from Ireland and were part of the ancestral Irish who lived in Ireland for more than 1000 years meaning our ancestors before the time of King Henry VIII or living before 1530 would have been Roman Catholic but this is a bit more complicated.  Since the founding of the Roman Catholic faith in about 325 AD there has been only one Christian church and anyone who believed something other that what that church allowed was put to death most often in one of many very cruel manners for the crime of heresy so the Irish like the English and Scots and many others living in France, Spain and other places in the world had no choice, they had to be Roman Catholic or die.  Henry VIII changed much of this over his lust for a woman.  He wanted his marriage annulled claiming that his marriage to his dead brother's wife was against the laws of God.  Only the Pope held the power to grant an annulment and when the Pope refused, Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Roman Catholic Churches in England and Ireland and Henry set about to force all the English and Irish to convert. He did not want the Irish Catholic on his west coast and the Catholic French and Spanish on his east and every since that time a great many innocent people have been murdered as the result.  Northern Ireland is at peace at the moment but just two decades ago they were not.  Not much really changed in England or Ireland with the new religion, the churches and priest that converted went on pretty much the way they did before, they had to pledge their loyalty to the English King and had to use his newly created "Great Bible" but church life was pretty much the same.  But that wasn't the case for those who refused to embrace Henry as the head of the church, for them great horrors were in store.  There was a time when a bounty was put on the head of Irish Roman Catholic priests, they could be hunted down like a deer and killed and their body presented for a cash reward.  For the Irish people who refuse to convert, they were either killed outright or forced to America or other English colonies as indentured servants or moved to western Ireland to make room for the protestant English and Scotts who were loyal to the English Crown and willing to settle the lands taken from the native Irish.  This has been the basis for the almost 400 years of war in Ireland.   A great many O'Kelly ancestors died in the conflict defending their lands and their faith.  Now to the answer.  Because Rev James O'Kelly was a minister in the Church of England it seems certain that his father and several grandfathers were Protestant because one didn't just decide to become a minister in the church of England, this was tightly controlled and mostly hereditary, passed down from grandfather, father, to son and there are two published sources that claim that James O'Kelley who came from Ireland about 1748 was also a minister in the Church of England and that seems likely given that his sons married English descended women, something that would not have been permitted if he had been Irish Catholic.