The Finding of my Ancestors
My 4 Year Journey

I stand upon the shoulders of W E McClenny and his book about Rev James O'Kelly, Mary Evelyn O'Kelley and her college paper she wrote in the 60s, J Fred O'Kelley book about James Stamps O'Kelley, Alethea Jane Macon book about my family, and Harold Earnest O'Kelley book about his line of our family.  It seems ironic that my curiosity for which I use to get punished when I was a child turned out to be an asset for me all my life.  My public school teachers and parents were more concerned about putting me inside that square box and forcing me to be just like everyone else and do only what I was told to do which I never seemed to do very well, but I wasn't a trouble maker, I tried my best to conform but once I was free from the authority of public education and my parents my curiosity about life gave me a wonderful life.  It allowed me to get promoted and awarded when I was in the US Air Force and again in law enforcement.  It allowed me to become a professional photographer and start and operate four successful businesses my last a very complicated Internet Business that few people could have created, and my curiosity about life is what kept a smile on my face when everyone else around me were in the depths of despair.  Sometimes I needed to be pushed in a certain direction and that happened when Uncle Sam drafted me forcing me into the Air Force and it happened when I survived a Brain Aneurysm in 2008 and I had to reorder my life for my new reality.  Like so many others, I always tried to be employed in some career that did things for others but necessity forced me to do as most people do and chase after a pay check but my Brain Aneurysm caused me to see the world differently.  Nothing I earn remains after I die, chasing money is a false trap for it cannot bring one happiness or security.  Beyond putting food on the table and a roof over our heads, all the rest is pure vanity and a waste of one's life.  All the cars, homes, jewelry, even my photographs will all disappear or belong to someone else as soon as I am gone from this world so the sum of my life will not mean much unless I do something that has real meaning and that caused me to turn my attention to genealogy to solve the great mystery about my ancestors and thanks to many others I already had a huge head start because in 1997 my aunt Kathleen O'Kelley gave me her data that allowed me to create the largest and most complete O'Kelley Genealogy Website on the net.   My goal now is to give those who come after me the knowledge of our ancestors and that they came from ancestors who gave us all what we need to have a great life.  One just has to get up and out there and experience life like they did.

I started with many difficulties.  After my aneurysm I wasn't well for many years so things that came easy to me before, I now had to work much harder and longer to achieve.  When I took up this challenge in 2010 I didn't question the findings of the previous researchers because my goal was to go beyond Virginia and back to Ireland and find my family there but that didn't work because I knew too little about my ancestor who came from Ireland.  There  was no disagreement on his surname, there are records to support that my family arrived in America with some form of my "O'Kelley" surname but there wasn't agreement on what his forename actually was so I submitted a DNA sample to Family Tree DNA hoping to short cut my research but the results that came back created more questions than answers.  It became clear, this was going to be one of the most difficult investigations I have ever conducted, but the methods were still valid, I just needed to use my training, skills, and experience and follow the bread crumbs and I had to start but determining my ancestors forename.

Almost every piece of knowledge about my family comes from five books published between 1910 and 1985 and when I started in 2010 I had only read J Fred O'Kelly's book about my great grandparents James Stamps O'Kelley and Lucy Woodruff England in my teens and then again later in life.  I clearly needed to expand my library and track down and read these other books.  The books written by W. E MacClenny, Alethea Jane Macon, Judith Knowles Ries, and Harold Earnest O'Kelley were out of print and not available at my local libraries so it took me some time to trace down copies of these books.  My Aunt Kathleen had recommended that I read Wilbur E McClenny's book about Rev James O'Kelly as she had a belief that while Macon didn't connect him directly to our family that he was an ancestor so it was the first book that I located and read and it was remarkable as Rev James O'Kelly was before our revolution a Methodist Episcopal Minister in the "Established Church" and I knew that in that time becoming a minister was limited to Gentry and wealthy families.  One didn't just get up in the morning and decided they were going to preach, this was a highly controlled occupation and in Virginia it could land you in trouble with the law as the only religion that was lawful was the Established Church.  It was with W E MacClenny that I began to see a common theme found in all these books that because our tradition claimed we were "prominent" in Ireland we descend from the O'Kellys of Hy-Many and theirs was the Coat of Arms that hung on wall of my childhood home growing up and my family wasn't alone.  The Hy-Many Coat of Arms to the right comes from the title page of Alethea Jane Macon's 1969 book and it was never questioned because it had been in my family for more than 100 years but when I submitted my DNA in the fall of 2010 and received my DNA results, it provided proof that the O'Kellys of Hy-Many are not my direct ancestors.  We are cousins about 35 to 40 generations removed so our shared ancestor live many centuries before the O'Kelly surname came into use so the fact that we are both O'Kelly and my "O'Kelley" had nothing to do with the Hy-Many ancestor named "Ceallach" caused me to have to see the bigger picture.  Dr John O'Donovan's 1843 book titled "Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many: Commonly called O'Kelly Country" has nothing to do with my family line but it was very helpful in understanding how surnames came into use and were changed so easily.  These O'Kelly were in the western part of Ireland and while I didn't know it in 2010 my ancestor came from the east of Ireland at Tara just northwest of Dublin and the O'Kelley of Meath had a Coat of Arms that shares color and Rampart Lions with our Hy-Many cousins.

While I was an experienced investigator, I knew I needed to learn more about Genealogy and experienced Genealogist helped greatly by telling me to look to the names of the children to learn the identify of their parents as our ancestors following a naming order and when I applied that naming order I often found it repeated in family after family except for the Macon Pedigree of our first American born generation and that caused me to suspect that family pedigree wasn't valid but I didn't have to accept Macon's Pedigree because I soon discovered that our family had two pedigrees, the Macon Pedigree that seems to have come into being on in the late 1960s and an older and more complete pedigree that was created about 1904 by Dr Thomas K O'Kelley to use as proof of his age for his Civil War Pension Application and it also included daughters and in that this pedigree the name name James O'Kelley and not Thomas was given as our ancestor yet Macon stated she had "best evidence" that his name was Thomas but she doesn't share that evidence so returning to my grass roots as an experienced investigator, when people state they have evidence but are unwilling to share it, that most always means they have no evidence and they just want you to accept them at their word.  I am not trained to accept people at their word and because Thomas most always was followed by "Dean" in the early names of the descendents and Francis and Charles Dean were the only other two names where Dean was used, I conclude that Thomas Dean must be the name of our maternal grandfather and not our grandfather and Charles and Francis Dean are likely names of maternal uncles to our first America born generation.  The over looked truth is the only name that appears in all the lines of the sons, in the lines of Rev James, Thomas, Benjamin, Charles, and Francis was "James".  Based on his will, Thomas named his first son Francis likely after his maternal grandfather, second son Thomas after himself and his third son James.  Charles named his sons George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James, then Charles.  Benjamin named his first born Nimrod after his maternal grandfather, and because his great grandson was named James Solomon, I believe Benjamin named his second born James Solomon O'Kelley after his father and Mary's older brother.  Like Charles, Benjamin doesn't name a son Thomas or at least none that lived to be recorded.  Francis named his first born James.

With the name of James O'Kelley settled as my ancestor's name, was his wife Anna or Elizabeth?  Anna at that time was a nickname Nancy and Hanna and not considered a name and Elizabeth and Nancy were the two women found in Mecklenburg records marrying Tuckers who are found in Georgia living next to so clearly they were daughters likely named after an ancestor and Nancy O'Kelley Tucker named her first born son James Daniel Tucker and I suspect he was really named James O'Kelley Daniel Tucker after his two grandfathers.  With Dr Thomas K O'Kelley's pages in hand, it was difficult to explain how Anna could be the mother of Rev James O'Kelley born about 1740 and the finding of Elizabeth Dean in the 1827 Georgia Land Lottery as a Revolutionary War Widow living in Oglethorpe Co.  The only way all this data could make sense is if James O'Kelley is the James Kelley from Caroline Co Virginia who died at the Battle of Brandywine Sept 11 1777 making his wife Elizabeth Dean his widow and the only way he could be the father of Rev James O'Kelly born about 1740 was if he had two wives, Nancy (Anna) Dean born about 1718 who was the mother of Rev James, Thomas, George, William and Benjamin and when she died about 1758 he married her much younger sister Elizabeth Dean who bore Charles, Francis, John, Elizabeth, and Nancy.  This all seemed so simple, so why did this get lost in our family and I believe it wasn't lost but was hidden as in the time of James, Anna, and Elizabeth it was so common for a spouse to marry his deceased spouses siblings that England passed a law against it in 1835 so I think the great grandchildren of James, Anna, and Elizabeth purposely altered and concealed what they believes was their great grandparents sin.  People do these things and when I fit this marriage to two sisters into the Pedigree of Dr Thomas K O'Kelley, now the data made perfect sense.  Even the grouping of the son as Rev James, Thomas, and Benjamin all moved to North Carolina while Charles, Francis, Elizabeth, and Nancy and Elizabeth Dean moved to Oglethorpe Co Georgia.  I believe that when James O'Kelley died at Brandywine in 1777 Elizabeth Dean was about 42 and Charles and Francis were young teens, John, Elizabeth, and Nancy were small children, Nancy might not have been more than two years old and while the task for caring for this family would normally fall to the eldest step son, Rev James O'Kelly I suspect he was too engaged in his ministry so Thomas O'Kelley being a Godly man stepped up to see to the care of his stepmother and step siblings and this evolved into the belief that Thomas had been previously married and that Elizabeth Dean's husband was a Thomas O'Kelley.  Thomas was 35 when he married Elizabeth Wyers and I think he delayed getting married and starting his own family until Charles became married and settled and able to take over. Everything fits perfectly into this new family model, like pieces in a puzzle falling into place. 

So how does this help me find where we came from in Ireland?  Everyone seems to agree that our ancestor arrived in the 1740s from Ireland as a protestant and I can find nothing to dispute this.  Judith Knowles Ries the great granddaughter of Dr Thomas K O'Kelley wrote in her 1976 book that James O'Kelley was a Methodist Episcopal ministers and while some have taken this to mean he was the Rev James O'Kelly who found the Christian Church in North Carolina, I think that the data might be true on its face.  That the way the famous Rev James O'Kelly came to be a minister in the Church of England was because his father, my ancestor, also named James O'Kelley came from Ireland in 1748 as a Church of England minister and he came with his wife, Anna Deane and Irish born women and their son who would grow up and become Rev James O'Kelly the founder of the Christian Church of North Carolina.  The greatest help was with the aid of Dave McClullar in the finding of Ruth Barton Pullium's post in Genforum in 2000 that her grandmother, Salina Avaline O'Kelley said we came from the O'Kelley at Tara Co Meath Ireland. 

Now I had enough information to search for my Irish Grandfather who I felt needed:

  1. To satisfy Ruth Barton Pullium's grandmother's story James O'Kelley's father had to come from County Meath something my closest DNA matches supported.  Like a gift from heaven Feb 3 2015 the DNA results of Samuel Joseph O'Kelley proved that Ruth Barton Pullium grandmother was my 2th cousin 4x removed.
  2. To satisfy Judith Knowles Ries family story that our ancestor was an Episcopal minister in the English Church, his Irish father needed to be at least a minor gentry line with protestant Anglican faith
  3. To satisfy Harold Earnst O'Kelley and W E MacClenny publish sources his name needed to be William
  4. To satisfy Alethea Jane Macon he must have an Irish ancestor named "Thomas" who was our first protestant
  5. To satisfy all these author's claim and our family story's claim that we were "prominent" and of "Old Irish Kings" I believe he must come from the O'Kelley of Bregia as they were the only line that I had found that made this claim.  They are said to descend from Irish Monarch Aed Slaine.
With my DNA matches in hand that trace back to Co Cavan and Co Monaghan I got lucky as in the Prerogative Wills of Ireland was found a William Kelly of Kells who was a Protestant merchant and a "Gentleman" making him a minor Gentry and his will was dated 1748 the year some believed my ancestor James O'Kelley arrived in America.  Kells was in Co Meath but less than 15 miles from Co Cavan and Co Monaghan borders so William was of the right name, was in the right place, the right time, and he was protestant and minor gentry.  I couldn't have created suitable possibility.  I felt that the death of a father and an inheritance might have motivated James O'Kelley to leave Ireland and because names and occupations ran in families I believe that the William Kelley that Harold Earnest O'Kelley reports in his book as a minor merchant in the court records of Caroline County Virginia  made it likely he was the son of William Kelly of Kells and he had follow his father's profession as a merchant and settled maybe a decade before in the portion of King and Queen Co Virginia that later became Caroline County.  It seemed probably that my ancestor remained in Ireland with his father and was a Protestant Episcopal Minister in the Church of England and he married Nancy Deane in Ireland and Rev James O'Kelly their son was born in Ireland as W E MacClenny claimed in his book.  When William Kelly died, I think my ancestor took his inheritance and removed his young family from Ireland and joined his older brother William in portion of King and Queen that later became part of Caroline Co just as Harold Earnest O'Kelley suspected.  Thomas the son might have been born in Ireland or King and Queen, but the son Benjamin claimed in his pension application that the record of his birth was in the Parish Church in King and Queen a place I would expect to fnd the son of an Episcopal minister but I think Benjamin got his birth year wrong and as a 62 year old who has to look at his drivers license sometimes to be certain, I find that acceptable for the more elderly Benjamin who had no governemnt documents to remind him of the year he was born.  James O'Kelley may have still be living with his family in the portion of King and Queen that became Caroline Co in January 1777 when he enlisted or he could have moved to Mecklenburg Virginia and enlisted in the 10th Virginia 7th Company because he wanted to be with these men he spent most his adult life around.  If I had the choice today,  would want to servce with those I knew when I was in the prime of my life.  It is likely James O'Kelley fought in the French and Indian War with some of the men of the 10th Virginia 7th Company and that is why he joined.

But it is likely our family search doesn't end with William O'Kelley of Kells Co Meath Ireland as in the 1879 book "The History of the County of Monaghan" is recorded a Thomas Kelly who appears in the Survey of 1691 with land in Tullycorbet Parish in 1691.  I believe this must be the Thomas O'Kelley that Alethea Jane Macon mistakenly believed was our ancestor who came from Ireland to Virginia.  I believe in the passing down of the story that Thomas O'Kelley was our first Protestant Ancestor that the story became mangled and he became the one who left Ireland and came to America but to keep land and title Thomas likely about 1585 became Protestant but he or his ancestors had been pushed out of Co Meath and into Co Monaghan.  Also in the records appears his very protestant son William Kelly who is found receiving land seized from the Papist in Carrickmacross in 1640.  Also in 1641 Protestant Gentleman William Kelly, wife, and family gave aid and protection to the English Protestants during the Irish Revolt and in that same book in 1643 is recorded the birth of a granddaughter to William's son Thomas Kelly.  The grandaughter's god father is a Edward Williams. 

How to create a Genealogy Break Through

I have an advantage, I have decades of experience based in training investigating cold cases.  Rarely is a single record going to solve a cold case. What solves a cold case is how one looks that the data they have available.  I am most familiar with researching the Irish but I am sure much can be used with any genealogy research.