Kernan Immigration History

Oral family history and family records provide few details about the Kernan family’s immigration history. Although these sources are clear that the family traces back to Ireland, they provide no account of how the family came to be in the United States, particularly when the family immigrated from Ireland. However, these sources do imply two possible immigration facts. A family group sheet for Owen Francis Kiernan (1836-1901), which details information from the Bible of Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979), states Owen was born in “Northern Ireland,” and that he married his wife, Harriet, in 1863 in St. Paul, Ramsey Co., Minnesota. Although this group sheet contains some inaccuracies, both of these details imply that the family immigrated to the United States from Ireland at some point between 1836 and 1863. Historical records, however, provide a clearer, though incomplete, account of the Kernan family’s immigration history.

From Ireland to Quebec, Canada

Research into available historical records both provide some details about the family’s immigration, as well as correcting what could be implied from family records. Available historical records, such as baptismal, birth, death, and census records, reveal that the family immigrated from Ireland to Canada before immigrating to the United States, instead of directly immigrating from Ireland to the United States as implied by the family group sheet mentioned above. The 1857 Minnesota Census and the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, for example, show that the earliest ancestors of the family in the United States, Felix Kiernan (ca. 1796-1882) and his wife Martha Rose Sheridan (ca. 1797-?), along with two of their children (Matthew and Bridget), were born in Ireland, while their remaining six children, including Owen Francis Kiernan (1836-1901), were born in Canada.

1860 U.S. Federal Census showing the Kiernan family living in Sibley Co., Minnesota. Also shows birth locations of family members as being Ireland and Canada.
The 1860 U.S. Federal Census showing the Kiernan family living in Sibley Co., Minnesota and the oldest members of the Kernan family as having been born in Ireland and others having been born in Canada.

Although available historical records make it clear that the family immigrated from Ireland to Canada before immigrating to the United States, they provide no specific details about the family’s immigration, particularly when they immigrated from Ireland to Canada, as no immigration record has been discovered for any members of the family. The reason for this may very well be that they no longer exist. Although immigration records like ship manifests were likely made at the time, many have been lost over the years. As noted in an article discussing immigrants to Canada before 1865 on the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website:

“In 1803, the British Parliament enacted legislation to regulate vessels carrying emigrants to North America. The master of the vessel was required to prepare a list of passengers and to deposit it at the port of departure. Unfortunately, few lists remain today so there are no comprehensive nominal lists of immigrants arriving in Canada before 1865.”

Despite the loss of immigration records, available historical records for the Kernan family suggest an approximate time frame for the family’s immigration from Ireland to Canada. According to these sources, the family immigrated sometime between about 1830 and 1832. This time frame is primarily based on the fact that Felix and Martha’s second child, Bridget, is recorded in various historical records, including the 1860 U.S. Federal Census shown above, as having been born in about 1830 in Ireland, while all of their other children born after her are recorded as having been born in Canada, with the third child, Mary, having been born there in 1832. Thus, this establishes a highly likely time frame for when the family immigrated to Canada from Ireland.

The time frame of about 1830 to 1832 is supported by additional historical records from Canada, particularly the birth and baptismal records for Felix and Martha Kiernan’s six children born in Canada as recorded in the Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967. These records establish that the earliest of their children born in Canada, Mary, was indeed born in 1832. Although no birth or baptismal record for their second child, Bridget, has been discovered, most other records (such as those already mentioned) state she was born in about 1830 in Ireland. Thus, it is clear that the family likely immigrated to Canada from Ireland within this time frame. Table 1 below shows the names, birth years, and birth locations for the known children of Felix and Martha Kiernan, which illustrates the time frame of when the Kiernan family immigrated to Canada based on the birth years of their second and third children.

Table 1: Birth Years & Locations of Felix & Martha Kiernan’s Children
Name Birth Year Birth/Baptismal Location
Matthew Kiernan 1826 Ireland
Bridget Kiernan ca. 1830 Ireland
Mary Kiernan 1832 Nicolet, Quebec, Canada
Marie Anne Kiernan 1834 Nicolet, Quebec, Canada
Owen Kiernan 1836 Nicolet, Quebec, Canada
Rose Kiernan 1839 Nicolet, Quebec, Canada
Catherine Kiernan 1841 Nicolet, Quebec, Canada
Felix Kiernan 1844 Sainte-Monique, Quebec, Canada

In addition to supporting the likely time frame for the immigration of the family to Canada from Ireland, moreover, the Canadian birth and baptismal records also reveal that the family specifically immigrated to the Canadian Province of Québec, settling in the town of Nicolet. Located about 96 miles away from Montreal, Nicolet is in the regional county municipality of Nicolet-Yamaska in the Centre-du-Québec region of southern Quebec and is situated where the Saint-Lawrence and Nicolet rivers meet. Founded in 1672, Nicolet is a part of an agricultural region producing such crops as wheat, potatoes, oats, and peas, among others. Live stock, particularly sheep, was also an important part of the economy. Additionally, from the 1830s through the 1860s, the Port Saint-François was an major transportation center for goods and immigrants.

Map showing the location of Nicolet, Quebec, Canada. Nicolet is about 96 miles away from Montreal.
Map showing the locations of Nicolet, Quebec, Canada (indicated by red marker) and Montreal (located near the lower left corner).

Apart from the Canadian birth and baptismal records, further support of the time frame of 1830 to 1832 could be provided by the 1831 and 1842 Canadian Census records. However, efforts to find a match for the family on these historical records have proven unsuccessful. Although the reason for this is unclear, there are several possible explanations. It is possible that there are spelling or other enumeration errors that account for why a match has not been found. Additionally, the condition of the records may explain a lack of a match. In most cases, Canadian records were microfilmed in the 1950s and the original handwritten copies were destroyed. However, these microfilmed copies have, according to Library and Archives Canada, inconsistent quality and not all copies are readable.

Although the family has not be found enumerated on the 1831 or 1842 Canadian Census records, they have been found on the the 1851 Canadian Census. As with other records discussed so far, this census record shows Felix and Martha’s second and third children, Bridget and Mary respectively, and some indication of their approximate birth years (here their approximate ages in 1851), which is the relevant clue. However, there are noticeable differences between this record and others that have been discussed. According to this record, Felix and Martha’s second child, Bridget (shown “Bregit”), was about 23 years old in 1851, making her birth year about 1828. As for Felix and Martha’s third child, Mary (shown “Mary Anne”), she was about 18 years old in 1851, making her birth year about 1833. It is clear from these birth years that this record is not precise, as the birth/baptismal record for Mary (discussed above) clearly states she was born in 1832 not 1833. Additionally, most records for Bridget shows her birth year to be about 1830 instead of 1828. Another unusual difference is this record states that Bridget was born in Canada. It is very likely that this is an error, as other records for Bridget state she was born in Ireland and no birth or baptismal record has been discovered for her in Canadian records. Although there are some differences between this record and others, the approximate time frame of 1830 to 1832 for the family’s immigration to Canada from Ireland can still be regarded as relatively reliable.

1851-canadian-census
The 1851 Canadian Census showing the oldest members of the Kernan family as having been born in Ireland and others having been born in Canada. (Click image to enlarge)

In addition to providing some support for the approximate time frame of the family’s immigration to Canada, this census record also shows that Felix, Martha, and some of their children were still living in Quebec, Canada, but not in Nicolet; rather, they were living in the village and Parish of Sainte-Monique, which is not only a part of the same regional county municipality as Nicolet, but lies about eight miles from the southern border of Nicolet. Although it is unclear exactly when the family made the move to Sainte-Monique, it took place between the birth of their seventh child, Catherine, in 1841 and the birth of their eighth child, Felix, whose birth and baptismal record shows that he was born in Sainte-Monique in 1844.

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Map showing the locations of Nicolet and Sainte-Monique (indicated by red markers)

As with Nicolet, Sainte-Monique is a part of an agricultural region. It is a particularly fertile area that has vast cultivable land that made agriculture a major occupation in the region. The extensive woodlands of conifers and deciduous trees not only made lumber an important part of the economy, but also makes the area scenically beautiful. Due to the Nicolet River running through it, mill work was also significant. It is clear from the 1851 Census Record that Felix and his family were all involved in farming, as their occupation is enumerated as “cultivateur” (French for farmer).

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An aerial view of part of Sainte-Monique

Further narrowing down the time frame of 1830 to 1832 to a specific year is not possible, given available historical records. However, historical accounts of Irish immigration prior to the 1840s might suggest whether the family immigrated in 1830, 1831, or 1832. For Irish immigration in general, the year 1831 is significant as a large wave of Irish immigrants entered Canada, particularly Quebec, in that year. According to an article on the Irish Genealogy Toolkit, “in 1831 alone, 34,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Quebec.” Given this fact, it seems quite possible that 1831 could be the year the family actually arrived in Canada, rather than 1830 or 1832. In fact, an immigration record does exist for a “Felix Keirnan,” a farmer, age 30, that immigrated from Ireland in 1831 and arrived in Baltimore, Maryland on 30 April 1831. However, it is highly likely that this record is for a different Felix, as this Felix was born in about 1801 instead of 1796 and his stated destination was the United States instead of Canada. Although this may not be the right Felix, it is still possible that the family immigrated in 1831. Nevertheless, this is far from certain due to the lack of records. Thus, the time frame of about 1830 to 1832 remains as close a date of the family’s immigration from Ireland to Canada as is currently possible.

Identifying the likely time frame of the family’s immigration from Ireland to Quebec, Canada, moreover, raises several questions beyond when they arrived. One important question regards what their immigration experience was like, particularly the route they took and the conditions they faced. Because no exact details of when the family immigrated exist, there is also no precise account of the family’s route to Canada or an identification of the ship they immigrated on. However, some generalized research about Irish immigration at the time may provide a picture of some of these details. As noted by David S. Ouimette and David E. Rencher in their article “Irish Emigration and Immigration to North America” in The BYU Family Historian (Fall 2007):

“The principal ports for persons leaving Ireland were Dublin; Waterford; Cork; Tralee, Kerry; Limerick; Sligo; Donegal; Londonderry (Derry); Belfast; Dundalk, Louth; Drogheda, Louth; and Galway. Passage from Ireland was expensive for the poverty-stricken immigrants. Often the passage would be paid by estate landlords, opting to pay the price of immigration rather than support the family on the estate. The fare in 1827 from County Louth was £4 10s. to New York, and about £2 10s. to Québec. This accounted for the tremendous flow of immigrants sailing to Canada and then working their way down into the United States if that was their ultimate destination.”

Although no details are known about the specific conditions the family faced on their voyage to Canada, some general details can also provide what the trip might have been like. The most familiar accounts of Irish immigrant experiences come from the 1840s and afterward, which were aboard steamer ships with conditions so poor they earned the name “coffin ships.” However, during the period the family immigrated (the 1830s), conditions were not necessarily as poor, though it is highly unlikely that they were comfortable, hygienic, or even safe. Although Passenger Acts passed by the British Government were aimed at establishing minimum standards that passengers could expect, these were usually not enforced. During the 1830s, Irish immigrants made the Atlantic crossing in a traditional sailing ship, rather than steamer ships. This meant that the voyage would typically last between five to eight weeks. As with later Irish immigrants aboard “coffin ships,” earlier Irish immigrants were essentially cargo aboard these ships. Conditions were cramped, unsanitary, and often lacked sufficient food and water. Illness and disease were common. Because of all this, it was not uncommon during these long trips for passengers to die from the conditions.

In addition to questions about what the family likely encountered while immigrating, another important question that is raised is why the family immigrated from Ireland to Canada in the first place. Although the immigration history of most Irish families involves the Great Potato Famine (1845-1852), other historical circumstances likely provide an explanation for the family’s immigration, given the fact that the family immigrated before. In the 1830s, Ireland faced difficult economic conditions, which drove many Irish to immigrate to North America. As in the Great Potato Famine, Ireland in the 1820s and 1830s suffered from several crop failures. A fall in agricultural prices and a decline in the textile industry in the 1830s, along with an increase in population, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars resulted in a significant rise in unemployment and poverty. The majority of land being controlled by absentee English landlords that were quick to evict the poor, along with Irish inheritance laws resulting in divisions of land too small to support a family further increased poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. In addition to economic conditions in Ireland, British policies in Ireland also served to drive many Irish to immigrate. The enforced tithe policies requiring all Irish, including Catholics and the poor, to pay for the upkeep of the Anglican Church of Ireland resulted in tensions, the seizure of private property, and a series of violent incidents known as the “Tithe War” (1831-36). Beyond these circumstances, some of the Irish that immigrated to Canada did not have a choice. Amendments to the Poor Law passed in the 1830s and 1840s put the poor in Ireland at the mercy of “poor law unions” who either granted poor relief or issued removal orders.

Apart from the difficult economic and political situation in Ireland, certain conditions in Canada, particularly Quebec, drove many Irish to immigrate there. Favorable economic conditions in the 1830s in Canada were the most important factor attracting the Irish to Canada. Land grants in Canada following the War of 1812 were a major attraction, as were organized colonies of Irish settlements in Quebec that began in the 1820s. In the 1820s, Irish immigrants to Canada were given not only land, but, according to an article on the Irish Genealogy Toolkit, “a cow, basic implements and three bushels of seed potato to get them started on a new life.” Employment in labor jobs in large construction projects in Quebec, such as the Lachine Canal, as well as employment in the timber industry was also a major attraction to Irish immigrants. The cost of immigrating was also a factor attracting Irish immigrants to Canada, as it was cheaper (about two to three times cheaper) to immigrate to Canada than to the United States, a fact that did not change until the passage of the British Passenger Act (1848). In addition to economic conditions in Canada, the relatively good relationship the Irish had with the French made immigration to Quebec highly likely. Of particular importance, the majority of Irish immigrants and French Canadians shared the same religion (Catholicism), both were primarily rurally oriented, and both shared a feeling of antipathy towards the British.

Although it is not possible to know precisely when the Kernan family immigrated from Ireland to Canada, what their exact experience during this journey was like for them, or what their specific reason(s) for immigrating was, available historical records and general details about Irish immigration during the period provide as close to a picture of these details as is currently possible. It is clear from such sources that the family immigrated from Ireland to Canada between 1830 and 1832, though perhaps specifically in 1831 when a large wave of Irish immigrants arrived in Quebec. Their voyage across the Atlantic, which may have begun in Dublin or Dundalk, was likely a long and difficult one. Additionally, their decision to immigrate was likely spurred by economic circumstances; and their immigration to Quebec, Canada was likely the result of either cheaper fairs or poor law removal orders. Like many Irish that immigrated at this period, Felix and his wife, Martha, likely did so with the hope of starting a new life in Canada, where there were more and better opportunities, particularly for farmers.

From Quebec, Canada to Minnesota, USA

The Kernan family’s immigration from Ireland to Quebec, Canada, moreover, is not the end of the family’s immigration history. Available historical records reveal that the family did not remain in Quebec, but rather immigrated to the United States.

As with their immigration from Ireland to Canada, no account of the family’s immigration from Canada to the United States from oral family history exists. Additionally, few immigration records exist for immigration between Canada and the United States before the late 1890s. As noted in the U.S. National Archives article “By Way of Canada,”

“A large number of immigrants came to the United States via Canada during the mid- and late nineteenth century, and for them there is no U.S. immigration record. They landed in Canada where no U.S. officer met them or recorded information about their arrival in the United States. The always-growing number of immigrants who chose this route in the late 1800s finally convinced the United States, in 1894, to build and operate the bureaucratic machinery necessary to document the many thousands who each year entered at points along its northern border.”

Despite this, at least one record for Felix does exist that provides some information about the family’s immigration to the United States. On the 5 May 1857, Felix filed a “Declaration of Intention” in Minnesota, which is the first step in obtaining citizenship in which an immigrant “declared their intent to become a citizen and renounced their allegiance to a foreign government.” This record provides little information beyond Felix swearing that it was his “intention to become a citizen of the United States, and to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity which [he] in any wise [owed] to any foreign Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty, and particularly all allegiance and fidelity which [he owed] to the Queen of England of whom [he had] heretofore been a subject,” which he did by signing his name on the 5 May 1857. There is no mention of country of origin or where he immigrated from. Nevertheless, the record does provide one important detail, which is a date of immigration to the United States. According to this record, Felix (and presumably his family as well) “last arrived in the United States on or about the 19 September 1856.”

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Felix’s signed Declaration of Intention filed in 1857 in Minnesota showing the 19 September 1856 as the date of Arrival in the United States. (Click to Enlarge)

The date of 19 September 1856 for the family’s immigration to the United States is consistent with the the span of time between records for the family in Canada and the family in the United States. The last records for the family in Canada were the 1851 Canadian Census and a petition for a bridge to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada in 1855 that Felix was a party to. Apart from Felix’s 1857 Deceleration of Intention, the family first appears on the 1857 Minnesota Census. These records would suggest an immigration date between 1855 and 1857, which supports the 1856 date of their (or at least Felix’s) arrival in Minnesota.

Following their arrival in the United States, and specifically their arrival in the State of Minnesota, Felix and his family settled in Sibley County, Minnesota, where they are enumerated as living on the 1857 Minnesota Census.

1857 Minnesota Census of the Kiernan family (shown Connon) living in Sibley Co., Minnesota.
1857 Minnesota Census of the Kiernan family (shown Connon) living in Sibley Co., Minnesota. (Click image to enlarge)

As with their immigration from Ireland to Canada, the identification of the precise date of when they immigrated to the United States and where they settled first, raises several additional questions. One important question regards how they immigrated to Minnesota. As no immigration record has been discovered with such details, their means of transportation and the route they took is not known. Nevertheless, some historical accounts state that many immigrants to Canada eventually immigrated to the United States after a brief period of settlement in Canada; and that many immigrating from Canada to the United States did so by traveling through Ontario and then Michigan, after which they either remained in Michigan or traveled on to other states, including other Midwestern states like Minnesota. Additionally, several methods of transportation existed, including wagon, stage, ship/ferry, and train. Although they may have made the trip by any of these, it is also likely they did primarily by train, though which train railway is unknown. One likely railway was the Great Western Railway, which was built in 1854 and connected Canada to the Michigan via other U.S. railway lines. The following map shows a modern route from Nicolet area in Quebec, Canada to Sibley County, Minnesota.

A map showing a modern route from Nicolet, Quebec, Canada to Sibley Co., Minnesota. Note the route passes through Ontario and Michigan.
A map showing a modern route from Nicolet, Quebec, Canada to Sibley Co., Minnesota. Note the route passes through Ontario and Michigan. Nicolet is about 1,400 miles away from Sibley County, Minnesota. (Click image to enlarge)

In addition to questions about how the family immigrated, another important question that is raised is why the family immigrated from Canada to Minnesota in the first place. Certain unfavorable conditions in Canada in the 1850s may provide a partial answer. An increase in the number of persons immigrating to Canada by the 1850s, particularly large numbers of Irish immigrants during the Great Potato Famine years, increased competition for labor jobs and land. Tensions and conflicts between ethnically French and ethnically Irish communities in Quebec by the 1850s also contributed to many Irish in Quebec immigrating to the United States. In addition to unfavorable conditions in Canada, certain conditions in the 1850s in the United States attracted the Irish to the United States, particularly the upper Midwestern states and territories. The development of inland canals near the Great Lakes attracted many Irish workers. Further expansion of the railroad system, which had grown to 9,000 miles of lines by 1850, also attracted many.

In addition to general factors that attracted many Irish to the United States, several factors attracted many Irish to Minnesota in particular. The close proximity to the Canadian border and to Canadian canal systems was an important factor. The Minnesota Territory, as it was known prior to 1858, was a rapidly developing territory. Growth in industry, farming, and railroads were a major attraction for immigrants. Specifically, Sibley County, which was formed in 1853, was and remains to this day a rural area with agriculture as its primary industry, which undoubtedly played a role in why the family settled in this county. Additionally, a large number of homesteads for sale throughout the territory was a huge attraction to Irish immigrants eager to start a new life in the United States. Throughout this period, the Midwestern states and territories became increasingly attractive to Irish and Canadian immigrants as many began to move there from the East Coast states, Ireland, and Canada, establishing communities that attracted more and more Irish and Canadians. It is interesting to note that a survey of some of Felix and Martha’s neighbors show that they too were from Ireland and Canada, and that the area in which they are first found, Sibley County, Minnesota, is just north of a county named Nicollet in Minnesota, where a lot of Irish and Canadians settled. Although named after a different person than the similarly named town in which the family lived in Canada, perhaps this similarity in names played some role in why the family moved to this part of Minnesota.

From Minnesota to California and Beyond

For the first several years the family was in the United States, they lived in Sibley County, Minnesota. Both the 1857 Minnesota Census and the 1860 U.S. Federal Census show them living there, in Bismarck Township and then Dryden. However, the family did not remain in Sibley County. At some point following their enumeration on the 1860 U.S. Federal Census the family moved from Sibley County to St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, which is over 78 miles away from Dryden. Although it is unclear exactly when they made the move, they did so by 1863. It was in that year that, according to family records, Felix and Martha’s son, Owen Francis Kiernan (1836-1901), married his wife, Harriet, in St. Paul. Additionally, an 1863 entry for Felix in the St. Paul City Directory shows he and some of his family were living on 7th between Wacouta and Rosabel in St. Paul.

1857-minnesota
Enlargement of an 1857 Minnesota Map showing the locations of Dryden, Sibley Co., Minnesota and St. Paul, Ramsey Co., Minnesota, both indicated by red markers.

As with the precise year the family moved to St. Paul, the exact reason for their move is also unclear. However, it was likely due to the rapid growth of the area and the economic opportunities that growth presented. In fact, the city, which became the capital of Minnesota when it achieved statehood in 1858, grew from just 900 residents in 1849 to about 10,000 by 1860. Regardless of why the family moved to St. Paul, most of the family called it home throughout the rest of the 19th century, with only a few brief exceptions. Although Felix is enumerated on the 1865 Minnesota Census and in the St. Paul City Directory for 1866 and 1867 as living in St. Paul, he is enumerated on the 1875 Minnesota Census as living in Glendale, Scott County, Minnesota with his daughter, Catherine, and her family. Despite this, Felix was living back in St. Paul by 1882, where he died.

Felix’s son, Owen, and his family are also found living in St. Paul on the 1865 Minnesota Census and in the St. Paul City Directory for 1866 and 1867. He and his family are also enumerated on the 1870 U.S. Federal Census as living in St. Paul, as well as an 1873 entry in the St. Paul City Directory. However, at some point before 1876, Owen moved his family from St. Paul, Minnesota to Nebraska. Precisely when the move took place is not clear, though it was by the birth of Owen and Harriet ninth child, Oliver, who was born in that year in Nebraska. Although records in 1870 and 1873 show that they were living in St. Paul, Owen and his family have not been found on the 1875 Minnesota Census, which was enumerated on the 1 May 1875. However, family records show that Owen and Harriet’s eighth child, Mary, was born on the 7 February 1875 and died on the 13 July 1875. Where Mary was born and died is not record in family records and is presumed to be St. Paul, though it could have been somewhere else including Nebraska.

As with the date they moved to Nebraska, precisely where in the state they lived is not currently known, as no records have yet been found for them in the state. However, they may have lived in Omaha in Douglas County, as this is claimed to be Oliver’s birth location by some accounts. Additionally, the reason for their move to Nebraska is unknown. However, it is highly likely they were drawn to Nebraska, which became a state in 1867, because of the large amount of available land that could be obtained for farming or ranching under the Homestead Act (1862). If they lived in Omaha, the grown of union jobs around this time may have also drawn them to the state. Furthermore, the westward expansion of the railroad, which was significant in Nebraska at the time, brought new opportunities. The fact that Owen is later record (in 1880) as having been a railroad worker, may indicate that such work is what brought them to the newly formed state.

Whatever the reason for their move, moreover, it is clear their stay there was not all that long. By 1880, Owen and his family had moved to Maryville, Nodaway County, Missouri, where they are enumerated as living on the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. The family’s move to Maryville was likely the result of the expansion of the railroad into the area in 1879 by the Wabash Railroad. This seems likely because Owen is recorded on the 1880 U.S. Federal Census as being employed as a railroad worker.

The 1880 U.S. Census showing Owen Kiernan and his family living in Maryville, Nodaway County, Missouri.
The 1880 U.S. Census showing Owen Kiernan and his family living in Maryville, Nodaway County, Missouri. (Click to Enlarge)

By 1885, following the birth of their eleventh child, George Edward Kernan (1884-1960), in 1884, Owen moved his family back to St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, where they are enumerated as living on the 1885 Minnesota Census. From this point through the end of the 19th century, Owen and his family are recorded as living in St. Paul on available records, including entries for Owen in the St Paul City Directory between 1885 and 1899 and the 1895 Minnesota Census.

The 1885 Minnesota Census showing Owen Kiernan and his family living in St. Paul.
The 1885 Minnesota Census showing Owen Kiernan and his family living in St. Paul. (Click to Enlarge)

At some point following Owen’s entry on the 1899 St. Paul City Directory, he and his family left Minnesota for Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon. An exact date or year for the move is unclear, though oral family history passed down by Owen and Harriet’s daughter Rose (Kernan) Wise indicates that they may have moved to Oregon in 1900. The fact that Owen and his family have not been found enumerated on the 1900 U.S. Federal Census may indicate that they were still in route at the time this census was taken, which began on the 1 June 1900. Nevertheless, Owen is recorded in the 1900 Portland City Directory, which was compiled on the 22 September 1900. Thus, it seems highly likely that they moved to Oregon between the dates of these two records. The exact reason for their move, moreover, is not known, though oral family history from Rose (Kernan) Wise suggests that they may have left Minnesota because they disliked the extreme cold weather typical of the state.

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1900 Entry for Owen Kiernan in the Portland City Directory.

After Owen’s death in 1901 in Portland, Oregon, his wife, Harriet, briefly returned to Minnesota, where she is enumerated on the 1905 Minnesota Census as living with her daughter, Rose, and her family in Wayzata in Hennepin County. However, she returned to Portland by 1909 with Rose and her family, where she is found in the Portland City Directory for that year. According to the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, she moved with Rose and her family to Kelso, Cowlitz County, Washington, though returned to Portland by 1915, appearing in the Portland City Directory for that year. Between 1920 and 1928, Harriet was living with her son, Oliver, and his family and were living, according to city directories, back and forth between Astoria, Clatsop County, Oregon and Oakland, Alameda County, California. Harriet died in Oakland in 1928.

Between 1910 and 1940, George Edward Kernan (1884-1960) and his family were living back and forth between the state of Oregon and the state of Washington. Like his mother, Harriet, George and his family are enumerated on the 1910 U.S. Federal Census as living in Kelso, Cowlitz County, Washington.

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The 1910 U.S. Federal Census showing George (shown “G.E. Kern”) and his family living in Kelso, Cowlitz County, Washington. (Click to Enlarge)

However, they were living back in Portland, Oregon by 1913, as George is recorded in the Portland City Directory for that year. They are also enumerated on the 1920 U.S. Federal Census as living in Portland.

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The 1920 U.S. Federal Census showing George and his family living in Portland, Oregon. (Click to Enlarge)

By 1930, George and some of his family were living in Columbia West, Clark County, Washington, where they were enumerated as living on the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. George’s son Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979) and his wife, Maxine, however, were still living in Portland, where they were enumerated as living on the 1930 U.S. Federal Census.

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The 1930 U.S. Federal Census showing George and his family living in West Columbia Precinct, Clark County, Washington. (Click to Enlarge)

By 1934, George and his family had returned to Portland, where George is recorded in the Portland City Directory for that year. Additionally, both George’s and Delmar’s families are enumerated on the 1940 U.S. Federal Census as living in Portland, Oregon.

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The 1940 U.S. Federal Census showing George and some of his children living in Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon. (Click to enlarge)

The Kernan family, moreover, remained in Oregon, primarily living in or near Portland, until about 1961, when Delmar and Maxine’s son, William G. Kernan (LIVING), and his family moved to California, settling in Huntington Beach in Orange County. The reason for the move to California was the state offered better economic opportunities. Between the 1950s and 1970s, Orange County was growing rapidly. Population in the county jumped from 216,224 in 1950 to 702,925 by 1960 and to 1,420,386 by 1970. This growth in population was spurred by a growing economy in the county and state.

Although many in the family continue to live in California, in the late 1980s William and his wife, Margaret, moved to Tucson, Pima County, Arizona. Their sons, Patrick and Terry, would later join them there. William and Margaret’s daughter, Vicki, and her family had by this time also left California, though they did not move to Arizona but rather to Jena, La Salle Parish, Louisiana.

Summary of Kernan Immigration History

The following table summarizes the Kernan family’s immigration history from their arrival in North America sometime between about 1830 and 1832 until their move to Orange County, California in 1961.

Table 2: Kernan Family Immigration History
Date Location of Arrival
Person(s)
1830-1832 Nicolet, Québec, Canada Felix, Martha, & Children
1841-1844 Sainte-Monique, Québec, Canada Felix, Martha, & Children
1856 Sibley Co., Minnesota, USA Felix, Martha, & Children
By 1863 St. Paul, Ramsey Co., Minnesota, USA Felix, Martha, & Children
By 1875 Glendale, Scott Co., Minnesota, USA Felix (with daughter Catherine)
By 1876 Nebraska, USA Owen, Harriet, & Children
By 1880 Maryville, Nodaway Co., Missouri, USA Owen, Harriet, & Children
By 1882 St. Paul, Ramsey Co., Minnesota, USA Felix Kiernan
1884-1885 St. Paul, Ramsey Co., Minnesota, USA Owen, Harriet, & Children
1899-1900 Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon, USA Owen, Harriet, & Children
By 1905 Wayzata, Hennepin Co., Minnesota, USA Harriet (with daughter Rose)
By 1910 Kelso, Cowlitz Co., Washington, USA Harriet (with daughter Rose)
By 1910 Kelso, Cowlitz Co., Washington, USA George, Maudena, & Children
By 1918 Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon, USA George, Maudena, & Children
By 1930 Clark Co., Washington, USA George, Maudena, & Children
By 1934 Portland, Multnomah Co., Oregon, USA George, Maudena, & Children
By 1961 Huntington Beach, Orange Co., California, USA William, Margaret, & Children

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Published 03/21/2014. Last Updated 02/26/2019.