The origin of the Kernan family is on one level quite straightforward and on another very elusive, a fact resulting from both oral family history and available historical records for the family. Both of these sources are quite clear regarding the ancestral country of origins for the family. However, little else is clear, particularly the specific county and city or village they came from. What is presently known about the origins of the Kernan family from oral family history and historical records will be discussed in the following, as well as what can be known from general sources like demographic studies, surname studies, Irish historical records, surname maps, and genetic studies.
Oral History & Historical Records
Although there are some discrepancies between them, oral family history and available historical records for the Kernan family are clear on the origins of the family. According to both of these sources, the Kernan family traces back to Ireland.
Oral family history on the subject of the origin of the Kernan family has been consistent over time. Although it was never much of a tradition to talk about such things, when the subject was ever brought up, it was always quite clear that the Kernan family came from Ireland. Additionally, it is clear from family documents that such a narrative about the family’s origin has been repeated across generations. The Bible of Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979), the father of my paternal grandfather, provides genealogical details about his father and grandfather based on what he had been told, and it clearly identifies Ireland as the ancestral origin of the family.
Historical records for the Kernan family are equally clear on the subject of the origin of the family. Research into available historical records clearly state that the family is of Irish origins. The earliest historical records for the family that are relevant to the issue of origins are the Canadian birth and baptismal records for Owen Francis Kiernan (1836-1901), my grandfather’s great grandfather, and two of his siblings. Owen’s 1836 birth and baptismal record states his father, Felix Kiernan (ca. 1796-1882), was a “natif de Irlande,” which is French for “native of Ireland.” The birth and baptismal records for two of Owen’s siblings, one dated in 1834 and another in 1839, both note “Irlandais” (Irish or Irishman in French) when referring to their father, Felix.
Another early historical record for the family that is relevant to the issue of origins is the 1851 Canada Census. According to this record the family was living in Sainte-Monique, Quebec, Canada at the time, and the oldest members of the family are recorded as having been born in Ireland, with the younger ones having been born in Canada.
Similar details about the origins of the family can be found on the earliest available historical record for the family in the United States, which is the 1857 Minnesota State Census. According to this record the family was living in Bismarck, Sibley County, Minnesota, and again the oldest members of the family are enumerated as having been born in Ireland. Several other historical records for the family also identify Ireland as the ancestral origins of the Kernan family. The 1860 U.S. Federal Census shows the family living in Dryden, Sibley County, Minnesota; and as with the 1851 Canada Census and the 1857 Minnesota Census it states that the oldest members of the family were born in Ireland. The 1875 Minnesota State Census for Owen’s sister Catherine and her family, who were living in Glendale, Scott County, Minnesota, records Owen and Catherine’s father living in her household and clearly identifies Ireland as his place of birth. The 1880 U.S. Federal Census shows the family of Owen Kiernan living Maryville, Nordaway County, Missouri, and states that Owen’s father and mother were born in Ireland. The 1882 Minnesota Death Record for Felix Kiernan states he was born in Ireland. The 1884 Missouri Birth Record for Owen Kiernan’s son, George Edward Kernan (1884-1960), identifies Owen’s nationality as “Irish,” though it states he (Owen) was born in Canada. Finally, the 1901 Oregon Death Certificate for Owen Kiernan states that his parents were both born in Ireland. Table 1 below summarizes the origin of the Kernan Family according to these historical records.
|Kernan Historical Records||Year(s)||Origin|
|Canada Birth/Baptism Record||1834, 1836, 1839||Ireland|
|Minnesota State Census||1857, 1875||Ireland|
|U.S. Federal Census||1860, 1880||Ireland|
|Minnesota Death Record||1882||Ireland|
|Missouri Birth Record||1884||Ireland|
|Oregon Death Certificate||1901||Ireland|
Thus, what is clear from both oral family history and available historical records is the Kernan family traces its origin back to Ireland.
But from Where in Ireland?
With Ireland identified as the historic ancestral origin of the Kernan family, the question of specifically where in Ireland the family came from remains; and herein lies the elusiveness of the origins of the Kernan family. Although oral family history and available historical records clearly identify Ireland, they do not provide any further details. That is, there is no mention in either of what county and/or what city or village the family was from in Ireland.
Ordinarily, immigration records would be consulted in order to determine the specific location from which a person or family originated. However, tracking down immigration records for the immigrant ancestors of the Kernan family have proven unsuccessful. The reason for this may very well be that they do not exist. Although some immigration records exist for the period in which the Kernan family immigrated from Ireland to Canada, the 1830s (see “Kernan Immigration History”), they are not extensive as there was no requirement prior to 1865 for passenger and crew lists to be made or kept for immigration to Canada. Additionally, it is also possible that records that might pertain to the Kernan family’s immigration from Ireland, whether a passenger list or some other kind of record, are not currently available. Whatever the case may be, no immigration records have been found for the immigrant ancestors of the family.
The only clue that exists regarding the specific location within Ireland the family originated comes from the Bible of Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979), the father of my paternal grandfather. The information in question found within this Bible provides brief details about Delmar’s grandfather, Owen Francis Kiernan (1836-1901). According to this information, Owen was born in “1839” in “Northern Ireland.” No further specific details were recorded in the Bible or have been discovered that could narrow the specific location within Ireland any further. This information, moreover, was transferred to a family group sheet by my paternal grandmother, Margaret (Lapham) Kernan (1936-2004), a copy of which can be seen below.
Although research into the Kernan family, and into the life of Owen Kiernan, reveals that the information in Delmar Kernan’s Bible regarding his grandfather, Owen Kiernan, is not completely accurate, as he was born in 1836 in Canada, it nevertheless reiterates a specific claim about the origins of the family passed down from generation to generation. Additionally, research does show that Owen’s parents were indeed born in Ireland, as revealed by the 1851 Canada Census and other historical records listed in Table 1 above. Hence, the accuracy of the claim of “Northern Ireland” as a slightly more specific origin of the family within Ireland, albeit a regional rather than a specific county and/or city or village, can be trusted with some degree of certainty.
Despite the fact that the reference to “Northern Ireland” is not very specific (or as specific as one would like), it does narrow the number of places down from what is possible with just the identification of Ireland as the place from which the family originated. Thus, what is meant by “Northern Ireland” as recorded in the Bible of Delmar Kernan is important to the overall discussion of the origins of the family. Today, the term “Northern Ireland” refers to the northeastern region of the island of Ireland that is still a part of the United Kingdom rather than a part of the Republic of Ireland, which makes up the rest of the island. However, such a meaning only goes back as far as 1921, when Northern Ireland was officially created as a separate autonomous region and it was decided that it would remain a part of the United Kingdom following Irish independence. Considering this and the fact that the Kernan family left Ireland in the 1830s (see “Kernan Immigration History”), it seems likely that the term “Northern Ireland” recorded in the Bible of Delmar Kernan refers to the historic northern province of Ireland, or Ulster Province, rather than the modern political region. Since 1921, this province has been divided between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Counties of historic Ulster Province in the Republic of Ireland include Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan, while those in the Northern Ireland region of the United Kingdom include Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone. The following map of Ireland shows all of the counties of historic Ulster Province colored green.
It is worth noting that the counties of the historic Ulster Province share a border with counties in both Connacht and Leinster Provinces, which are exclusively in the Republic of Ireland. The neighboring counties include Leitrim, Longford, Westmeath, Meath, and Louth. Although it seems unlikely that oral family history intended any of these by the use of “Northern Ireland,” it is entirely possible.
With an understanding of the likely meaning of “Northern Ireland” as recorded in the Bible of Delmar Kernan, attention can be turned to what might be revealed from general sources like demographic studies, surname studies, Irish historical records, clan and surname distribution maps, and genetic studies regarding a more specific origin for the Kernan family in Ireland.
Historical Demographic Studies
An interesting place to start exploring the county of origin in Northern Ireland for the Kernan family is demographic studies. Demographics involves statistical data about populations, as well as particular groups within it. It can encompass a wide variety of topics. Studies concerning certain demographic topics may provide some insight into the county of origin in Northern Ireland for the Kernan family. One such study that is of particular interest are those studies statistically analyzing the counties of origins for those who immigrated to North America. Another demographic study of interest is religious patterns of the counties of historic Ulster Province, as well as neighboring counties. The following will explore both of these studies and what might be revealed from them about the county of origin for the Kernan family.
Counties of Origin for North American Irish Immigrants
An interesting and potentially useful demographic study that could provide some indication of the historic ancestral county of origin for the Kernan family involves statistics for the counties of origin for North American Irish immigrants. Although Irish immigration from Ireland to North America is most commonly associated with the Great Famine era of the 1840s and afterwards, Pre-Famine immigration was also significant, particularly in the decades immediately prior to the Famine. Given the fact that the Kernan family immigrated to North America in the 1830s (see “Kernan Immigration History”), immigration patterns regarding the counties of origin for Irish immigrants from the Pre-Famine period are of particular importance. Several demographic studies have explored this period of immigration. James H. Johnson’s “The Distribution of Irish Emigration in the Decade Before the Great Famine” (1988) presents some important ones, in addition to presenting his own study of the subject. Some of what is discussed by Johnson in this article will be briefly presented in the following.
One of the earliest studies discussed by Johnson is William Forbes Adams’s Ireland and the Irish Emigration to the New World from 1815 to the Famine (1932). Based on data collected from an 1836 report entitled “Commissioners of Inquiry into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland,” Adams endeavored to identify counties in Ireland with the most significant numbers of immigrants from Ireland during several Pre-Famine periods including the 1830s. Adams’s findings for this period are summarized by Johnson on the map “Districts of Heavy Emigration 1830-1865” below. Adams shows that a majority of Irish immigrants came from specific areas of Ireland, with the greatest numbers coming from historic Ulster Province. As shown on the map, all or parts of Counties Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh, Down, Londonderry, Donegal, Antrim, and Tyrone had significant numbers immigrating. Neighboring counties of Longford and Westmeath, as well as parts of Leitrim and Meath also had significant numbers. Additionally, of the counties of historic Ulster Province it appears, according to Adams, that Fermanagh was the only one with little or no immigration during this period.
Although Adams’s work is widely regarded as a seminal early study in the field, it is far from perfect. Later authors attempted to build on Adams’s analysis in order to correct some errors and utilize other sources. One important one that Johnson discusses is the 1965 study by S. H. Cousens entitled “The Regional Variation in Emigration from Ireland Between 1821 and 1841,” which explored relevant censuses data to capture immigration patterns. Additionally, Johnson discusses two studies by Joel Mokyr done in the 1980s that refined (in part) Cousens studies to include additional sources and to account for internal migration between counties in Ireland. Mokyr’s findings for Pre-Famine immigration are summarized by Johnson on the map “Net Emigration 1821-1841” below. As with Adams and Cousens, Mokyr shows that a majority of Irish that immigrated came from Ulster Province, though it is clear that significant numbers came from other parts of Ireland as well. As shown on the map, the primary counties of historic Ulster Province from which Pre-Famine North American Irish immigrated were Counties Donegal, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Tyrone, and Londonderry. Secondary counties were Counties Cavan, Armagh, and Down. The fewest number of Irish immigrants came from County Antrim. Additionally, of neighboring counties, primary counties were Counties Leitrim and Longford, and secondary counties were Counties Westmeath and Louth. The fewest number of Irish immigrants came from County Meath.
Johnson’s exploration of studies about Pre-Famine Irish immigrating to North America revealed that although informative they exhibited problems. As a result, Johnson reexamined and refined the techniques and sources of these studies, particularly with regards to the “Commissioners of Inquiry into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland,” and produced what he sees as a more reliable picture of Pre-Famine immigration patterns. Johnson’s findings are grouped into four categories, namely locations with “no,” “a few,” “some,” and “many” Irish that immigrated to North America. Each of these categories are summarized on individual maps. The findings for locations with “many” Irish that immigrated to North America is the more important of the four, the map of which is found below. Johnson shows that locations with the greatest number immigrating to North America were particularly concentrated in historic Ulster Province. As shown on the map, Counties Tyrone, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh, and Cavan have the most significant numbers. Counties Donegal, Londonderry, Antrim, and Down also have many immigrating to North America, but to a lesser degree.
It is clear from these studies of Pre-Famine patterns of Irish immigration to North America that historic Ulster Province was where a majority of immigrants came from. It is also clear from these studies that immigration from Ulster Province was not exclusive to a single county or even a couple of counties, but was widespread and across all counties. However, it seems clear from Johnson’s own study, which is likely the most reliable of those discussed, that Counties Tyrone, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh, and Cavan had the most significant numbers. Given the widespread nature of immigration from Ulster Province to North America during the Pre-Famine period, it is difficult to say with certainty that one of these counties was the likely county of origin for the Kernan family. Nevertheless, Johnson’s study does provide some direction that may narrow down the list of likely counties.
Religious Demographics of Historic Ulster Province
Another interesting and potentially useful demographic study that could provide some indication of the historic ancestral county of origin for the Kernan family involves the religious make up of historic Ulster Province. Religion in Ireland has played a very important role in shaping the country. It has impacted many aspects of life in Ireland, even to the present day. Additionally, it seems to have even been a significant fact about the immigration of Irish people to other countries. As the Encyclopedia of Irish History and Culture points out:
“Before the 1830s a majority of emigrants were Protestants—mostly Presbyterians from Ulster, although many Anglicans left southern Ireland. However, Catholic departures from both Ulster and the southern provinces steadily increased, and from the mid-1830s Catholics—primarily from the most commercialized and anglicized areas in south Ulster, Leinster, east Munster, and east Connacht—comprised a growing majority.”
What this account about Irish immigration and religion makes clear is that religion in Ireland and immigration from Ireland are linked. It also highlights the important fact that in Ireland religion is often tied to location, particularly in Northern Ireland or rather historic Ulster Province. Perhaps the religious background of the Kernan family, when considered in these terms, may help to shed some light on which county the family originated from in Ireland.
According to oral family history and historical records, the Kernan family has been Catholic for many generations, and was undoubtedly so while in Ireland. The 1851 Canada Census, for example, states that earliest known members of the family were Catholic. Additionally, William G. Kernan (LIVING) and Margaret A. Lapham (1936-2004), my paternal grandparents, were married in the Catholic Church in 1952. Considering the prevalence of Catholicism in Ireland and among people of Irish ancestry this is not too surprising. In fact, Catholicism is the dominant form of Christianity in Ireland as a whole, with a majority of the population (over 70%) identifying as Catholic. However, Protestant denominations such as Presbyterianism, Anglicanism (Church of Ireland), and Methodism are also significant in Ireland. Although found in the Republic of Ireland, Protestantism is highly concentrated among populations of Northern Ireland; and this appears to be the case across time.
One of the earliest sources of data regarding religion in Ireland is the religious survey conducted by The Commission of Public Instruction in 1834, which documented the number of Catholics and Protestants (of any denomination) that lived in the various Anglican dioceses of which all Ireland was divided among. Although Catholics and Protestants could be found in all of the counties of historic Ulster Province, as well as neighboring counties, each tended to be concentrated more heavily in certain parts of the province. According to the data from this survey, Protestants tended to be more heavily concentrated in Northeastern and Eastern counties particularly Counties Antrim and Down, as well as Londonderry. Furthermore, Catholics tended to be more heavily concentrated Southwestern and Western counties particularly Counties Cavan, Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh, and Monaghan. Catholics were also more heavily concentrated in neighboring counties (Leitrim, Longford, etc.) than were Protestants. The following map based on the book and website Troubled Geographies: A Spatial History of Religion and Society in Ireland by Ian Gregory et al shows the populations of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland in 1834. The darker the shade of green the greater the number of Catholics; and conversely the lighter the shade of green the greater the number of Protestants. (Note: Borders indicate diocese borders and not county borders. Additionally, the heavy black border is for modern Northern Ireland and not historic Ulster Province.)
The distribution of Catholics and Protestants revealed by the 1834 religious survey is essentially repeated in later sources recording data about religion. For example, the 1861 Census, which was the first decennial census in Ireland to include religion, also shows that Protestants were more likely to be found in certain parts of historic Ulster Provence than were Catholics. As in 1834, Protestants in 1861 tended to be more heavily concentrated in Northeastern and Eastern counties of Ulster Provence, particularly Counties Antrim and Down, as well as Londonderry and Armagh. In fact, Protestants made up 75.2% of the population in County Antrim, 67.5% in County Down, 54.7% in County Londonderry, and 51.2% in County Armagh. Additionally, Catholics in 1861 tended to be more heavily concentrated Southwestern and Western counties, particularly Counties Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan, Fermanagh, and Tyrone, as well as neighboring counties, as they had been in 1834. Indeed, Catholics made up 81% of the population in County Cavan, 75.1% in County Donegal, 73.4% in County Monaghan, and 56.5% in Counties Fermanagh and Tyrone. Additionally, about 90% of populations in neighboring counties were Catholic.
The significance of the distribution of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, cannot be underestimated. The high concentration of Protestants in many counties of Ulster Province is the reason Ireland was divided the way it was in 1921. Counties with more than 30% of its population identifying as Protestant (of any denomination) were included, while those that had less than 30% were not. The significance of all of this for the Kernan family, however, is more complex. Given the fact that the Kernan family was Catholic at the time of its immigration to North America, having an understanding of where Catholics and Protestants were (and still are) most likely to have lived in Northern Ireland could indicate from which counties the Kernan family was more likely to have originated. From what is revealed by various historical sources, particularly the 1834 religious survey, it would appear that of historic Ulster Province Counties Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan, Fermanagh, and Tyrone are more likely than Counties Antrim, Down, Londonderry, and Armagh. Although this may narrow down what counties the Kernan family could have come from, it is far from certain as many Catholics lived in areas with high concentrations of Protestants.
Surname Origin Studies
Furthermore, surname origin studies, which focus primarily on the etymology of a surname, can provide significant information regarding the historical origins of a surname, which may be able to be generalized to the origins of a specific family. Although surname studies are concerned with many issues, ascertaining the origin of a surname is one of them. The following will explore the issue of origins from the perspective of surname studies.
Before turning to what surname studies might reveal about the origins of the Kernan family, it should be noted that the Kernan family surname was originally spelled “Kiernan.” This spelling (Kiernan) of the surname is itself a variation of more traditional spellings of the surname, such as MacKiernan (or McKiernan), MacTiernan (or McTiernan), and so forth. (For more about the Kernan surname, please see “The Kernan Surname” page of this website.) In discussing what surname studies reveal about origins, variant spellings are considered and noted.
Based on many histories and surname studies including the Kernan surname (and its variations), moreover, the identification of “Northern Ireland” (or Ulster Province) as the origins of the Kernan family is not too difficult to accept, as it seems that many bearing the surname trace to this part of Ireland, as well as some of the surrounding counties that share a border with those belonging to Ulster Province. In fact, the surname (and its variations) is so commonly associated with Ulster Province that two townlands are called Kernan, one in County Down and one in County Armagh. Additionally, it is often recited that many of those bearing the Kernan surname (and its variations) descend from the original bearers of the MacKiernan surname that were a sept of the historic Kingdom of Breifne, which consisted of modern day Counties Cavan and Leitrim. They were in those days the Chiefs of Teallach-Dunchadha (now Tullyhunco), which is within modern day County Cavan. As stated in a history of Killeshandra, which is an important township in the area of Tullyhunco:
“During the later middle ages the dominant family or clan in the area was the McKiernan family. The land of Tullyhunco, which was the McKiernan territory, was included in the rectory of the same name and its church was at Killeshandra. The chieftains of the McKiernans had their dwelling place at Croghan and the family had managed to maintain a certain degree of autonomy thanks to their geographical position between the two hostile septs of O’Reilly and O’Rourke.”
It is said, moreover, that they were the descendants of Tighearnán Mór Ua Ruairc, or as he is more commonly known Tiernán O’Rourke, who was King of Breifne between AD 1124 and 1172. Other accounts associate the surname with Tighearnán Mac Maenuigh and his son Amhlaoibh Mág Tighearnán, Chiefs of Teallach-Dunchadha between AD 1080 and 1120 and between AD 1120 and 1160, respectively. Still other accounts claim descent from Tighearnán O’Connor, a grandson of Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair (or Turlough Mór O’Connor), who was King of Connacht from AD 1106 to 1156 and High King of Ireland from AD 1120 to 1156.
What is clear from such accounts is that the surname is more or less strongly associated with a particular area in Ireland. Most scholars on the subject, have suggested that the association of a surname with a particular area in Ireland is common. As The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (2016) by Patrick Hanks et al discusses, “many distinctive family names of Gaelic origin are associated with particular regions.” However, it is also common that surnames in Ireland can be associated with more than one area, as will become clear. Irish surnames, that is, can be either “monogenetic” or “polygenetic.” As Sean J. Murphy discusses in his “A Survey of Irish Surnames 1992-97,” “Monogenetic surnames have a single origin from one individual or family, possible examples being Faherty or Asquith, while polygenetic surnames arose independently in different places and at different times, examples being Murphy or Smith.” The following discussion will show that the Kernan surname is both strongly associated with particular areas of Ireland and is most likely polygenetic.
Surname studies like those found in Rev. Patrick Woulfe’s Irish Names and Surnames (1923), moreover, provide clarification and understanding regarding the origins of the surname and thus those who bear it. According to Woulfe, the Kernan surname (and its variations) is thought to have emerged from three distinct and significant lines. The first is a branch of O’Rourke in Breifne that were the Chiefs of Teallach-Dunchadha (Tullyhunco) in the western part of County Cavan. (It is within this line that the claims of descent from Tiernán O’Rourke and Tighearnán Mac Maenuigh have been made.) The second of these lines is a branch of O’Connor in County Roscommon, where they were the descendants of Tighearnán, a grandson of Turlough Mor O’Connor (AD 1088-1156) the King of Connacht and High King of Ireland. The third of these lines is a branch of Maguire (MacGuire) in County Fermanagh and County Donegal, where they were said to have been the chiefs of Clan Fearghaile.
Additionally, the Kernan surname may have also emerged from three other possible lines, which have also been identified in surname studies like Woulfe’s Irish Names and Surnames (1923). The first of these lines is as a variation of O’Kernaghan of Meath, where they were Chiefs of Luighne (now barony of Lune), and as a branch of the Tirconnell family of County Donegal, where they were Chiefs of Tuath-Bladhach (now Doe in the barony of Kilmacrenan). The second of these lines is as a possible alias or variation of O’Tiernan in County Mayo and County Westmeath, where O’Tiernan is thought to be a variation or alias of O’Tierney. The O’Tiernans of County Mayo were particularly located in Carra. The third of these lines is as an alias or variation of O’Tierney of one of three branches: of County Donegal, where they were Chiefs of Fearnmaigh, of County Mayo, where they were a branch of the Ui Fiachrach and Chiefs in Ceara (now Carra), and of Westmeath, where they were a branch of Ui Neill.
Although it is possible that the Kernan surname could have its origins in one of the last three lines (O’Kernaghan, O’Tiernan, or O’Tierney), it is, according to most accounts, more likely that it originated in one of the first three lines (O’Rourke, O’Connor, or Maguire). For a summary of each of the six possible lines of origin and a list of the surname variations that correspond to them, see Table 2 below.
|O’Rourke (of Teallach-Dunchadha)||Cavan and Leitrim||MagTíghearnán, MacTiernan, MacTiernan, MacKiernan, MacKernan, Kiernan, Kernan, Tiernan, Ternan|
|O’Connor||Roscommon||MagTíghearnán, MacTiernan, MacTiernan, MacKiernan, MacKernan, Kiernan, Kernan, Tiernan, Ternan|
|Maguire (MacGuire) or Clan Fearghaile||Fermanagh and Donegal||MagTíghearnán, MacTiernan, MacTiernan, MacKiernan, MacKernan, Kiernan, Kernan, Tiernan, Ternan|
|O’Kernaghan of Luighne (Lune) & Tuath-Bladhach (Kilmacrenan)||Meath and Donegal||Ó’Cearnacháin, O’Kernaghan, O’Kernan, Carnahan, Kernaghan, Kernahan, and possibly McCarnan and Cernan; possibly Kiernan, Kernan, etc.|
|O’Tiernan||Mayo and Westmeath||O’Tighearnán, O’Ternane, O’Tiernan, Tiernan, Ternan; alias for Tierney; possibly Kiernan, Kernan, etc. as an alias or variant|
|O’Tierney||Mayo, Donegal, and Westmeath||O’Tighearnaigh, O’Tierny, O’Tearney, O’Tierney, Tierney, Terney; possibly Kiernan, Kernan, etc. as an alias or variant|
From these six lines, moreover, eight counties are identified as possible origins of the Kernan surname, and thus as possible origins of the Kernan family: Counties Cavan, Leitrim, Roscommon, Fermanagh, Donegal, Meath, Westmeath, and Mayo. Of these, only three are a part of historic Ulster Province, namely Counties Cavan, Fermanagh, and Donegal. Additionally, three of the eight counties neighbor historic Ulster Province, namely Counties Leitrim, Meath, and Westmeath. Although just which of those counties in historic Ulster Province, or even those that neighbor it, was intended by the reference to “Northern Ireland” in the Bible of Delmar Clair Kernan (1908-1979) is unclear, it certainly could have been any one of them.
Irish Historical Records
In addition to historical demographic studies and surname origin studies, a survey of various Irish historical records may provide some direction as to the county of origin for the Kernan family. Although many records were either destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Public Record Office in the Four Courts building in Dublin or were lost over time, many fragments, complete records, summaries, and indexes have survived and have been made available to varying degrees. Such records include census records, property valuation records, tithe records, and records for births or baptisms, marriages, and deaths. Although efforts to find definitive matches for the immigrant ancestors of the Kernan family on such records have currently proven unsuccessful, such records can still provide an indication of what county or counties in historic Ulster Province the family might have been from by indicating where those bearing the Kernan surname (and its variations) were recorded as living in. The following will explore what can be revealed about Kernan family origins from some of these sources.
One of the earliest relevant Irish historical records is the “Pender Census of 1659,” which provides several pieces of information including clan surnames and the numbers of those bearing those surnames. Although this census does not provide any details for Counties Cavan, Galway, Mayo, Tyrone, and Wicklow, it can still provide some useful information. According to this record, the Kiernan surname was among the principal surnames in County Roscommon, as well as being among the principal surnames in the Barony of Ardagh and the Barony of Granard in County Longford. The McKernan surname, moreover, is recorded as being among the principal surnames in the parishes of Clownish, Aghaveigh, and Devonish of County Fermanagh. The Kernan surname is recorded among the principal surnames in Dublin City in County Dublin, as well as being among the principal surnames in the Barony of Granard in County Longford and the Barony of Farbill in County Westmeath. The O’Kernan surname, moreover, is recorded among the principal surnames in the parishes of Dummully, Terribruske, Derryvollan, Magherycross, and Ennis McSaint in County Fermanagh. The McTiernan surname is recorded among the principal surnames in the Barony of Rossclogher in County Leitrim, while the McTernan surname is recorded among the principal surnames in the Baronies of Leitrim, Mohill, and Carrigallan in County Leitrim. Thus, based on what is recorded in the “Pender Census of 1659” the only county of historic Ulster Province that is noted is County Fermanagh. Of counties neighboring historic Ulster Province, Counties Longford, Westmeath, and Leitrim are also noted.
Another useful set of historical records are the “Tithe Applotment Books (1823-37),” which were compiled to determine the amount that occupiers of agricultural holdings over one acre should pay in tithes to the Church of Ireland. This historical record shows the greatest concentration of Kiernans in Counties Longford, Leitrim, Clare, and Cavan, with lesser concentrations in Counties Westmeath, Meath, and Dublin. This historical record also shows the greatest concentration of Kernans in Counties Monaghan, Cavan, and Westmeath, with lesser concentrations in Counties Westmeath, Kildare, and Meath. Thus, counties of historic Ulster Province recorded in the “Tithe Applotment Books (1823-37)” for Kernan or Kiernan include Counties Cavan and Monaghan. Neighboring counties include Counties Longford, Leitrim, Westmeath, and Meath.
Perhaps the most commonly consulted historical source for understanding where particular surnames or clans (and individuals) were located in Ireland is “Griffith’s Valuation (1847-1864),” which was recorded in order to determine property taxes. “Griffith’s Valuation” is considered to be a “census substitute” and is an important source because of the loss of nineteenth century census records and because it links individuals with specific locations in Ireland. Although the Kernan family immigrated to North America before this valuation was done, it shows where individuals bearing the Kernan surname (and its variations) were concentrated. To this end, “Griffith’s Valuation” shows the greatest concentration of Kiernans in Counties Longford, Cavan, and Leitrim, with additional concentrations in Counties Meath, Westmeath, Dublin, and Monaghan. This historical record also shows that the greatest concentration of Kernans are found in Counties Meath, Monaghan, Armagh, Cavan and Dublin, with additional concentrations in Counties Westmeath, Leitrim, and Tyrone. Table 3 below summarizes the counties and parishes in historic Ulster Province with the greatest concentrations of Kiernans and Kernans according to Griffith’s Valuation.
|Historic Ulster County||Parishes (Kiernan)||Parishes (Kernan)|
|Cavan||Drumlumman, Scrabby, Killashandra, Kildallan, Templeport, Killinkere||Ballintemple|
Despite consisting of data long after the Kernan family left Ireland, several late 19th Century and early 20th Century records may also be useful in identifying what counties the family was likely to have originated. The first of these is the 1890 Births Distribution, moreover, which is based on Matheson’s Special Report on Surnames in Ireland (1894), shows the principal locations of birth registrations for surnames in 1890. According to this historical record, the greatest concentration of Kiernan births were in Leinster Province, followed by Ulster, then Connacht, and then Munster. Additionally, the greatest concentration of births were in Counties Dublin, Longford, Leitrim, and Cavan. Additionally, the 1901 Census of Ireland shows the greatest concentration of Kiernans in Counties Longford, Leitrim, and Cavan, with additional concentrations in Dublin, Westmeath, and Meath. This historical record also shows that the greatest concentration of Kernans is in Counties Dublin, Armagh, and Monaghan, with additional concentrations in Cavan, Antrim, and Meath. The 1911 Census of Ireland also shows the greatest concentration of Kiernans in Counties Longford, Dublin, Cavan, and Leitrim, with additional concentrations in Westmeath and Meath. This historical record also shows that the greatest concentration of Kernans is in Counties Dublin and Cavan, with additional concentrations in Armagh and Monaghan.
In addition to traditional Irish records, several databases on websites like Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, and RootsIreland.ie have many Irish records available in collections and indexes. One of these is the “Ireland Select Births and Baptisms, 1620-1911” index on Ancestry.com, which provides Church records primarily from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. This record shows that the greatest concentration of Kiernan births and baptisms were in Counties Leitrim, Cavan, and Longford, with additional concentrations in Counties Meath, Dublin, and Westmeath. This index also shows the greatest concentration of Kernan births and baptisms were in Counties Dublin and Tyrone, with additional concentrations in Counties Cavan, Armagh, and Antrim. Another index on Ancestry.com is “The Ireland, Civil Registration Births Index, 1864-1958,” which shows the greatest concentration of Kiernan births were in Counties Dublin, Tipperary, Longford, Cavan, and Donegal, with additional concentrations in Counties Offaly, Laois, Monaghan, and Westmeath. This index also shows the greatest concentration of Kernan births were in Counties Dublin and Tipperary, with additional concentrations in Monaghan and Donegal.
In addition to these collections and indexes, several others exist that may provide further insight. One of these is the “Baptismal/Birth Records for Ireland” collection at RootsIreland.ie, which shows the greatest concentration of Kiernan births and baptisms were in Counties Longford, Leitrim, Meath, and Cavan, with additional concentrations in Counties Westmeath and Dublin. This collection also shows the greatest concentration of Kernan births and baptisms were in Counties Meath, Armagh, Cavan, and Longford, with additional concentrations in Counties Dublin, Westmeath, and Leitrim. Another collection is the “Marriage Records for Ireland” collection at RootsIreland.ie, which shows the greatest concentration of Kiernan marriages were in Counties Longford, Leitrim, and Meath, with additional concentrations in Counties Cavan, Westmeath, and Dublin. This collection also shows the greatest concentration of Kernan marriages were in Counties Armagh, Dublin, and Cavan, with additional concentrations in Counties Leitrim, Longford, and Meath. Additionally, the “Burial/Death Records for Ireland” at RootsIreland.ie, also shows the greatest concentration of Kiernan deaths and burials were in Counties Leitrim and Longford, with additional concentrations in Counties Meath and Westmeath.
Table 4 below summarizes the important Irish historical records that identify concentrations of Kernans and Kiernans (as well as other variations) in Ireland over time. Identified counties are arranged from greatest to lowest concentration.
|Historical Records||Counties Identified|
|The Pender Census of 1659||Roscommon, Fermanagh, Dublin, Longford, Westmeath, and Leitrim|
|The Tithe Applotment Books
|Longford, Leitrim, Clare, Cavan, Westmeath, Meath, Dublin, Monaghan, and Kildare|
|Griffith’s Valuation (1847-1864)||Longford, Leitrim, Dublin, Cavan, Westmeath, Meath, Monaghan, and Armagh|
|1890 Births Distribution||Dublin, Longford, Leitrim, Cavan|
|1901 Census of Ireland||Longford, Leitrim, Cavan, Dublin, Westmeath, Meath, Armagh, Monaghan, and Antrim|
|1911 Census of Ireland||Longford, Dublin, Cavan, Leitrim, Meath, Armagh, and Monaghan|
|The Ireland Select Births and Baptisms, 1620-1911 (Ancestry)||Leitrim, Cavan, Longford, Meath, Dublin, Westmeath, Tyrone, Armagh, and Antrim|
|The Ireland Civil Registration Births Index, 1864-1958 (Ancestry)||Dublin, Tipperary, Longford, Cavan, Donegal, Offaly, Laois, Monaghan, and Westmeath|
|The Baptismal/Birth Records of
|Longford, Leitrim, Meath, Cavan, Westmeath, Dublin, and Armagh|
|The Marriage Records of Ireland (RootsIreland)||Longford, Leitrim, Meath, Cavan, Westmeath, Dublin, and Armagh|
|The Burial/Death Records of Ireland (RootsIreland)||Leitrim, Longford, Meath, and Westmeath|
What is clear from this survey of Irish historical records, moreover, is that the Kernan or Kiernan surname (and its variations) is associated with and concentrated in particular counties in Ireland. Based on the historical records discussed above, Counties Longford, Dublin, Leitrim, Cavan, Westmeath, Meath, Armagh, and Monaghan are the most frequently associated with and have the greatest concentration of Kernans or Kiernans (and its variations). From this list, the counties of historic Ulster Province associated with and having the greatest concentration of Kernans or Kiernans (and its variations) are Counties Cavan, Armagh, and Monaghan. Neighboring counties for the same include Counties Longford, Leitrim, Westmeath, and Meath.
Although this surname based survey of Irish historical records does not directly identify the specific county of origin for the Kernan family, it does provide details about where the Kernan family was more likely to have originated. The loss of many historical records from the relevant Pre-Famine period has made finding specific records for the earliest members of the family very difficult. Despite this, some records have been found that could be for the earliest known member of the Kernan family, Felix Kiernan (ca. 1796-1882). For example, one such record is a baptismal church record for a Felix Kiernan born/baptized in 1796 in County Louth. Although this could be a match for Felix, it is unclear. Not only does this record lack any further details that might indicate a match, verifying this record is for Felix is made difficult by the fact that the Kiernan surname and Felix forename are quite common.
Clan & Surname Distribution Maps
Another common source for identifying the counties of origins for particular surnames in Ireland that is closely related to both surname studies and surname based studies of Irish historical records are clan and surname distribution maps. These maps graphically represent the county or counties within Ireland of which a surname is associated. Utilizing a variety of data, these maps typically report that the association of a particular surname with a given county or set of counties is based upon either the historic association of the surname with the county or counties in the case of Clan maps or data from specific Irish historical records that associate the surname with the county or counties in the case of distribution maps. Both clan and surname distribution maps can be found in a variety of print and online sources. The following will explore what can be revealed about the origins of the Kernan family from some of these maps.
Several clan maps have emerged over the years, both in print sources, such as atlases, and commercial websites. An early Irish clan map is the 1795 map entitled “Ortelius Improved, Or a New Map of Ireland: Wherein are Inserted the Principal Families of Irish and English Extraction, Who Possess’d That Kingdom on the Commencement of the Seventeenth Century” engraved by S. Thompson. Both the surname “MacKiernan” and “MacTiernan,” which are variations of Kiernan/Kernan, are recorded on the map as having an historic association with County Cavan. Additionally, a 1956 map entitled “First Families of Old Ireland” by Edwin L. Sundberg and published in the Chicago Daily Tribune also records “MacKiernan” and “MacTiernan” on the map as having an historic association with County Cavan.
Several other clan maps that are more commercial in nature similarly identify County Cavan as the principle county of origin. Some good examples of this is the “Clans and Families of Ireland” map available from BorderArt and the map “Clan Names of Ireland,” which clearly show “McKiernan” in County Cavan. Another commercially available clan map is John McCarty’s “Irish Family Map,” which shows “M’Tiernan” in County Cavan. Although several clan maps show the Kiernan/Kernan surname (and its variations), not all do. One example of this is the map “Ireland at the Beginning of the XVIth Century” in Adolphus W. Ward’s The Cambridge Modern History Atlas (1912). Another is “The Clan Territories of Ireland Map” available on Dr. Tyrone Bowes’s Irish Origenes website. Although the reason for this is unclear, it is likely that such maps only represent the surnames with the largest numbers, the greatest historical influence, or that represent the most senior families. In the case of Dr. Bowes’s map, only “the most notable Clans and Families in Medieval Ireland” were included.
In addition to clan maps, moreover, several surname distribution maps have also emerged over the years. As mentioned above, these maps usually associate a surname with a county or counties based on data from specific Irish historical records. For example, the website “Forebears” provides various surname distribution maps, including for Ireland, which are based on historical records such as the 1901 Census of Ireland. John Grenham’s “Irish Ancestors” (formerly a part of Irish Times), for example, provides several surname distribution maps all of which are based on Irish historical records, such as “Griffith’s Valuation (1847-1864),” “The Pender Census of 1659,” and the 1901 Census of Ireland and the 1911 Census of Ireland. In addition to these, Grenham’s website also provides numerical data of births occurring during the years between 1864 and 1913, which is used to map the distribution of a given surname on both a single map consisting of all data between these years and individual maps for each year. According to the distribution map for “Kiernan,” births between 1864 and 1913 were most significant in counties of historic Ulster Province were Cavan, Longford, and Leitrim, as well as counties Westmeath and Meath. According to the “Kernan” distribution map, births during the same period were most significant in counties were Monaghan, Armagh, and Cavan, as well as Antrim. According to the “McKiernan” distribution map, 1864-1913 births were most significant in counties Cavan and Leitrim, as well as counties Tyrone, Antrim, and Fermanagh. Additionally, according to the “McKernan” distribution map, births for this period were most significant in counties Tyrone, Antrim, Armagh, Fermanagh, and Cavan, as well as Leitrim and Monaghan.
In addition to those surname distribution maps available on John Grenham’s “Irish Ancestors,” the research of scholars Kenneth Field of Kingston University London and Linda Beale of Imperial College London provide another surname map entitled “Geo-Genealogy of Irish Surnames.” According to Field’s article about this map on the ArcGIS website, “The Irish surnames on this map have either historic or numeric importance to the counties of Ireland.” Field adds in his article that, “Of numeric importance are the birth counts from the 1890 census” and that “Indigenous Irish names beginning with O’, Mac, Mc, De, Le, and others, indicates historic significance.” According to this map, moreover, Kiernan (and some of its variations) have either significant birth numbers in or a historic association with several counties that were either in historic Ulster Province or neighbored it. Based on this map, “Kiernan” is associated with County Longford, “MacKiernan” and “MacTiernan” are associated with County Cavan and County Fermanagh, and “Tiernan” and “McTernan” are associated with County Leitrim.
What is clear from this exploration of clan and surname distribution maps, moreover, is that the Kiernan and Kernan surname (and its variations) has a numerical significance (according to Irish historical records) and a historic association with particular counties in Ireland. Based on these maps, the counties of historic Ulster Province or that neighbor it with either the greatest numerical significance or historic association are counties Cavan, Leitrim, Fermanagh, and Antrim, as well as counties Longford, Monaghan, Tyrone, and Armagh.
Surnames & Genetic Studies
Apart from the various studies and sources discussed so far, recent genetic studies concerning Irish surnames have proved to be another valuable source for identifying possible origins within Ireland. Dr. Tyrone Bowes’ website “Irish Origenes” provides both a DNA testing service and a details on common Irish surnames in his “Surnames Database.” According Bowes, “Since Irish surnames can still be found concentrated in the area where they first appeared, one can examine the distribution of the surnames that appear in ones DNA results and identify an area common to all and pinpoint a ‘Genetic Homeland.'” The following will explore some of Bowes’ findings as they relate to the origins of the Kiernan/Kernan surname (and its variations).
According to Bowes’ studies, the greatest genetic concentration of “Kiernans” are found in Counties Longford, Dublin, Cavan, Leitrim, and Westmeath. Additionally, Bowes’ studies also reveal that the greatest genetic concentration of “Kernans” are found in Counties Dublin and Cavan, that the greatest genetic concentration of “McKiernans” are found in Counties Leitrim and Cavan, and that the greatest genetic concentration of “McKernans” are found in Counties Tyrone, Antrim, and Armagh. Bowes’ studies also reveal that the greatest genetic concentration of “Tiernans” are found in Counties Roscommon, Leitrim, Dublin, Louth, and Mayo, that the greatest genetic concentration of “Ternans” are found in Dublin and Mayo, that the greatest genetic concentration of “McTiernans” are found in Leitrim and Sligo, and that the greatest genetic concentration of “McTernans” are found in Leitrim and Sligo. Bowes’ studies, moreover, have concluded that the “genetic homeland” of persons bearing the “Kiernan” surname is County Longford, that the “genetic homeland” of persons bearing the “McKernan” surname is County Tyrone, and that the “genetic homeland” of persons bearing the “McTernan” surname is County Leitrim. Table 5 below summarizes the primary and additional counties of genetic origins and the “genetic homeland” for the Kiernan/Kernan surname and other variant spellings according to Bowes’ studies.
|Surname||Primary Counties||Additional Counties||Genetic Homeland|
|Kiernan||Longford, Dublin, Cavan, Leitrim, and Westmeath||Meath, Roscommon, Monaghan, Louth, Cork, Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim, Kildare, Wicklow, and Galway||Longford|
|Kernan||Dublin and Cavan||Monaghan, Armagh, Meath, Roscommon, Donegal, Antrim, Laois (Queens), and Wicklow||Undetermined|
|McKiernan||Leitrim and Cavan||Dublin, Fermanagh, Antrim, Westmeath, Meath, Monaghan, Tyrone, Armagh, Clare, and Limerick||Undetermined|
|McKernan||Tyrone, Antrim, and Armagh||Dublin, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Londonderry, Down, Cavan, and Limerick||Tyrone|
|Tiernan||Roscommon, Leitrim, Dublin, Louth, and Mayo||Sligo, Longford, Meath, Westmeath, Kildare, Galway, Clare, Londonderry, Antrim, Armagh, Fermanagh, Offaly (Kings), Tipperary, Waterford, and Wexford||Undetermined|
|Ternan||Dublin and Mayo||Roscommon, Leitrim, Fermanagh, and Tyrone||Undetermined|
|McTiernan||Leitrim and Sligo||Offaly (Kings), Fermanagh, and Down||Undetermined|
|McTernan||Leitrim and Sligo||Cavan, Roscommon, Cork, Dublin, and Fermanagh||Leitrim|
What is clear from this exploration of Dr. Tyrone Bowes’ studies on “Irish Origenes” is that genetics show a strong association of Irish surnames with specific counties. According to Bowes’ studies, County Cavan is the only primary county for the surname “Kiernan” that is in historic Ulster Province. Additional primary counties that neighbor Ulster Province are counties Longford, Leitrim, and Westmeath, with County Longford having the greatest genetic concentration as the “genetic homeland” for “Kiernan.” Furthermore, Bowes’ studies show that the only primary county for the surname “Kernan” in Ulster Province is County Cavan. Additional primary counties are identified by Bowes’ studies for variations of the surname, as well as the “genetic homelands” of County Tyrone and County Leitrim. However, it is unclear if these have an immediate relationship with the Kernan family, whose earliest known ancestor went by both the Kiernan and Kernan variations of the surname.
Oral family history and historical records for the Kernan family are clear about the country of origin for the family. Both of these sources reveal that the family traces back to Ireland. However, these sources do not provide the specific city/town, parish, or county within Ireland the family came from. The only other information that is provided by oral family history is a reference to “Northern Ireland.” The survey of demographic studies, surname studies, Irish historical records, clan and surname distribution maps, and genetic studies discussed above set out to discover what could be revealed from these sources regarding a more definitive origin of the Kernan family. The question now, is did it accomplish this task? This will be discussed in the following.
The short answer to this question is, unfortunately, no. The sources that were reviewed could only point to possible locations, and at the county level more often than not. Although these sources do not identify the specific location (town or county) within Ireland the family originated, they do provide details about the counties the family was more likely to have originated from. As a result, the various sources discussed above identified many different counties throughout Ireland, particularly in historic Ulster Province and those counties that neighbor it. In fact, all nine counties of historic Ulster Province and all five counties that neighbor it were identified by at least one of the sources discussed, though to varying degrees. Table 6 below provides a summary of the counties of historic Ulster Province and those that neighbor it that were most commonly identified by each of the sources discussed.
|Source||Ulster Province & Neighboring Counties|
|Pre-Famine Irish Immigrant Demographic Studies||Tyrone, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh, Cavan|
|Religious Demographic Studies||Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan, Fermanagh, Tyrone|
|Surname Origin Studies||Cavan, Fermanagh, Donegal, Leitrim, Meath, Westmeath|
|Irish Historical Records||Cavan, Armagh, Monaghan, Longford, Leitrim, Westmeath, Meath, Antrim, Donegal|
|Surname Maps||Cavan, Leitrim, Fermanagh, Antrim, Longford, Monaghan, Tyrone, Armagh|
|Genetic Surname Studies||Cavan, Longford, Leitrim, Westmeath, Monaghan, Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim, Donegal|
Based on the discussion of these sources, moreover, the counties they identify can be narrowed down by their significance. The most important counties of historic Ulster Province are counties Cavan, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Monaghan, and Armagh. The most important counties that neighbor historic Ulster Province are counties Longford, Leitrim, Westmeath, and Meath. Additionally, these nine counties can be grouped into three categories based on their significance for the origins of the Kernan family according to the discussions of the sources above. The first of these categories is “Primary Historic and Genetic Counties,” which are the most significant and consist of counties Cavan, Longford, and Leitrim. The second category is “Secondary Historic and Genetic Counties,” which are also highly significant and consist of counties Tyrone, Fermanagh, and Monaghan. The third category is “Additional Counties,” which are still significant but to a lesser degree and consist of counties Armagh, Westmeath, and Meath. These counties are represented in their respective categories on the following map.
Although nine counties is narrowed down significantly from what is possible, it is still a large number when discussing the issue of origins. It does appear from the discussion of the sources that County Cavan is possibly the more likely of the nine, but this is far from certain. Considering the possible origins of the Sheridan family, moreover, may indicate if Cavan is indeed likely, as the Sheridan family is the family of Martha Rose Sheridan (ca. 1797-?), the wife of Felix Kiernan (ca. 1796-1882), the immigrant ancestor of the family. Surname Origin Studies, like that of Rev. Patrick Woulfe’s Irish Names and Surnames (1923), for Sheridan indicate that the family likely first emerged in County Longford, but has been prominent in County Cavan since before the 16th Century. Irish historical records, such as the “Tithe Applotment Books (1823-37),” “Griffith’s Valuations (1847-64),” and the ” 1890 Births Distribution,” identify County Cavan as the most significant county for Sheridan, as well as Mayo, Meath, and Longford. Clan and surname distribution maps primarily identify counties Cavan and Longford. Additionally, genetic studies of surnames such as those presented on Dr. Tyrone Bowes’ website “Irish Origenes” identify County Cavan as not only genetically significant along with counties Longford and Westmeath, but as one of the genetic homelands of the surname, along with County Mayo. The clear association of County Cavan with Sheridan, therefore, may very well be a strong indication that County Cavan is the more likely county of origin for the Kernan family, considering the close familial relationship that exists.
Disclaimer: Please view the “Disclaimer” page to learn important information you should keep in mind as you read through the content of this website.
Published 07/13/2012. Last Updated 08/06/2017.