I’m a 6th generation Irish-American

My mom has been doing some genealogical research, and has apparently found the answer to a question I’ve long wondered about: just how many generations ago did the Irish side of my family (the McNamaras) emigrate from the old country and come to America? It seems the answer is six. My dad is a fifth-generation American on the McNamara side, and I’m sixth-generation.

According to my mom’s research, my great-great-great-grandfather, John McNamara, was born in Ireland in 1822.  His wife Mary, my great-great-great-grandmother, was also born in Ireland, in 1828.  I don’t know when they got married, but it seems they had their first child in 1855 or thereabouts, in Connecticut. Their fifth child, born in 1863 (also in Connecticut), was Daniel, a second-generation American and my great-great-grandfather. Dan McNamara begat Joe McNamara, who begat Helen McNamara Loy, my paternal grandmother. And the rest, as they say, is history. (Though as Nana Loy would point out, "What the hell do they know? They’re a bunch of horse’s asses anyway." Or words to that effect. :)

My understanding is that the McNamaras always claimed that they had come over before the Great Potato Famine, but we’ve never been sure if that claim was accurate. It has been speculated that certain proud members of the family might have wanted to separate themselves from the riffraff, if you will, by pretending they weren’t forced to come here because of starvation, as so many other "shanty Irish" were. Well, now we finally have some dates, and let’s see: if we assume that John and Mary were married in Ireland, and that she was at least 18 when they got hitched, that would mean they left Ireland sometime between 1846 and ~1855.

The famine was from 1845 to 1849. Ahem. You do the math.

So my ancestors, it seems, were quite likely refugees of the Great Potato Famine. Interesting.

UPDATE: Belatedly, it occurs to me that my logic vis a vis the timetable may not be entirely airtight. All we know, I think, is that John and Mary were both born in Ireland; we don’t actually know that they emigrated together, as adults, as opposed to emigrating separately, as children, and then meeting and marrying in America. The latter is also possible, and it would not be at all surprising if two first-generation immigrants met in this country and married each other; immigrant communities were very tight-knit in those days. If that were the case, it would mean the McNamaras did indeed come over here before the famine.

Of course, the other thing that’s odd about this whole train of thought is that, although I talk about these great-great-great-grandparents as "the McNamaras" because they are the ones who carried the name McNamara, the reality is I’m really only talking about a small sliver of the Irish ancestry from the "McNamara side" of my grandparentage (i.e., from my Nana Loy). One-eighth of it, to be exact. John and Mary McNamara were Nana Loy’s great-grandparents; they represent a mere 12.5% of her bloodline. Yet she was 100% Irish. That means seven-eighths of Nana’s (and my) Irishness came from other ancestors, who may have emigrated at other times, under other circumstances.

Regardless, I find this sort of stuff fascinating. I wish I knew more about my ancestors; I’d love to read their life stories, if they were written down anywhere. Even little snippets of information, though, make me feel more connected to these long-ago ages past. For my Immigration Law class at Notre Dame last fall, we had to write a brief paper about our own "immigration history," and in the course of researching it (again mostly via my mom), I learned all sorts of stuff I’d never known before, like how the Loomers (my maternal grandfather’s side) are really a very old family in this country, dating back to the mid-1600s, as I recall. They didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they weren’t that far removed from it either. … Alas, very very little is known about the Loys. We don’t even really know where they came from, or what the origin of the name is.

8 Responses to “I’m a 6th generation Irish-American”

  1. Andrew says:

    There are a lot of potatoes in Poland and Russia, why didn’t the Irish go there instead? How come the Irish never gravitated to the Andes, where potatoes originally came from?

  2. Alasdair says:

    Sure, an’ jist how many bogs d’ye think are up in ’em Andes Mountains, then, boyo ?

    {/me mallards, grinning}

  3. Joe Loy says:

    “There are a lot of potatoes in Poland and Russia, why didn’t the Irish go there instead?”

    Perhaps because in those days there were a lot of Jews there too & we didn’t much Like them :). Of course in Later generations we would learn to Marry them and be content with disliking the English ;}.

  4. Joe Loy says:

    Top o’ th’ mornin’ t’yez Squire Alasdair an’ how are th’ Sheep dis foine day, receptive we hope :>.

  5. Joe Loy says:

    Brendan, saaay! did I ever tell ye about the time yer great-great-Grampa Dan got elected to the office of Chandelier of the Danbury 4th Ward Dimmycratic Club? / Hah? I did?? / Oh. Nevermind. :)

  6. Alia says:

    I’m 50% Irish (Dad’s side) and I actually found one branch – his great-grandmother’s (his mother’s father’s mother) family which came over in the early 1700s for whatever reason and settled in Pennsylvania. All the rest left Ireland during the famine, which one branch settling in Leeds, England for about 20 years before finally making it to PA. I’m really curious about the ones who came earlier and what were their reasons for doing so.

    Genealogy is fascinating, isn’t it? I also found branches of my mother’s family which settled in Massachussetts within 20 years of the Mayflower landing and another branch that was in Virginia not too long after Jamestown (one member of which, it appears, married a young Indian woman from the same tribe as Pochahontas – supposedly a cousin of hers).

  7. Leanna says:

    Leanna says:


    I’ve only recently dabbled in McNamara (and Quinn!) family history, but I’ve been doing genealogical work on my family since I was eleven (though most of it was already done by your Great Aunt Edythe (Loomer) Wolff). One thing I’ve learned is that, based on almost universal human behavior, in any family before the advent of modern birth control when a couple married, they generally had their first child about a year later. Aunt Ede, for example, was born in 1901; her parents — your great-grandparents — were married in 1900. So since the 1870 census says John and Mary’s first child was born in 1855, that pretty much guarantees that John and Mary got married in 1854. They most likely DID come across separately. He was 31 and she was 26, and even an old Irish bachelor would be unlikely to wait ten years if his colleen were right there all along. So when they came over would require more inquiry… they would appear in the 1860 census (1855 in Connecticut for that first child, but after that, all bets would be off. Check the 1850 census, ships’ passenger lists, etc. And we don’t know Mary McNamara’s family name, so good luck there. The M&M (or Mc&Mc) nuclear family was living in Newtown CT in 1870, by the way, which I noticed in the fine print after I sent you the rest of that family data last night.

    As to your Loomer family, as a matter of fact one of your ancestors DID come over on the Mayflower. His name was Richard Warren. And I can do better than that. Another of your ancesters (unrelated but also named Warren) descended from a Warren line that — get ready for this — originally married into the William the Conqueror family. So, even though the Loomers — the name that ultimately prevailed for us and from which your middle name derived — ended up as farmers and carpenters in rural southeastern Wisconsin, some of the family did spend some time on the throne of England.

    Other people who share that lineage include Alan Shepard, Franklin Roosevelt, and James Garfield. And, through one of your other great-grandparents, George Lincoln Rockwell. I don’t think you’d want bragging rights on the founder of the American Nazi Party, but there it is. King and Nazi — and a lot of other things.

  8. Admiral Halsey says:

    That’s an interesting hypothesis, Brendan. One other thing to consider – the magical age of 18 really didn’t mean as much back then as it did today in terms of independence and marriage.

    I suppose they could have come over here before 18, either married, or single.