Where did my Kennys come from?

Six of my eight great grandparents were born in Ireland and I have been able to determine their birthplaces down to the county level for five of the six. And for two of the six I have actually visited their exact birthplaces. In 2002 our Muckle cousins of Holywood, County Down, showed us the Muckle cottage in Ballycopeland on the Ards Peninsula where my great grandfather Tom Muckle lived as a child. A few weeks later we drove to the home of some Gallagher cousins in Sheegorra, County Roscommon and saw the house where my great grandmother Bessie Gallagher was born. We also known that our McDevitts came from County Tyrone, our Dwyers from County Tipperary and our McAuliffes from County Cork.

But we have no idea where our Kennys came from.

Here’s what we do know: My great grandfather Joseph Kenny arrived in Philadelphia on March 21, 1849 aboard the ship Tuscarora from Liverpool. On the ship with him were his younger sister Mary Ann and his younger brother Thomas. In all likelihood they boarded the ship off the coast of Cork. The origin location on the ship’s passenger list either states Liverpool or is left blank and it is blank for Joseph and his siblings.

Joseph and his brother Thomas are living with their mother Bessie and older brother William in Philadelphia in 1850. Mary Ann is not living with them. Maybe she already got married. Or she may be living as a servant in her employer’s house.

Joseph stuck around Philadelphia for at least five years. He signed his initial citizenship declaration papers in 1851 and received his final papers in 1854. I found a record recently for an Elizabeth Kenney who died in Philadelphia in 1854. This is probably his mother. William Kenney can be found in both the 1860 and 1870 census records still living in Philadelphia and he probably lived out his life there.

I don’t know what ever happened to Thomas but he was in Philadelphia as late as 1872. And Mary Ann apparently died sometime before 1872. In that year William Gormley wrote a letter to his cousin Elizabeth and her husband Joseph Kenny and mentioned that he had seen both of Joseph’s brothers recently. He also lamented on the recent death of Joseph’s sister.

I don’t know where Joseph lived between 1854 and 1860 when I found him living in Brooklyn, now a part of Oakland, California. He most likely was working in a mine somewhere in Pennsylvania. In 1862 he was working as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada. In 1865 he married the love of his life, Elizabeth McDevitt, in San Francisco and they immediately settled down in Virginia City where Joseph worked for more than 20 years at the Chollar-Potosi silver mine.

Elizabeth and her three sisters moved from Philadelphia to California in 1857. Her family migrated to the US in 1847 and her mother and younger brother were still living in Philadelphia in 1860. Joseph most likely met his future wife in Philadelphia and decided to follow her to California. By 1865 Elizabeth’s mother and brother had joined her and her sisters in San Francisco and her mother, brother and one sister followed her to Virginia City.

I don’t have much more information on Joseph. My grandfather Joseph Bernard Kenny was born in Virginia City in 1868 and he was an only child. In 1888 he received a senatorial appointment to West Point but he never finished his schooling there. In 1890 or 91 he left West Point and returned to Virginia City to take care of his mother. His father is buried in Virginia City but he didn’t die there. I couldn’t find any death record in any adjoining state to Nevada, either. I believe Joseph traveled east to visit his son in New York and his brothers in Philadelphia and died somewhere along the way.

My grandfather was in the livery business for awhile and he also worked as a deputy sheriff for a few years. He finally became an undertaker and served as county coroner for a couple of years. In 1908 he buried his mother in Virginia City in the same plot as his father and mother’s mother. My mother was born in 1910 and so never knew her grandparents Joseph and Elizabeth.

My grandfather always used the name Kenny but his father used both Kenny and Kenney. Joseph’s mother and brother William seemed to have always used Kenney. I don’t know about Thomas.

Someday I hope to find more information on Joseph’s family that will point to where in Ireland they came from. Maybe there’s a clue with the McDevitts. I’m still looking for one of Elizabeth’s sisters. Who knows what will turn up there? It’s possible that Joseph and Elizabeth knew each other in Ireland but I doubt it. Elizabeth arrived in Philadelphia on a ship from Derry but Joseph was on a ship that originated in Liverpool. The odds are that he came from the southern part of Ireland.

Or maybe the answer lies with William Gormley and his family. William addressed his letter in 1872 to his cousin Elizabeth and his “best friend” Joseph.

The solution to this mystery is probably sitting somewhere in the City of Brotherly Love. I guess I will have to take a trip to Philadelphia one day and see if I can find some more information on Bessie, William, Thomas and Mary Ann.

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About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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