As many reference works readily show, the Fitzgerald line of the 35th
President extends through his grandfather, the celebrated John F. “Honey Fitz”
Fitzgerald (1863-1950), mayor of Boston, to the latter’s father, the immigrant
Thomas Fitzgerald (ca. 1830-1 885). Research by Gary Boyd Roberts (see
Ancestry of American Presidents ) and Doris Kearns Goodwin
(for The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys ) extended the line to
Thomas’s father, Michael Fitzgerald, and an uncle, Edmund Fitzgerald (whose
granddaughter married “Honey Fitz,” her second cousin), sons of James and Hannah
Fitzgerald of Ireland. New research in American and Irish records adds
considerably to this knowledge.
Family tradition holds that Thomas Fitzgerald was born about 1830 in or near
Bruff, Co. Limerick, and arrived in Boston in the late 1840s or early 1850s. He
married Rosanna Cox 15 November 1857. On Thomas’s marriage and death records his
father is given as Michael, and on his death record his mother as Ellen. This
last, Ellen (Wilmouth) Fitzgerald, died at Boston 17 November 1875 (corroborated
by both VRs and the John F. Fitzgerald Bible at the Kennedy Library). Ellen’s
age was given as 78, and her parents as Thomas and Bridget Wilmouth. With a
dispensation obtained from the Boston archdiocese, on 18 September 1889 John
Francis Fitzgerald married his second cousin, Mary Josephine Hannon (1865-1964),
whose mother, Mary Ann Fitzgerald, was born at Bruff, Co. Limerick 27 May 1834
(according to the Joseph P. Kennedy Bible, also at the Kennedy Library). Mary
Ann (Fitzgerald) Hannon died at Concord, Mass. 1 July 1904. Her death record
gives her parents as Edmund and Mary (Linnehan) Fitzgerald.
It is thus evident that Michael and Edmund Fitzgerald were brothers, and both
were ancestors of President Kennedy. Michael is supposed to have died in
Ireland, and no record has been found of his corning to America. Edmund
Fitzgerald died in Boston 26 October 1883, aged 85. His parents were given as
James and Hannah, so it is inferred that these were also Michael’s parents and
the earliest known Fitzgerald ancestors. They were born probably in the 1770s.
According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thomas Fitzgerald, his mother Ellen, and
his siblings Bridget (b. ca. 1828), Hannah (b. ca. 1829), James (b. ca. 1838)
and Ellen (b. ca. 1839) all resided near each other in Boston’s North End.
James Fitzgerald, whose successful grocery business helped his nephew “Honey
Fitz” establish himself in local politics, is supposed to have come over as a
boy in 1848 or 1849 with his uncle Edmund Fitzgerald and the latter’s daughter
Mary Ann. In his naturalization petition, filed in the U.S. Circuit Court,
Boston, 29 March 1865 (17:178) James stated that he was a trader, born in Co.
Limerick, Ireland, in November 1840, and that he arrived in Boston in 1850.
Edmund Fitzgerald’s petition was made to the U.S. District Court in Boston 17
July 1854 (13:316). He was a laborer of that city, born in Co. Limerick 18
October 1802, and arrived at Boston 20 April 1850. He signed with his “mark”
(where-as nephew James signed his own name), and his character references were
Daniel Hogan and Simon Keough.
Neither James nor Edmund have been found in Boston passenger-list indices,
which date from 1848. However, one finding makes it highly probable they
actually arrived at New York. In Ira A. Glazier and Michael Tepper, eds.,
The Famine Immigrants, vol. 5 (1985), pp. 282-83, a list of passengers
arriving in New York 22 April 1850 aboard the Josephine from Liverpool,
includes Edmund Fitzgerald, aged 50, with Ellen, 45; Hannah, 20; Mary, 18;
James, 12; Margaret, 9; and Edwin, 5. This family matches data on Edmund
Fitzgerald’s children in the Bruff parish registers (see below). The date of
arrival differs by only two days from that given on Edmund’s naturalization
petition. If the family arriving in New York is indeed that of our Edmund
Fitzgerald he probably removed to Boston not long afterward.
Thomas Fitzgerald apparently arrived after his
brother and uncle, and has not been definitely identified on any passenger
list. His petition for naturalization was made to the U.S. District Court in
Boston 3 January 1855 (26:64) and stated that he was a laborer, born in Co.
Limerick 15 December 1830, and that he arrived in Boston 6 November 1850.
Thomas made his “mark” for signature and his character references were Daniel
Hogan and Edmond Fitzgerald of Boston. None of the Fitzgeralds have so far been
found in the 1850 Federal or 1855 State censuses of Massachusetts.
The 1860 census finds Thomas Fitzgerald in Ward 4, Boston (p. 149); he was
aged 30, a laborer, with wife Rosa and two young sons; on p. 148 was his uncle
Edmund Fitzgerald, aged 55, a trader, with wife Ellen, 50; Ellen
“2nd,” 13; Richard, 12; and Bridget, 8. The baptismal registers of
St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church which the Fitzgerald families attended, show
that Bridget, daughter of Edmund and Ellen (Punch) Fitzgerald, was born 8 April
1852. The civil birth record gives the date as 8 April, Edmund’s occupation as
“Pedler,” and their address as 5 Ann Street. This last is the earliest known
record of the family in Boston.
From the above it is inferred that Edmund Fitzgerald’s first wife Mary
(Linnehan) Fitzgerald died in Ireland (again in keeping with family tradition)
and that he married secondly Ellen Punch. The St. Stephen’s registers show that
another daughter, Catherine, was born to Edmund and Ellen in 1855, and a
Margaret Fitzgerald who was Bridget’s baptismal sponsor in 1852 was perhaps an
older daughter. The family removed in the 1860s to East Boston, where Ellen
(Punch) Fitzgerald died 6 February 1868 at 33 or 43 Porter Street. She was aged
56, born Ireland, and her parents were given as  Richard and Mary
Punch. The 1870 Boston city directory lists Edmund Fitzgerald, grocer, home 71
Porter, E.B. [East Boston]. In this and other directories of the period Thomas
and James were variously listed as “traders” and “grocers.” When Edmund died in
1883 his address was 7 Murray Street (also in East Boston); his occupation was
The civil parish of Bruff is in the barony of Coshma, Co. Limerick. Catholic
parish registers date from 1781, with an unfortunate gap between 1790 and 1807.
These and most other early record sources in the county have been centralized
and indexed by the Limerick Regional Archives, The Granary, Michael Street,
Limerick, who provide an excellent research service to anyone with Limerick
ancestry. Their findings showed the following:
Michael Fitzgerald and Ellen Wilmot, both natives of Bruff,
were married 19 Jan. 1823. Their children were:
1. Hanora Fitzgerald, bp. 19 Nov. 1825.
2. Bridget Fitzgerald, bp. 10 March 1828.
3. Mary Fitzgerald, bp. 17 Nov. 1830 (godfather “Edward”
Fitzgerald, interchangeable in Irish records with “Edmund”).
4. Ellen Fitzgerald, bp. 15 Dec. 1831.
5. Mary Fitzgerald, bp. 11 Sept. 1834.
6. James Fitzgerald, bp. 2 Nov. 1837.
7. Michael Fitzgerald, bp. 8 Sept. 1841.
Edmund Fitzgerald married Mary Lenihan at Bruff 17 February
1828. Their children were:
1. Hanora Fitzgerald, bp. 22 June 1829 (godfather was Michael
2. Bridget Fitzgerald, bp. 19 Sept. 1830.
3. Johanna Fitzgerald, bp. 19 Sept. 1830.
4. Mary Fitzgerald, bp. 9 May 1832, m. Michael Hannon
(great-grandparents of President Kennedy.)
Edmund Fitzgerald married (2) Ellen Punch 3 March 1835 in
Knockaney parish, adjacent to Bruff. Their children were:
5. James Fitzgerald, bp. 5 Feb. 1836.
6. Margaret Fitzgerald, bp. 22 June 1838 (godmother was a Mary
7. Bridget Fitzgerald, bp. 7 Feb. 1841 (sponsors were Thomas and
8. Edmund Fitzgerald, bp. 22 Oct. 1843.
9. Patrick Fitzgerald, bp. 26 April 1849 (sponsors were James
and Ellen Fitzgerald).
For brevity’s sake I do not cite all witnesses and sponsors to the above
events, only other Fitzgeralds. In the 1810s these appear to have been
Michael’s and Edmund’s children standing sponsor to their own siblings and
cousins. A Patrick Bourke and a Thomas Toomey who sponsored children of both
families in the late 1820s and early 1830s may also have been related. Thomas
Fitzgerald’s baptism was not listed; since he said he was born 15 December 1830,
the Mary Fitzgerald baptized 17 November 1830 may have been a mis-entry for him.
The Tithe Applotment Book for Bruff parish in 1833 shows Edmund Fitzgerald
holding 4-1/2 acres in Ballyreesode townland; Michael with 3/4 acres in
Ballycampion townland; and Michael Fitzgerald with 1-1/2 acres in Newtown
townland. These three townlands are adjacent to each other near the center of
Bruff parish. The two Michaels may have been, and probably were, one and the
same. In Ballycampion, William and James Wilmott appear next to Michael
Fitzgerald, the latter holding exactly the same acreage as he; these men were
probably brothers or uncles of Michael’s wife Ellen (Wilmot) Fitzgerald.
William Wilmot stood sponsor to their child in 1831, and other sponsors to the
Fitzgerald children also resided in the above townlands.
In 1833 Michael and Edmund Fitzgerald were the only householders by that name
in Bruff parish; their father James Fitzgerald was not found, though he may have
been the James Fitzgerald who held four acres in the adjacent parish and
townland of Knockaney. Also in Knockaney parish in 1833 were Richard Punch of
Patrickswell (possibly Ellen’s father) with 13 acres. and Patrick and William
Punch of Knoddough with three and six acres. respectively. The latter were
witnesses to the 1835 Fitzgerald-Punch marriage and were possibly Ellen’s
brothers. Griffith’s Valuation, a householders survey compiled in 1851/52
for Bruff parish, shows Edmund and Michael Fitzgerald with holdings in Newtown.
During a 1991 summer research trip, this writer hopes to extend the
Fitzgerald line through further examination of the Bruff and Knockaney parish
registers; tombstone inscriptions, which for Knockaney have been published in
the Lough Gur Historical Society Journal; and estate records, which
frequently contain details about tenants. According to the tithe books and
Griffith’s Valuation, the principal landlord in Bruff parish was the Earl
of Limerick. Richard Hayes, ed., Manuscript Sources for the History of
Irish Civilization (1953) shows that the papers of the Pery family,
Earls of Limerick, containing deeds, letters and miscellaneous papers from 1524
to 1800, and also an account book of rents, not dated, have been catalogued by
the National Register of Archives in London.
Samuel Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) notes in an
account of Bruff parish (1:227) that the powerful Fitzgeralds of Desmond
possessed a castle there after the reign of Henry III (1216-1272); Lewis’s
account of Knockaney parish (1:27) states that a John Fitzgerald (sometimes
called John of Callan, d. 1296) built a fortress on the western bank of the
river Commogue; another John Fitzgerald, who was also known as Fitz-Robert,
founded a friary at Knockaney in 1349. Perhaps these men were early ancestors
or kinsmen of the President.
Richard Andrew Pierce is a professional genealogist in Boston who
specializes in Irish, and nineteenth century research. He is a volunteer at the
Society, contributed to Ancestors of American Presidents (1989), and
wrote on the Kennedy Irish origins in NEXUS 7(1990):102-104