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  • Irish Origins: The Fitzgerald Ancestry of President John F. Kennedy

    Richard Andrew Pierce

    Published Date : May 13, 1991

    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 [1989]) and Doris Kearns Goodwin (for The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys [1987]) 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 [62] 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 “trader.”

    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 Fitzgerald).

    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 Fitzgerald).

    7.    Bridget Fitzgerald, bp. 7 Feb. 1841 (sponsors were Thomas and Hanora Fitzgerald).

    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

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