The information on this page was provided by Garry Bryant, formerly the Kennedy Society archivist/genealogist.
- What is the origin of the Kennedy name?
- Who is a member of the Kennedy clan/family?
- What tartan may I wear?
- How do I get started in genealogy research?
- What computer software should I use?
Links to additional genealogy resources are at the bottom of the page.
Basically, there are two origins of the Kennedy surname: one Scottish and the other Irish. The most commonly known Kennedy family is the Irish one made famous by the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, whose ancestors came from Waterford.
Irish Kennedy: The Irish clan Kennedy takes its name from Kennedy, the nephew of High-King Brian Boru (1002-1014). The name Kennedy was also that of the father of Brian macKennedy Boru. This Kennedy was the King of Thomond (north Munster Province) and was killed by the Norsemen of Limerick in 951 A.D.
This Irish clan were the left hand of the powerful Dál gCais Tribe of Thomond, headed by Clan OBrien. They resided in far eastern Clare, northern Limerick, and northern Tipperary in an area called Ormond.
Scottish Kennedy: Their home territory is in southwestern Scotland, in Ayrshire, where they were a power house. Originally they came from the western isles and are of Celtic-Norse stock. In the fifteenth century, one Ulric Kennedy fled Ayrshire to the highlands for refuge where he was granted protection under the Chief of Clan Cameron. From this Highland branch, Kennedys settled on the Isle of Skye. A branch also was established in northeast Scotland, at Aberdeen.
To add to the confusion, there are the Kennedys of Northern Ireland. Many Scottish Kennedys were planters in Ulster (the province of Northern Ireland), and many Scots went to Dublin and mingled with the Irish clan. Because of this confusion, the Scottish Chief of Kennedy is willing to recognize all Kennedys as part of the clan/family.
So you can see that doing critical research is needed to determine which branch of the Scottish Kennedys, or between Scot and Irish, you descend from.
What does Kennedy mean?
Most accounts of both Kennedy families claim that the name means ugly head or helmet head. This is not correct. It is derived from the name Kenneth, meaning head of the people/clan/tribe.
This is a very touchy subject. According to the Lord Lyon of Scotland:
- Anyone surnamed Kennedy who can trace their lineage into the Chiefs lineage is a clan member.
- Anyone surnamed Kennedy but who cannot trace their lineage into the Chiefs line is an indeterminate cadet.
- Anyone (not of blood or surname) who is adopted into the clan/family by letter from the Chief is a clan member.
- A woman who marries out of her clan/family is no longer a member of her surname clan/family. But a woman who marries into the Kennedy surname becomes a member of the clan through marriage. However, her children have no claim to her clan/family.
- Just joining a clan/family society or lineage society that bears the surname does not make someone a member of that clan. The late Lord Lyon, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, in his book Scots Heraldry, suggests that the Chief of a Clan present a qualified member of the clan/lineage society with a numbered membership certificate bearing his title, heraldic arms, and signature, as a sign that the individual is an accepted member in the clan/family, not just a member of the clan society. This procedure is followed by the Kennedy Society of North America. When you join the Kennedy Society, you are accepted by the Chief as a member of the clan.
The only person who has a right to wear the Kennedy tartan is a member of the clan. However, anyone else may wear the Kennedy tartan because they descend from a Kennedy and wear it in honor or memory of that person. Or maybe they just like the design of the tartan!
There are several different tartans to consider wearing. Of Kennedy tartan design there are ancient, modern, weathered, and dress. There are also tartans called Ayrshire and Carrick, districts of Scotland. There are national Scottish tartans: Black Watch, Hunting Stewart, Jacobite, etc. And there is the American St. Andrews tartan and various state tartans. Those whose surname isn't Kennedy often opt for the latter because they dont quite feel comfortable wearing a Kennedy tartan.
One taboo in wearing tartan is wearing those of two different clans. It has been suggested in the past that a man could wear a tie in his mothers clan tartan, but this is not correct. Even the same tartan tie as ones kilt is discouraged.
Begin with yourself and move back each generation. Gather documented proof for each fact that you find: birth, marriage, and death certificates; immigration records; mortuary and tombstone records; notations in Bibles; census information; military records; land records; court records; church notices; and so on.
1900 basically is the cutoff point for birth and death records in most U.S. states. Before 1900, the cutoff point varies for each state. For example, the 17901830 censuses of New Jersey were destroyed, and almost all of the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire. Kentucky is another state where the first two censuses were destroyed, but other sources were used to create a like record for 1790 and 1800. The 1880 census Soundex index is good only for families who had children under age ten. (A Soundex index is based on the sound of a surname rather than on its spelling.)
Census records began in the United States in 1790. From 17901840, only the head of household was listed. Gradually, the age range of the family became more detailed. 1850 is the beginning of the listing of the entire family, including ages and birthplaces. From 18501930, the census became more detailed with each decade. (For more information, see the web site of the US Census Bureau.)
Do not accept family traditions as fact! They are tradition, often combining fact with some fiction. Dont discard a tradition, but attach a note stating that it is family tradition. Traditions can be good guides to help find other data. Remember, though, that before the coming of Christianity, Celtic recordkeeping was done orally.
Be careful using data from web sites. Such data can be a good place for starting a map, but it is often inaccurate. The first rule is always to check all data (go to the original source if possible).
An excellent place to start researching on the Internet is the FamilySearch web site. This site is maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It is a direct link into the Family History Library the largest genealogical library in the world in Salt Lake City, Utah. Note: The pedigrees of Kennedy Society members from 1973 to 1995 can be found scattered in the Ancestral File at the Family History Library.
Another site is ANCESTORS, the companion web site to the PBS family history and genealogy television series from 1997 and 2000.
Sometimes you reach a period of dead ends. Be patient; it might take several years of waiting, placing queries on various genealogical web sites, and so on.
Research has been made easier with all the church records of Scotland having been placed on CD-ROM.
The first genealogy software was Personal Ancestral File (PAF), which was created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1985. They created GEDCOM, a language that is used by computers to exchange genealogy data. Note: Downloads and support for PAF ended July 15, 2013.
Today, there are many programs to choose from. The primary things to consider are:
- The cost of the program (prices range from $40.00 to several hundred dollars). Upgrades might incur additional costs.
- Whether the program supports GEDCOM.
- Features for printing reports.
- How much data it can handle.
- Support for multimedia elements such as photos, video files, sound files, etc.
For more information and opinions, look at various genealogical web sites (some links are provided below) and check out the comments on various software programs.
- Kennedy DNA Project
- Kennedy Family Genealogy Forum
- Scottish Genealogy Research & Advice page at Electric Scotland
- Scottish Genealogy Society
- Scottish Genealogy - Tracing your Scottish Ancestors at About.com
- Cyndis List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet (categorized & cross-referenced links)
- FamilySearch (the LDS Church Family History site)
- PBS ANCESTORS companion web site
- Resources for Genealogists at the U.S. National Archives web site