Genealogical surprises: an Irish root

shamrockMiles Riley came as a surprise. While happily American, I’ve always known my ethnic background to be Dutch, Norwegian, English, and Danish, roughly in that order. After years of research, this is supported by both documents and DNA.

However, through my paternal grandmother, I have ancestors back to colonial America … and have discovered that having a large number of early American ancestors means each generation can bring genealogical surprises … including Maelmordha O’Reilly (Miles Riley).

When I received my Ancestry DNA results last year, the Scandinavia, Europe West, and Great Britain origins were unsurprising. Not so with the supposed Ireland/Scotland/Wales portion. That was a puzzle. I always imagined Irish immigrants arriving in America during the 19th-century potato famine, and knowing my 19th-century ancestors quite well, I knew none had arrived from Ireland, Scotland, or Wales.

But when my DNA results turned up a couple of far distant cousins who shared a common female ancestor, Catherine Riley of Virginia, I was curious. Dad’s DNA results only strengthened the evidence of our family’s tie to this line.

Casual online research quickly turned up unconfirmed family trees tracing Catherine’s line back to the O’Reilly clan of County Cavan, Ireland, and a 17th-century Irish-American ancestor. I don’t know why, but an Irish immigrant to America in the 1600s came as a surprise. I learned online of a book, The Colonial Riley Families of the Tidewater Frontier, which appears to be about this family. So far I’ve yet to find a copy I can buy or borrow.

Pending further research, our potential Irish ancestor was Maelmordha O’Reilly, who at age 20 sailed from London on the ship Bonaventure with two brothers, arriving as Miles Riley in Virginia or Maryland in 1635, near the Potomac. The story is that he applied for and received a King’s land grant of 200 acres, which was later increased to 1,100 acres for paying the passage of another 20 or so immigrants. The story is wholly unconfirmed and warrants further research on any connection our family may or may not have to it. Will try to learn more by St. Patrick’s Day.

And more on Dad’s DNA in a later post.

(photo by Erin Lanigan)

This entry was posted in COLONIAL VIRGINIA, Genealogical Surprises, RESEARCH PROCESS and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Genealogical surprises: an Irish root

  1. Mary J. Lohr says:

    Always fun to learn something new and DNA is a great potential tool for doing so. Great story on the Irish ancestry. Looking forward to reading more!

  2. Pingback: Digging up that Irish root … | Branch and Leaf … a family history blog

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