Our Family Forest
The Donnelly Family

Name Spellings General Donnelly History Data and Sources

Known History

We don't yet know where the Donleys came from in Ireland, but Patrick Donley and Nancy Larkin were born there in 1798, and married in about 1820. They were probably from Tyrone or Armagh County in northern Ireland. Before emigrating to the US in the late 1820s, they had three children in Ireland: Bridget (c. 1822), Ann (early 1820s), and James (1827). They emigrated to the US directly from Ireland in 1827, and in 1830 the family was in Madrid, St. Lawrence County, New York, where Patrick and Nancy lived the rest of their lives as farmers. (The town of Waddington was formed in 1839 from the portion of Madrid that lay along the St. Lawrence River.) Mike was born in 1830, probably somewhere in New York, possibly in Madrid. Five more children were born in Madrid/Waddington: John (1831), Kate (1833), Margaret (1836), Edward (1838, my great-grandfather), and Mary (1840). I believe that Patrick was naturalized a US citizen in 1838, and that this also conferred citizenship on Nancy and their Irish-born children. Patrick died in 1854. As best I can tell so far, Nancy and John purchased the family farm in the late 1860s, but there were several land sales and purchases in Waddington, Brasher, and Ogdensburg between 1856 and 1881 that could have been this same family, so I'm not yet clear about who owned property and when. Nancy passed away in 1875, leaving the 100 acre farm to John. (Patrick, Nancy, Bridget, Kate, and Margaret are all buried in Old St. Mary's Cemetery in Waddington, NY.)

Bridget and Kate married Thomas and Christy Gorman in about 1845 and 1855, respectively, raised large families, and lived the rest of their lives in Waddington and nearby Ogdensburg. These Gormans were not brothers but were probably close relatives, since their farms were in an enclave of Gorman properties, near the Donley farm in Waddington. Bridget passed away shortly after her mother, in 1875. She and Thomas had started construction on a new house, in which some of their descendants still live today. Kate died in Ogdensburg in 1914, while living with her daughter, Kitty Gorman Aiken. Ann married James Graham, a salesman, in the 1840s. After Nancy's death, they moved to Michigan. James Donley was in some way involved in the clothing industry. He married Mary A. in about 1855, they had two daughters, and bought a home in 1858, probably near central Waddington. In 1868 they sold their home and moved to Burlington, VT. After his wife's death in the 1890s, James and younger sister Margaret moved to Michigan, possible to join their sister, Ann, but I have not yet found them all together. James moved back to Waddington where he passed away in 1902. Mike Donnelly left Waddington in the 1850s for the California gold country (about 1 1/2 hours from Sacramento), where he owned a stable, drove horses, and opened "Mike Donnelly's Saloon" in Forest Hill. He died and was buried there in 1881. John and Mary (a young teacher in 1860) remained with their mother and ran the family farm after their father's death. John married Irish-born Bridget Shannon, from Iroquois, Ontario, in about 1874.  (To read the John & Bridget Donnelly family history, click here.)  The family farm was left to John in 1875, where he stayed with his family until about 1878, when they moved with their three children across the river to Iroquois.  Their fourth son was born there.  In 1873, the country had entered an economic depression (The Panic of 1873) which lasted about 10 years and has been described as the country's worst outside of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Perhaps the cost of operating the farm, the liability of paying the cash inheritances to his sisters, the loss of the household furniture and whatnot that was inherited by his sisters, and perhaps the loss of his sister (she went to Chicago) to help run the farm, forced him to sell the property. Or maybe he just hated farming, but had stayed only to take care of his mother. Margaret went to Chicago, possibly in the 1860s, but returned to Waddington by 1883. Mary left Waddington after her mother's death and married Rudolph Ramsey in Cook Co., IL, in 1879. She remained in Chicago until at least 1910.  In 1882, Margaret was living with Mary in Chicago.

Edward Donnelly was also a teacher; he taught school in Canada for a few years before enlisting in the Union Army in 1861. He was living on the family farm in 1860. I wonder whether he could have been "commuting" to a school on the other side of the river? Perhaps he was spending the summer helping with the farm when the census was taken in late August, and that he lived in Canada during the school year. In the War, he became the company clerk for Company F, 60th regiment of New York Volunteers. He reenlisted in 1864 and fought at Antietam and Gettysburg. He was a Sergeant when he was discharged in 1865, at the end of the war.

In about 1867, Edward went to Missouri to work on the creation of a railroad, possibly the Tebo and Neosho R.R.. The "Tebo" had been chartered in 1860 to build a railroad from Sedalia, Missouri, southwest to some point on the Kansas border. No work was done until 1865 because of the War, but in the fall of 1865 planning resumed on the Tebo and ground was broken in September 1867 in Sedalia. About 100 miles were laid in bits and pieces (due to financing difficulties), but construction was stopped in 1870 due to lack of money. Control was taken early that year by the same New York financiers who owned and were constructing the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad, known as the M.K.T. or "Katy". In June of 1870, when the Katy won it's race to build a railroad across eastern Kansas, south to the Indian Territory, John Scullin (future founder of Scullin Steel of St. Louis) and his tracklaying crews ("wild, rollicking Irishmen") were sent to Sedalia to work on the Tebo. In October, business along the completed portion of track was doing so well that the Tebo was merged with the Katy. Track reached Ft. Scott, KS in December.

We don't yet know what Edward Donnelly's role may have been in all this. We do know that as a former teacher and as a Company clerk, he was educated. His obituary states that he worked with John Scullin on the construction of the MKT. Two stories passed down through my mother also add some clues. When my grandfather (James L.) was a boy in Sedalia, he used to bring lunch to Edward, his father, who was then working as the town weighmaster. Edward wore a suit to work every morning, and was too proud to be seen carrying his lunch. The second story is that Edward had come to Missouri with a business partner to build a railroad and was "cheated out of his fortune". He was certainly not one of the Irish workcrew. The Katy was controlled by powerful financiers from about 1868 (then the Union Pacific - Southern Branch), and was working only in Kansas, so I'm guessing that there was no room for E Donnelly as a partner. The revival of the Tebo in the fall of 1865 jibes well with ED's discharge from the army, the location was in Missouri, and the control by local interests would have had more room for a "partner" of modest means, which makes me believe that this was the railroad that brought ED to Missouri. He was probably an executive or administrator with the Tebo. September 1873 was the beginning of the Panic of '73, described in a Katy history book as the worst depression in the US other than that of the 1930s. Late in '73, the treasurer resigned and was charged with embezzlement, but the problem was "hushed up" and settled behind closed doors. In December of 1874, the Katy went into bankruptcy. Many people left after this and there were constant changes in the executive ranks until the Katy was reorganized in 1876. Among the facts that the Tebo was unable to complete it's line, the subsequent takeover by powerful financiers from out East in 1870, the merging with the Katy, the depression that began in 1873, the embezzlement scandal that was hushed up, the bankruptcy in 1874, and the subsequent changes in upper level management, there were plenty of opportunities to be "cheated out of his fortune". John Scullin was only associated with this railroad for a short time. He may have been mentioned in the obituary more because he was a prominent person in Missouri.

I haven't been able to find Edward in the 1870 census: he is not in Missouri, Kansas, or Waddington, NY. In 1872 Edward married Margaret Campbell in Morrisburg, Ontario, Canada, just across the St. Lawrence river from Waddington, NY. Their marriage entry in the church records says Edward was from Chicago City. Perhaps he was living with Margaret there. I'm wondering if Edward went to Chicago after his railroad venture failed. Also, I wonder where he met Margaret. Perhaps she was living in Chicago, or perhaps they met during a trip home that Edward may have made to Waddington. I was unable to find Margaret's family in the 1871 Ontario census. Where they lived for the next few years is uncertain. Edward's obituary implies that he moved to Sedalia after leaving the Katy. When Nancy Donnelly passed away in 1875, Edward was thought to be living in Sedalia. In 1880, they were in Montrose, Missouri (Henry county) where Edward was running a boarding house. There is no 1890 census information, but we believe that both their oldest and youngest children, Ed Jr. (born 1875) and Len (James Leonard, born 1891), were born in Sedalia, the town that for many years would be considered the family home. The other children were Lonnie (or Nell, born Helen in 1878), Anna (1879), Tess (1884), and Louise (1888). Edward Sr. became the town Weighmaster in Sedalia. He passed away there in 1909. Margaret lived there until her death in 1923.

Edward Jr. bought a home around the corner from his parents in Sedalia, married Ellen Donahoe, and raised their son there. In 1910, Ed was a cigar salesman but was a collector for the Internal Revenue Service when his mother died in 1923 and later became a tax consultant. He was a well known and respected civic leader in Sedalia for many years, serving on the boards of directors of the Sedalia Chamber of Commerce, the Pettis County Red Cross, the Kiwanis Club, the Sedalia Symphony Society, and other organizations. He loved smoking cigars and died in 1937 of lung cancer. Lonnie and Anna became teachers. Anna earned a Master's degree and became the head of the English department at Beaumont (?) High School, the largest high school in St. Louis, unusual achievements, especially for a woman at that time. Tess was an accountant with the Union Pacific Railroad for many years in St. Louis. Louise is listed as a teaching assistant in the 1910 census, but later became the Society reporter for the Sedalia Democrat. She was a gifted piano player, and began teaching piano lessons when she was 13 years old. None of the four girls married.

Len attended the University of Missouri, then went to work for Western Cartridge Company (later Olin-Matheson) in Alton, Illinois, about 30 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri. He was turned down for WWI military service and later felt that working for this company was in some way making a contribution to the war effort. In 1922, he married Marie Hogan, whom he met after hearing her play the Moonlight Sonata. They were engaged for many (about 10?) years before marrying because Len wanted to be certain that he could support a family first. Marie taught piano for about 10 years before their marriage. They had four children. Len worked his way up to become Secretary to the President at Western Cartridge (later Olin-Matheson?) (a position he held at the time of his mother's death in 1923), then decided to go to law school at the University of Michigan. Mr. Olin offered to put him through school, but he had $300 and a violin and felt that he could provide for himself and his family. He paid his way through law school playing at weddings and whatnot. He had an orchestra that used to play in the pit of the movie theatre, providing music for silent movies. Also, he was a door-to-door salesman for the Fuller Brush Company. After law school, the family returned to St. Louis where Len joined a law firm for a few years. After a brief stay with another law firm in Kansas City, he was asked to become the Executive Vice President of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, which he built into one of the largest and most influential trade organizations in the country. (He held this position at the time of his brother's death in 1937 and until his own death in 1972.) He also served on the Boards of Directors of many organizations, including Barrett College and DePaul University, raising a great deal of money for educational and other charitable purposes. Marie spent a great deal of her time entertaining and helping others. The entertaining was required for Len's IMA business. She was in charge of the Welfare Committee of the Evanston Women's Club, and was a member of the Catholic Women's Association, and was constantly bringing food to people's houses and searching for apartments for families that had lost their homes and jobs during the Depression. She developed Parkinson's disease in the late 1930s and passed away in 1949. Len died from cancer in 1972. They have 21 grandchildren and approximately 29 great grandchildren living today (2001).

Name spellings

The spelling of the family name was different in nearly every census in NY: Donley, Donolly, Donnely, Donoly, Donaly and Donnelly, the current spelling. I have not yet seen any Irish records or spellings. I've adopted the convention of using the name Donley for those born in Ireland prior to the family's emigration to the US, and the name Donnelly for those born in the US. For example, Patrick Donley (born in Ireland) married Nancy Larkin and their son, Edward Donnelly (born in New York), was my great grandfather.

General Donnelly History

From IRISH FAMILIES, by Edward MacLysaght, printed circa 1957:
O'DONNELLY: According to the latest available statistics there are not far short of ten thousand persons of the name of Donnelly in Ireland to-day, which places this name among the sixty-five most numerous in the country. Practically all these may be regarded as belonging to the Ulster Donnelly sept - O Donnghaile [acute accent over the O] of Cinel Eoghan. This is of the same stock as the O'Neills, the eponymous ancestor of the sept being Donnghaile O'Neill, seventeenth in descent from Niall the Great, ancestor of the royal house of O'Neill. Their territory lay first in Co. Donegal and later further eastwards, centered around the place called Ballydonnelly, Co. Tyrone, which was named from them. The place name Ballydonnelly also occurs twice in that part of Co. Antrim which adjoins Co. Tyrone. This area is still the part of Ireland in which they are most numerous. Their chief was hereditary marchal of O'Neill's military forces and they were noted soldiers in early times, one of the most famous of them, Donnell O'Donnelly, being killed at the battle of Kinsale (1603). Another, Patrick Modardha O'Donnelly, out in 1641, captured the castle of Ballydonnelly from Lord Caulfield. It was subsequently renamed Castle Caulfield. Another sept called in English O'Donnelly, but in Irish O Donnghalaigh [acute accent over the O], belonged to Lower Ormond in Co. Tipperary, but as there appear to be few survivors of it to-day it can be dismissed with a bare mention.

In modern times prominent Donnellys are connected with the U.S.A. rather than Ireland the country of their origin, e.g. Charles Francis Donnelly (1836-1909), the Catholic lawyer; Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901), politician and reformer; and the last named's sister Eleanor Cecilia Donnelly (1838-1917), author of many Catholic devotional works.

From SURNAMES in IRELAND, by Sir Robert Matheson, printed 1909:
On page 7, a table of the principal surnames in Ireland, gathered from the "Births Index of 1890", shows that Donnelly was the 65th most common name, with an estimated 10,700 Donnellys in an Irish population of 4,717,959. (The most common name was Murphy, 62,600 of them, or 1.3% of the population. So if you think it's hard finding the right Donnelly, be thankful your name isn't Murphy!) On page 46 a table "Surnames for which 5 or more births were registered" shows 240 Donnellys born, 135 of them in Ulster province, 64 in Leinster. The principal counties were Antrim, Tyrone, Armagh, and Dublin.

Data and Sources

The following are some of the data I have on Donnellys who may be related to our own. Included are a great deal of information on Gormans, some information on Grahams, and some information on other participating parties (buyers, witnesses, etc.).

Copyright © by Michael Cushing.

donnelly.shtm last updated 11 March 2015