Current Research

What We are Discovering

New! 6 March 2022 - "Getting to Know Hugh" - Zoom Call

We had our first information sharing Zoom call. Click here to view the recording. This call focused on three foundational source documents:

  • 1852 Christ Church Census - this is the earliest source document of the Hugh McKenna family.

  • 1865 Marriage of Thomas McKenna and Sarah Singleton in the Berry Street Presbyterian Church by Hugh Hanna.

  • 1880 Burial of Hugh McKenna in the Belfast City Cemetery.

We also introduced this web site as a repository for new discoveries and invited participants to "Explore More".

We plan to share another information Zoom call in 3 months and again post the link here. Next date to be announced later.

New! April 2021

Discovery of the Samuel McKenna Family - Hugh McKenna's (1812-1880) Brother

In the 1800's, Thomas McKenna (1844-1910) wrote letters to his cousin John McKenna (1833-1904) who emigrated from Ireland in the 1860's and lived in Rio, Wisconsin. In 1894, John responded to Thomas in a letter that relayed some key information about his family. For example, he told us his birthday (19 December 1833). He also told us the names of two of his sisters, Mary and Nancy. Nancy's married name was Wilson, but this was her 2nd marriage, as her 1st husband had passed away. We also learned that his sister Mary had died in June 1893.

In April 2021, Elaine McKenna Allred discovered a copy of the 1894 letter in a bin of family history records she had received from her parents, Gib and Almeda McKenna. Her parents had the letter but didn't have access to records that could help them learn more about their family. With current technology and records, however, we have been able to discover much about John's family. We discovered John's wife and children, Mary's husband and children and both of Nancy's husbands and her children. In addition to Mary and Nancy, John had a brother James who died in Wisconsin in 1865 and a sister Jane who married Richard McNanie in 1854 and stayed in Ireland.

The greatest insight we gained from John's letter was that his parents names were Samuel and Nancy McKenna. For the first time we learned that Hugh McKenna, Thomas' father, had a brother. And when Samuel was married to his 2nd wife in Wisconsin, we learned that his and Hugh's parents names were Hugh and Sarah (Hooray!!!)

We also learned that Jane and Mary were married in Ireland before they emigrated and that they were married in the Presbyterian Meeting House in Minterburn. The marriage records revealed that they lived in the townland of Mullintor in the Civil Parish of Aghaloo in County Tyrone.

As of February 2022, we have been able to document about 100 descendants of Samuel and Nancy McKenna in and (L119-GR2).

Fortunately, the Presbyterian Church records in Minterburn include Baptisms, 1829-1950; marriages, 1819-22 and 1830-1911. (MIC1P/ 26; MIC1P/460). These records will be of key interest as we seek to understand more about Samuel's family.

It is very possible that Hugh and other family members may have also lived in Aghaloo Civil Parish in County Tyrone. Since Hugh's family attended the Church of Ireland, the following records will also be of keen interest as we access them at Public Records of Northern Ireland (PRONI):

  • C.I. Aghaloo or Caledon (Armagh diocese) - Baptisms, 1791-5 and 1801-76; marriages, 1792-5 and 1800-45; burials, 1792-5 and 1800-1939; confirmation lists, 1840-72 MIC583/25-6; MIC1/326; D2602/1.

  • C.I. Brantry (Armagh diocese) - [Formed out of Aghaloo, Carnteel and Clonfeacle parishes] Baptisms, 1844-71; burials, 1846-82; confirmation list,1873. MIC583/24


The younger William would have been too young to be the witness at John's marriage, but the older William is a possibility. Was William McKenna John's older brother or more likely his uncle?

  • 1883-1905 Map of Belfast is available. Look at the "Maps" section under "Current Research" on the left column. This is a consolidation of all of the 1883-1905 Belfast maps that are available. They are overlaid over the 1860 Griffith's Valuation map to fill in for the pages that are not available.


  • "A While With Your Own Ones" by Patricia McSorley. This is an incredible history about Eskra, County Tyrone; including the town lands of Tamlaght, Tullanfoile and Kilnaherry, where Hugh McKenna and his family lived prior to going to Belfast. The first 80+ pages are a history of the area and the remaining 250 pages contains a variety of folklore from the area. Of particular note are:

    • Bryan McKenna leased land in Tullanafoile and Patrick McKenna leased land in Kilnaherry from Sir George Savile in 1769. This is exactly where the McKenna’s family live prior to moving to Belfast in 1851. This indicates our family may have lived in the Clogher area for quite some time before moving to Belfast. Could Bryan or Patrick be our ancestors?

    • Rev. Francis Gervais, an Anglican clergyman, purchased the land from Sir George Savile’s descendants in 1811 and managed it until his death in 1849. His descendants managed it until 1911 when it was sold to the tenants. Reverend Gervais was dislikes by many in the area for:

      • Evicting tenants. Tenants on small parcels were often evicted by their landlords, because Irish law required the taxes on parcels less than 5 acres be paid by the Landlord. This may have been a contributing factor in Hugh McKenna moving to Belfast.

      • Forcing Catholic children to convert to the Church of Ireland. He and his wife ran a school in Beltany, very close to Hugh’s home. His wife would take soup made of beef broth to the school on Fridays. Since Catholic children could not eat beef on Friday’s they would often refuse the soup. Mrs. Gervais threatened to expel them from the school if they didn’t eat the soup. This could have been why Hugh McKenna’s family belonged to the Church of Ireland in 1852 in Belfast.

    • McKenna families lived in Beltany, Dunbiggan, Tamlaght, Tullanafoile and Kilnaherry

  • Clogher Cathedral Graveyard – this is a history of the graveyard connected to St. McCartin’s Cathedral in Clogher, County Tyrone. This is likely where that you McKenna family attended church prior to moving to Belfast. This is one of the oldest graveyards in Ireland. About 500,000 people are estimated to be buried there. Only 500 to 600 headstones exist and inscriptions from them are included in this book. Of particular note are:Inscriptions from 9 McKennas are included in the book. The earliest was Patrick McKenna who died in 1711 at the age of 70 years. This indicates the McKennas may have lived in the Clogher area for at least 150 years prior to moving to Belfast.

One of the footnotes reads: “There were 57 families of McKenna in Clogher Parish in 1860, making them by far the most numerous name. This numerical strength is upheld to-day by the fact that nicknames are essential still to distinguish one from another. Trough was their original territory, and their name was the second-strongest in the County of Monaghan. Their large estates were lost at the Plantation, mainly to the Anketell's, Moutray's and Singletons. One of their name, the Catholic historian, Canon James Edward McKenna, M.R.I.A., in his “Parishes of Clogher” gives some account of their lineage and ramifications. The Rev. John McKenna, who was P.P. at Clogher from 1885- 1895, was a noted scholar.”

Hugh McKenna Descendancy

This 2013 Prezi presentation describes what we had discovered about Hugh and Mary McKenna and their descendants. It also poses some of the unanswered questions we are trying to solve.

Hugh McKenna Descendancy

July 2013

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