Many people contact me about faerie roots and their family names. Often, they’re looking for something that says, “… and John Smith’s mother was a faerie.” (With “John Smith” being replaced by the name of someone in the family tree.)
Few records are that straightforward.
Wonderful books like The Door Home and the Borrowers series help us remember that the faeries (or at least the “little people”) aren’t very far away. I grew up with those traditions, myself, and I think they’re important… but you’re not likely to find clear confirmation that you have faerie roots.
Looking for faeries in your family tree, you may have to “read between the lines.” Many — perhaps most — cultures avoided mentioning the faeries. In Ireland, they were referred to as “the little people” (though, in many cases, faeries are/were larger than typical humans), “the good folk,” and so on.
If there was a way to avoid a faerie reference altogether, people did.
- Some feared the wrath of angry faeries.Until Shakespeare’s time, most people thought faeries were malicious.
- Other people were simply wary of faeries, or thought it was bad luck to mention faeries at all.
So, if your family tree includes an ancient name in a country with lore that seems to lead back to faeries or gods, that may be as good as it gets.
(Due to faeries’ powers, some cultures felt that faeries were gods or godlike. For example: In Ireland, the Tuatha Dé Danann — said like “TOO-uhh day DAH-nunn” — were described “gods and not-gods.” To me, that suggests unusual — perhaps “god-like” — powers, but apparently mortal characteristics, as well. In many stories, the Tuatha Dé Danann are clearly connected to the faeries. )
Tracing your faerie roots is far easier in some countries than in others.
For example, if any of your ancestors came from Iceland — where more than 50% of the population still believe in elves and other faeries — everyone there is related within seven or eight generations. So, if your roots trace back to Iceland, you can be fairly assured that you have a faerie connection there.
That’s just one example. In fact, every culture with faerie lore has family names that trace back to ancient times. That subject is huge, and I’m not an authority. My expertise is limited to Irish surnames, since most of my own roots are Irish, and I’ve studied faeries in the British Isles, in general.
Tracing Your Own Faerie Heritage
Some people just want to know their geographic connection to faeries… where their ancestors came from, indicating which faeries they’re probably descended from. Ask your family. They probably have stories about your ancestral roots.
That may be all you need.
Others want more evidence, including their ancient roots and faerie connections. I’m not sure that’s necessary, but here’s how to get started:
Ask your family about the oldest family names they recall among their ancestors. Those names usually — but not always — suggest geographic roots.
If you can, check census and vital records (birth, marriage, death) as well as church records for the surnames of your ancestors. The list will fan out, quickly.
Your grandparents represent four surnames:
- Your mother’s father
- Your mother’s mother
- Your father’s father
- Your father’s mother
Your great-grandparents represent eight surnames:
- Your mother’s paternal grandfather
- Your mother’s paternal grandmother
- Your mother’s maternal grandfather
- Your mother’s maternal grandfather
- Your father’s paternal grandfather
- Your father’s paternal grandmother
- Your father’s maternal grandfather
- Your father’s maternal grandmother
In most families, that’s as far back as people remember. Even your parents may not be sure about the maiden names of their grandmothers, unless they have records — like a family Bible or old photos — to check.
You can research your own family tree. Ancestry.com (and their free RootsWeb) and FamilySearch.com may have helpful resources. Or, you can enter your ancestor’s full name plus “genealogy” or “family tree” into Google or any search engine, and see if a relative has already done the research.
Odds are good that your family names contain some faerie ancestry. Finding out the geographic roots of your faerie ancestry can give you a greater sense of connection. (Faeries are usually associated with the land. They may have traveled with “their” families to other countries, but — to understand the habits and personalities of those faeries — their original geographic roots are important.)
For many people, it’s enough to know the countries their ancestors came from, and — therefore — the kinds of faeries they’re connected to. Most families have a general sense of where their roots are, and that may be all you need.
But, some lucky people already feel a deep connection with a particular kind of faerie.
If you feel that way, there’s no reason to trace your ancestry to confirm the connection. It’s already there. Enjoy it!
Remember, scientists say we’re all related within 30 generations, anyway. So, if you feel a connection to one kind of faeries, you’d probably find it in your family tree… if you went back far enough.
The sense of connection is more important than the paperwork. It’s fun to document a real connection to a particular kind of faerie, but it’s not essential.
You can trace your family to find your geographic roots, but you’re unlikely to find anything that clearly states your ancestors were faeries.
Ancient Irish Families
If your ancestry — like more than 36 million Americans — includes Irish immigrants, RootsWeb has a list of the very oldest Irish surnames, but it’s not a complete list. Often, you’re looking for surnames that — now or in the past — started with O’ or Mac.
Expanding that further, RootsWeb’s Surnames and Irish Counties list says, “Although not always the case, names beginning with O’, Mac, Mc, De, Le, and others, may usually indicate a name of historical significance.”
However, some of those surnames — especially those starting with De or Le — are likely to lead back to Norman families, and their faerie history may be a little different than those tracing back to the Irish era of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
My own ancient Irish roots include:
- Ó Baoghill (O’Boyle or Boyle)
- Ó Braoin or Mac Braoin (Breen… mine emigrated through Nova Scotia, Canada)
- Ó Croinin (Cronin)
- Ó Donnghaile (Donnelly)
- Mac Gearailt (FitzGerald, not on the RootsWeb list, but several traditional stories — including the one at Lough Gur — give a clear faerie connection)
- Mag Uidhir (Maguire, MacGuire, etc.)
- Ó Neill (O’Neill, O’Neil, etc.)
- Ó Tuama (Toomey, Tormey, Twomey, etc.)
… and many other early Irish surnames.
Some Irish Resources
Lists of ancient Irish family surnames
- Old Irish-Gaelic Surnames and Ancient Irish Names & History (both at RootsWeb)
- Behind the Names’ list of Irish surnames
- Irish Central’s Top 300 Irish family surnames, explained
- 100 Irish Surnames, Explained Note: Don’t take the coat of arms seriously, except as historical interest. As Wikipedia explains, “The design is a symbol unique to an individual person or family (except in the UK), corporation, or state.” In other words, an ancestor’s coat of arms isn’t your coat of arms. They usually changed with each household. You can, however, register your own coat of arms. (In Ireland, you’d apply through the Office of the Chief Herald.)
To better understand the meaning of Irish surnames, see Do Chara’s Irish Surnames of Gaelic Origin. You’ll find another view of this subject at the Irish Times’ Irish Ancestors/Origins of surname. And, if you want to understand how Irish surnames changed, Wikipedia’s article about Irish names may be helpful… or even more confusing.