Friday, January 9, 2015

Gearen Surname History - A Family Long Since Dispersed

I came across the title of this blog - "Long Since Dispersed" in an internet surname search in 2012, referring to the historic movement of the Gearen family between locations in western and southwestern Ireland.

Gearen is the surname of my mother's maternal family.  My mother Mary Virginia Ryder Wilmes was born  on January 15, 1922, in Sioux City, Iowa.  Her mother was Ruth Harriet Gearen Ryder, born August 15, 1892, in Sioux City, Iowa to James E. Gearen and Dora Virginia Curtis Gearen.

The surname Gearen is not among the most common Irish surnames, according to a list of the top 100 I saw recently.  In historical records in both Ireland and the United States, it is is spelled many ways. Genealogists sometimes say spelling doesn't matter, and that probably applies here.  Gearen also may not be the most common spelling. The research on her Irish immigrant great-grandfather Patrick Gearen (father of Mary's grandfather James E. Gearen, born in Rhode Island on October 1,1859) is not complete.  Even now, however, it appears there may be at least three different spellings involved, not including obvious U.S. census misspellings.

There is exciting research from a cousin's 2006 family trip to Boherbue in County Cork. Unfortunately, because there are dozens of Patrick Gearens or similar spellings born in and around County Cork in Ireland in the early 1800's, until  confirming information is assembled, it is probably not "proved". This will be the subject of a later series of posts.

In extended history then, where did Gearen appear?  I found two explanations in my early genealogy research. In one case it was unfortunately before I was careful about sources. Therefore, these two documents are offered with an apology to the source of one as I have misplaced the citation.

This is a copyright-free map of Ireland at approximately the time Patrick Gearen emigrated to the United States.  It does not indicate the counties but the southern-most green location, Cork City, is part of County Cork and County Kerry is immediately to the west. County Mayo is referred to and it is located on the north of peninsula on the west half way up.

The first explanation of a similar Gearen surname is taken from a now out-of-business travel website from 2012.  A search of the Internet Archive ( did not include this page, although others were included there.  

Because it includes Gaelic characters hard to reproduce, I will insert the entire page.  It contains names of historical figures beginning in the 11th century.  I am reading Irish history as fast as I can but not yet at the point of putting Ui Fiachrach in context there!  (Perhaps the wikipedia entry  is of use here:  There is also the suggestion that one form of the Gearen name - Guerin - may be a French Huguenot name. 

The second is a page from a surname directory which I cannot now trace.  At the bottom of the page, the last entry is a specific discussion of O Gearin, attributed to "the barony of Erris" (a barony of County Mayo) and a following page stated:  "long since disbursed".

Indeed, my specific genealogy searching is now centered in County Cork, and County Kerry, both counties devastated by the famine.  A website for the Harney family's genealogy includes letters from ancestors living through the famine.  I recommend that you take a few moments to read them: 

The dark area to the immediate north of Cork City is probably the area from which Patrick Gearen emigrated to the United States in 1855 or 1856, according to entries on the 1910 and 1920 U.S. census forms.   

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