What is the Kennedy one name study?

by Iain Kennedy

March 22nd, 2006

Copyright © 2007 Iain Kennedy

A One Name Study is a research project which collects genealogical and related information covering all occurrences of a surname (with or without variants) worldwide. They tend to be done on niche names and/or names with a single origin. It is unusual to embark on a one-name study of a name as common as Kennedy which at various times past and present has been in the top twenty names in some countries or regions. But us Kennedys are ambitious folks whose goals are only limited by their imagination.

I have estimated that a meaningful Kennedy project would require in the order of 100,000 individuals to be considered complete, assuming that living names were collected too. However my initial aim is to study the branches so my goal is to identify and cover all the branches. To do this I have gone back in time as far as I can reliably go and aim to work out how many 'unconnected' branches I can find. Subsequent research will consist of mapping others back to one of the original branches. These early branches will be identified by (a) the 1841/1851 census returns by count of number of male Kennedy households; (b) the names of the fathers given on the first generation of statutory male Kennedy death certificates in Scotland, which typically will take us back to men born c. 1755; (c) any earlier attempts utilising what polling or other population surveying was done such as the 1690s poll tax and hearth tax surveys. As a rough figure the 1851 census shows about 3500 male Kennedys which we might guess equates to about 1000 separate Kennedy groups. This figure of 1000 is expected to condense when the death certificates for those people are viewed and parents names matched up to show siblings of the same parents. That might condense the number of branches to say 300-500. Further breakdown will probably require DNA testing of descendants of these branches. It is possible that in addition to the more common STR marker DNA testing, some private SNPs may be discovered within the Kennedy family tree which will further clarify matters.

As part of this project I expect to gain a thorough understanding of how the Kennedy name has spread out geographically - or rather how it hasn't, since you will see from my page about the name distribution that even now, the name is still concentrated in Scotland and the north of England.

Whilst I am running the project at the Guild of One Name studies I am honour bound to answer any Kennedy genealogical queries sent to me, providing the questions are targetted and all information already gathered is submitted. This latter point is important as naturally, there is no point in my researching matters that have already been unearthed. In some circumstances I might not be in a position to help right now if that particular branch has not been studied yet, in which case I will inform the researcher and keep their query on file to respond to when the data becomes available.

One question that arises from time to time comes from emigre Kennedy descendants who are 'brick-walled' in their new country and can't determine where in Scotland or Ireland their branch came from. I have been quite struck recently by how many U.S. Kennedy genealogists have quite deep ancestry in the United States - often as far back or further back than my own lines in Scotland (c. 1750). The challenge of breaking through such brick walls are considerable using traditional paper trail research, since even if you can identify a likely entrant on a passenger list, you may not be able to glean much about where in the homeland he emerged from.