Select Geary Surname Genealogy

Geary has an English and an Irish origin:
  • early English spellings of the name were Jery, Gery, and Geri.  The root may have been the Old English word geri meaning "spear" or in this case probably a spear carrier; or the Medieval English geary meaning "fickle" and descriptive (as used by Chaucer) of someone who is giddy or changeable.  
  • the Irish root is the anglicized Gaelic O'Ghadra, meaning "hound."  O'Ghadra were the descendants of Ghadra, a nephew of Eadrha who had founded the O'Hara sept.  From O'Ghadra came the O'Garas and McGearys.  The Geary name was adopted by a branch of the sept which had first migrated to Mayo and then in the 16th century to West Munster. 

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Select Geary Ancestry

England.  The name Geary may have originated in Leicestershire as the largest cluster of Gearys in the past were to be found in that county.  A Thomas Geary appeared on the lists of Kirby castle in Leicestershire in 1485.  John Geary, rector of Swepstone in the 1680's, was involved in the local politics of the time in Leicester.

The Geary name was prominent in Leicestershire villages such as Atterton, Barwell, Desford, Groby and Ratby, close to or southwest of Leicester.  The Gearys of Atterton and Ratby were quite well-to-do.  John Geary was recorded as a gentleman of Atterton in 1701.  And another set of Gearys were prosperous farmers at Old Hays, Ratby later in the 18th century.  Geary's the bakers have been the main employers in the village since 1906.  George Geary, a cricketing allrounder who played for Leicestershire and England in the inter-war years, came from Barwell.

Ireland.  The Geary surname has been most in evidence in the Munster counties of Limerick, Kerry, and Cork.  Some from the original O'Ghadra sept had been prominent in the Catholic church and in the education of the clergy.  However, by the 19th century there had begun an exodus from the region to England, America and elsewhere.

But the Geary name is still noticeable in West Munster, particularly in Limerick.  One Geary family operated a biscuit business from their Limerick plant at Merchant Quay since the early 1900's.  More recently, another Geary family has run its successful Pallas Foods business there until their decision to sell in early 2009. 

America.  William Geary was in Salem, Massachusetts by 1639 and later settled nearby at Wenham.  The main branch of this family continued the Geary name; but one line became Gerrys (this line led to Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the man who gave us "gerrymandering.")  Other early Geary arrivals were John and Henry Geary from Hertfordshire who bought land in Pennsylvania in 1682.

By the 19th century, Irish Geary immigrants were outnumbering English Gearys by about two to one.  There was also a smattering of anglicized Gearys from Germany.  One Geary family in Pennsylvania, for instance, traces itself back to Peter Gary, a Revolutionary war soldier, and German immigrants from the Palatinate in the 1700's.  This Peter had many descendants.

Heading West  Some Gearys at that time went West.  John and Ellen Geary, escaping the potato famine in Ireland, were early arrivals in San Francisco, getting there in 1847 before the Gold Rush.  They later settled in Mariposa county.   Also coming to San Francisco were:
  • John White Geary from Pennsylvania who was the first mayor of San Francisco in 1850. 
  • and Thomas Geary who arrived in San Francisco from Boston in 1863 and became its local Congressman.  He gave his name to the Geary Act, the act which extended Chinese exclusion from the United States. 
Meanwhile, John and Sophia Geary reached Salt Lake valley from England in 1856. 
Australia and New Zealand.  Patrick Geary from Ireland was probably the first Geary arrival.  He had enlisted in the NSW Corps and arrived in Sydney in 1797.  He was later given a land grant and he and his wife settled to farm in Kincumber.

Then came Geary convict arrivals, from both Ireland and England.  William Geary had been transported from Nottingham to Tasmania in 1833 for stealing a bushel of wheat.  On his release in 1938 he joined a whaling fleet and moved to Taraniki in New Zealand.  There he married a Maori girl and later farmed in Otago, South Island.  His wife brought with her an ancient carved stick, the tokotoko korero, which has been preserved as a family heirloom.

A later Geary arrival in New Zealand was Bartholomew Geary and his wife Hannah.  They came in 1871 from county Cork in Ireland and settled in Riverton on the south coast of South Island.

Select Geary Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Geary Names

Sir Francis Geary
, said to be of Irish origin, was Admiral of the British fleet in 1773 and created a baronet.
John W. Geary was a prominent politician of the American West in the 19th century, serving as mayor of San Francisco and governor of Kansas Territory.
Benjamin Geary was a WW One hero from Canada who received the Victoria Cross for his bravery in combat.
James Geary is the London-based editor of Time magazine and author of The Body Electric.

Select Gearys Today
  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous in Edinburgh)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania).
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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