3. Surnames – McGinnis

13 March 2019

The Surnames: McGinnis and allies.

The McGinnis group of identified allied family surnames are almost all either Irish, Scotch-Irish, or English. There may be some others mixed in, and I know of one particularly important exception. Margaret Elizabeth Anthony, who married Larkin McGinnis in 1828, appears to have been Germanic. The pioneer of the Anthony name has been identified as Paulus Andenia who was born sometime before 1720 in Germany. He shows up on a passenger list of the ship “Lydia” arriving in Philadelphia 29 September 1741 as one Paulus Antonie. The name then morphed over time into Antoney, Anthoney, and then into Anthony. It may be pure coincidence, or cosmic genealogical fate, that my middle name became Anthony; I’m sure my family didn’t know that I was descended from an Anthony.

I’m writing this post just days before the St. Patrick’s Day celebration for 2019; making it more relevant that the subject of the post is the Irish McGinnis surname. Since beer is known to be a major part of the day’s festivities, isn’t it also appropriate that we talk about the root family name of McGinnis, which is found in the house of “Guinness”; yes, the same one as the beer. In my research, I have found that in old Ireland the name was probably written as McGuinness. Over the years, and as the name moved to America, the name has been written with many different spellings, such as, McGinnis, McGinnas, McGinnes, McGuiness, MaGinnis, and other combinations. The addition of the prefix “Mc” to the original Guinness appears to denote “a son of the house of Guinness”; this is common with many Irish names, such as, McMahan, McNeil, and McDonald. Some of these names are also good examples of root names having the prefix “O” which is basically a contraction for “of”, implying “of the house of Neill” (for example), and often denoting someone such as a grandson of the original family name. So you might have the “house of Neill” showing up in future generations as McNeil and O’Neil, and if one looks for the “coat-of-arms” for this family name, one would find that all the name’s derivations share the same one; which is also the case for the Guinness and McGinnis “coat-of-arms”.

I have never been to Ireland, and have had very little luck in tracing our McGinnis roots back across the ocean. One of the earliest records of a McGinnis that I have found is of a James McGinnis who was on a ships passenger list arriving in America in 1750; I have not yet confirmed this to be our family’s earliest McGinnis pioneer, but the name of “James” has been in our family tree for over 200 years. I do however know that our McGinnis family was here west of the Catawba in NC prior to 1800, which means they escaped Ireland well before the “potato famine” of the mid-1800’s. As I mentioned in an earlier post, all of our 3x-great-grandparents, including the Hamricks, Padgetts, Wolfes, Hornes, etc., were here before 1800s. When you examine the lists of allied surnames that I had in my earlier post, you might notice that the list of surnames that I have identified in the McGinnis group is far smaller than the other groups of German origin. One of the main reasons for this is that the Irish and English were far less likely to know how to read and write as compared to the Germans; therefore they kept fewer written documents that might have shed light on who some of these older generation ancestors might have been. The difference in education is rooted in the tenants of the German Protestant Reformation where Martin Luther had advocated that “the common man” should be taught to read so that they could read the bible for themselves. The Germans took this to heart and became committed to teaching their children to read and write. The non-German populations seemed to resent this disparity in education, and were known to have referred to the German children as “damn little German professors”. One small advantage that the Irish had, in terms of genealogical research, is that since they had been part of the United Kingdom of Britain, and had come to an English colony on primarily English ships; their surnames had not morphed into some other Anglicized version, and remained as they were. This is not the case for the Germans, and that will be the topic of my next post.