Uncovering the Ancestors

The trail to uncovering the history of our family worldwide has been a long, fascinating journey. Over the years, many people in the Manary/Menary family have been intrigued with their origins and devoted a great deal of time to their search. Beginning with learning about their own branches of varying spelling (Manary, Menary, Minary, Manery, or Menery), to tracing their ancestor of origin back to Ireland and attempting to link them into a family, the search has been ongoing for over fifty years – and probably much longer.

In common with many families, most branches of our family kept some sort of family tree records. Often it fell to one member of the family, a role which has been described as the “kinkeeper”. These people were the ones who sent birthday cards to old aunts and uncles, telephoned and visited elderly relatives, sent letters to second and third cousins, and kept track of births, marriages, and deaths. One of the kinkeeper’s traditional roles was to compile and update a family tree for the relatives.  These types of records were usually within their own particular branch.

The first known group to initiate a search for records in Ireland was the William Wallace Menery branch. In 1967, they commissioned Dr. Leese, a genealogist presumably based in Ireland, to do professional research into early Menary records in Armagh. The two family members who commissioned the report paid $150 at the time, which translates today to almost $1,200. We are thankful that they were kind enough to share it with others. Many records of early Menarys were unearthed with this report, which formed the foundation of some of what we now know.

In the early 1980s, various descendants of the James Manary of the Ottawa Valley, Ontario, Canada family connected with each other and pooled their information, forming a picture of the family in that area. At that time, genealogical research was much different than it is now. There was no Ancestry.com, no internet, no cheap phone plans — mail was often the only avenue of inquiry. Information was hard to come by. Censuses and parish records were only available on microfilm and unless you visited an LDS branch or were a member of a genealogical society in a town or city, a researcher would have no real access. Most queries were by letter, and an answer from an archives or other institution could take weeks.

But nothing can stop interested genealogists! Letters flew back and forth, research and family trees were freely exchanged, guesses and speculations were made. As time went on and more research was shared, it became evident that the Manary/Menary family just in Ontario was much larger and more diverse than anyone guessed. Barbara MacPherson of the James Manary and Isabella McLellan branch in BC undertook a search for records of Manarys of all spellings in any location and corresponded with a number of descendants of the Manary/Menary families in Ireland, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand during the 1980s and 1990s, beginning the process of understanding the relationships between the worldwide branches.

In 1988, members of the James Kennedy Menary family (descendants of the John Menary and Elizabeth Downey branch) commissioned a search by Deirdre Speer, BA, of Ulster Origins, situated in Stranagard, Londonderry County, for any records that could be found of the Menary family (of various spellings). Her second report of nine pages provided valuable new records and background of the family in Ireland.

In 1998, Amy Menary of Waterloo, Ontario, a descendant of the John Menary and Phoebe Kilpatrick branch, undertook an intensive study of Canadian Menary and Manary families and  formed a website with her information at rootsweb.ancestry. She found that there were at least 25 separate Manary/Menary family groups in Ontario. As rare as the surname was, it was still difficult to determine which of them were actually related to each other and if so, how close that relationship was.

Interest in research on the family worldwide was growing. In the late 1990s, a group of three people who had become involved in research into the family formed a small group. This was Susan Wann in New Zealand, Carol Richardson in England, and Susan Jella Campbell in California. The trio pooled their research and made trips to Ireland to hunt for archival records.   In 1999, Susan Jella formed a Menary online study group through a Rootsweb listserv and soon gathered together an avid group from branches all over the world. Members shared all their research and made informed speculations about the history of the family and connections.  One of the administrators of the site was Lilyan Milliken (James Menary and Rebecca Lockhart branch), who became an expert in the Canadian branches and helped many people with their research.

Many wonderful and dedicated researchers, whose names are unfortunately too numerous to mention, shared their own particular research and added to the pool of knowledge. Within a few years, the membership grew to over 60 people from many diverse branches. A big break came some years later when Linda Leonard of Belfast, Northern Ireland joined the group. A descendant of the James Menary and Miss Verner branch, Linda was the one and only member who lived in the Menary Northern Ireland heartland. She undertook exhaustive research on behalf of the family, scouring local graveyards, church records and archives, and compiled detailed tables, charts, and reports that are irreplaceable. She has also become the unofficial Irish ambassador for the family, welcoming members who have visited Armagh and Tyrone from all over the world.

When DNA became available, the Menary Rootsweb group set up a Y-DNA test through Family Tree DNA. This was a test for males only, to ascertain the descent of the family through the paternal Manary/Menary name.  [For details on results on this and other DNA research, see the article “DNA Project”] Around the time of the collapse of Rootsweb online, the Menary listserv group also dissolved and not much more happened until 2012.

At this time, Ancestry began offering DNA tests and analysis. About 2016, Barbara MacPherson and Todd Manary, who had been working together to research the fourteen children of the James Manary and Isabella McLellan branch, set up a DNA study with a few participants from various sub-branches of this group, gradually adding participants from other branches worldwide. As at May 2022, there are 55 participants in the study. As well, Todd Manary set up a Facebook Manary Study Group that has gathered more statistics for the study and increased interest in the family. The membership is over 160 as of May 2022. 2021 saw the exciting beginning of the present Manary/Menary website, which is incorporating every facet of research within the worldwide family.

The big challenge ahead of researchers is to link up their known ancestor to a parent or a particular family group in Northern Ireland, mainly in the counties of Armagh, Tyrone, and Down. There are no easy, pat answers to this because of the scarcity of records in that early period. Another challenge ahead of us is to determine the true origin of the family in Northern Ireland. But with the exciting new tool of DNA, other new research and resources, hard work, and the uniting of many minds, we will find the answers. We owe such a debt of gratitude to those who have laid down the foundation stones of research in previous years.

Contributed by Barbara MacPherson




Manary/Menary Family Genealogy Group

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