One of my cousins really wants to be Irish… somewhere… somehow. She’s been to Ireland (as have I — see the photo gallery here) and wants badly to have some tie to that lovely land and people.
And I think maybe… just maybe… I can come up with that link. And it turns out it supports a family story I’ve heard all my life — that we did have just a wee drop of Irish blood in our veins, that of an Orangeman, a Protestant from the North.
It looks like one of our GGGG grandfathers was an Ulsterman by the name of William Killen, who settled in Mississippi around 1810 or thereabouts. It’s not definite, but my working hypothesis is that Wilmoth Killen Gentry (b. circa 1795 NC, d. aft. 1870 Neshoba County, MS), wife of the Rev. Elijah Gentry of MS, was the daughter of that William Killen Sr. and younger sister to William Jr. and Henry Killen.
Gentry family history is consistent in identifying Wilmoth’s maiden name as Killen; indeed, her first son was named Elijah Killen Gentry. In their history of her husband, Rev. Elijah Gentry, Clarence Wilson and Maxine Wilson Smith (descendants of her son John Wesley Gentry) identified Wilmoth’s father as a neighbor in Wayne County, MS.
The only Killen family in Wayne County around the time Elijah and Wilmoth married was that of William Killen, Sr. William Sr. and Henry were on the poll tax rolls of Wayne County in 1813 and 1815. Elijah Gentry and William Killen Jr. are on the same page (page 111) of the 1820 Wayne County census, one right after the other. William Sr. is on the next page (page 112). (Henry is also reported by Ancestry.com to be on the next page; it is hard to see that name if it is there.) In 1830, the Gentrys, William Sr., William Jr. and Henry were all on the Rankin County census. Rankin County was divided into different counties by 1840; the Gentrys were in Winston County and Henry Killen in Neshoba County. (There is a William in Kemper County; it is not clear if this is the right William.) The 1850 census continues to show Henry Killen in Neshoba County and by then the Gentrys had moved to Neshoba County as well. The census shows the birthplace for both Wilmoth Killen Gentry (shown as age 56) and Henry Killen (shown as age 58) was North Carolina.
One family researcher, Harold B. Killen, reports (Killen Surname Board, Ancestry.com Dec 2001) that the first William Killen was an Irish immigrant from Ulster whose first four children (William Jr., Henry, Jacob and, presumably, Wilmoth) were born in North Carolina. He further reports that William Killen Sr. was born around 1772 and died in Rankin County in about 1834. There is a census report on the 1800 Richmond County NC census for a “William Killin” with three sons under age 10 and one daughter under age 10. Other family researchers (Jim Hardy and Roy Traster) report (Neshoba County Rootsweb site) that Henry Killen’s father was a William Killen, born in Ireland before 1775, who died about 1834 in Mississippi. Family tradition reported by Jim Hardy, Roy Traster and Tom Branning is that the first Killen in Mississippi was one of three brothers who came to American together from Ulster. Still other family researchers (see various messages on Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com) confirm that the first Killen in Mississippi was a William, born in Ulster around 1775, who died in MS around 1834.
Putting all these facts together, the likelihood that these Killens are Wilmoth’s family is quite strong: the lives of the Gentrys and the Killens overlapped and were intertwined to a degree that powerfully suggests kinship.
And that gives us our wee drop of Irish…