Geary Surname Genealogy

Geary has an English and an Irish origin:

  • early English spellings of the name were Jery, Gery, and
    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
  • the Irish root is the anglicized Gaelic O’Ghadra, meaning “hound.” O’Ghadra were the descendants of
    , 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
    in the 16th century to West Munster.

Resources on

Geary Ancestry

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
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

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

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
later farmed in Otago, South Island. His wife brought with her
an ancient carved stick, the tokotoko
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.

Geary Miscellany

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

Select Geary Names

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
James Geary is the
London-based editor of Time magazine
and author of The Body Electric.

Select Gearys

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





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