Tracy Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Tracy Meaning

The Gaelic word treasach
meaning “warlike” or “fighter”  gave rise to various O’Treasaigh
The earliest name reference was
in 1008 when it was recorded: “Gussan, son of Ua Treassach and lord of
Ui-Bairriche, died.”  O’Treasagh was most often anglicized as
Treacy, sometimes as Tracey,
and often in its travels to America as Tracy.  All three spellings
Tracey, and Tracy
– exist today.

Tracy also has a Anglo-Norman origin, from the place-name Tracy in

Tracy/Treacy Resources on

Tracy/Treacy Ancestry

The Tracy line in England derived from an illegitimate son of
Henry I who took his mother’s name de Tracy and was granted the estate
of Toddington in Gloucestershire.  His son, Sir William de Tracy, was
notorious for being one of the four assassins of Sir Thomas a Becket in

Despite this ignominy, the Tracys through his daughter continued at
Toddington and were frequently recorded as sheriffs and knights of
Gloucestershire in the succeeding centuries.  Sir William Tracy
was one of the earliest champions of the Reformation under Henry VIII
and secured the manor of Stanway.  However, the family were
Royalist during the Civil War, were heavily fined, and lost their
position.  The Tracys did retain the Irish title of Viscount of
Rathcoole until the line became extinct in 1797.

There were initially three distinct O’Treasaigh septs:

  • one in SE Galway, although they were dispersed from there at an
    early date
  • the second in west Cork, a branch of which migrated to Limerick
  • and a third in county Laios near the Carlow border, although
    these were also dispersed over time.

The Trassy and O’Trassy spellings were recorded in the 1659
census.  Tracy,
Tracey, and Treacy
appeared in Griffith’s Valuation of the
mid 19th century.  Tracy has retreated in favor of Treacy since
that time.  Sean Treacy, the young IRA leader at the time of the
Irish War of Independence, came from Tipperary.

The main Treacy groupings today are in east Galway and west Cork and in
counties around Laios.  Further north the spelling becomes
Tracey; while Tracy is found in Dublin.

America.  The early Tracys
in America were of English origin, with William Tracy of the
Gloucestershire Tracys in Virginia in 1620 and Thomas Tracy, a ship’s
carpenter, who came to New England in the 1630’s and was among those
who helped settle the Connecticut river valley and found the town of
Norwich, Connecticut in 1660.  Descendants of Thomas Tracy

  • two brothers, Phineas and Albert, who were New York state
    politicians in the early 1800’s.
  • and a third brother Edward who left New England for Macon,
    Georgia where he prospered.  He served as its second mayor in
    1826.  His sons Edward and Philemon Tracy were
    Confederate officers who perished during the Civil War.

Another line via Wheeler Tracy settled in Gouldsboro, Maine.

The first Irish Tracy in America was probably Patrick Tracey who had
left Wexford penniless for Massachusetts in the 1740’s and prospered in
shipping at Newbury.  His son Nathaniel, an ardent American
patriot, was one of the first Yankee privateers to harass and capture
British shipping.   However, when the war ended, conditions
changed and Nathaniel soon found himself bankrupt.  He retired to
a farm in Newbury.

Most later Tracys in America were of Irish extraction, the most famous
of them being Spencer
the Hollywood actor who was born to an Irish Catholic
family in Milwaukee.

Australia.   Biddy Tracy,
orphaned in Galway, came to Victoria in 1841 and married John
Andrews.  Her life story was handed down in family papers.
Brother Patrick Treacy was a Roman Catholic educationalist from
Tipperary who in 1868 established Australia’s first permanent Christian
Brothers community in Melbourne.  By the time he retired in 1900
he had set up 27 of these schools in Australia.


Tracy/Treacy Miscellany

Sir William de Tracy at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.  The following is a late 19th-century account of the murder of Thomas a Becket:

“Sir William de Tracy was one of the four knights
who at the instigation of Henry II assassinated Thomas a Becket.

After entering the cathedral the other three
knights struggled violently to put him on Tracy’s shoulders.  In the scuffle Becket fastened upon Tracy’s
shoulders, shook him by his coat of mail, and, exerting his strength,
flung him
down on the pavement.

Tracy, who since
his fall, had thrown off his haubeck to move more easily, sprang
forward and
struck the first blow. The next blow,
either by Tracy or Fitzurse, was only with the flat of the sword and
again on
the bleeding head.  At the third blow
from Tracy, he sank on his knees, his arms falling, but his hands still
as if in prayer.

In this posture, he
received from Richard Breton a tremendous blow, aimed with such
violence that
the crown of the head was severed from the skull and the sword snapped
in two
on the marble pavement.

differs from other accounts which said that Tracy simply put his hand
on Becket
and arrested him in the name of the king, but did not strike him.  He was killed instead by Fitzurse.  Before Becket died he put a curse on Tracy’s
family, a water curse.  His family would
always have too little or too much water.”

The King did not arrest the knights and told them to flee.
The Pope in Rome, however, excommunicated
them, saying them that they should do penance by joining the
Crusades.  What happened to Tracy after
that is not
known.  Did he go and did he come back?  Local
legend had it that his
ghost returned to the west country.

worthy folks of Devon averred that his tormented spirit may be heard
and lamenting on the Woollacombe sands where he was doomed to wander
to and fro, toiling to ‘make bundles of sand and wisps of the same’ for
time to come.”

Treaceys, Traceys and Tracys in Ireland.  At the the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the mid 19th century, the surname had settled into three main forms:

  • Tracy (686 households), mostly in Tipperary and and Limerick
  • Tracey (350 households), mostly in Galway and Tipperary
  • and Treacy (94 households), mostly in Galway.

The Tracy spelling reflected English influence which has
receded.  Treacy was the main spelling in birth registrations in
1890 in Tipperary and Galway, while Tracey and Tracy were principally
found in Dublin.

Treacys, Traceys and Tracys Today.  It is mainly Treacy
in Ireland, Tracey in Northern Ireland, and Tracy in America.  The following are the rough numbers today.

Numbers (000’s) Treacy Tracey Tracy
Ireland     4     2     1
UK     2     6     1
America     1     2    10
Elsewhere     1     4     2
Total     8    14    14

 Biddy Tracy – from Galway to Australia.  Biddy Tracy
Andrews told stories of her life to her children which were relayed to
later generations of
her family.

In the 1830’s Biddy Tracy was
the youngest of a family of three girls and one boy living with their
in the town of Galway.  Her father was a
shipping clerk employed by the Galway Shipping Co, while her mother devoted her life to her husband and
children.  They were not endowed with wealth but lived as
comfortable as was
possible in those times in Ireland.

one day their lives were to be
completely changed.  A storm brought a
tremendous shoal of fish upon the shores of Galway Bay.  The
people were unable to clear the fish fast
enough and, as the story goes, the fish began to decay and that in turn
an outbreak of typhus.  Biddy’s parents
caught the typhus and died with within hours of each other.  The children survived it but soon after the
family broke up.

was sent off to an Aunt Ellen who had a small
farm.  Later she lived in a
convent.  She wasn’t happy there.  Then she heard that they were in need of
domestic servants in Australia.  So she
made up her mind to emigrate.  The
voyage took six months and she had many memories of that trip.

Edward and Philemon Tracy, Confederate Officers.  Edward Door Tracy is remembered today in his hometown of Macon, Georgia with the following state marker in Rose Hill Cemetery:

D. Tracy, Jr., was born in Macon, Georgia, on Nov. 5, 1833.  His father served as Macon’s second Mayor
(1826-1828), a Judge of Superior Court, and hosted General Lafayette
during his
visit to Macon in 1825.

Tracy graduated from the University of Georgia in 1851, studied law,
and was
admitted to the bar in 1853.  He was a
member and deacon of First Presbyterian Church, and Macon Lodge No. 5,
F.& A.M.  In 1857, Tracy moved to
Huntsville, Alabama. He was a Delegate to the 1860 Democratic national
Convention, and an Alternate elector for John C. Breckinridge in

In April, 1861, Tracy was commissioned a
Captain in the 4th Alabama Infantry, C.S.A.  He
fought in the battles of First Manassas,
Farmington, Shiloh and Vicksburg.  He was
rapidly promoted and on recommendation of General E. Kirby Smith, Tracy
promoted from Lt. Colonel to Brig. General on August 16, 1862.  On May 1, 1863, leading his brigade of
Georgians and Alabamians, General Tracy was killed at Port Gibson,
His body was returned to Macon and
buried here.

His brother, Major Philemon
Tracy, Editor of the Macon Telegraph,
was killed September 3, 1862 at Sharpesburg, Maryland.”

Tracy was
one of the first casualties at the Battle of Antietam.  He is
believed to have been the only Confederate officer that was buried
north of the
Mason-Dixon Line.  His grave is in the Batavia Cemetery in upstate
New York.  In fact his body had been requested by his uncle
Phineas Tracy who lived there.  Philemon had frequently visited
him in earlier summers.

Spencer Tracy’s Upbringing.  Spencer Tracy was part of a Hollywood acting club in the 1930’s that
included James Cagney, Frank McHugh, and Pat O’Brien and were dubbed
the Irish mafia.  However, his father was not the tough Irishman
climbing his way into the middle class that studio publicists later
made him out to be.

John Tracy came from a fairly prosperous Irish American family in
Freeport, Illinois, with earlier roots in Mazomanic, Wisconsin.  A
Catholic, he had attended college in Notre Dame and worked for a time
for a bank in Freeport before coming to Milwaukee.  There,
however, he developed a drinking problem and could never hold down a
job for more than a year.

Spencer, born in Milwaukee in 1900, was a difficult and hyperactive
child with a poor school attendance.  He later said: “I never
would have gone back to school if there had been any other way of
learning to read the subtitles in the movies.”


Tracy/Treacy Names

  • William de Tracy was notorious as
    one of the four English knights that assassinated Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
  • Sean Treacy was a young IRA
    leader during the Irish War of Independence.  He was shot dead by the British during a shoot-out in 1920.
  • Dick Tracy was a popular
    American comic book character devised by Chester Gould in the 1930’s.
  • Spencer Tracy was a renowned Hollywood actor who career spanned the 1930’s to the 1950’s.

Select Tracy/Treacy/Tracey Numbers Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 13,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)





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