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About the study

The name was registered with the Guild of One-Name Studies in 2012. Having researched my family tree for a number of years, I decided that it would be interesting to include a focus on my family surname. Therefore, this study is in its early stages. The data section, below, includes a summary of my initial research.

Variant names

An important variant (see below), especially in Ireland, was Machesney. Other variants of the name appear to be mis-spellings in a number of ways. These include: adding another “c”; changing the ending to “ny” or “nie”; and changing the middle “e” to an “a”. Examples are McCheskey, McChesner, McChisney, McChesnea, McChene, McChosney, McCheeney, McChenney and McChasney. In addition, the “mc” prefix can be removed: there is a registered one-name study for Chesney.

Name origin

The Internet Surname Database comments that McChesney is a “rare example of a Gaelic form of a French invader” and that it was originally from the village Le Quesnay in the departments of Calvados, Seine-Inferieur and La Manche, meaning the place of the oak trees. 'Chesney' thus came over to England as part of the Norman invasion and first appeared in Ireland in the will of Robert de Chaenay in 1346. At some stage, the Chesneys may have sided with Gaelic people and added the “Mac” prefix. However, alternatively, both 'Irish Names and Surnames' (Woulfe, 1923) and 'Book of Ulster Surnames' (Bell, 1988), whilst not including McChesney as a heading, do include MacCheyne, along with MacShane, MacShan and Johnson in a bundle of names deriving from 'son of Jean', the Norman form of John.

Historical occurrences of the name

I haven't been able to find famous, historical occurences, but some interesting references are: - John Robert McChesney (1866 - 1928) , the first spur-maker to market Texas-style hand-made spurs; - Dora Greenwell McChesney (1871 - 1912), an author, whose works include 'The Confession of Richard Plantagenet', described as a sympathetic novel about King Richard III; and - Bill McChesney (1936 - 1964). a Christian missionary killed during the turmoil in the former Belgian Congo. Notable living McChesneys include Professor Robert Waterman McChesney, of the University of Illinois (born 1952), whose work focusses on communication and the media, and Bob McChesney, jazz trombonist (born 1956).

Name frequency

Website states that there are 96 phone book occurences (representing 418 people), making McChesney the 13 700th most frequent name in the United Kingdom. Central Scotland has the most occurences, with 23, followed by County Antrim, wtih 15, and Strathclyde, with 14. Lancashire, Merseyside and County Down have 5 occurences each, whilst Dumfries and Galloway has 4.

Distribution of the name

An idea of the historic distribution of the name in Great Britain can be found through the censuses for England, Scotland and Wales between 1841 and 1911. Study of Census information (including variants and mis-transcriptions) shows that, in 1841, there were 15 McChesneys listed in England and Wales and 45 in Scotland. In 1911, there were 55 listed in England and Wales, 177 in Scotland and 128 in Ireland. The counties with the most occurences were Ayrshire (varying between 23 and 39); Lanarkshire (rising from 14 in 1841 to just over 100 in 1901 and 1911); and Lancashire (rising from 6 in 1841 to around 30 in 1901 and 1911). Further information on these significant occurences can be found under 'Data' below.


This section contains more information about the main occurences of the name in Great Britain census. A. LANCASHIRE - LIVERPOOL Within Lancashire, the most occurences of the name were in Liverpool and I have identified people named “McChesney” listed living in Liverpool in the censuses between 1841 and 1911. This was a period during which Liverpool experienced exceptional growth. In 1841, the population of the City was about 320 000: in 1911, it was about 600 000. Migrants into the City came from the surrounding towns and rural areas, from other industrial towns and from other parts of the British Isles such as Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Such migrants included many of the McChesneys listed in the censuses. Those listed fall into three main groups: (i) a large family group, originating in Scotland and living in Toxteth in South Liverpool; (ii) the families of two brothers, originating from County Cavan, Ireland, and living in Kirkdale in North Liverpool; and (iii) a number of individuals, which include my own grandfather and his brother, emigrating from County Fermanagh, Ireland, and also living in Kirkdale. The following summarises these three groups. I have further information that outlines the main descendents from the earliest-known ancestor of each group. Individuals My grandfather, Edward, and his brother, William, only appear as living in Liverpool in the 1911 Census. They had been born in the 1880s to Robert and Eleanor Machesney close to Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, and had two other brothers and two sisters. Both parents had died by the end of the century and the 1901 Ireland Census finds the family split up in various locations. The two sisters were eventually to emigrate to Australia and at least three of the brothers moved to Liverpool. In 1911, William and Edward were lodging in neighbouring houses in Melrose Road, Kirkdale, north of the centre of Liverpool. The third brother, George, had married (into the “Cavan Brothers” family, see below) and started a family by 1911. Kirkdale had been one of the areas of Liverpool where immigrants from Ireland settled, although the amount of Irish immigration was declining by the start of the twentieth century. It was one of the old townships in the parish of Walton-on-the-Hill and was already expanding when it was taken into Liverpool in the 1830s. Robert Machesney was born in Cavan Parish, County Cavan, Ireland, a rural area of hills and lakes. By the middle of the nineteenth century, he had moved to County Fermanagh, farming in an area on the slopes of the Cuilcagh Mountains, close to Enniskillen. Many other individuals make one-off appearances in censuses. For the majority, there is not enough information to plot their background, although some were young adults belonging to the Scottish family (see below). However, of particular interest are two women in the 1861 Census, enumerated in the Notre Dame Training School, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, and a couple from Ireland who appear only in the 1841 Census. In the 1861 Census, Catherine McChesney (17-years-old) and Mary A McChesney (19-years-old) are amongst those enumerated at the Notre Dame Training School, Mount Pleasant. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur had been founded in 1804, pledged to the training of teachers specifically for the poor. A group travelled to Cornwall in the 1840s, thus beginning an expansion into England. The “Training School for Catholic School Mistresses” was opened at Mount Pleasant in 1856 and became one of the most important of the training schools. In the Census, both Catherine and Mary give their birthplace as Liverpool and it is a reasonable assumption that they were actual sisters. However, there are no further definitive records for either. The 1841 Census records a McChesney couple: Joseph (b 1791) and Mary (b 1801). They married in 1835 in Liverpool St Peter. Both were living in a road called Islington with a number of others. There are no later records, although there is a record of burial of a Mary McChesney, born about 1800, aged 55, in 1855. Cavan Brothers Two further relevant names are Robert McChesney and James Chesney, listed with their families, in Kirkdale, in both the 1901 and 1911 Censuses. In spite of the slight name difference, they are brothers and had been part of a sizeable family group of McChesneys, living in Annagh/Belturbet, County Cavan, Ireland. This family group is descended from William McChesney, whose birthplace is not known, although he married in Annagh. Toxteth Families Many of the McChesneys appearing in various censuses from 1861 onwards are descended from Alexander and Mary McChesney, both born in Scotland in the 1810s. Alexander was born in Girvan, a small fishing town on the Ayrshire coast and Mary was born in Greenock, on the south bank of the River Clyde, already a developing port and manufacturing town (and, in the late 19th century, the fifth largest town in Scotland). Alexander and Mary’s first appearance in Liverpool, in the 1861 Census, was in Bailey Street, close to the later site of the Anglican Cathedral, whilst later they lived in Toxteth, to the south of the centre of Liverpool. Toxteth Park had been an old township in the parish of Walton-on-the-Hill and was already expanding when it was taken into Liverpool in the 1830s. Further expansion during the 19th century took the form of densely-built housing communities. Alexander had been a blacksmith in Scotland and then became a shipsmith in Liverpool, following a trend amongst many Scottish immigrants to Liverpool of transferring a skilled job into port-based occupations. Alexander and Mary had eight children between 1841 and 1857, thus leading to a large extended family of descendents, concentrated in the Toxteth/Dingle area. I have more detailed information on relevent individuals. B. LANCASHIRE - REMAINDER Elsewhere in Lancashire, there were some family groups and a number of individuals throughout the censuses. Amongst the latter was Selina McChesney who appears in the 1911 Census, as a asylum nurse at Whittingham County Lunatic Asylum, Broughton, Preston. She was born into a military family in Bermuda in 1886 and died in Amounderness, Lancashire in 1963. The family groups include Hamilton McChesney, born in Ireland towards the end of the eighteenth century. He lived around Manchester and married a third time in Nottingham, following the death of the first two wives, eventually dieing in Nottingham in 1853. The largest family groups, however, lived in Barrow-in-Furness, which grew phenomenally during the second half of the nineteenth century (from 700 in 1851 to 47 000 in 1881), based on industry relating to mining, steel manufacturing and ship-building (mainly for the Royal Navy). Margaret McChesney was born in Ireland in 1834 and died in Barrow in 1901. It has not been possible to find a marriage record, but she had three children born in Ireland: William (born 1866); Sarah (born 1868) and James (born 1870). William married Annie, from Greenock, Scotland, and died in Barrow in 1919. Annie, however, eventually settled in Massachusetts, United States, with her son, John, in the 1920s, having made a number of trips across the Atlantic in the years before, and is recorded in the 1930 US Census in Quincy, Norfolk. Sarah married Adam George Chambers, in 1900, in Barrow, where she appears to have remained. James is recorded living in Barrow with his wife Latitia in 1901, but there are no further records. However, his son Douglas Hart, is recorded as having been born in Barrow in 1900, marrying Mary B Hamlyn in Devon in 1921 and dieing in Tokyo in 1951. C. SCOTLAND The number of McChesneys listed in the Censuses in Scotland increased from around 50 in the mid-nineteenth century to 150 in 1901 and 177 in 1911. These were concentrated in Ayrshire (Dailly and Girvan) and in Lanarkshire (Barony, Govan and Glasgow). The birthplaces of household heads was equally divided between Ireland and Scotland throughout the period. In the middle part of the nineteenth century, the most-mentioned occupation was weaving. However, later on, work diversified into manufacturing, engineering and service occupations. Amongst those mentioned in the 1841 and 1851 census is James McChesney, living in Dailly, Ayrshire, who is listed as a Chelsea Pensioner. Born around 1790 in County Down, Ireland, he served for 6 years up to 1815 when he was rendered unfit for service because of a right arm wounded during action in Spain. D. IRELAND The 1901 Census for Ireland lists 111 McChesneys, the occurences being in Antrim (35), Cavan (17), Down (46), Fermanagh (3), Monaghan (6) and Tyrone (3). The 1911 Census for Ireland lists 128 McChesneys. Antrim (50), Cavan (11) and Down (50) again show the highest concentrations, with other occurences in Dublin (3), Donegal (2), Leitrim (1), Monaghan (4), Tyrone (3), Armagh (1) and Fermanagh (1). Earlier 'Census Substitutes' confirm occurences in the Province of Ulster. The 1796 Flax Growers List has occurences in Armagh (1) and Monaghan (1). Early Nineteenth Century Tithe Books have occurences in Tyrone (8), Cavan (5), Down (3), Armagh (2) and Antrim (1).