Is your Surname registered?

Our 2,768 members have registered
2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

Marjorie Goodfellow’s mother’s maiden name was McElrea. She lives in Quebec province, Canada. Kathleen Cooper’s mother’s maiden name was also McElrea. She lives in the state of California, United States of America. Both Marjorie and Kathleen have researched their respective family histories for decades. Both have accumulated much McElrea family history. Sharing this with others is one reason for the one-name study. Another is to encourage others, descendants or not, to contribute their knowledge to this study.

Variant names

One finds a variety of spellings in church, census and other records. McElray, MacIlray, McKelray and other variations are often found for the same individual, depending upon the interpretation of the record keeper. There is no evidence of a connection to McElroy, seemingly another line altogether. One immigrant family in Philadelphia in the 1850s dropped the “Mc” because of local negative attitudes towards Irish immigrants, and became the Wray family, another eligible variant.

Name origin

The origin of this unusual surname is unknown. Is it a modern form of a native Irish name? Did it originate in Scotland? McLysaght, Surnames of Ireland, gives MacKilrea as a County Sligo form of Mac Giolla Riabhaigh. Other theories abound. Finding an answer to the origin question is another eventual goal of this one-name study by two McElrea descendants.

Distribution of the name

To the best of current knowledge, the home turf is Ulster and, more specifically, County Tyrone, in and around Omagh. From there, family groups emigrated to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America. Some went to England and Scotland as well, although less is known about those who chose to stay in the Old World rather than spread their wings in the New. Of course, some stayed at home in Ulster and prospered there.


The McElrea DNA Project is located here:

Participating is an opportunity to uncover information not provided in the paper records, which will help with your research of your family tree. We will also discover which family trees are related. As the project progresses, the results for the various family trees will provide information on the evolution of the surname.