The McGanns of Dundee

Family history is something of a popular interest nowadays with TV shows such as Who Do You Think You Are and an entire industry of research tools and resources online devoted to it. Genealogy’s come a long way since the days of nosing through encyclopedia of common surnames.

I spent most of last Sunday emptying my bank account into several online family history resources in what became an increasingly addictive quest to trace my ancestors along my maternal grandfather’s line, the McGann family. My grandparents grew up in Dundee, Scotland and moved to England in the 60s. Their families – the McGanns and Mulreanys – were from the Irish community in Dundee, formed in the nineteenth century when entire villages emigrated from Ireland to work in the mills and jute factories, and to lay the now-famous Dundee tramways.

After hours of research, after downloading countless birth, death and marriage certificates, and census records, I managed to piece together a picture of the McGanns of Dundee. I’ve traced six generations directly back, and also discovered a parallel family – distant cousins descended from my great-great-great grandfather’s brother. I’ve got as far back as one Luke McGann, who was married to Mary Hart, and whose son was Thomas McGann, born 1823. From the records I’ve got, I have deduced that the family had migrated from Ireland by 1861 at the latest. Before that, the trail runs dead.

Thomas, Luke and James are the most common male names in the family (I was named after my grandfather, so it’s nice to know it’s a well-established custom!). About two-thirds of the female names in the family are Mary (also the middle name of my mother and grandmother) – good Catholics then! Every member of the family worked as a labourer or factory worker of some kind – some in the docks, some in the jute mills and some, the least privileged I expect, as “general labourers”. The earliest two generations, whom I suspect were all Irish-born, are listed as farmers. In the ‘parallel’ family, two brothers, Luke and Patrick McGann, were killed in the First World War, Luke in the opening month of the war.

The research made me realise how tough life must have been for this immigrant community in Dundee, and also what a huge break my grandfather had made, by joining the then-brand new BBC as a trainee engineer after leaving school at 14 – the first non-labourer for many generations. His father had died early at 35 years old, when TJ (Thomas Joseph) was only 10. He was a quite unique man – kind, smart, generous, tolerant and a proper old-fashioned head-of-the-family. I miss him a lot.

My family are still proud of being Irish-Scots – fierce supporters of Celtic and faithful(ish!) Catholics. I’m really keen to trace the line back further. When she was alive, my mother – apparently – had traced the family back to a small village outside Tullamore, Kildare, but it’s so hard to get definitive evidence. In the meantime, I’ve got the other line – the Mulreanys – to do. I suspect that’ll be easier as there are a lot of them still around, in Dundee (my grandmother had several brothers; my grandfather was an only child). I’ve already done a lot of research into my father’s side – the Chivers – but that’s for another day!


  1. Rehan Qayoom says:

    This is really fascinating Tom! Unfortunately (much as I’d like to) I am unable to trace my own lineage back beyond 2 or 3 generations. India didn’t keep records like the British do, the only records (still about) are those the British kept in India – One of the many extraordinary legacies they left.

  2. Billy Mcgann says:

    Hi Tom, I think I am the great grandson of Patrick Mcgann.

    1. Linda (McGann) Cook says:

      Hi Billy,Hope you get this email as I have just found this site.First of all your great,great grandfather also Patrick had three sons Patrick,James (my grandfather)and Luke.Also two daughters Mary and Elizabeth.Patrick was killed in the first month of the war-30 October1914 and is buried with honour in Boulogne Cemetery.Luke was killed in the last month of the war and is buried in Duisans Cemetery Etrun.They were all brought up in Todburn Lane which lost five young men in the first weeks of the war including your great grandfather.In 1921 Patrick (great,great grand father )emigrated to America.He sailed on the Columbia and arrived on April 18 1921.His daughter Mary Kelly had already emigrated and lived at 165 Taffe Place Brooklyn.His wife -also Mary and grandaughter (Mary) joined him in 1923.They sailed on the Berengaria.Think grandaughter Mary would be your grandad’s sister.I think also her younger brother Luke joined them later but don’t have much information about him.
      Linda (McGann) Cook.

      1. Billy Mcgann says:

        Thanks Linda for that information, I am finding it difficult to trace back, my father was William john mcgann, his father was William Patrick mcgann ( married to a Isabella) and I know his father was killed in ww1. All from dundee.

      2. Linda (McGann) Cook says:

        Hi Billy.Glad to be of help.There was an article in the “Tele” on August 18 in 2014 about the young men from Todburn Lane who died between Oct.and December 2014 and a photo of Patrick is in it.I believe your grandand William and my dad George were cousins.

      3. Sam Milne says:

        HI Linda,
        Hope you are still on this and able to shed some light for me too. I am also tracing the family tree. Patrick McGann was my great grans (Jane but known as Jean’s) father. I have been trying to trace the family tree so finding this all very interesting. My mum has advised me that Luke the younger brother actually died on the boat over to Brooklyn from yellow fever and didn’t actually make it over.
        I would love to make contact if you are still on this. My email is

        Hope to hear from you soon

        Sam Milne

    2. Avril (Lonie) Robertson says:

      Hi Billy I’m Patrick McGanns great grand daughter. My gran was Jane so either your grandad was luke or your gran was Isabelle

      1. Billy Mcgann says:

        Hi avril, my gran was Isabelle.

  3. Tom Chivers says:

    Hi Billy, thanks for your message!

    The details I’ve got for Patrick are as follows:

    Patrick McGann, b.1887, d. 30/10/1914 at First Battle of Ypres.
    Private, 1st Bt. Black Watch, Royal Highlanders (1983).
    Buried Boulogne.
    Father also Patrick, b. 1866.
    Mother Mary Smith.

    The connection to my side of the family is through James McGann,
    b.1823, Ireland? d. 1891, Lochee, Dundee, Farmer / labourer.

    Happy to send you the tree, if you like.

    Best wishes,

    1. Billy Mcgann says:

      Thanks Tom would love to see the tree.

  4. Hi,don’t know if you are still receiving reply’s but I’ll send anyway. My great grandfather was Patrick McGann,married to Mary Ann Alexander. He was killed at the start of the first war, in Oct 1914. His brother Luke was killed in 1918. His first child was a boy named Luke, his second was a daughter, Jane, my gran, then the third child Isabella, was born in the Nov of 1914. His parents were Patrick and Mary nee Smith.I believe Luke moved to America, still checking this out.

    1. Sam Milne says:

      HI Avril
      Thanks for your post on this. My great gran (mums gran) was Jane (Jean) also. My middle name is named after her too. My mum is Janice. She has advised me that Luke in fact didn’t make it over to America as he died of yellow fever on the route over. It would be great to connect with you

  5. Tom Chivers says:

    Dear Avril,
    It’s lovely to hear from you, and please forgive my delay as I don’t check in at my blog very much!
    Yes I believe we share a common relative: your great-grandfather’s grandfather, James McGann (a mason’s labourer born 1838-1840, married to Bridget Gilhooley or Kilhooley in 1865, and died 1913.)
    James’s brother, Thomas McGann (born 1841, same profession) is my great great great-grandfather. All Dundee, Scotland. Their grandfather is the earliest ancestor I can trace – Luke McGann, a farmer born in Ireland around 1800.
    If you send me your email address I will happily send you what I have of the family tree!
    All the best from south London,

    1. Avril Robertson says:

      Hi Tom,
      I would be really interested in seeing what you have gathered but if I send you my email address through this reply will it not be open for anyone to see? Sorry not very clued up on these things!


      Sent from my iPad


  6. Mike says:

    Hi there Tom not sure but there may be a family connection. My dads side of family are also Chivers from Dundee.

    1. Tom Chivers says:

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for stopping by.
      I’m afraid the Chivers side of my family is English. My Dundee rellies are all McGanns or Mulreanys.
      All the best,

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