Very occasionally Irish American pension files contain beautiful documents that were created as a record of the family’s origins and growth (for a previous examination of one, see here). The adoption of Family Registers to note down births, marriages and deaths seems to have been something that immigrants did after their arrival in the United States, rather than one they necessarily brought with them from Ireland. One family who did so were the Tyrells, who owed their roots to both Westmeath and Carlow. An exploration of their Family Register not only reveals something of their lives, it uncovers a story that highlights the ethnic cohesiveness of Irish Americans in this period, and the extent to which they were willing to commit to their new country.

The Tyrell Family Register (NARA)

The Register reveals the head of the household as Edward Tyrell. He was born in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath in April 1819 to Nicholas Tyrell and Ann Highland. The family emigrated to North America in 1825, when Edward was six-years-old, and first settled in Lower Canada. Like many others, they eventually crossed into the United States, and Edward grew up in Albany County, New York. The other parent recorded on the Register is Elizabeth Worthington. She was born Elizabeth Kennedy in Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow in December 1820, and had likewise left Ireland as a child. Her father’s premature death seems to have prompted her departure with her maternal uncle John Worthington (whose surname she adopted). They settled in Rensselaer County, New York. Elizabeth’s uncle and Edward’s father shared a trade- both were stonemasons- and it may well have been this that first brought the couple together. Indeed Edward, who followed his father’s profession, may well have apprenticed with Elizabeth’s uncle. Regardless of the precise circumstances, it is testament to the cohesiveness of Irish America that despite the fact that both had grown to adulthood in the United States, they nonetheless chose to marry within their own ethnic community. As their Register records, Edward and Elizabeth tied the knot in Rochester, New York on 14th August 1839. They briefly settled in Mount Morris, Livingston County, where their first child-Francis (Frank)-was born. However, it wasn’t long before they decided to up sticks and head west.

Edward, Elizabeth and Francis made their first home “out west” in McHenry County, Illinois. In Illinois their family grew, with the additions of Jane Ann (b. 1842), George Edward (b. 1845), William Henry (b. 1848) and Clarence Montgomery (b. 1851). It seems that for most of their time in Illinois the family farmed land at Pleasant Grove. Still, they took opportunity where they could find it; in 1850 the family were in Seneca Township, McHenry County, where Edward was listed as a mason working in construction. Living with the family at the time were Elizabeth’s aunt Ann and uncle John, who was likewise was working as a stonemason. Evidently, when the Tyrells left to pursue new opportunities in Illinois, the Worthingtons had followed them. They weren’t alone-Edward’s parents had also made the move. Evidently, Edward and Elizabeth had blazed the western trail with the intent of facilitating the relocation of all their close relatives and in-laws. No doubt all hoped that by doing so they could maintain their close-sense of family and community, and gain mutual benefit from the support and skills each could offer the other.

Lieutenant Edward Tyrell (Ancestry)

Edward and Elizabeth Tyrell made their final move in 1854, going still further west, this time to Bremer County, Iowa, where they settled in Waverly. The 1860 census reveals that-as before- the older generation of Tyrells and Worthingtons followed them. In Iowa two new babies arrived, Charles Worthington Tyrell (b. 1854) and Effie Elizabeth Tyrell (b. 1859). While the Worthingtons likely followed Edward and Elizabeth directly, Edward’s parents spent three more years in Illinois before heading to Bremer. Nicholas Tyrell was 72-years-old when he bought a farm in Washington, Bremer County as a home for himself, his wife Ann (who was 62) and two of their youngest children, Edward’s sister Ann Jr (22) and Nicholas Jr (21). Others among Edward’s siblings also relocated to Iowa, notably his brother John. Before long, all were making their mark in the local community.

Waverly, Iowa as it appears today, where the Tyrells settled in 1854 (Billwhittaker)

As well as being stonemasons, the family were also members of the Masonic Lodge. Nicholas Tyrell had become one shortly after his arrival in the United States. When a lodge was established in their new Iowa community, it was named in honour of Nicholas, as the Westmeath man was its oldest member. His son Edward had followed in his footsteps in the lodge, and had also begun to carve out a role for himself as a community leader. In 1860 he was elected as Waverly’s Justice of the Peace, a position he held when the Civil War erupted. As might be expected, he was quick to answer the call of the country which had given his so much. Despite his standing in the community, he entered the 9th Iowa Infantry as an enlisted man, becoming a Corporal in Company G during the war’s first summer. Edward’s eldest son Frank also joined up as a private in Company K of the 3rd Iowa Infantry; he was afterwards credited as being one of the first boys from the entire county to go to the defence of the Union. Edward’s brother John would also see service, marching to war with the 28th Iowa Infantry. The Tyrells were clearly determined to do their bit for the preservation of the United States.

Nicholas Tyrell, Edward’s father (History of Butler & Bremer Counties)

Not surprisingly, Edward did not spend long in the ranks. His unit were heavily engaged at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862, after which he was promoted to the officer corps. By September 1862, the 44-year-old was a First Lieutenant in Company G. Shortly after his Pea Ridge experience, Edward learned that his son Frank had been wounded and captured at Shiloh, something that must have caused considerable worry both to him and to Elizabeth back in Iowa. Unfortunately, worse was to come for Elizabeth in 1863. That year saw Edward and the 9th Iowa forming part of Grant’s army that was taking the war to the gates of Vicksburg, Mississippi. They were one of the regiments who participated in the ill-fated assault of that place on 22 May 1863. As Edward led his men forward he was “wounded through the head and also through the bowels…while charging on the defences”, dying a few hours afterwards. The Mullingar man was sorely missed by his comrades as well as his family, as demonstrated by the newspaper articles and resolutions that were published following his death (you can read some of them on the Bremer County Veterans Affairs website here). Edward and Elizabeth’s son Frank was more fortunate, though he apparently spent considerable time in Rebel prison before managing to return home to his newly widowed mother. The wider-family sustained yet another blow just as the war seemed done. In June 1865 Edward’s brother John, by then a First Sergeant in the 28th Iowa, died on service in Augusta, Georgia.

Edward Tyrell’s monument at Harlington Cemetery, Waverly, Iowa (Find A Grave: Louis)

It was Elizabeth’s successful pursuit of a widow’s pension that caused her to hand over her family’s beautiful Register, proving in doing so her marriage to Edward. She would receive the pension payments until her own death in 1894. Frank later moved out to California, where he worked in farming and later in the printing trade. When he died in San Jose in 1909, his body was taken back to Waverly to rest with the remainder of his family, a small community of Irish Americans who had made the Iowan town the final stop on their immigrant journey. Among them were his grandparents Nicholas and Ann, who had journeyed from Ireland, to Canada, to New York, to Illinois and eventually to Iowa as they first led and then followed their children in pursuit of a better life. There too were the mortal remains of his mother Elizabeth and father Edward, the latter’s body brought back from the Vicksburg battlefield to be interred in his home of just seven years, but which had become the town, state and country for which he laid down his life.

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Frank Tyrell’s monument at Harlington Cemetery, Waverly, Iowa, the first child to be recorded on the Tyrell Family Register (Find A Grave: Louis)


Pension Files.

1850 Census.

1860 Census.

Find A Grave.

Register of Deaths of Volunteer Soldiers.

Bremer County Veterans Affairs Website: Edward Tyrell.

History of Butler & Bremer Counties, Iowa.