After years of wondering where the RALEY surname originated for my family, many of the pieces are starting to fall into place. I had known for years that many records were in Ohio County, Kentucky, which is where my great-grandfather John James RALEY was born. In fact my 4th great grandfather, Jonathan RALEY died in Ohio County, Kentucky in 1834. (There are many men in my family with the name John). Of course I did have ancestors in between who also resided in Ohio County, Kentucky as well, and several other surnames to explore on this blog.
What I did not know until recently beyond the family ties throughout the state of Kentucky was that the RALEY family actually first settled into America in the early 1700s in St. Mary's County, Maryland. I have always heard a story that our family came from Ireland with a priest. The funny thing is that I have heard this story regarding both the maternal and paternal side of John James Raley. Well, apparently there is some truth to this tale, as there is to most of them in my family when I dig long enough, or if serendipity knocks on my door, as it did in this case.
While searching message boards several months ago for my surnames, the puzzle started to form shape. My family has a strong Catholic background, and many of my ancestors were living in Maryland in the Revolutionary Era years, but were suffering some prejudice due to their faith. Additionally, they were getting frustrated with the regular plundering by the British soldiers for supplies. In 1785 a group of 60 families banded together and decided to migrate to Kentucky in order to escape years of religious frustration as well as to find some open space since the eastern seaboard was becoming more landlocked. John Caroll, the bishop of Baltimore, also told them that he would supply them with a priest.
This began the origination of the Catholic faith in Kentucky. These families settled in Nelson, Washington, and Marion County and it became known as "The Holy Lands of Kentucky." They left Maryland, crossed land to Pittsburgh, loaded up on flatboats and sailed downed the Ohio River to Maysville, Kentucky before crossing over wilderness to settle in their new home. Can you imagine the experience these families endured in 1785 compared to what takes us hours on a highway today? Later part of the same families migrated to Missouri and parts further west. I continue to be amazed at the fortitude of our ancestors. I have moved (not counting the college years) 4 times in my life from various parts in Indiana and each time I swore I would never do it again, and my empathy for them grows.
They have become known as the "Marylanders to Kentucky", and are somewhat researched, which is a blessing for this descendant who has enough lines with brick walls needing much attention. The best news? Every two years since 1990 descendants of these families gather together for a national reunion that travels between Maryland (the point of origination for the families), Kentucky (their main migration site), and Missouri (the last group migration point for many of the families before heading further west).
This year the National Maryland to Kentucky reunion is being held in Leonardtown, St. Mary's County, Maryland from July 16 -18. My family is going and I can hardly wait! We are turning this into a genealogy/summer vacation and plan on visiting as many other historical and family related sites as we can while we are gone. The hard part is deciding where we are NOT going to visit since we do not have unlimited funds nor time. Surnames of my line that are relative to Maryland also include Greenwell, Joy, Seale, and Neavitt. I will have to keep you updated as the days near.
In the meantime, here are some good books that discuss this band of families, and the settlement in Kentucky, including:
History of St. Marys County, Maryland by Regina Combs Hammett
The Centenary of Catholicity in Kentucky by Ben J. Webb
An America Holy Land (A History of the Archdiocese of Louisville) by Clyde F. Crews
Marylanders to Kentucky, 1775-1825 by Henry C. Peden
More Marylanders to Kentucky, 1778-1828 by Henry C. Peden