History of your Surname
Get access to Kelly family records.Start a free trial

Kelly Family History

Kelly Name Meaning

Irish: Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Ceallaigh or in some areas Mac Ceallaigh ‘descendant (or son) of Ceallach’ an ancient Irish personal name originally a byname meaning ‘bright-headed’ later understood as ‘frequenting churches’ (Irish ceall). There are several early Irish saints who bore this name. Kelly is now the most common of all surnames in Ireland. Scottish: habitational name from either the lands of Kelly near Arbroath (Angus) Kellie in Carnbee (Fife) or Kelly in Methlick (Aberdeenshire). Each of these placenames is from Pictish celli or Gaelic coille ‘wood’ + the placename forming suffix -in. Alternatively from the lands of Kelloe in the barony of Hume (Berwickshire) whose name is of uncertain origin. English: habitational name from Kelly (Devon). The placename probably derives from a British cognate of Cornish kelli ‘grove small wood’.

Source: Dictionary of American Family Names 2nd edition, 2022

Similar surnames: Kielty, Keady, Delay, Pelly, Reilly, Keary, Kell, Lello, Kelley

Search for a relative to learn more about your family history.

Hint: Try searching for a relative alive in 1940.

Black & white image of a young woman scientist

Where is the Kelly family from?

You can see how Kelly families moved over time by selecting different census years. The Kelly family name was found in the USA, the UK, Canada, and Scotland between 1840 and 1920. The most Kelly families were found in USA in 1880. In 1891 there were 8,307 Kelly families living in Lancashire. This was about 34% of all the recorded Kelly's in United Kingdom. Lancashire had the highest population of Kelly families in 1891.
Use census records and voter lists to see where families with the Kelly surname lived. Within census records, you can often find information like name of household members, ages, birthplaces, residences, and occupations.

What did your Kelly ancestors do for a living?

In 1939, General Labourer and Unpaid Domestic Duties were the top reported jobs for men and women in the United Kingdom named Kelly. 13% of Kelly men worked as a General Labourer and 63% of Kelly women worked as an Unpaid Domestic Duties. Some less common occupations for Americans named Kelly were Dock Labourer and Housewife. .

View Census Data for Kelly | Data not to scale

*We display top occupations by gender to maintain their historical accuracy during times when men and women often performed different jobs.

Top Male Occupations In 1939

  • General Labourer
  • Builders Labourer
  • Incapacitated
  • Dock Labourer

Top Female Occupations In 1939

  • Unpaid Domestic Duties
  • Unpaid Domestic
  • Domestic Servant
  • Housewife
Black & white image of two construction labourers

What Kelly family records will you find?

Census Records

There are 2 million census records available for the last name Kelly. Like a window into their day-to-day life, Kelly census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

Search Australian census records for Kelly

Passenger Lists

There are 419,000 immigration records available for the last name Kelly. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in Australia, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

View all Kelly immigration records

Draft Cards

There are 370,000 military records available for the last name Kelly. For the veterans among your Kelly ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

View all Kelly military records

You've only scratched the surface of Kelly family history

Discover More

What is the average Kelly lifespan?

Between 1940 and 2004, in the United States, Kelly life expectancy was at its lowest point in 1941, and highest in 2000. The average life expectancy for Kelly in 1940 was 57, and 74 in 2004.

View Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for Kelly

Discover the unique achievements of ancestors in the Kelly family tree

Explore Your Tree

Browse profiles of historical people with the Kelly last name

Search for another surname
Enter last name/surname
Start a 14-Day Free Trial