Roots: The Ford Family

Henry Ford

By Molly Ferns, Editorial Assistant
December / January 2012

The Ford family name has several possible origins. Its Anglo-Saxon roots can be traced back to Devonshire, where the name derived from the topographical term “ford,” meaning “a shallow place where water can be crossed.” However, this term originally comes from the Norse “fjord,” meaning a narrow inlet of sea. Therefore, the Ford family name is also thought to be Viking in origin. Several Irish cities represent this Viking influence—Longford, Waterford, and Wexford. It is also believed that Ford became the anglicized version of several Gaelic clans.

One Ford link is found in the MacGiolla na Naomha and the MacGiollarnath clans of Connacht. It is believed that these Gaelic surnames were erroneously anglicized due to the ending sound of ‘ath,’ which translates to ‘ford’ (i.e. Baile Atha Cliath: “town of the hurdled ford”). The MacCosnamha clan of Co. Leitrim also adopted the surnames Ford or Forde. Another region where the Ford or Forde family was found was Cork. Here, the O Fuarain clan anglicized their name to either Foran or Ford.

One of the greatest directors in film history was John Ford (1894-1973). Born John Martin Feeney to parents John Augustine Feeney of Galway and Barbara Curran of Inishmore, he moved to Hollywood with his brother and changed his last name to Ford. He worked with many Irish actors, most notably Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald. Ford is remembered for famous westerns, such as Rio Grande, and classics like How Green Was My Valley. One of his beloved films was The Quiet Man, which served as an homage to his Irish heritage.

The Ford name in Hollywood is also synonymous with actor and producer Harrison Ford. He once stated “I feel Irish as a person, but I feel Jewish as an actor.” He was born to parents Dorothy Nidelman, of Jewish descent, and Christopher Ford, of Irish-Catholic and German descent. He is best known for his work as Han Solo in the Star Wars films and as the lead in the Indiana Jones films.

Whitey Ford is a name of significance for any baseball fan. Born Edward Charles Ford to parents of Irish descent, he grew up in Astoria, Queens. He was signed to the New York Yankees as a pitcher in 1947 and earned the nickname “Whitey” from teammates for his blond hair.

Richard Ford is one of America’s greatest fiction writers. He is best known for The Sportswriter, Independence Day (which won the Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner awards) and The Lay of the Land. He has written several short stories, including “Leaving for Kenosha,” in which his own migration story from New Orleans in the wake of Katrina can be compared to his Irish grandparents’ emigration in the 1890s.

In fashion, the Ford name is well recognized due to Jerry (1924-2008) and Eileen Ford, founders of the Ford Modeling Agency. A year after its establishment in 1946, it became one of the top agencies in the business.

The United States has also seen a Ford as Commander in Chief. Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) was the 38th President of the United States. He was not born a Ford – originally Leslie Lynch King, Jr. – but legally changed his name to Gerald R. Ford, after his stepfather. Ford was appointed vice president by Richard Nixon in 1973 and assumed the presidency in 1974, following Nixon’s resignation. He remained in office until 1977. His wife, Betty Ford (1918-2011), was one of America’s most candid first ladies. She was an advocate for women’s rights, abortion, breast cancer awareness and addiction awareness. She helped establish the Betty Ford Center in 1982.

Finally, the Ford name is eternally associated with industrialist Henry Ford (1863-1947). John Ford, Henry’s paternal grandfather, was born in Ballinascarthy, Ireland. Ancestrally, the Ford family was English but settled in Ireland during the sixteenth century. John Ford was forced to leave Ballinascarthy with his family, including 21-year-old son William, in 1847 at the height of the Famine. They made the difficult journey to Queenstown, Canada, and William’s mother, Tomasina, did not survive. John settled his family on a farm in Dearborn, Michigan. William helped his father with the upkeep of the farm. Eventually, he met Mary Litogot. The two married in 1861 and gave birth to their first son, Henry, in 1863.

Henry Ford’s Irish heritage instilled in him a strong work ethic. He became an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company and after successfully building his first car in 1901, he established the Ford Motor Company in 1903. After introducing the Model T in 1908, the company took off.

Ford remained interested in his Irish heritage. He traveled to Ballinascarthy in 1912, and attempted to purchase his ancestral home, but the price was too high. Still, he bought the original hearthstones and incorporated them into his estate at Fair Lane, in Michigan. Ford would make several trips back to Ireland, including one to Cork in 1917 when he began Henry Ford & Sons, Ltd., the first international division. William Clay Ford, Jr., Henry Ford’s great-grandson who continues his legacy, appears on the cover of this issue. He is the 2011 Business 100 Keynote Speaker and the most recent inductee of the Irish America Hall of Fame.

46 Responses to “Roots: The Ford Family”

  1. jason boschetto says:

    hi before my great gran died she told my gran her dad was john ford i don’t no if its true or not but i am trying to research my family tree when did ford start there garage in hackney if you can please help me clear this up
    thank you hope to here from you soon

    • Holly says:

      Hi, I am also a great x3 grandchild of John T. Ford. Granddaughter to Frank M. Ford. Would love to learn more about my ancestry.

      • Steven R Ford says:

        Frank M Ford is this the same Frank M. Ford from Rusk Tx. Had a
        Brother named Benjamin C.Ford Sr.From Clute tx. If so that was my grandfather

  2. daniel s says:

    Actually you are reading too much into ford name. Its a English name and English ford families moved to Ireland. So Harrison Ford isnt from Irish or Viking stock. Hes English. Many English families colonised Ireland ( mainly northern protestant Ireland ) Many many “Irish” people are actually from English stock.

    • Mike says:

      Daniel, what are you basing this counter to the information listed here? Do you have any links for this or just opinion?. First off “English’ is not a race so any person born in Ireland is actually not English at all but Irish. That being said, the Ford’s have been noted in Ireland since the 14th century. This undoubtedly is cause for many, many Ford’s being of Irish roots and Irish blood (celtic). As a matter of fact, if you were to look at immigration documents from Ellis island that were recorded, there were more Ford’s from Ireland than England that immigrated.

      • Jeff Ford says:

        I’m a Ford viking! My paternal YDNA is “young scandinavian” R1a (L448).

        • Elizabeth says:

          We have a small dna project called FORY at FTDNA.com with FORD family (male & female), hope you join. Have you had autosomal test also? GedMatch (free!) will find you some cousins. My dna says 4% Viking

          • Jeff Ford says:

            I will join.

          • Jeff Ford says:

            I will join. My autosomal test said 35% Scandinavian but went down to 8% after the recent update.

          • ELIZABETH says:

            My dna says 42% Irish plus another 30 some “United Kingdom” which makes sense since some lived Scotland England and it’s impossible to sort it out.
            We are from north Co Mayo, some are still there. Kilcummin Parish (Rathlacken) and Balina.
            I will look at your matches Jeff and see if I notice anything. Also, pls upload your file to Gedmatch.com which is free. when you match they will tell how many generations back to your ancestor in common.
            During famine years many fled Mayo if they could, and moved to other parts of Ireland, also Scotland, Canada,, US (mainly to PA, MD, NY) for jobs, many in coal mines; in England most to Lancs but some families to York, jobs were mainly Liverpool.

      • Mike says:

        What are you on about? Most Ford’s are English in ancestry. The English are an ethnic group with a common culture, history and way of life just like the Irish and have been an ethnic group at least by 7th century if not earlier. Ford is found in lots of English place names well outside Viking areas Hereford ring a bell? Its likely Harrison Ford saw themselves as Irish as they lived in Ireland a long time but werent necessarily of Gaelic stock. If Harrison Ford goes back far enough he will find English ancestors. English people have been living in Ireland dince 8th century and before

      • Mike says:

        On a technically basis most irish are L21 R1b on male lines this is the same male line as a large percentage in Wales, England and Scotland so actually arent a separate race just related brothers. There is little difference between most people genetically in British Isles. Other Irish are U106, I2a2 etc again shared by people across Britain and Northern Europe.

  3. Noel Forde says:

    I’m from Galway City, Ireland. My mother Marian is from Ballyglunin, County Galway. I took her surname, Forde, as my biological father left before I was born. I was born in 1978. I have lots of relations in the Northeastern United States….but alas, I don’t know them, as my mother and myself are estranged from our family here…Irish families huh!!?

  4. Tomi ford weber says:

    My grandpa was john Joseph ford born1878 came to the states ending up in exxex county mass.I think he had a brother Patrick if anyone knows more of my family’s history please contact me

  5. Belinda says:

    Hi, I am also looking for more information regarding my ancestry. The story that has been told by my mother and granny is that the Ford family is of Irish decent and that there were some trouble with the churches, (its been a while and Granny passed away so i cannot ask her anymore) they travelled by ship and a woman died during the voyage. (i am not sure if it was William or Isaacs wife) so one of the brothers disembarked in South Africa (again i am not certain if it was at Cape of Good Hope or in Durban)…The Ford family set roots in Durban and Pietermaritzburg and the other brother left for America (would have been William from whom Henry was born)…from Isaac the family tree skips a few steps and then Edward Ford marries Emily Risley and they have 8 children one of them being Alfred Thomas Ford who has a son called is Joseph Ford. Joseph Ford is my great grandfather, but records show that he only had one daughter Esme, my mother knew him well and recognised his photo, but my grandmother was Emma Lauretta Mavis Ford. My mother knows of AN Esme but she does not know where she fits in. Can anyone help me out? Am i missing a part of the puzzle?

    • Michael Ford says:

      Hi Belinda,
      I was born Michael John Ford in Durban, South Africa in 1977.
      My grandfather Reginald Archibald Ford was also settled in Durban. We had relatives in Pietermaritzburg but they were the Webbers on my paternal grandmothers side.
      I am not sure what happened further back than that, but always wondered how far back it was when they actually arrived in South Africa, both my paternal grand parents are deceased so I can’t ask them.
      How are you linked to the Durban Fords?

  6. Jeff Ford says:

    What is the source for the etymology connecting Ford from the Norse “fjord”? I have never heard of this before.

  7. Bonnie Headley says:

    I am looking for information on Andrew Jackson Ford b. Apr. 20 1815 Tennessee. and his wife Sarah Catherine Hall. Thank you, Bonnie

  8. Stacey Ford says:

    My maiden name is Ford. My father was born in Detroit, Michigan in the early 1900’s to Clarence and Nancy Ford. I recently had my DNA Analyzed and found out that I am 13% Irish. I also just recently visited Ireland and fell in love with the country. I am fairly certain that I have roots in Ireland and am looking to gain more information.

  9. I’m a direct ancestor of Henry Forde and was wondering if that was Henry Ford’s last name in Ireland and was shortened to Ford. They did that to a lit of people at Ellis Island.

  10. Henry Ford that founded Ford cars was from Irish and my direct sprayer was from Ireland and in the 1300s was named Henry Ford’s Forde and I was wondering if anyone knows if they dropped the e when cooking through Ellis Island like so many people did?

  11. Ron McCormick says:

    I am looking for information on John S Ford Jr. Could be Dredge Ford. B. 1800 Lincoln Co. N C. Died before 1840 prob N C. His wife was Matilda. They are my 3 great grandparents.
    Ron McCormick. 703-928-2105. Rmccormick@theworship-Center.com
    My Fords are in Alabama

  12. Sean Crossan says:

    Henry Ford in his book the International Jewish, implies he is part of what he referred to as the “Anglo Saxon race” for whatever that’s worth. It should make little difference anyway, as in genetic studies of the Anglos and the Irish show little very differences and are negligible. They have much more genetically in common than those from outside of the British Isles regardless of the squabbles and troubled history caused by government

    • coral ford cameron says:

      great grandfather Matthew ford donated a stained glass window in a small catholic church in north adelaide Australia. his son was Nicolaus ford married to maryann Nicolson and their son ,my father was joseph matthew ford . anyone related?

  13. Connie Ford says:

    Very cool. Most of my family are in Eastern Tennessee..don’t know much before that.

  14. Diana Ford says:

    Searching for Patrick Joseph Ford. Born 1861 county Galway. Cane to Bostin, Mass around 1885. Married Delia Bridget Hanmore in 1893 Children -John, Francis, Ruth, Michael, Henry. Ruth married Jacob Molet. Please contact me if you have any information.

  15. Stephen says:

    My paternal grandfather was a Patrick Forde from Gort, Galway. Immigrated to San Francisco in 1906.

  16. Patricia Beavers Ford says:

    I have family info on the Ford’s of Baltimore Maryland. This family was not Irish but has direct roots back to England. Family was settled in Maryland by 1660 or before.

    • Charles Spencer Ford says:


      I would be very interested. My ancestors were from Somerset England.

    • Carol brewster says:

      I am looking for information on a William ford who married lettitia. They migrated from Maryland to rockbridge virginia to Monroe Virginia now called Monroe west Virginia.

    • HI , my grand mother was Susanne Ford , she died giving birth to my mother.Her Family also came to America back in early 1600’s. Her father and some before was Stepehen Hyland Ford.
      I would be interested if you have any information related to them back in England

      John Schaefer

    • Michael Ford says:

      I descend from Richard Ford, b. 1674 and arrived in Cecil County, MD in 1693. His father is supposedly Charles Ford, bart. of Abbeysford, UK but I can’t confirm that. I’m trying to find how Richard arrived in America, where he is from, and his lineage. I have much info to swap if interested.

  17. Hello there my grandfather was born England hull Yorkshire so I’m quite sure when I visited jorvick tour York that Vikings settled there and my great grandmother on my mother’s side her parents surname is breen and that’s Irish I would love to know which part of ireland their from how can I do my ancestry the correct way and not be lyied to ?

  18. Carol brewster says:

    I am looking for information on a William ford who married lettitia. They migrated from Maryland to rockbridge virginia to Monroe Virginia now called Monroe west Virginia.

  19. Lisa Daniels says:

    My granny was born 1924 her last name was Ford . She was in England she was in the brush army

  20. Jacki Wilson says:

    My third great grandfather was Jeremiah “Jerry” Ford from County Cork, Ireland. He was born @1825. He had brothers William and Cornelius that we know of so far. His parents were John Ford(e) and Mary Driscoll. I am desperately seeking any further information on the rest of the family back in Ireland, and exactly where in Cork they were from. They were very much Roman Catholic, and all ended up in Toledo, Lucas Countt, Ohio by 1860, where the families remain to this day.

    Any help would be very much appreciated! I e been stuck at this brick wall for a couple years now. I did just do my DNA with Ancestry and would love to partake in your Ford DNA study! Please contact me: Jacki502b@gmail.com

  21. Bored Panda says:

    Henry Ford had some tin and board, the board he nailed, the tin he bent, he gave it a kick and off it went

  22. Chad Ford says:

    I can trace my Family to John Ford Sr. He died in union county arkansas . He was born in about 1798 but I don’t know where at.

  23. Chad Ford says:

    I can trace my Family to John Ford Sr. He died in union county arkansas . He was born in about 1798 but I don’t know where at. He had a son. John Ford Jr. They came from Alabama in about 1842.

  24. David says:

    Ford is not from Old Norse. It is Anglo-Saxon in origin. All the other Germanic tongues have similar related words, as Ford is common to all Germanic tongues (the modern Norwegian word is Fjord). But the Old English word was already in its lexicon and was not borrowed from Old Norse.
    Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse were kindred tongues and almost mutually intelligible, demonstrated by the Anglo-Norse community in northern England, and both languages had many similar doublets, that have often survived side by side in English to this day: Ditch/Dyke, Church/Kirk, Shall/Skill, Shab(by)/Scab, etc.
    Is this webpage trying to write English out of the story of the word Ford?? A bit petty really. Hatred of the English is certainly a great impetus for the rewriting of history.

  25. Brian Neary says:

    Not a drop of Irish blood in the bunch. Ireland via Britain makes them “Plantation Irish”…

  26. Pat Rangeley says:

    Hi, my great grandma was a Ford, she lived in Halifax West Yorkshire. Born about1880 her family was from County Mayo in Ireland. About 10 years ago somebody from Ford car company came looking for Fords in Halifax. Unfortunately we didn’t know anybody had been looking for relatives . Heard nothing since🤔

  27. Maara says:

    My name is Maara,

    I belong to the Ford Lineage . I wanted to know if anyone knows about William Ford that traveled to the Cook Islands, which he was married to Ritia(Lydia)Masters. William Ford had two children together. There names were Helen Ford and William Ford. I also wanted to know if this William Ford worked on Hebrides(Vanuatu). I been reading about the Ford family which they’re from England and they’re also Irish. Can someone please enlighten me on this William Ford, especially his Mother and Father. I was told there was a ship that travelled to Penhyrn (Cook Island) to Investigate how did William Ford died. I would appreciate your information because there so many of our Ford in the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australian who really wants to find our Ford Family. Did he worked worked on the Navy? Here’s my number 0432086670, I live in Australia, I am the 6 generations of William Ford. This William Ford has so many great great great grand children.

  28. Maara says:

    I been wondering where do our ford comes from? I found this where I can ask question maybe I will get some information. I really do need your help anyone!!

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