Roots: Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy.

By Megan Smolenyak, Contributor
August / September 2016

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Melissa McCarthy’s Family Tree.

Easily one of the most popular and reliable box office performers today, actress, comedian, producer, and now fashion designer Melissa McCarthy has a lot to be proud of. With a string of hits (Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, The Heat, Spy!, The Boss, etc.) that consistently deliver an enviable ROI, it’s a no brainer that her next one will follow suit because she’s part of the long-anticipated Ghostbusters dream team of Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig. While they’re all ghostbusting, I thought I’d do a little ghost-searching – that is, for the ancestors who populate McCarthy’s family tree – and here’s what I learned.

1. How many surnames?

1936  Social Security  application for Michael McCarthy showing  his father as Carty.  (Social Security  Administration.)

1936 Social Security application for Michael McCarthy showing his father as Carty. (Social Security Administration.)

As many probably assume, Melissa McCarthy is of mostly Irish heritage (though with a twist – more on this shortly) – roughly 69%. German comes in second with 19% and the remaining 12% is deep American, mostly tracing back to England. Surnames in her past include Brolley, Burke, Carty, Clark, Condon, Connelly, Cook, Coyne, Dagenhart, Daley, Gallacher, Garvie, Green, Hoffman, Hughes, Humphries, McFayden, McGerrick, McLaughlin, Moore, O’Reilly, Owens, Quinn, and Walsh, so if you share any of these, you could be cousins, especially if your family hails from Illinois, Indiana, Ireland or Scotland.

2. Carty or McCarthy?

Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen for Michael Carty completed in 1923 when he was still using the original version of his name. (Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court)

Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen for Michael Carty completed in 1923 when he was still using the original version of his name. (Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court)

Yes, it’s true that Melissa and Jenny McCarthy are first cousins, but their family’s name wasn’t always McCarthy. For reasons that are unclear, their immigrant grandfather, Michael Carty, changed from Carty to McCarthy between his appearance in the 1930 census and his 1934 marriage. He had entered the country (by railroad from Quebec) and become an American citizen under the name of Carty, but perhaps he had one too many, “My name’s Mike Carty.” “McCarthy?” “No, Carty. C-A-R . . .” conversations and decided to go with the flow. And for those wondering which corner of Ireland gets to claim Melissa McCarthy’s Carty roots, congratulations to Currygranny in the Newtownforbes area of County Longford!

3. A Scottish Brogue

1860s marriage of great-great- grandparents and baptism of great-grandfather in County Longford, illustrating the original name of Carty. (National Library of Ireland)

1860s marriage of great-great-grandparents and baptism of great-grandfather in County Longford, illustrating the original name of Carty. (National Library of Ireland)

Her paternal ancestry is entirely Irish leading back to counties Longford and Armagh among others – but with a pronounced detour. Every branch on this half of her family tree spent one to three generations in Scotland before emigrating to U.S., a common pattern with Irish families usually driven by economics. In her family’s case, many of her forebears went to Lanarkshire (including Carfin, Cambusnethan, Glasgow, Hamilton, Holytown, and Wishaw) to find employment as iron workers, coal miners, and laborers, though there’s one shoemaker and a dash of Dumbarton thrown in. So in spite of their Irish origins, most of her paternal, immigrant ancestors likely arrived on American shores with a Scottish brogue.

4. Ghost Census

Coroner’s  inquest for Peter Dagenhart. (Illinois Regional Archives  Depository)

Coroner’s inquest for Peter Dagenhart. (Illinois Regional Archives Depository)

One of the more tragic tales in McCarthy’s family history is that of her great-great-grandfather, Peter Dagenhart. As seen in this coroner’s inquest, he was killed while working on the railroad by “being crushed by a girder of viaduct of box car on which he was riding, said car being shoved south by Engine #335.” He lingered briefly and died at a local hospital several hours later. It’s somewhat bittersweet that he can be found recorded in the 1910 census with his family four days after his death.

Census for Dagenhart  family taken on April 25, 1910. (Ancestry.com)

Census for Dagenhart family taken on April 25, 1910. (Ancestry.com)

5. There and Back Again


Photos from the  passport application of  McCarthy’s great-grandmother and her daughters from the book seen here. The little girl  on the right in the photo on  the top is her grandmother.  (National Archives and Records  Administration)

Photos from the passport application of McCarthy’s great-grandmother (right) and her daughters from the book seen here. The little girl on the right in the left photo is her grandmother. (National Archives and Records Administration)

One of her great-grandmothers has a peculiar immigration story. Sarah first arrived in 1911 joining her husband who had come the year before. With her were their two young daughters. For whatever reasons – it could be that America didn’t agree with her, but I suspect it was because her widowed father’s health was failing – she returned to Scotland with her daughters in early 1912. At the time, she was about six months pregnant with Melissa’s future grandmother who, due to this turn of events, was conceived in the U.S., but born in Scotland. Sarah’s father lived until the end of 1916, but with World War I in full swing, it was very risky to journey across the Atlantic, so it was not until 1919 that the family would be reunited when Sarah and her now trio of daughters went back to the U.S.

I’ll bring this quick roots overview to a close with a recommendation inspired by the siblings of one of McCarthy’s great-grandfathers. Since a number of names that were once popular are coming back in vogue (Emma and Sophia, anyone?), I’d like to suggest a pair for anyone anticipating twins: Maude and Claude. Or their e-less versions: Maud and Claud. Either way, I’m sure their brother Elza would be grateful. ♦

5 Responses to “Roots: Melissa McCarthy”

  1. I am Melissa McCarthy’s cousin.My father John McCarthy is the oldest of the ten children born to Micheal Mccarthy/Carty

  2. My father John McCarthy is the oldest son of Michael McCarthy./Carty

  3. My father is John McCarthy who is the oldest of Michael McCarthy’s children.

  4. Thanks for the information it is very enlightening,and powerful to know what your family had to endure to bring you to life.

  5. Leanne Kearney says:

    What part of the mccarthys.. Would it be West cork. A village called drinagh.. My great grandmother was a mccarthy married to a patrick o donovan

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