French Family Association

The Official Website of the Surname French

Ballinasloe Workhouse Site, 1915. During the famine in the mid-1840’s when Thomas French lived in Ballinsloe, a 64-bed fever hospital was erected at the north-east of the site with the idiot wards converted to use as convalescent. However, the overcrowding, lack of food and disease took a heavy toll, and at the end of 1846, 254 inmates and all the workhouse officers perished. Thomas immigrated to New York ca. 1853 [6].

Chart #IREJ, Thomas Ridley French,
Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, Ireland

This chart updated by Mara French on 11/18/08. Numbers in brackets [ ] show the source material and refer to the bibliography at the end of this chart. An asterisk (*) shows continuation of that line. Send any corrections or additions to this chart to Revisions: 1991, 1997, 2008.


I was unable to tie this line in with any of the other French lines from Ireland.


History and Research


First Generation

Thomas French’s Obituary in the New York Tribune, 23 Dec 1853:

Notes by Vivienne Mitchell

Second Generation


Trip to Ballinasloe in 1997

Origination of the Surnames ffrench and de Freynes

Surname French in Ireland from Counties Wexford, Roscommon, Galway, Cork, Mayo, etc.

Emigration, Irish Charts

Other Ireland Notes on the Surname French


History and Research

Family originated from Ballinasloe, County Galway, probably from 1838 to 1853, where Thomas Ridley French published The Western Star newspaper, a weekly newspaper. The newspaper was published on Main St. in Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland. Thomas moved his printing, book, and stationery establishment to Society St. opposite the Presbyterian Church at the beginning of 1853 and kept the business until April 1853 when he sold his interest to Robert Hood Smythe, who lived on Society Street. The Western Star was edited by S. J. and later by H. J. McClenaghan, who owned a printing press on Dunio Street where Kelso’s Garage was in 2008.

Most of their twelve children were born in Ballinasloe, and five died in New York of a plague that had broken out on board ship while immigrating. The family stopped in New York on their way to Canada to start a publication of a newspaper. They had the printing press with them. They never made it to Canada, because Thomas died upon arrival in New York City. Eliza was so traumatized by the deaths of her children on shipboard and the death of her husband soon after in New York that she rarely talked of her life in Ireland. They were Protestants in County Galway [1].

Their first child was registered in 1838 (first to be registered in Ballinasloe), but they had two other children before that time [1].

Thomas does not appear to have come from either a landed or professional background and he did not attend Trinity College. He did not own property and most probably served his apprenticeship as a printer to Mrs. Frances Knox, printer and proprietor of the Clare Journal in Ennis (SW of Ballinasloe in County Clare). Searches were carried out in the Registry of Deeds, Probate Calendars, Marriage License indexes, land records, Church of Ireland parish records, and finally in a series of N.L.I. Mss. dealiing with provincial printers in Ireland. Even though the Registry of Deeds had been searched in 1854, further searches were directed towards finding a Dawson/French marriage settlement, or any other Dawson deed involving both families. Since Thomas French’s mother might have been surnamed Ridley, a search was made for any Ridley/French or St. George/French deed. Several possibilities were examined, but none were relevant. If Thomas French leased his premises in Ballinasloe, the lease was never registered [2].

The possible Ridley connection was investigated. This English name is not common in Ireland. There are no Ridleys listed in the Index of Surnames for Co. Galway before 1854, but several families lived at Tullamore, Co. Offaly, not far from Ballinasloe. They were shopkeepers, hotel proprietors, etc. They are first listed in the Registry of Deeds ca. 1809, but no deed to French was noted. As they became more prosperous, they acquired land, went to Trinity College, became magistrates, etc. The surviving Ridley wills were examined in the P.R.O., but none of them mentioned any relative called French [2].

The Land Records in the Public Record Office (P.R.O.) were examined. Thomas French does not occur in the 1830 Tithe book for Ballinasloe and it seems probable that he set up business there in 1838 when his first child was baptised there. A search in the Church of Ireland parish register gave no marriage entry from him and Eliza Dawson. The House Books (notebooks used by the compilers of Griffith’s Valuation) show him at 7 Society St. with ‘a good shop, no yard. Mr. C. says he would give a lease at 25 Pounds a year’ in 1844. The House books also mention ‘Admiral French; house in Main St. - substantial brick house well fenced, R.V. 52 Pounds, 16 Shillings, 9 Pence.’ There is no evidence of any relationship with this Admiral French [2].

Thomas French is listed in Slater’s 1846 Directory for Ballinasloe as ‘bookseller, printer, and stationer and circulating library, Main St.’ If he took leases of his premises, they were not registered and may have been informal lettings. His transfer of The Western Star to Robert Hood Smith was not registered, so it seems clear that he did not own any property. This notebook mentions ‘Mrs. Knox, printer, Ennis.’ This is most probably Mrs. Frances Knox who apparently owned the Clare Journal after the death of her husband. It seems very probable that Thomas French served his apprenticeship there. The National Library has a collection of Mss. on 18th and 19th century Irish Printers, compiled ca. 1900 by the late E.R. McClintock Dix. The only reference to Thomas French was as proprietor of The Western Star. There was quite an amount of printing carried on in Ennis at this period. Ms. 10,997, an account of the Dix collection says: ‘Lists of subscribers in the early books sometimes contain the names of printers, showing that many of these earlier printers were men of culture and education who valued the issues of their presses beyond the mere setting up of type. Printing seemed often to remain in the hands of one family and to descend from father to son; in looking through a list of printers it will be noticed how often the same name occurs.’ This last does not seem to be true of Thomas French since no entry for French occurred in any of the lists of Provincial printers in 18th – 19th century Ireland. There are no records of apprentice of journeyman printers. It may be noted that several Ennis printers lived at Jail St., Ennis, in the same street as the Masonic Hall was situated. Thomas French may have become a Free Mason in Ennis and founded a new lodge when he went to Ballinasloe [2].

If Thomas French was in Ennis as a young man, it seemed possible that he met and married Eliza Dawson there. No marriage license was issued for this couple, which indicates that they lived in the same parish and were married after the calling of Ballinasloe. The Church of Ireland parish register of Drumcliffe (Ennis) was examined on microfilm in the P.R.O., but no French/Dawson marriage occurred. The Index of surnames for Co. Galway showed that French was found in 14 of the 19 baronied, although not in the Ballinasloe area. It occured ca. 1825-35 in the parish of Athenry, Killstallaghan (Aughrim) and Ahascragh. There three parish registers were examined in microfilm in the P.R.O. without positive result. The House Books were also examined for these parishes. The only entry for Dawson in County Galway was in Iniscaltra parish ca. 1825. These registers begin too late to be useful [2].

Thomas French’s notebook mentioned Frenchvilla, County Dublin, but it was not possible to identify any house called Frenchvilla. It is not listed in Leets 1814 Directory of ‘Gentlemen’s Seats.’ It must be remembered that the names Dawson and French belonged to very many ordinary people as well as to the great landed families. The St. Georges were a well-known and eccentric family, but there is no evidence to connect them with Thomas French. The Ahascragh register, which is very scanty and has no French entry, contains several entries for St. George [2].

Thomas French’s mother may have had the surname Ridley, but no records prove this. His father or brother may have been Edward Ffrench, D.D., Bishop of Kilmacduagh. Another relative may have been R. French junior of Monivea. These names were listed in The Western Star newspaper of 4 Oct 1845. The newspaper of 11 Oct 1845 lists the name Fitz-Stephen French, M.P., on the Managing Committee of the Irish Great Western Railway, Dublin to Galway. On Jan-Feb 1846 he printed extensive advertisement for Robert French, stationer, stocks of music for piano and guitar [2].


A town that’s built on the river Suck and is famous over the years for what was known as “The Fair of Ballinasloe.” It still is famous for the same reason and as it is set iin the middle of a great farming country, it has a first-class position for getting the business that is sure to come to it from the farming community of the area. This is a big town, the people are big men and women and they are great farmers as well. The shops and business places inform you that you are looking at the result of many years of hard work as they are a very wise and calculating set of people who never rush into anything until they are satisfied that it is what they want. The streets are fairly wide, especially the street where Haydens Hotel stands [4].

This town was a very important stronghold in ancient days. Ballinasloe Castle testifies to the fact of the military importance of this now thriving market town of about 6,500 inhabitants. Ballinasloe is the principal market town in East Galway and is a great centre for coarse fishing. The October Fair in Ballinasloe is regarded as the biggest livestock fair in Ireland. In the year 1856 (just 2 years after Thomas French immigrated), 20,000 cattle were sold and a little short of 100,000 sheep were on offer [4].

The estate of the Spencers, descendants of Cromwellian grantee William Spencer, himself being a gradson of Edmond Spencer, the poet, was purchased by the French family in 1716. A short distance west beside the River Suck, a 19th century castle was built to guard the river crossing in medieval times [4].

Ballinasloe is just a few miles SW of Monivea, an area in Galway owned by a predominant French family. It is not known if these two French families were related.

FFA member Vivienne French Mitchell has in her possession three microfilm rolls of the original Western Star newspaper printed from 4 Oct 1845 to 26 Oct 1846, the years 1847 and 1848, and 1853 and 1854. They give a marvelous day-to-day description of the troubled times during the famine era. Unfortunately, Thomas didn’t write about himself or his family [1].

First Generation

1.1* Thomas Ridley (or B.) French, b. ca. 1806, m.  Eliza Dawson in Dublin, Ireland in 1932 at the Union Chapel. Union Chapel records are not in existence.

Thomas migrated to America after June 1853 and d. that year on 15 Dec of typhus fever at his temporary residence on First Ave. in New York in the 48th year of his age along with 5 of his children. Eliza was b. in Ireland in 1814, d. in 1881 in New York City, and was buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY, a national historic landmark at 5th Ave & 25th St. Thomas was a bookseller, printer, and stationer [1].

“A” Thomas B. French who was b. 1806 in Rockfield, Co. Mayo, Province Connaught, immigrated to the U.S. in 1839 and settled in Brooklyn, NY.

The Chapel at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Thomas French’s Obituary in the New York Tribune, 23 Dec 1853:

Died on Thursday 15th December at his temporary residence First Ave. N.Y. in the 48th year of his age, of typhus fever. Thomas French Esq. late proprietor of the Western Star newspaper of County Galway Ireland. He was on his way to Canada when stopped by illness. One of the kindest and most indulgent of husbands and fathers, he endeared himself to all classes by his many aimiable qualities. To the poor he was ever a warm and kind friend. Mr. French possessed literary talents of a high order. He conducted a neutral journal for the last seven and a half years – the most perilous in Ireland’s history – with great ability. Eschewing all party politics, he strove to ameliorate Ireland’s condition by inculcating in the minds of the people the necessity of self-dependance and exertion. He was one of the most active members of the press in advertising the claims of Galway as a Packet Station to America. On leaving his native country, the inhabitants and Freemasons of Ballinasloe, the town where he presided, each presented him with addresses and suitable presentations as marks of their esteem and regret at his departure. He has left a wife and large family to deplore his loss. His remains were interred in the Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

Notes by Vivienne Mitchell

What lead Thomas to leave Ireland for America? Vivienne [1] says in her reading of Thomas’ Western Star of 1849, she read about the horrors of the workhouse, the Inquiry, and the results that improved conditions but had an effect on Thomas’ livelihood. His outspoken criticism angered the authorities.

Through the years, Thomas and his wife suffered great tragedy, as told by Vivienne [1]. My grandmother, who was three years old when the French family left Ireland, told me that she had been told that her father had made enemies of some of those in authority because of the editorials he had written as proprietor of his newspaper The Western Star and The Ballinasloe Advertiser published from 1845-1853. The paper was printed weekly and was distributed in Ballinasloe and environs, County Galway. In today’s terms I guess you would call Thomas French a “Whistle-Blower.”

I have in my possession the reels of microfilm of his newspaper, which I purchased from the British Library. How fascinating to learn about your ancestors through the pages of an ancient Irish newspaper! What I have read reveals Thomas French as a very caring person who was deeply concerned for the plight of the poor and was outspoken in his opinions.

First, a few short facts about Thomas and Eliza. He was born in 1806 and she in 1814. My grandmother told me that Eliza had been a governess before her marriage. According to scribblings in Thomas’ boyhood notebook, which I have, he was apprenticed to Mrs. Knox, a printer in Ennis, County Clare. I do not know whether he studied elsewhere or if Mrs. Knox was the one who helped him develop his literary talents. I have a letter that places Thomas in Dublin in 1826. Thomas and Eliza were married in the Presbyterian Union Chapel, Dublin in 1832. The birth of their third child was recorded in Ballinasloe in 1838. Where the first two were born I do not know. Other children were born in Ballinasloe including my grandmother who was born in 1850. The French family left Ireland in 1853 on their way to Canada to start a newspaper there. Unfortunately, or I should say, tragically, Thomas died in New York a month after arrival. Life for Eliza is another story, having been left in a foreign land alone with six children.

Reading the microfilm reel recently that included the year 1849, I discovered the reasons for Thomas’ plight because his editorials were highly critical of those who were responsible for the many paupers. As history tells us, this was the time of extreme poverty and famine, along with a cholera epidemic. Ireland had been divided into Unions with a Workhouse for the poor and destitute in each Union.

Thomas French wrote articles about the Ballinasloe Union Agricultural Society, Principles, and Rules held in the Royal Irish Academy for the years 1840-31-43-44.

Second Generation

Children of Thomas R. and Eliza (Dawson) French, 1.1

Five of these children died while immigrating to America, Thomas Ridley Jr., Ellen Olivia, Thomas Frederick, Ellen Margaret, and Thomas Wellington French.

2.1 Sara Jane French, b. ca. 1833, but not in Ballinasloe, but perhaps in Ennis (S.W. of Ballinasloe in County Clare) where her father served his printer apprenticeship [3].

2.2 Mary Anne French, b. ca. 1834, but not in Ballinasloe, but perhaps in Ennis (S.W. of Ballinasloe in County Clare) where her father served his printer apprenticeship [3].

2.3 Elizabeth French, b. 28 Oct 1838 in Ballinasloe, County Galway [3].

2.4 Thomas Ridley French, b. 28 Dec 1840 in Ballinasloe, County Galway, died in 1853 [3].

2.5 Ellen Olivia French, b. Feb 1842, died in 1853 [3].

2.6 Emily Charlotte French, b. 19 Jan 1844 [3]. She m. George Ambler Stead who was b. 1832 [5]. They had 4 daughters: Josephine Stead, Irene Stead, Harriett Stead, and Nora French Stead [5].

2.7 Thomas Frederick French, b. 17 Mar 1846, died in 1853 [3].

2.8 Edward Ridley French, b. perhaps 17 Mar 1846 (a twin of Thomas Frederick), or b. perhaps 19 Jan 1844 (a twin of Emily Charlotte), killed in the Civil War [3].

2.9 Ellen Margaret French, b. 29 Feb 1848, died in 1853 [3].

2.10 Florence Letitia French, b. 2 Feb 1850 [3], m. Johnson. She lived to be 102 years old, d. in 1952 [1]. They had at least one daughter, Florence Marie Johnson, m. Brown, b. in 1885 in New York City, d. in Westchester Co., NY, in 1972 [1]. Florence Brown had at least one daughter, Vivienne French Brown, b. 1918 in East View, NY, m. Mitchell. He d. in 1993 [1].

2.11 Francis Grofton French, b. Aug 1851 [3]. Francis is the only male French from this family who lived to perhaps carry on the name in America.

2.12 Thomas Wellington French, b. 9 May 1853, died in 1853 [3].

No males in this line survived or had issue; hence, the French family ends here.



To the Editor of the Connaught Journal.
Newborough, Sept. 26th, 1840.

I beg you will give insertion to the following statement of an occurrence which has taken place in Tuam between Mr. Thomas French of Frenchgrove and me on Saturday, the 19th instant.
Miss French having circulated a report among some young men in Tuam, that I said they were not fit society for me or my family which I denied having ever mentioned to her, Mr. French spoke to me on the subject, and asked me if I called his sister a liar; I said I would be very sorry to call any Lady a liar, but was confident she must have misconceived me, or misconstrued any thing I could have said to her, to warrant such an idea.

The conversation referred to was, Miss French said to me, had she met Mr.___, in Dublin, she should cut him in her own defence, but for want of better society in Tuam, she was obliged to know him there. This was the purport of the conversation that occurred between Miss French and me. 
Mr. French persisted in saying I had given his sister the lie, and struck me with his whip. I then followed my brother James, who was on his way to Achill, and did not overtake him till Monday morning, 12 miles the Achill side of Westport, which accounts for some little delay in sending to Mr. French. 

Having procured a friend, I sent my brother, James, in the first
instance to request a reference to a friend on Mr. French's part, which reference was promised in half an hour at Daly's Hotel. Instead of a friend his Father came there, and said he was his most natural friend, on which my brother declined having an conversation with him. My brother still waited for the friend as promised to be sent, until obliged to fly from arrest, as the Police had been made acquainted with the transaction. The next morning my friend, Mr. Joyce went for the purpose of trying to arrange all preliminary maters with Mr. French or his friend, when he ascertained that Mr. French had been bound over to keep the peace at the solicitation of a member of his own family. I now leave the public to draw their own
conclusion on this most strange affair, being continually remarking that he who shields himself from the responsibility of an ungentlemanly act is beneath all further notice of mine.

I am, Sir, &c., &c.


Trip to Ballinasloe in 1997

Wednesday, July 30, 1997, Mara French

Unlike England, the Irish don't put out an ordnance map showing every little township in Ireland with a complete index. Places are very hard to find here. I also believe the Irish are very poor and don't redo their road signs often. In fact, if a new street is built or an office is moved to a new location, they aren't changed on the maps nor on the street signs. Such was the case of the relocation of the Tourist Office in Ballinasloe. All the signs still lead to the old site. Also, the mileage on some maps could be up to 10 miles off. Even so, the additional new motorways in Ireland are one of the largest changes since I was here in 1985. 

Mara French’s notes on her visit to Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, Ireland, where Vivienne Mitchell, Ref. [2] said her ancestor, Thomas French lived. When I arrived in Ballinasloe in 1997, something tells me that Thomas Ridley French is not from this area at all. The main reason is because the French in this area spell their name ffrench. I suppose he could have moved here from someone else. The garda (policeman) indicated that I should see Mr. Garrett, who was working. When he came home for his lunch break, I talked with him and he believes the Western Star newspaper that Thomas French was editor for is the Ballina in county Mayo. He knows the man who is the editor of the paper there and he'll contact him. There was never a newspaper with that name in county Galway, but in county Mayo, many business names start with Western. He's going to look it up for me and write me. He lives next to the church, very near the post office, realizing that there are several churches in town. It's the church on the large square full of parked cars. The garda also thought the family would be from Mayo. Someone else in town said I should visit the Presbery where all the towns prients live. The Priest called the town, Tyogh McLoughlain, but he wasn't available. The Priest had beautiful solid wood old furniture in his office -- and a computer. I've never seen a Priest typing on a computer. The village library wasn't much help at all - it had fewer reference books than I do at home. Anyway, this may be completely the wrong town of ffrenches, because these Frenches didn't spell their name with the double F.   –Mara French


[1] Vivienne French Mitchell, 601 Wilkes St., #102, Alexandria, VA 22314, (703) 836-7590. Her mother had research done by the Genealogical Office at Dublin Castle. Vivienne had research done by the Hiberian Research Co., Ltd, one at the suggestion of the librarian of Ballinasloe. She acquired copies of the Western Star newspaper at the National Library. Vivienne’s new address is 960 N. Fletcher Ave., Valley Stream, NY 11580-1345.

[2] Hibernian Research Company, Ltd, 108 North Stand Rd., Dublin 3, Ireland.

[3] Birth records of Thomas Ridley French and Eliza Dawson French, as recorded in the Register of Births of Ballinasloe Parish, 21 Sep 1947, extracted by W. A. Craig.

[4] The Friendly Towns of Ireland, by William Keogh, Rainbow International Publications, Ltd., 1984.

[5] UK Origins, website:, Email:

[6] Workhouse, Ballinasloe, website:

[7] Andrew Riddell, looking for information about the French Family of Galway with connections to Roscommon before 1851. One of my Ancestors was born in Galway 24 Mar 1851 so I am trying to trace the family back. I understand that the French family was one of the Tribes of Ireland, so I am also looking for information on the tribes of Ireland. The family I am researching came to Canada in 1874. Email:

[8] Pat Kriss, Email: (good in 2004).