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Janssen/Phelan Family History

Our Irish Heritage
Covering the families Phelan, Houlehan, and others

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Origin of the Phelan Name
Phelan coat of armsI am one quarter Irish, descended from the Phelan clan, through my grandfather Francis M. Phelan. The Phelan name comes from the old Irish name O’Faoláin. In centuries past, like many cultures, the Irish had a patronymic naming system, meaning sons were named after their fathers. The prefix “O’” can be interpreted as “son of,” “grandson of,” or “kin of.” So the name O’Faoláin was originally used to designate the descendants of someone named Faoláin. “Faoláin” is derived from the gaelic word “faol,” meaning “wolf.” “Faoláin” is actually the diminutive form of the root. In other words, it means “little wolf.” Over time, the name took on other spellings. The first anglicized spellings were Felan and Faelan, and eventually the name was transformed into its most common present-day versions, Phelan and Whelan. Whelan is the more common of the two forms. It is the 79th most common surname in present-day Ireland. When the Phelans and Whelans are considered as one name, together they are the 44th most common Irish family name. Whether Whelan or Phelan, we are all descended from the same sept, or clan.

Ancient History
There is no shortage of sources for the research of one’s Irish heritage. Go to any Renaissance festival or St. Patrick’s Day picnic and you will find any number of booths that will assign you a clan, sell you a coat of arms, and knit you a scarf of your family tartan. In the lucrative world of Irish genealogy and Celtic tchotchkes, royalty sells. For that reason, it seems that anyone who’s Irish is descended from some renowned King. While this may seem difficult to believe, it’s not so far-fetched when you put things into perspective. Given the historically tribal nature of early Celtic and Irish civilization, in which people were divided into clans reigned over by a patriarchal ruler, it does make sense that all Irish are descended from a king or a chieftain of some kind. Of course, one must keep in mind that some of these kings probably ruled over kingdoms that were smaller than a typical American county, and ruled over subjects that were mainly comprised of their large, extended families.

When I first decided to research my ancestry, I wondered how far back I would be able to trace my heritage. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would be able to trace my bloodline all the way back to Adam. Well, thanks to a famous text on Irish genealogy, I can do just that. In 1876, John O’Hart published the book “Irish Pedigrees or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation.” In it, O’Hart outlined the descent of man from the Garden of Eden to present-day Ireland.

At the time when this book was written, of course, evolution was not accepted as scientific fact, and many important archaeological discoveries had not yet been made. While today scientists believe that homo sapiens originated in sub-Saharan Africa, a century ago it was commonly believed that mankind sprang from an Eden existing somewhere in the general vicinity of the “holy land.” O’Hart’s intention, therefore, is to create a lineage that sensibly connects the characters of his bible with figures from his European history. This narrative is interesting to look at because the point at which story book blends into history book is not quite clear.

All human beings are descended from Adam, naturally, so he is generation 1 of our Irish family tree. We are descended from his son Seth, at generation 2. According to the bible, Seth begat Enos, who begat Cainan, who begat Mahalaleel, who begat Jared, who begat Enoch, who begat Methuselah, who begat Lamech, who begat Noah, at generation 10. All human beings are also descended from Noah, because he and his family were the only ones who survived the great flood. Our line continues through Noah’s oldest son, Japhet, and from here we’ll skip ahead to the important parts.

At generation 36 stands the notable figure of Milesius. He was king of Spain about 1700 BC, and he and his followers invaded and conquered Ireland. According to Irish mythology, all the families of Ireland are descended from Milesius. For this reason, family trees like the ones in John O’Hart’s book are often called “Milesian genealogies.” While today there may seem to be a big ethnic difference between the Spanish and the Irish, the ancient domain of the Celts extended far beyond the boundaries of Ireland. Even today one can see evidence of Celtic culture in the province of Galicia in northwestern Spain, or the region of Brittany in northwestern France.

Of the three sons of Milesius, we are descended from Heremon (generation 37). From him arose a procession of distinguished descendants, each with their own myths and legends. Clocking in at generation 75 is Crimthan-Niadh-Nar (“the Heroic”), whom I note only because he reigned at the time of Christ’s birth. He was the 100th monarch of Ireland, and during his seat on the throne mankind turned the corner from BC to AD.

Irish province mapAt generation 79 is Felim Rachtmar. He had a very famous son named Conn Ceadcathach, or Conn of the Hundred Battles, so called because he fought hundreds of battles and won. Conn was the 109th Monarch of Ireland, and greatly expanded the kingdom of Ireland during his reign. Conn had two younger brothers, Eochaidh Fionn-Fohart and Fiacha Suidhe. They tried to insure their succession to the throne by killing a couple of Conn’s sons, but Conn had too many sons for them to kill. Eventually one of these sons became king and banished them from Ireland. They wandered around quite a bit, through Leinster, Munster, and eventually settling in what is now Waterford County. At that time the region was part of the barony of Desee, Deici, or Decie, and so these two men became known as the princes or kings of the Decies. The Phelan clan is descended from Fiacha Suidhe (generation 80).

At generation 99 stands our namesake, Foalain or Faelan, son of Cormac. From him arose the O’Faealins, then the O’Felans, and eventually the Phelans and the Whelans.

Phelan shieldReading over this story, it’s hard to tell where mythology ends and history begins. With what we know now about human evolution, it obviously took more than 75 generations to get from “Adam” to the year 0 AD. However, the more recent centuries of this story may have quite a bit of historical truth to them. While the exploits of the men enumerated in O’Hart’s genealogy are definitely exaggerated, many of them cetainly did exist. Recently there have been stories in the news about how Irish scientists have used DNA testing to prove that 20% of all Irish men are descended from one king, Niall of the Nine Hostages (AD 342-405). The Phelans are not among that 20%, but this example does go to show that there is some valid history among all the legends.

In researching the origins of the Phelan clan, all the sources I’ve read seem to agree that we are descended from Fiacha Suidhe, the kings of the Decies, and O’Faolain. Waterford County, Fiacha Suidhe’s home in exile, is the center of the Phelan homeland. Historically, the Phelans predominantly lived in Waterford and adjacent Kilkenny County, with the Whelans also branching off into Wexford and Carlow Counties.

From Ireland to America
Irish County MapIt is in County Kilkenny that my great-grandfather Robert Phelan was born. Of all the branches of my family tree, the Irish branch has been the most difficult to research. Part of this is because of the commonality of Irish names. While Pasternckis (my Polish ancestors) are rare, there are thousands of Phelans in America, even more in Ireland, and 150 years ago they all seemed to be naming their kids Robert, Patrick, Michael, and John. A Google search will turn up more Robert Phelans than you can shake a stick at, but definite facts about my great-grandfather are few and far between.

Robert Phelan was born 31 Mar 1836. Robert emigrated to America in 1872, probably alone, as I have seen no definitive records of any parents, brothers or sisters of his living in the United States. Robert settled in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. There was also a William Michael Phelan who settled in Fond du Lac about the same time. He may be a cousin or even a sibling of Robert, but I have no proof. In Fond du Lac, Robert met Ellen Houlehan, and they there married in 1881. I have only one clue as to the identity of Robert Phelan’s parents. On his marriage record, his parents are listed as “Carol” and “Kath”, which means their names were probably Carroll and Katherine Phelan. Beyond that I have no more information on them. In order to find out more I would have to determine which exact church they belonged to in Kilkenny County, and hope that a birth record still exists for Robert. So far I have been unable to accomplish this.

O'Conner coat of armsHoulihan coat of armsEllen Houlehan was born in Fond du Lac, the daughter of James Houlehan and Margaret O’Conner. James Houlehan was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1816. Margaret Houlehan was born in County Roscommon, Ireland about 1823, to an Irish father and an English mother (names unknown). Because of this English great-great-great-grandmother, technically I am not 1/4 Irish, but rather 7/32 Irish and 1/32 English. Margaret’s family moved to London, England when she was six years old, and they lived there until the early 1840s. She and James Houlehan crossed the Atlantic together on the same ship, the “Baltic,” probably in the company of other family members. They were married about 1842 in New York, where they lived for several years.

Accounts differ as to when exactly they moved to Wisconsin, but it was probably about 1855. They settled on a farm in Taycheedah, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. By that time they had already had two children, and they had six more in Wisconsin. They lived and farmed in Fond du Lac County until about 1888, when they retired and moved to Stevens Point. Several of their children had already relocated there, and they lived with their daughter Mary and her family, and periodically stayed with their son Edward and his family. James Houlehan died 26 Nov 1893 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Margaret (O’Conner) Houlehan died 10 Dec 1903 in Stevens Point.

Robert Phelan and Ellen Houlehan
Ellen Houlehan (1855-1934) and Robert Phelan (1836-1928)

After Ellen Houlehan and Robert Phelan were married, the newlyweds moved to Stevens Point about 1883. Robert worked as a farmer for a while, and also as a foreman for Bosworth & Reilly Lumber. On 29 Oct 1907, he suffered a paralytic stroke while working at the Joerns & Bros. factory. While the specific effects of the stroke are unclear, his obituary notes that he never fully recovered. The 1910 census lists his occupation as “laborer, odd jobs” so he obviously had some mobility. In fact, he lived 25 years beyond the stroke, dying 22 Sep 1928 at the home of his son Francis in Stevens Point. Ellen (Houlehan) Phelan lived until 1934. She was ill for the last two and a half years of her life, and needed a wheelchair to get around. During this time she lived with her son Francis Phelan and his wife Sophia. She died in their home 28 Nov 1934.

Life and Death in Stevens Point
A pattern seems to develop with the relatives of Francis Phelan moving into his home to die. In fact, the story of this Phelan family involves a succession of untimely deaths. Robert Phelan and Margaret Houlehan had eight children. Four of these eight children died in infancy. Daughter Ruth Phelan died of typhoid in 1908 at the age of 14, and daughter Eunice M. Phelan died of anemia in 1926 at the age of 28. She was never married. This left two sons living, John Lambert Phelan and Francis M. Phelan.

John Lambert Phelan was born 17 Sep 1888 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He attended the local grade schools and Stevens Point High School. Following high school, he worked as a clerk at the office of the Green Bay Railroad. He was a World War I veteran, serving most of his tour of duty in Waco, TX. After that he was employed for 20 years as a railroad yard clerk for the Soo Line, until his death. John Lambert fell ill about 1 Jan 1937 and checked into Wisconsin Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Milwaukee on the first of March, at which time his condition turned critical. He underwent a major operation two weeks before his death. A week later pneumonia set in, which was the cause of his demise. He died 18 May 1937 at the age of 48. Francis and Sophia were at his side in the hospital when he died. Prior to his illness, John Lambert had been living with them in their house on Spruce St. in Stevens Point. John Lambert Phelan was never married and had no children.

Francis M. Phelan, my grandfather, was born 23 Jun 1891 in Stevens Point. In his youth, Francis worked a few odd jobs. The 1910 census lists him as a collector for a laundry. In 1912, Francis and a partner, S. A. Martin, opened their own laundry, Stylie’s and Riley’s. In 1920 he was a machinist at a furniture shop. He married Sophia V. Pasternacki, a Polish-American woman, on 4 Jun 1923 at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Stevens Point (to read more about Sophia and her family, see my Polish Heritage essay). Francis embarked on a career as a typewriter dealer and ribbon salesman for the Remington-Rand Corporation. I found a 1937 ad in the Stevens Point Daily Journal for “F.M. Phelan, the Typewriter and Adding Machine Man.” Francis and Sophia originally lived at 112 Spruce St., but in 1965 the city of Stevens Point renumbered its street addresses, and their house became 1717 Spruce St. Francis was a deputy grand knight of the Knights of Columbus, and a member of the Catholic Order of Foresters and the local barbershoppers. He died 2 Mar 1879 at St. Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point.

Our Phelan story ends with Francis Phelan. There are no Phelan cousins that I am aware of. Though he outlived his entire family, the Phelan name ends with him, because he had three daughters. Ruth Eve Phelan, born 30 Apr 1924, married Jerome Zaborski. They lived and raised their family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To find out more about the Zaborskis, read my essay on Our Polish Heritage.

Mary Ellen Phelan, born 28 May 1925, married Leo Fobart. They had three children: David, Michele, and Virginia (Ginger). They left Stevens Point with their children about 1965, when Leo got a job editing the Harmonizer magazine for SPBSQSA, a national organization of barbershop singing groups. At that time they moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin. Leo died in 1984, and Mary in 1991. David Fobart married Candi Spitzer. They live in Atlanta, GA and have two sons, Jason and Ryan. Michele Fobart married Brian Croegaert. They live in the Milwaukee area with their three children, Caitlin, Keleen, and Kyle. Ginger Fobart married Edward Hazelton and has two children, Jeremy and Andrea. She lives in Kenosha.

Ann Sophia Phelan, my mother, was born 2 Apr 1930. As a child, Ann often performed at meetings of women’s organizations, like the Catholic Daughters of America or the Catholic Women’s Club. Her mother Sophia would accompany her on the piano, while Ann recited poetry, tap danced, or did an Irish jig. I believe Ann attended Central State Teachers College in Stevens Point. After graduation she taught high school home economics. She was teaching at Oconto High School when she met my father, who was working at a pharmacy in Oconto. On 26 Dec 1953, Ann Phelan married Jay J. Janssen, of DePere, WI. He was of Dutch, German, and Belgian descent. Following the wedding, Jay and Ann moved to De Pere, where Ann spent the next couple of decades raising seven children. In the mid- to late 1970s, Ann went back to work. She was employed as a clerk at the White Store, a clothing store in West De Pere. She worked there for about 20 years, until her retirement. After retirement, she volunteered her time to the Salvation Army store in De Pere. She enjoyed doing jigsaw and crossword puzzles, and played in a bridge club for decades. Ann Janssen died on 21 Sep 2001, of emphysema. To find out more about the Janssen family, read my essay on Our Dutch Heritage.

Ann Phelan Phelan family
Ann Phelan Janssen (1930-2001)
Phelan family (left to right): Ruth Phelan, Francis Phelan, Ann Phelan, Sophia Pasternacki Phelan, Mary Phelan

Don’t Forget the Houlehans
Though we have no Phelan relatives, there are still plenty of Houlehans out there. Besides Ellen Houlehan, whom I’ve already covered, James and Margaret Houlehan had seven other children: Mary, Katherine, Richard, Edward, John, Bernard, and George Michael.

The eldest daughter, Mary A.J. Houlehan, who was born in New York about 1854, married Daniel McAuliffe in Stevens Point. They lived in that city until they died, and had at least four children: Margaret, Genevieve, Bernard, and Frederick. Margaret and Genevieve never married. They lived and worked together in Stevens Point their entire lives. They owned and operated a corset shop. Bernard McAuliffe married Leona Hirzy. They had no children. Fred McAuliffe married Julia Allen, and they moved to Ashland, WI, where he worked for the Soo Line Railroad. They had at least four children, one of whom, Robert A. McAuliffe, moved to Salina, KS.

Katherine Houlehan married Michael Doyle, a native of Canada. At some point around the turn of the last century they relocated to North Dakota. The 1910 census shows that their township didn’t even have a name, just a number. Eventually it became Belfield, ND, in Stark County. This is in southwestern North Dakota, near what is now Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Katherine and Michael had seven kids. Then Michael died around 1911, and she remarried a man named Bogum, with whom she had one daughter.

Richard J. Houlehan, born Oct 1858, married Margaret Moran. They had seven children: Grace, Nettie, Myrtle, Inez, Walter, Ruth, and Ethel. Margaret Moran died in 1898, and Richard married again, to Emma Elwers. They had at least five daughters—Anna, Iola, Marsella, Ernestine, and Ione. Richard left Stevens Point, living briefly in Clintonville, WI, and then settling in Madison, WI by 1917. The last I know of Richard he attended John Lambert Phelan’s funeral in 1937, at which time he and his family were living in Madison.

From 1886 to 1888, the “Houlehan Brothers” were proprietors of a hotel in Hurley, Wisconsin. The establishment was called the Vaughn House, and it was located across from a railway depot. In this case, the “Brothers” referred to are Edward and John Houlehan. Edward was a lumberjack by trade; John probably was too. This would explain what they were doing in Hurley.

After the hotel closed in 1888, Edward moved to the town of Tomahawk, Wisconsin, which at that time was just starting up. He became an active member of the community, helping to write the city charter and working in various public offices, such as alderman, assessor, Police and Fire Commission, and Parks Commission. He was also a stockholder in the Bank of Tomahawk. Edward married Nora Shea in 1885 in Stevens Point. They had six children, Edward S., Thomas J., Rosella, Mida, Marguerite, and Loretta, and one adopted niece, Katherine. Marguerite and Loretta died young. Edward Jr. moved to Rhinelander, WI. Thomas moved to Ashland, Boyd County, KY, where he worked in the leather industry, as superintendant of a tannery. He had at least seven children. Many of his descendants still live in Kentucky, and a few have relocated to Alaska. Mida and Rosella remained in Tomahawk. Mida married Warren Sutliff and had at least three children. Rosella never married.

John Houlehan remained in Hurley after the closure of the Vaughn House. He died in 1894 of typhoid, at a relatively young age. He was never married.

Bernard Houlehan, was born 9 Aug 1891. He married Katherine Shea about 1887. They had five children: Irene, James, Agatha, John, Bernard Jr., and Katherine. Katherine Shea died about the time daughter Katherine was born. As a result, young Katherine was raised by her aunt and uncle Edward Houlehan and Nora Shea (the two Houlehan brothers married the two Shea sisters). Bernard Sr. worked as a miner (1890s), bar inspector (1900), a janitor at the courthouse (1910), and a janitor at the public school (1920). Being a janitor must not have been a bad living, because the 1910 census shows they had a servant living in the house. Bernard Jr. became a dentist with a practice in Green Bay. Agatha married Oliver Lerum, and they moved to Minneapolis. Irene never married, and lived with them. John died young of a heart condition, which his obituary implies may have been due to post-traumatic stress brought on by World War I. He had served as a first lieutenant with the First Canadian Mounted Rifles during that war.

Last but not least, the remaining child of James and Margaret Houlehan was George Michael Houlehan, born 1865. He was a dentist in Stevens Point. he married Mathilda M. (Tillie) Klusmeyer. They had two sons, Forrest G. and Alfred R. Houlehan. Forrest G. Houlehan served with the Army in Europe during both World Wars. He reached the rank of Colonel. He married Ava Bell and had a daughter, Christina. After retiring from the Army, he lived in Florida for many years. He died at his daughter’s home in East Orleans, Barnstable County, Massachusetts in 1975. Alfred R. Houlehan served along with his brother Forrest in World War I. He then followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a dentist. He worked as a dentist in Chicago, then moved to St. Petersburg, Florida following his retirement. He died 5 Nov 1963 in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. He had married twice, to Leone Blaski and Rozelle Patterson. With the first wife he had a son, Donald Houlehan, who is an attorney in Denver, CO, and contacted me recently. He in turn has a son Michael J. Houlehan, who is currently living in Warsaw, Poland.

I have not included any footnotes within these historical essays. For information on my sources look up the names of individuals in my genealogical database (links below). All source information is listed there.

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Karl Janssen • www.karljanssen.com • kjanssen@ku.edu
Last updated 3 Oct 2012

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