Select McGee Surname Genealogy

The Gaelic elements mag, a rendering of mac (or “son of”), and the personal name aodh, meaning “fire,” gave rise to the surnames McGhee, McGee and Magee in Scotland and Ireland. 

McGhee is the Scottish spelling for the most part, although this name did spread to Ulster at the time of the Scottish plantations.  The McGee and Magee names were also in Ulster.  McGee of Irish origin was mainly found in Donegal, Magee of Scottish origin in Antrim.  
Often Magee was the Protestant name and McGee the Catholic one.

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ScotlandMcGhees in Scotland may have been Irish in origin, although they do seem to have preceded the Irish McGees.  The name in Scotland was first recorded with Gilmighel McEthe of Dumfries at the Ragman's Ball in 1296 and may have dated back several centuries earlier.

Gilbert M'Ghie was the first Lord of Balmaghie (meaning M'Ghie's town) in Galloway
around the year 1400His descendants acquired progressively more influence and importance, especially with Sir John M'Ghie in the 1640's during the reign of the Stuarts.   A branch of the family controlled the Rinns of Islay for several centuries.

However, their prominence was lost with the sale of their estates and an extremely severe lack of male heirs.  By the 18th century the McGhee families of Balmaghie, Airie and Airds, and Castlehill were all practically extinct:
  • John McGhee, the last of Castlehill, had six daughters, the eldest of whom had six sons who all died childless.
  • while William McGhee, a merchant in Edinburgh who had inherited Balmaghie with its 4,000 acres of agricultural and sporting land unexpectedly, had no interest in the estate and sold it in 1768The last of the McGhee line at Balmaghie were said to have been two old ladies who lived and died in a cottage nearby.
By the late 19th century, the McGhee and McGee names in Scotland were mainly to be found in Lanarkshire, in and around Glasgow, rather than in their earlier homeland in SW Scotland.

The Irish McGee and Magee history has been more sketchy. 

The old Irish form of the name was Mac Aodha (meaning "son of Hugh.").  Another derivation in Donegal was Mac Gaoithe ("of the wind").  A family of this name served as erenaghs in Donegal in the parish of Condahorkey.  The name there became McGee or sometimes McKee.  They were to be found along the border with Tyrone.

Tyrone had some early Scottish settlers by the name of McGhee or McGee.   Sir John McGhee of Balmaghie died in 1617 and was apparently buried in Leckpatrick cemetery near Strabane.  His line extended to George McGhee who was buried there in 1741.

The spelling in county Antrim was generally Magee.  It was said that the Magees of Island Magee, a peninsula on the coast near Larne in Antrim, had come originally from the Scottish Rinns of Islay.  Other Scots Irish in Antrim also adopted the Magee spelling, although some still kept the old Scottish spelling.  Their numbers included: 
  • James Magee, born in Belfast in the early 1700's, who was a newspaper printer and publisher whose business later expanded through his sons to Dublin.  This line was covered in F.J. Bigger's 1916 book The Magees of Belfast and Dublin.
  • Martha Magee, the widow of a Presbyterian minister in Lurgan, who endowed Magee University in Derry on her death in 1846.
  • Richard McGhee, also from Lurgan, who was a Protestant labor union activist at the time of Home Rule.
  • and the Rev. Robert Magee from Belfast who was instrumental in securing the Loyalist ceasefire during the sectarian strife in 1994.
America.  The McGees and Magees who came to America in the 18th century were invariably Scots Irish.  Michael McGee who arrived in Brunswick county, Virginia in the 1750's was thought to have originated from Island Magee in Antrim.  His son Michael McGee moved to Abbeville, South Carolina in 1791.

Other Scots Irish who made the journey across the Atlantic were:
  • John McGee who may have been born in 1730 while enroute from Ireland to America.  He died in North Carolina just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.  His second wife Martha, however, was recognized as a heroine during that conflict.  Two of their sons John and William moved to Tennessee in the 1790's and became prominent Presbyterian ministers there.
  • five McGee brothers from Tyrone who came to Augusta and Botetourt counties, Virginia in the 1750's.  They migrated to Kentucky with Daniel Boone around the year 1775.
  • John McGee who fought with the 12th Virginia Regiment during the Revolutionary War and later made his home at McGee Cove in Warren county, Tennessee.
  • and Patrick Magee from Antrim who came to Georgia in 1779 and later settled in Missouri territory.
Yet another Tennessee line began with Barclay McGhee, Scots Irish from North Carolina, who was a merchant and successful land speculator in Blount county, Tennessee.   His son John built up a large property base of former Indian land along the Little Tennessee river.  This land remained in his descendants' hands until the 1960's.  John's son Charles, who based himself in Knoxville, was responsible for much of the railroad construction that took place in east Tennessee during the 1870's and 1880's.

David McGee from Scotland enlisted in the Continental Army in 1777 and fought in the Revolutionary War . Afterwards he too moved to Tennessee and then onto Alabama.  He was said to have had six wives.  
The McGee in the song Me and Bobby McGee was in fact a Tennesseean, although her real name was Bobby McKee. 

Fibber McGee was a fictional American, from a long-running radio comedy series.  One McGee family history in America, together with the story of the McGees in Scotland and Ireland, was traced in James McGee’s 2007 book A Branch of a Tree: A McGee Family in History. 

Canada.  Thomas D’Arcy McGee
, born into an Ulster family in Louth, came to North America in 1842 and eventually made his home in Montreal.  He was Catholic and a passionate advocate of Irish and Canadian nationalism who was gunned down on the streets of Ottawa in 1868, one year after Confederation. 

D’Arcy’s family was originally from county Down.  His grandmother Elizabeth Magee had in fact immigrated to Canada in 1823, settling in Lanark county, Ontario.  John Wellington McGee, born there in 1863, considered himself a descendant of D’Arcy McGee.  He had been born Magee but on converting to Catholicism changed his name to McGee

Select McGee Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select McGee Names

Gilbert M'Ghie was the late 14th century first Lord of Balmaghie in Galloway in SW Scotland.
D'Arcy McGee was an Irish publisher and politician in Canada in the mid-19th century who is sometimes considered as the father of Canadian Confederation.
The McGee Bothers, Sam with guitar and Kirk with banjo, were one of the most enduring country acts on the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville since its opening in 1926.

Select McGees Today
  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in Northern Ireland)
  • 41,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 19,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
These numbers include McGhees and Magees.

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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