Was Elvis Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German or What?
By Sean J Murphy
Elvis Presley (1935-1977)
Since his death in 1977, anything to do with Elvis Presley, 'The King
of Rock'n'Roll', has continued to attract media attention
internationally. Thus when in March 2004 a Scottish author Allan
Morrison announced that he had succeeded in tracing Elvis's roots back
to the village of Lonmay in Aberdeenshire, great excitement was
generated and the story was flashed around the world by the media and
via the Internet. By 3 April 2004 a Google search for the terms 'Elvis
Presley' and 'Lonmay' returned 2,790 hits, with excited media reports
from all over the globe declaring in a babel of tongues that
La famille d'Elvis Presley serait originaire d'une petit village agricole du nord de l'Ecosse du nom de Lonmay . . .
Elvis Presley's familie zou oorspronkelijk uit het Schotse gehucht Lonmay komen . . .
Elvis Presley giftet seg i den lille landsbyen Lonmay i Skotland . . .
Elvis Presley has Scottish ancestry, according to an author who has
traced the King's roots to the hamlet of Lonmay in Aberdeenshire . . .
It is Morrison's case that Elvis's ancestor Andrew Presley, who arrived
in North Carolina in 1745, was the son of Andrew Presley and Elspeth
Leg who were married in Lonmay in 1713. Morrison uncovered this
hitherto unknown connection in the course of research for hisbook, The Presley Prophecy, an historical novel 'based on breakthrough research' (http://www.lulu.com/shop/allan-morrison/the-presley-prophecy/paperback/product-1319755.html?ppn=1). Support for the yarn was provided by the respected online genealogical research service www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk, which reproduced the 1713 marriage entry from its extensive database of records as follows:
The present writer opened a file on Elvis's ancestry some years ago in
response to reports that there was an ancestral connection with
Ireland, but I was never able to locate any reliable documentation to
verify this claim. The surname Presley is indeed found in Ireland,
where it is usually of Scottish origin, but can also be a variant of
Priestley. The forename Elvis is distinctive but of obscure origin, yet
there was again an Irish St Elvis who lived in the 6th century (Hanks
and Hodges, Oxford Dictionary of First Names, page 103). There is a
church dedicated to the Irish St Elvis in Wales, and it is possible
that this fed speculation that the King was of Celtic ancestry. Indeed,
there was another news story some years back in 2000, in which a
'Cardiff academic' was quoted as indicating that the secret of Elvis's
ancestry could be found in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire with the
St Elvis Church nearby! (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/wales/774228.stm).
Certainly more in-depth work needs to be done to solve the mystery of
the derivation of the unusual forename Elvis, which was used by the
Presleys before the King's time, and it would be worthwhile
investigating if it could have arisen somewhere in the complex southern
cultural mix which produced the singer. Poor folk they may have been,
but Elvis's family certainly specialised in exotic names, including a
version of his great-great grandfather's name which goes Jessie Elvetus
Dunnin Presley, Jr (died 1900, simple gravestone inscribed with name
Dunnin Presley at http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=39783399).
Now Elvetus appears to be a very rare surname, and could 'Elvis', used
also a second name by the King's father Vernon, have originated here?
Coming back to the alleged Irish branch in Elvis's family tree. In
2013, when under the influence of the 'Gathering' various areas in
Ireland were competing to attract attention as tourist destinations, it
was claimed that Elvis's ancestor was a certain William Presley who
came from Hacketstown, County Carlow, but alas no persuasive
documentary evidence was produced to back up this assertion ('Green
Suede Shoes', The Irish Sun, 21 March 2013, http://www.thesun.ie/irishsol/homepage/news/4852483/Green-suede-shoes.html).
A document which it is purported proves the Carlow, and now also
Wicklow, connection of Elvis appeared on the market in April 2016 and
generated the expected media interest. The document in question is a
court complaint dated 1775 in which a certain William Presley alleges
that he was assaulted by a group of Wicklow men. It is asserted that
this William Presley emigrated to America, where he allegedly had a son
Dunnan Presley in 1780, no documentation being cited to support these
novel claims. The paper of record introduced the story with the solemn
headline, 'Elvis Presley’s Irish roots proven by legal document' (Irish Times, 22 April 2016, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/elvis-presley-s-irish-roots-proven-by-legal-document-1.2621274).
The auctioneer Ian Whyte is quoted in this article as claiming,
'Elvis’s great-great-great-great-grandfather left Ireland after being
attacked . . . this document proves the link and explains why Elvis was
born in America'. The document does no such thing, it merely proves the
existence of William Presley in Ireland in 1775 and provides no
evidence of any link with Elvis Presley.
Alleged 'Elvis document' (http://antiquesandartireland.com/2016/04/auction-elvis-presley)
As it happens, there are much better sourced accounts of Elvis's
ancestry which trace his family not to any of the countries we have
been discussing, but to Germany. The prominent American genealogist
Gary Boyd Roberts has indicated that Elvis's family was of
German-Palatine origin, the surname originally being Preslar or
Presler, citing articles in the New England Historic Genealogical
Society Journal Nexus and noting that President Jimmy Carter was a
distant cousin (Ancestors of American Presidents,
2009 edition, pages 276, 300). The Palatines were refugees from the
Rhineland Palatinate in Germany who arrived in England in 1709, and
while some settled in Ireland, many more travelled on to America. An
online article by Lorina Bolig specifies Elvis's immigrant ancestor as
one Johann Valentin Bressler/Preslar, born in the Palatinate in 1669
and who arrived in New York via London in 1710 (http://elvisancestors.0catch.com/Elvis'%20Palatine%20German%20Ancestors.html).
If Elvis had German ancestry, this would add an extra dimension to his
rendition of 'Wooden Heart', based on the folksong 'Muss i denn', and
with some verses sung in German (view and listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hlbu6SsjlSE).
This song is from Elvis's film GI Blues, inspired by his army service
in Germany, and while you are on YouTube, check out another song from
the movie, 'Pocketful of Rainbows', with back projection of, yes,
beautiful Rhineland scenery (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAZPBYOekis).
In conclusion, there is no evidence that Elvis had Irish, or Scottish,
or Welsh ancestry via his Presley lineage, but a good case has been
made by US genealogists that he was of German Palatine origin.
Unfortunately, excitable and fanciful tales of genealogical connections
with other countries will no doubt continue to be added to the growing
store of myths surrounding the deceased entertainer - that is, if he
really is deceased!
Addendum: Elvis's uncontested ancestry
Elvis Aron Presley (1935-1977) m Priscilla Ann Beaulieu (1945-)
Vernon Elvis Presley (1916-1979) m Gladys Love Smith (1912-1958)
Jessie D McClowell Presley (1896-1973) m Minnie Mae Hood (1888-1980)
Rosella Presley (1862-1924), unmarried, father's name unknown
Dunnan Presley Jr (1827-1900) m Martha Jane Wesson
Dunnan Presley (c1780-1850), married, mother's name unknown
Last revised 28 April 2016