Directory of Irish Genealogy
Was Elvis Irish, Welsh, Scottish, German or What?
By Sean J Murphy
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 his forthcoming book, The Presley Prophecy, a work which apparently mixes real history and fictional recreation. Support for the story 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 name 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. 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).
As it happens, there is are well 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, 1991-92 (Ancestors of American Presidents, pages 119, 179). A detailed account online by Lorina Bolig specifies Elvis's immigrant ancestor as one Johann Valentin Bressler/Preslar, born in the Palatinate in Germany in 1669 and who arrived in New York via London in 1710 (http://elvisancestors.0catch.com/Elvis'%20Palatine%20German%20Ancestors.html). These are the facts concerning Elvis Presley's ancestry so far as they can be established, but excitable and fanciful genealogical tales will no doubt contine to be added to the growing store of myths surrounding the deceased entertainer - that is, if he really is deceased!