Directory of Irish Genealogy

    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' ( Support for the yarn was provided by the respected online genealogical research service, 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! (
            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 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,
            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, 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' (

            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 ('%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 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 (
            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