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The Lawless Family of Peoria

We have some Lawless ancestors. Not that they were lawbreakers, but that was their name. These Irish immigrants settled in Peoria, Illinois, that quintessential American city.

My group arrived in New York in 1849 and was enumerated in Peoria in 1850. Three other Lawless families already lived there.

Were my people related to the others? It is tempting to assume so, but so far I have not been able to discern a kinship.

My family, as listed on the census record, almost matches their passenger arrival list (one daughter died in the interim):

  1. Thomas Lawless     46
  2. Margaret        50 on the ship record, 25 on the census
  3. Jane            21
  4. Peter            18
  5. Catherine        16 (died in 1849)
  6. James            16
  7. Bridget            15
  8. Rose            10
  9. Thomas            8
  10. Patrick            6
  11. Betsy            4
  12. Michael            3
  13. John            1/12

The other Lawless families were headed by men I believe to be father and sons:

  1. James Lawless        51
  2. Margaret        48
  3. John            21
  4. Jane            17
  5. Ellen            12


  6. Thomas Lawless    32
  7. Margaret        24
  8. Ann            2
  9. Elizabeth        0
  10. Thomas O’Brien        21


  11. Patrick            30
  12. Sarah            25
  13. Joan            7
  14. Thomas            4
  15. Jno            0

Except for Patrick’s family, the Lawlesses lived quite close to one another in Peoria in dwellings 1968, 1969, and 1971. The Thomas Lawless who arrived in the U.S. in 1849 must have headed to Peoria to join the other Lawless families there.

Were Thomas (46) and James (51) brothers? With an age difference of just 5 years, this seems possible. I have yet to find any documentation naming the parents of either man.

Public family trees name various parents for James, who immigrated as a young man in 1828. One tree suggests different parents for Thomas although no one seems to have done much research on him.

Much work remains to decipher this family relationship. Not only will I need to study unfamiliar Irish records, but the duplication of names presents an additional challenge. Did you notice that these four families have four males named Thomas? And that nearly every wife is named Margaret? Other names are repeated, too—Jane, Elizabeth/Betsy, James, John, Patrick.

This seems a messy bunch to sort out, and I will be satisfied when I have it all untangled.

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