Locals in Ardara may have been curious at seeing a coachload of ‘tourists’ arriving in the grounds of the Church of the Holy Family recently.
It was that of three generations of the Nellis family, home from the United States on a weeklong tour of Ireland.
Their last stop was in Donegal to search for the exact grave of their ancestor, Barney Nellis, who emigrated to Pittsburgh from the area in 1847.
DNA testing of the family back home in America had indicated a strong connection with the Ardara area, hence the visit.
Bernard was born in 1827, had one brother Michael and married Bridget Molloy, of Meenagoland, in Pittsburgh.
In terms of finding the grave, it was a failed attempt but in terms of the poignancy of a clan returning to its roots it was a huge success.
The visitors moved among the plots and excitedly pointed out the years of the oldest graves; they really felt as though they were, indeed, among their ancestors.
James Nellis Sr explained how the surname morphed into Nellis.
“It would appear that immigrants, arriving at Ellis Island in New York, often found that their name was difficult to spell or pronounce,” he told Donegal Daily.
“In order to better fit in, many chose to simplify the spelling or otherwise alter their name to relate it more closely to the American naming system.
“There was also the fact that the clerks filling out the forms found it difficult to spell the name or understand the new arrivals.”
While the visit is over, the search goes on and anyone who feels they may know the McNeilis family from whom Barney (or Bernard) descended should contact Paul Kennedy on firstname.lastname@example.org