Orr History

The question of how a family's history blends with a country's has always fascinated me.  If no families had moved to the plains of Kansas there would not be corn swaying in the breeze in July.  If the families who moved there had been determined to create a manufacturing hub, there could be a lot less corn.  And then it would have popped up somewhere else, given that we all want to eat. 

Information on the descendants of Paul Orr and Isabella Boyd is available in several ebooks with individual family lines and an overview paperback that has more than 2,400 individuals. Lots of history about the families' lives in Ireland and America.


Families came to the U.S. at different times. William and Jennie (Adams) Orr arrived in the early 1830s and settled in SW Missouri in 1837. The first post office of what would become Lawrence County was in their home near what is now Salem Cemetery.

George and Elizabeth (Brown) Orr arrived in the same area in 1860, finding a very developed area complete with schools -- and the rising U.S. Civil War. With George's help, sister Isabella arrived in 1863. Her husband, Ephraim Campbell died en route, and she within months. Fortunately, their immigrant children had reached their destination and not been orphaned along the way. 

These and other families are in the paperback -- Orr, Campbell, Mitchell, and Shirley Families in Ireland, America and More: Descendants of Paul Orr and Isabelle Boyd. This book is the product of almost 15 years of research, initially done informally, then in a more organized fashion. As a young person I had seen a slim booklet that the Orr Reunion Association had published in 1954.  My primary reaction was that they should have waited to put my siblings and me in it, but later I grew interested in the stories. 

The 1954 book came about because reunion attendees (who had formed the group in 1937 to mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of William and Jennie Orr in Mount Vernon, MO) realized that there would soon be no one around to pass on the stories they had heard from their parents and grandparents. They also wanted to keep the far-flung family members in touch.

Thus, the almost 2,400-person, indexed, 2013 history owes a debt to the 1954 authors of The Descendants of Paul and Isabelle Orr – Lettie Hickman Wilkes, assisted by Jessie Stemmons and Harold Campbell, as well as Annie Agnes Shirley, who wrote most of the section in that book on Ann Orr Shirley and family. In fact, the 2013 history would have been almost impossible to prepare without it.  Many descendants have continued to bring family updates to the Orr Reunion through the years. Others, especially Mary Ann Vincent, helped make possible Orr, Campbell, Mitchell, and Shirley Families: Descendants of Paul Orr and Isabelle Boyd in Ireland and America.

Even given such active family input, a book such as this would have had far less information if not for census and other historical records.  The literally hundreds of hours I spent poring through records at the National Archives were worth it.  Today you can garner access on a number of Internet sites, but you have to be careful not to assume a family is "yours" just because some names are similar.

There are likely tens of thousands (maybe more) of Orr descendants in the U.S. (mostly), Northern Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and probably Australia.  This book is limited to the small portion thus far identified. More are welcome! The children of Paul Orr and Isabelle Boyd (and a few places they went) are:

- James (married Jane Reed).  Went to Allen county, Indiana, and soon spread to Wisconsin, Kansas, and other states.
- William (married Jennie Adams)  Went to Lawrence County, Missouri. More than other families, some went on to Oklahoma.
- George (married Elizabeth Brown)  Went to Lawrence County, Missouri, then Colorado and OK.
- Martha (married John Mitchell)  Knox descendants went to Jasper and Lawrence County, Missouri. More stayed in Ireland, some went to New Zealand and Canada.
- Ann (married Valentine Shirley) Went to the Philadelphia and Quincy, Massachusetts areas.
- Isabella (married Ephraim Campbell).  Went to Jasper, Lawrence, and Greene Counties, Missouri. More went to California than other families.

In Ireland, they lived in Aghadowey Parish, in the Townland of Rhee, not far from Coleraine in Londonderry. The Campbells also lived in Ballylaggan, and George Orr lived near Moneydig and taught in Belfast for a time. 

Descendants have been born in, married in, lived in, or died in 49 of the 50 American states. While I love to hear from people, please don't write to ask if, for example, the South Carolina or Ohio Orrs are part of this family.  They aren't -- unless it was a couple hundred years ago in Ireland or Scotland, and I've no clue about that. 

Info is always free from the author. Should you want to own some, the ebooks on the individual families and a background chapter on all families. This gives readers access to information they may most want for an even more reasonable price. Family history is most valuable when shared!

Descendants of Paul Orr and Isabelle Boyd meet every year on the first Sunday of August at the Ozark Prairie Presbyterian Church, near Mount Vernon in Lawrence County, Missouri.  For more information on the Orr Reunion, email elaineorr55@yahoo.com or visit www.orrreunion.com.