Thursday, January 15, 2015

Finding John Griffin's Place of Death

One of my major research goals for 2014 was to determine my biological great-great-grandfather's place and date of death.  John T. Griffin and his family have been difficult to research.  John and his second wife, Annie Dickson, separated shortly after their marriage and some months before my great-grandfather, George Rutherfurd, was born.  Annie and George had no relationship with John after that time, so my grandmother had to start from scratch when she began researching the Griffins.

I have learned quite a bit about John Griffin's descendants in the past several years, but John's parents and siblings remain unproven.  I have also had a very difficult time determining a place and date of death for John Griffin.  He lived much of his adult life in the Detroit area, going back and forth between the United States and Canada.  However, I could find no record of his death either in Michigan or Ontario.  The good news is that I believe I have finally overcome this obstacle.

Death information for a John T. Griffin in Gulfport, Florida

I found a death record in Gulfport, Florida that appears to be our John T. Griffin.  I was elated and immediately set about trying to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that this was my second great-grandfather.  Here is why I believe I've finally cracked this case:

John's Date of Birth
We have two sources indicating that John T. Griffin's date of birth was either November 1838 or 1839.  These include the Griffin-Dickson marriage registration, where John is listed as aged 56 in 1894 and the 1900 census, where his date of birth is given as November 1839.  The newly found death record gives John's date of birth as November 8, 1838.  This appears to be a match with our John T. Griffin.

Excerpt of the 1900 U.S. Census in Detroit, Michigan

1894 marriage record for John Griffin and Annie Dickson.

John's Place of Birth
John's place of birth is less clear than his date of birth.  The Griffin-Dickson marriage registration gives his birthplace as simply "U.S."  The 1900 census says he was born in New York and that his parents were born in Pennsylvania. The Griffin-Rice marriage registration gives his place of birth as Pennsylvania.  However, we believe that the Griffin family went back and forth between Pennsylvania and New York multiple times during John's childhood.  The 1850 census record for the family we believe to be John's (although this is unproven) indicates that all but the oldest child in the family were born in Pennsylvania while the parents were born in New York.  The death certificate I located for John Griffin in Florida states that he was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  So, while this doesn't precisely match the information I have regarding our John T. Griffin, it's well within the realm of possibility. 

Parents of John Griffin
On the Griffin-Dickson marriage registration, John's parents are listed as Thomas Griffin and La Carpenter.  I have long thought that "La" was a transcription error and his mother's correct name was Ella or Eliza, but of course, this is not proven.  On the marriage license of John Griffin and Elizabeth Rice, John's parents are listed as Thomas Griffin and E.J. Carpenter.  On the death certificate I located in Florida, John Griffin's father is listed as John Thomas Griffin.  His mother's surname is recorded as Carpenter.  This appears to be a match with our John.

Marriage Registration for John Griffin and Elizabeth Rice, 1899

John's Occupation
John T. Griffin was a ship's carpenter.  We know this from the documents previously referenced, his 1894 marriage registration, 1899 marriage registration and the 1900 census.  This is also some of the only family lore that was passed down about John.  My second great-grandmother, Annie Dickson, told her granddaughter, LaVerne Rutherfurd, that John had worked on boats on the Great Lakes.  Family stories suggest he may have also sailed those boats, in addition to working as a carpenter.  The death certificate for John Griffin in Florida lists his occupation as "R.R. Ferry."  It has taken me quite a bit of searching to determine exactly what that means.  In the early 1900s, railroad companies sometimes also owned ferry lines dedicated to shuttling passengers across bodies of water.  It appears that John Griffin was working for the railroad company-owned ferry.  This ties in perfectly with what we know about our John T. Griffin, who worked on boats on the Great Lakes.  This appears to be a match with our John Griffin.

John's Wife
John married his third wife, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rice, on September 4, 1899 in Windsor, Ontario. Lizzie was 34 at the time of the marriage, making her about 24 years younger than John Griffin.*  She was born in New York.  The death record for John T. Griffin found in Florida indicates that his wife was Elizabeth Griffin.  Furthermore, John T. Griffin and Elizabeth are found in the 1920 and 1930 census records in Pinellas County, Florida.  Each indicates that Elizabeth is about 23-24 years younger than her husband and was born in New York.  Thus, the John Griffin in Florida appears to be a match with our John T. Griffin.

An excerpt from the 1920 U.S. Census in Gulfport, Florida

An excerpt from the 1930 U.S. Census in Gulfport, Florida

* Note: John and Elizabeth's marriage registration lists John's age as 50.  It should have been 59.  I don't know if this is an error in transcription or in reporting, but John was a full decade older than the registration states.

John's Location
Why would our John T. Griffin have been in Florida?  It turns out that it's not such an unusual final residence for my great-great-grandfather.  Apparently, John had traveled to Florida earlier in his life.  He and Annie went to Florida on their ill-fated honeymoon, a boat trip she later described as disastrous.  When Annie filed for divorce in August 1894, she stated that John was "in Detroit but moved to Florida."  My grandmother told me that she thought John had some business in Florida and he may have gone back and forth between Florida and Detroit regularly.  We know from the 1900 census record and a 1907 obituary for Elizabeth Rice's sister Esther that John was still living in the Detroit area during those years.  However, it didn't surprise me at all to find a death record in Florida.  John clearly had a connection to the Sunshine State.  After locating the death record,  I found John and Elizabeth Griffin on census records there in both 1920 and 1930, indicating that sometime after 1907, they relocated permanently to Florida.  At any rate, it makes sense that our John T. Griffin would have been in Florida, so this place of death appears logical.

The green house at left is 2907 Beach Blvd. in Gulfport (modern view), the last residence of John T. Griffin

In conclusion, I believe we have several strong reasons to believe that the John Griffin who died in Gulfport, Florida on April 26, 1933 is the same man who married Annie Dickson in 1894 and fathered her son, George Roscoe Griffin, later George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd.  

The next task is to be certain about the parents and siblings of John T. Griffin.

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