Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Proving the Ancestors of John T. Griffin

We all know that Ancestry Member Trees are a double edged sword.  They can be helpful for hints, but are so full of frustrating errors and unproven links.  Last week, I stumbled upon an Ancestry tree that seemed to include my third great-grandparents, Thomas Griffin and Eliza Carpenter.  Moreover, it had several generations of Griffin ancestors attached.  This was very exciting, as the Griffins have been a difficult family to research.  If correct, this tree had potentially handed me four generations of newly-found ancestors.

Just to recap, John T. Griffin was my biological second great-grandfather.  He and my second great-grandmother, Annie Dickson, were married less than a year, and divorced before their son, George, was born.  George was adopted by his stepfather, Malcolm Rutherfurd, and no words were ever spoken about John Griffin.  When my grandmother and I started collaborating on genealogy, she'd already uncovered John Griffin's name and the Griffin-Dickson marriage registration, but she wanted to know more.  We were able to learn much about John's first wife, Ellen Pearsall, and their five children, but John's ancestors remained frustratingly mysterious.  On his marriage registration, John listed his parents as Thomas Griffin and Eliza Carpenter of New York.   I was pretty confident that a family I located in the 1850 census, living in Brooklyn, showed John with his parents and siblings. From there, it got complicated.  Every single road I went down led to a dead end.  Could this Ancestry Member Tree help?

The member tree in question asserted that Thomas Griffin's parents were Stephen Griffin and Jerusha Thorne. Of course, like so many public trees, there were no sources attached proving this was true. I set out to determine whether there was any evidence that could prove Thomas' parentage.

Location, Location, Location

At first glance, the location of the potential parents, Stephen Griffin and Jerusha Thorne, appeared to be correct.  In the 1855 New York State Census, Thomas Griffin and his wife Eliza Carpenter both stated that they were born in Westchester County, New York.  The supposed parents of Thomas, Stephen and Jerusha, were from Mamaroneck, in Westchester County.  Their families had considerable roots in this area, having lived several generations in Mamaroneck and nearby Chappaqua and New Castle.  This potential link was looking promising!

Thomas and Thorne

The Ancestry Member Tree asserted that Thomas Griffin's middle name was Thorne.  This would make sense if he truly was the son of Jerusha Thorne Griffin.  In reviewing census records, I looked again at the 1855 New York State Census, and found that the entry for my Thomas Griffin was not actually "Thom Griffin" but "Thorn Griffin."  I had assumed that the r and n were a crudely shaped m, but in looking more closely, the name was clearly spelled Thorn.  Ancestry even indexes the name as Thorn.  Why had I not noticed that before?  A case for Thomas' parents was slowly starting to build.


On Family Search, I located a death record for Thomas Thorne Griffen. Griffen is a known alternate spelling of Griffin which shows up in John T. Griffin's records, as well. This record, from New York, New York City Municipal Deaths 1795-1949, lists Thomas Thorne Griffin, born about 1802 in New York State, died 1 January 1881 in Manhattan and buried 3 January 1881 in Mamaroneck, New York. He is listed as married, but the record does not give the name of his spouse. I was then able to locate a Find A Grave record for Thomas T. Griffin, 1802-1881, buried in Barker-Quaker Cemetery, Larchmont, New York.  Google informed me that Larchmont is actually a village located within the boundaries of Mamaroneck, New York.  If this is my Thomas Griffin, his death record reinforces his connection to Mamaroneck and potential parents Stephen Griffin and Jerusha Thorne.

The red circles indicate Brooklyn, Mamaroneck and Scranton.  Thomas Griffin lived in each of these cities.

But Then...

...it all got more complicated.

For one, I could find no census records showing Stephen Griffin of Mamaroneck in a household with a child the age of Thomas Thorne Griffin.  While I see tax records for Stephen Griffin in the early 1800s, I don't see him in census listings at that time.  I also could not find a will or deed for Stephen Griffin that mentioned his children.  So, there was no slam dunk bit of paperwork connecting Stephen and Thomas.  At least not that I've been able to find yet.

One of the things that has been hardest about researching this family is that they moved more than once between New York City and Scranton, Pennsylvania.  John T. Griffin and all but one of his siblings were born in Scranton between about 1830 and 1847.  The 1850 US Census shows the family living in Brooklyn, New York, and clearly lists that seven children were born in PA, but the parents and oldest son were born in NY.  This means that Thomas and Eliza were born in Westchester County, had their first child somewhere in New York, then moved to Pennsylvania and lived there for over a decade before relocating to the New York City boroughs.  They were definitely in New York during the period of 1850-1855, as they were noted in the federal and state census records for those years. However, in the 1880 US Census, I located a listing for a Thorn Griffin and Eliza Griffin living once again in Scranton.  Both were born in New York and were living with a 33-year old son named Charles J. Griffin, who was born in Pennsylvania.  This matches perfectly with the information provided in the 1850 and 1855 census records, so I'm certain this is the same family.  However, Thomas Thorn Griffin's death record indicates that he died in New York City in January 1881.  At such an advanced age, would Thomas Griffin have undertaken a trip or a move to New York City, some distance from Scranton?  Making this even more complicated, there is a death record for Eliza Jane Griffin in Scranton on March 13, 1881.  She was buried shortly thereafter in Dunmore, PA.  Did Thomas Griffin take a trip to New York and die there, while Eliza remained behind in Scranton?  Are we dealing with two different Thomas Griffins?

So, I started digging into the Scranton connection a little more.  I've always wondered why the Griffins were going back and forth between New York City and Scranton.  They aren't exactly neighboring cities.  John T. Griffin and at least one of his brothers were involved in boat building and sailing, for which there were no opportunities in Scranton.  Why did his parents move there repeatedly?  Some simple searches on the history of Scranton opened up a whole new can of worms that took me even further away from the proof of parentage I was hoping to find.

To be continued....

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