Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Who Were Thomas Griffin's Parents?

Forested hills in the Lackawanna Valley (photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli)

In my last post, I discussed my quest to find the parents of my third great-grandfather, Thomas Griffin.  An Ancestry Member Tree had asserted that Thomas was the son of Stephen Griffin and Jerusha Thorne of Mamaroneck, New York.  When I started trying to find proof of this connection, it initially seemed promising.  Stephen and Jerusha lived in Westchester County, where Thomas was born.  Records indicated that Thomas' middle name was actually Thorne, which would make sense if he was Jerusha Thorne's son.  I also found a death record suggesting that Thomas was buried in Mamaroneck in 1881.

Another piece of key information: In the book The Journal of the Reverend Silas Constant, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church At Yorktown, New York, the author mentions the will of Thomas Thorne of New Castle, NY (adjacent to Mamaroneck). In this will, Thomas Thorne in 1821 names his wife, several children and a grandchild.  Among them is his daughter, Jerusha Griffin and her son Thomas Griffin.  This proves that Thomas was the son of Jerusha Thorne Griffin.

Then, it all started to go downhill.  I couldn't find a census record for Stephen Griffin in Mamaroneck, which meant I couldn't place a child of Thomas' age in his household.  I could not locate wills or deeds that definitively connected father and son.  Where was the proof I needed?

The question of Scranton, Pennsylvania also continued to loom large in my mind.  If Thomas and his parents were from Mamaroneck, then why did Thomas spend so many years living in Scranton, far from both his parents and the New York City boroughs where he settled with his children?  I decided to take a closer look at Scranton and see if there might be some clues in that area.

Almost immediately, I found something exciting.  Records for the city of Scranton indicate that five Griffin brothers from Westchester County were early settlers in the area.  These brothers began farming in Providence, in the Lackawanna Valley, which was later incorporated into Scranton, in the early 1800s.

The original Griffin in Providence was Stephen, who in 1794 left Westchester County, N.Y., to battle with Pennsylvania forests.  He located near Lutze's fordway. Thos. Griffin became a resident of the valley in 1811, James in 1812, and Joseph and Isaac in 1816. [History of the Lackawanna Valley by Horace Hollister]

If Thomas Griffin's father and uncles had moved from Mamaroneck to Scranton, that would explain why I could find no record of Stephen in Mamaroneck during Thomas' childhood, and also why Thomas and his family lived on and off in the Scranton area in later years.  However, right away there were a few problems with this idea.  "Scranton Stephen Griffin" left Westchester County in 1794.  The Stephen Griffin I was researching married Jerusha Thorne in Westchester County in 1800, and his son Thomas was born there about 1802.  Multiple census records confirm Thomas' birth year and place.  The database "US and International Marriage Records 1560-1900" records the Griffin-Thorne marriage as taking place in 1800.  How could the Stephen Griffin I was researching be a Pennsylvania settler, while also marrying and having children in New York?

I did some investigating of the Stephen Griffin who settled near Scranton.  His wife was variously recorded as Mary Place or Polly Place.  I could find no mention of a wife named Jerusha.  The Stephen Griffin in Scranton had several daughters, likely including Matilda (b. 1799), Jerusha (b. 1802 and married Henry Treadwell Fellows), Amelia (or Armelia) (b. 1804) and Maria (b. 1807). He also had two sons, Jackson and Egbert.

The Griffins were early inhabitants of Connecticut and from that state removed to Dutchess county, NY, where the birth of our subject's grandfather, Stephen Griffin, occurred.  He was a farmer and drover by occupation and about 1810 he settled in what is now Lackawanna County.  Subsequently, his brothers, Joseph, Thomas and James, and a sister, Mrs. Mead, also came here and their descendants still remain in this valley. Stephen married Mary Place, a native of Connecticut and daughter of a pioneer of this county, and of their union two sons were born, Jackson and Egbert. [Portrait and Biographical Record of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania by Chapman Publishing Co.]

Given the lack of connection to either Jerusha Thorne or a son named Thomas, I don't believe the Stephen Griffin who settled in Scranton can be the father of my third great-grandfather.

Is it possible that there may have been two Stephen Griffins in Westchester County?  Was there one who went to Scranton and married Mary Place, and another who stayed in Mamaroneck, married Jerusha Thorne, and had a son named Thomas?

This leads us to another bit of contested information.  Who was the father of Stephen Griffin?  Online family trees tend to record the same parents for both Scranton Stephen and Mamaroneck Stephen: Joseph Griffin and Sarah Burling.  Here, again, things are not as simple as they might at first appear. The record cited most often in online trees for this family is found in the database Connecticut Town Birth Records, pre-1870, Pomfret Vital Records 1705-1850.  It shows a Stephen Griffin born in Pomfret, Connecticut on March 6, 1777, son of Joseph and Sarah Griffin.  However, upon closer examination, it appear that this Stephen was not the son of Joseph Griffin and Sarah Burling, but rather Joseph Griffin and Sarah Brown, whose marriage was registered in Pomfret in 1755.  Joseph Griffin and Sarah Burling were from Westchester County.  In The Burling Books: Ancestors and Descendants of Edward and Grace Burling by Jane Thompson-Stahr, there is mention of a Joseph Griffin (of Mamaroneck) and Sarah Burling (of Eastchester, NY) who had a son, Stephen in Westchester County in about 1775.  Did this Stephen Griffin turn out to be Scranton Stephen or Mamaroneck Stephen?  I can't find any conclusive evidence.

This is why online family trees are so dangerous.  It would have been easy to look at the names this tree provided and the circumstantial evidence connecting Stephen and Jerusha to Thomas Griffin, and absorb this into my tree. When I started really looking at these individuals carefully and trying to apply a standard of proof to their relationship, it just wasn't there.

I believe it's quite likely that Thomas was the son of Stephen and Jerusha Thorne of Mamaroneck.  I just can't prove it.  I also don't know what to make of the Scranton issue.  There was clearly a Scranton connection in my family.  My second great-grandfather, John Griffin, son of Thomas Griffin, was born there.  Thomas and Eliza Griffin lived there for a time.  It just doesn't seem possible that the Stephen Griffin who settled there in 1794 was the father of Thomas Griffin.

This family never fails to frustrate, but I will continue to search for answers.


  1. Great job explaining your findings! Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Sierra! This has been such a tough case to crack. I'm still hopeful, though.

  2. Hi.

    Have you seen this book on Google Books...Genealogical and Family History of the Wyoming and Lackawanna ..., Volume 2? It mentions the 4 Griffin brothers and Joseph married 1st Elizabeth Thorne and they had a son named Thorne. Stephens Griffin and Thomas Griffin are listed in Quaker Meeting Records for Pennsylvania. Stephen married to Mary and children are Mariah, Stephen Egbert, Phebe, Marilla, and Sarah. I've been looking into Thomas Griffin.