Monday, June 20, 2016

The Lineage of John T. Griffin

The harbor at Mamaroneck, New York, ancestral home of my Griffin ancestors. (photo by June Marie)

I've been working hard to prove the ancestors of my second great-grandfather, John T. Griffin.  As mentioned in previous posts, this family has always been something of a mystery, since John T. Griffin divorced my second great-grandmother, Annie Dickson, before the birth of their only child and then disappeared from their lives.

Earlier posts have detailed my search to determine John T. Griffin's place of death and the names of his parents and grandparents.  While I was fairly certain I'd located his parents in New York census records, attempts to verify his paternal grandparents ended in a confused muddle of conflicting documents.  Since I believe John's grandparents were from Westchester County, New York, I contacted the Westchester County Historical Society to see if they could help.  They quickly responded to my request and set to work copying any related Griffin materials for me.  I received a package in the mail shortly thereafter, so many thanks to the helpful librarians at the Westchester County Historical Society.  The good news is that WCHS did have multiple documents relating to my Griffin family.  The bad news is that they weren't quite the slam dunk that I'd hoped to find.  I do think I have strong circumstantial evidence for this family's lineage, but I'll continue looking for more concrete connections.

Here, I present the case for the ancestry of John T. Griffin.

John T. Griffin (1838 - 1933)
Place of birth: Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Source: 1920 US Census, 1930 US Census, Florida Death Records
Parents' names: Thomas Griffin and E.J. Carpenter. Source: Marriage record (Annie Dickson), marriage record (Elizabeth Rice), Florida Death Records.

There is some conflicting information about John's place of birth and his parents' place of birth.  The 1900 US Census lists John as having been born in New York and his parents in Pennsylvania.  His Florida death record says his place of birth was Pennsylvania, and his parents place of birth was Pennsylvania.  However, I know that John lived in New York as a young man.  He married his first wife, Ellen Pearsall, there in 1859 and was living in Brooklyn at the time of the 1865 New York State Census. So, I started my search for John's parents in New York, and found a match.

In the 1850 US Census, I located a family that appears to include my second great-grandfather, John T. Griffin.  He is shown living in New York City with parents Thomas Griffin and Eliza J. Griffin. John is 10 years old at the time of this census, which is the correct age.  The census indicates that he and most of his siblings were born in Pennsylvania, while his parents and eldest brother are recorded as having been born in New York. One very interesting piece of information is that the eldest brother, Charles, is employed as a ship's carpenter.  This is the same career John would take up just a handful of years later.  It is recorded as his occupation in the 1865 New York Census and the 1900 US Census.  That he sailed boats on the Great Lakes was one of the few things Annie Dickson would tell her son about his father.  So, here we have a correlation of dates, location and occupation that indicates this is the correct family.

Thomas Griffin (1806 - ?)
Place of birth: New York. Source: (1850 US Census, 1855 New York State Census)

While the 1900 census and John Griffin's death certificate list Thomas' place of birth as Pennsylvania, that information was given by third parties (John's father-in-law and wife) after Thomas' death, so I favor the two census records where Thomas himself reported the information.  The 1855 Census specifically states that both Thomas and Eliza were born in Westchester County, New York. Interestingly, this census also lists Thomas' first name as "Thorn," which is repeated in the 1880 census and on the death certificate of his son Joseph.  This is clearly the same family, with the same children, but Thomas is sometimes listed as Thomas Griffin and sometimes as Thorn Griffin.

I moved my search to Westchester County, hoping to find records there that would connect Thomas to his parents.  I quickly located a couple living in Mamaroneck, Westchester County, who appeared to be candidates.  His potential mother's surname was Thorne, which would explain why Thomas also bore the name Thorn or Thorne.

Stephen Griffin (Abt 1780 - 1847)

Stephen Griffin and Jerusha Thorne were married in Chappaqua in 1800.  The will of Jerusha Thorne's father, written in 1821, mentions his grandson Thomas Griffin.  I was hoping that the Westchester County Historical Society's documents would concretely prove the assertion that Thomas was the son of Stephen and Jerusha.  They sent me the 1847 records of the Westchester County Surrogate Court regarding the will of Stephen Griffin.  The will itself leaves goods to Stephen's wife, Jerusha, along with his children, Abigail Griffin, Joseph Griffin and John C. Griffin.  While nothing appears to have been willed to Thomas, and he is never listed as a child of Stephen Griffin, in the will there is a mention from a court surrogate that, "This deponent served said citation on Thomas T. Griffin by delivering a copy of the same to him personally..."  While this isn't the slam dunk I was hoping to achieve, it does link Stephen Griffin and Thomas Griffin.  The Westchester County Historical Society also sent me a document listing Stephen and Jerusha's children with a note that this information comes without source citations.  Those children were Thomas, Abigail, Amy, Joseph, Hannah and John.  So, we have a lot of circumstantial evidence indicting that Stephen and Jerusha were the parents of Thomas.  I decided to go back another couple of generations to see if I could find any more information about the family that might nail down this lineage.

Joseph Griffin (1737 - 1807)

Joseph Griffin, father of Stephen and likely great-grandfather of John, is the descendant of a family that arrived in America in the early 1600s from England.

Joseph Griffin of Mamaroneck married Jane Cornell of Scarsdale in Westchester County and they had six sons, including Stephen.  Joseph's will mentions Stephen, so this connection seems solid.  While the 1790 and 1800 census listings don't include any names other than Joseph's, Stephen is presumably one of the five "free white males" under age 16 counted in the household in 1790 and one of the males between 16-26 listed in the 1800 census.

More Griffins

According to a number of published genealogies, Joseph was the great-grandson of Edward Griffin, an Englishman who sailed to Virginia on the ship Abraham in 1635.  I will need to do the due diligence of checking each connection in this line, however.  In a brief review of the writings about this family, there seems to be a lot of debate about Edward's origins and his reasons for coming to America.  Nothing has been easy about tracing this Griffin line, and it looks like the challenges will continue.

Paperwork regarding the last will and testament of Stephen Griffin


  1. Please get in touch with me @ I think I have all the info on this mystery!!!

    1. Hi Teri, Thanks for contacting me. I sent you an email!