Graves Surname Genealogy

The surname Graves is an occupational name
– from the Middle English greyve and Low
German greve meaning “steward” or
“person in charge of property.”

serfs in the English manors usually elected one of their number
annually to
oversee their work for the lord.  From
this official the surnames Reeve or Reaves were derived.  In
the north of England he was called a Grave,
a name related to the German Graff, but which did not attain the higher
that it did in Germany. Sometimes an “s”
was added for phonetic reasons to make it Graves.
The name has nothing to do with places of burial.”

is a north of England surname, as is the like-sounding Greaves.
Greaves, however, came from a different root, the Old English word graefe meaning “grove.”

Graves Resources on

Graves Ancestry

England.   It is thought
that the Graves name had its origin in the southern part of Yorkshire
and in the northern parts of Lincolnshire, Derbyshre, and
Nottinghamshire.  Lincolnshire and Yorkshire were leading counties
for Graves in
the 1881 census.

older Grave spelling was found in Yorkshire in the 15th and 16th
century and
persisted in Cumbria until the 19th.
Henry Grave was a husbandman of Buttercrambe in Yorkshire who
died in
1465.  Robert Grave was a baker in Keswick in 1841 and a pencil
maker there in 1851.
  But the name was John Woodcock Graves,
born in Cumbria in 1795, who
was the composer of the song D’ye Ken John Peel.

One Graves line began at Cleckheaton in west Yorkshire in the 1470’s (and possibly
John Graves moved to London and died there in 1616 at
the age of 103.

is a portrait of him by Cornelis Janson on a panel in Mickleton House,
painted when he was in his I02nd year, and an engraving of him also at
102 in Nash’s History of Worcestershire.

It was his grandson Richard Graves who made a fortune in his law
practice and acquired Mickleton manor in
Gloucestershire in 1656.  His cousin Sir Edward later became
physician to Charles II.  By this time a branch of the family
had established themselves in Ireland.  Later, some of this
Anglo-Irish family were to return to England:

  • Thomas Graves, an Admiral in the British navy, who moved to
    Thanckes in Cornwall in the early 1700’s.  His son Thomas, another
    Admiral, saw action in the American Revolutionary War, his fleet being
    defeated by the French off Chesapeake Bay.  He was, however,
    elevated to the peerage as Baron Graves.
  • and Alfred Perceval Graves, a Dublin-born school inspector and
    Gaelic scholar, who moved to London in the 1890’s.  His son Robert
    Graves, the distinguished writer and poet, was born and grew up

name in Hornchurch, Lincolnshire dates back to the 1760’s.   John George
Graves was born there in 1866.  At the age
of 14 he moved to Sheffield and was apprenticed to a watchmaker.  He started his own practice seven years later
and set up one of Britain’s first mail order businesses, selling first
watches and
then a wide range of goods.  The company
employed at its peak 3,000 people in Sheffield.  He
became one of Sheffield’s great benefactors.

Ireland.  Graves
came to
Ireland at the time of Cromwell.  Colonel William
Graves of the Mickleton Graves was granted land there in 1647 and later
two sons Henry and James in charge of properties in Limerick and
Ulster.  Neither son had a great time of it.

“Henry never travelled without his long sword ‘for fear of
the hostility of the Irish papists.’  In 1689  John, then
paymaster for
William II, was robbed of his regiment’s wages and murdered in his bed.”

But these Graves would become a notable Anglo-Irish family.  John
Graves was the Sheriff of Limerick in 1720.  From Dublin in the
19th century came Robert Graves the medical
, his cousin
John Graves the lawyer and mathematician, and another cousin Charles
Graves the Anglican Bishop of Limerick.

America.  The
long-time reference book for Graves in America has been the three
volume tome
by General John Card Graves, Genealogy of
the Graves Family in America,
published in 1896.
He himself was a descendant of the John Graves
who had come to Concord, Massachusetts in 1635.
Like all works of that time, it can be prone to error as it
lacks the
research tools that are available today.

New England.
Early Graves arrivals in New England were:

  • Samuel
    Graves who came from Lincolnshire in
    1630 and settled in Lynn, Massachusetts.  Graves descendants were
    still in Lynn
    in the 19th century    
  • John
    Graves, who
    was in Concord, Massachusetts by 1635.  Among his descendants
    were General John Card Graves of Buffalo, New
    York and Henry
    Graves, the New York banker who made millions from railroad investments
    in the
    early 1900’s.  
  • Richard Graves, the pewterer,
    who arrived on the Abigail also in 1635 and settled in
    Salem, Massachusetts.   
  • and
    Graves, recorded in Hartford, Connecticut in 1645, who settled in
    Massachusetts in 1661.  Some of these
    migrated to Rutland, Vermont in the early 1800’s.  The
    line was covered in Germont Graves’ 1911
    book Graves Genealogy.

Virginia.  Captain
Thomas Graves arrived in Jamestown,
Virginia as early as 1608.  He survived
the privations of the ensuing years and was recognized as one of the
planters” until his death in 1636.  His
Graves descendants in Gloucester county are via his two sons John and

Francis Graves of Gloucester
county was not a descendant, according to DNA analysis.
Many more descendants are thought to have
come from him, including over the past hundred years Bibb Graves,
the Governor of Alabama in 1927, and Bill
Graves, the recent Governor of Kansas.

German Graves.
There have also been German Graves in America, from Graff or Greve
immigrants.   The earliest was
Johann Sebastian Graff, a refugee from the German Palatinate who
arrived in
1730.  He was resident in Pennsylvania
for a while before moving with his family to South Carolina and later
Tennessee.  “Old John,” as John Sebastian Graves was then
called, lived to be

Canada.  A
number of Graves Loyalists crossed the border into Canada after the
of the Revolutionary War.  Their numbers

  • Edward
    Graves who left his
    home in New Hampshire and was one of the first settlers in West
    Quebec in 1796   
  • and George Graves who had
    suffered imprisonment in Maryland and deportation
    to England before his eventual arrival in Canada around 1797.

Graves Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Graves Names

was an eminent 19th century Irish doctor and professor
after whom
Graves’ disease took its name.
Robert Graves was a celebrated
English poet, writer and novelist of the first half of the 20th century.
Blind Roosevelt Graves was an
blues guitarist and singer of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Select Graves Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 29,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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