Gray Surname Genealogy

This surname has two likely origins.
The first was Old
English and a nickname or personal name for a man with grey hair or
beard, from
graeg, meaning grey.  Although the name means the same in
and Ireland, name holders there took their name from the early Gaelic
word riabhach
which also means brindled or grey.   Gray in Ireland can also
be an
anglicized version of the Irish MagRaith.
The second origin is French
and locational, from the village of Croy or Gray in Normandy, where
perhaps the
de Grey family originated.
Select Gray Resources on The Internet

England.  Anchetil de Greye, a vassal of William the
Conqueror, came to England after the Norman Conquest and he and his
heirs were
granted estates at Rotherfield in Oxfordshire and
Chillingham in
Northumberland. Prominent descendants of his in the 13th century were:

  • Henry
    de Grey of Grays Thurrock in Essex, courtier to King John
  • John de Grey, Bishop
    of Norwich
  • and Walter de Grey, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor

Greys held Wilton castle in
Herefordshire on the Welsh Marches from 1295 and later, as the Earls
and Dukes of
Kent, were influential in English political life until the 18th century.  Gray’s Inn in London took its name in the
14th century from these Greys.  The last
Grey at Wilton, Thomas Grey, died in 1614 after having been involved in
a plot
against the King.  The Greys at Ruthin
castle in Wales held out longer, ending with Henry Grey in 1740.

Another Grey line, beginning in the 15th century, was
originally based at Groby in Leicestershire.
These Greys, later created the Dukes of Suffolk, got embroiled
in royal
politics when they married into the Tudor line.
Lady Jane Grey reigned briefly as an unwilling Queen.  Her beheading in 1554 was followed by that of
her father Henry and her two brothers.
Henry’s executed head turned up later.

Howick Hall in Northumberland meanwhile has been with the
Grey family
since 1319.  Charles
Earl Grey of Howick Hall was British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834
at the
time of the Great Reform Bill.  The
original Earl Grey tea was blended at that time to suit the water at
Howick and
was later marketed by Twinings. From a
junior line of these Greys came Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign
Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War.  Lady
Mary Grey, the last of the Greys at Howick, died in 2001.

The surname spellings are either Gray or
Grey.  However, Grey has become very much the outnumbered party in
England, with Grays
exceeding Greys
by almost ten to one.

Scotland.  A Gray family in
Scotland has also come from this Norman origin, starting with Hugo de
Gray in
1248.  Sir Andrew Gray was said to have scaled the rock of
Edinburgh Castle when it was taken from the English in 1312.

Grays were also along the border with
England.  John Gray had been mayor of Berwick in 1253.  But his grandson Thomas, from Heaton in
Northumberland, took the English side.
He almost lost his life to William Wallace in 1297; and his son
was imprisoned in Edinburgh castle (where he wrote his book about
history entitled Scalalcronica).  Yet there were divided
loyalties for Grays
and many took the Scottish side

Grays were first established at Broxmouth in
Roxburghshire before making their home at Foulis in Perthshire in the
1400’s.  It was said that Andrew Gray
killed the Constable of Dundee in 1465 over an insult to his father and
forced to flee to the north.  There he
founded a new Gray line in Sutherland.
His descendant John Gray was made the hereditary Constable of
Castle in 1565.

A notable
Gray whaling family operated out of Peterhead in NE Scotland in
early/mid 1800’s.  Between 1811 and 1826 David Gray
made at least twelve voyages
to the whaling grounds off Greenland and Canada.  David’s
son John was also a whaler; as were
his grandsons David, John and Alexander.

There were Gray Border rievers and Grays in
Argyllshire.  Many of them moved to
Ulster after the Border pacification in the early 17th century. 

Ireland.  The early Grays in
county Down came from Scotland as a result of the
Ulster plantations.  John Gray from
Perthshire had arrived sometime in the 1620’s and settled in Garvaghy.  There were by 1670 reports of seven Grays at
different locations around the county.  Grays of Gray’s Hill in
Bangor emerged
in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Grays were in county Wexford by 1665.  They
were a family divided by the 1798
uprising.  Nicholas
took the rebel side and had to flee to America

America.  Edward
Gray from Stapleford
Tawney in Essex
came to Plymouth in 1643 and, when he died there some forty years
later, he had
become one of its richest merchants.  His
son Edward was the founder of Tiverton, Rhode Island.
Many Grays of this line became sailors and
ship captains.  Captain Robert Gray was a
privateer during the Revolutionary War who headed west in 1792,
pioneering the
American fur trade on the Pacific West Coast and discovering the
river.  He died at sea in 1806.

George Gray, one
of the Scots
captured at the Battle of Dunbar, was transported to Berwick in Maine
in 1650.  His descendants were mainly found
in Hancock county but also later
spread across
Maine.  John Gray, Scots Irish originally
from Argyllshire, arrived in Boston in 1718 and was the forebear of the
Grays of
Worcester and Pelham, Massachusetts.

Another Scots Irish Gray family – John and Agnes
Gray and their offspring from county Antrim – came to Virginia in 1737
and made
their home in Augusta county.  Their sons
William and Samuel migrated to North Carolina and later Grays settled
Georgia and Arkansas.  These Grays were
first Presbyterians and then Methodists

Robert Gray of the Sutherland Grays in Scotland
went out to Jamaica as an adventurer in the early 1700’s.
William Gray followed him and for a time
prospered.  He bought up the Richmond
estate in 1775, expanded it into separate sugar plantations, and was
appointed the
colony’s Provost Marshal General.  However,
he became financially over-extended, had to sell the estate, and died
in 1788 soon after.

The Gray name did not disappear from that
part of northeast Jamaica.  It has been
common in Swift River in nearby Portland parish.

Canada.  Three Gray brothers from Scotland – William,
Alexander, and James – came to Scotland in the early 1820’s with their
mother and
settled in the Don valley near Toronto.
They built mills along the Don river which stayed in family
hands until

“William Gray, born in 1804, was sixty one when George,
the last of his
thirteen children, was born.  George was
still alive and living in the area in 1947 at the spry old age of

William Gray, clerk to Governor Cornwallis, was
recorded in Halifax, Nova Scotia as early as 1749. He
later settled nearby at Sambro.  Tradition
has it that he was Irish.  Another account
has him coming from Holland or Germany.  His
descendants were

New Zealand
.  Alexander Gray,
a blacksmith from Aberdeen, arrived on the Rosanna
with other pioneer Scottish settlers in 1826.
Most of his fellow passengers went onto Sydney.
But Alexander stepped off at the Bay of
Islands and married a Maori woman there.
However, after several children were born, the couple separated.  Alexander himself died in 1839

Gray Miscellany

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

Gray Names

de Gray
was Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor in the 13th
Jane Grey
was a claimant
to the English throne in 1553 who lost her head the following
Thomas Gray was an English
clasical scholar and the poet who wrote Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.
Charles Grey, the second Earl
Grey, was British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834.  He was also
considered to be the Grey of Earl Grey tea.
Henry Gray was the English aurhor of
the human anatomy textbook Gray’s
  The first edition appeared in 1858.
Sir Edward Grey was the British
Foreign Secretary in 1914 who is remembered by the following lines:
“The lamps are going out all over Europe.  We shall not see them
lit again in our time.”
Zane Grey was the popular
early 20th century American adventure writer.
Simon Gray was a prolific
postwar English playwright.

Select Grays Today

  • 91,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Wiltshire)
  • 96,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 52,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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