John Grisham Family History


John Ray Grisham Jr, the thriller writer, was born on February 8th, 1955 to John Ray and Wanda Grisham in Jonesboro, Arkansas. His father, a cotton farmer and an itinerant construction worker, frequently moved the family from town to town through the Deep South, before settling in Southaven, Mississippi when John was twelve.  He grew up there in a family that was strictly religious (Baptist) and conservative.

Although his parents lacked formal education, his mother did encourage him to read and insisted that he prepare himself for college.  Initially he found college a liberating experience and played around.  But then he decided he must get serious and enrolled in law school.  After his graduation from the University of Mississippi, he returned to Southaven and established a small private legal practice. He was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1983.  However, he was not making much money.

Inspired by a case he had observed in a Mississippi courthouse, John Grisham decided to write a novel. He had no writing experience.  For years he would arrive at his office at five o’clock in the morning, six days a week, to work on his first book, A Time To Kill. The manuscript, when completed, was rejected by 28 publishers before he found an unknown publisher who was willing to print a short run.

His second legal thriller The Firm, released in 1991, marked his breakthrough as a writer.  It sold more than two million copies on its first printing.  Since that time John Grisham has written 28 consecutive number-one fiction bestsellers and his books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide.

Gresham and Grisham

The English base surname spelling has been Gresham, derived from the village of Gresham (meaning a grazing farm) in Norfolk.  A notable Norman family there produced Sir Thomas Gresham, a leading merchant in Elizabethan England.  By the late 19th century, however, it was neighboring Lincolnshire which accounted for 35% of the small numbers of Greshams in England and the Gresham name had pretty much disappeared from Norfolk.

When the name crossed the Atlantic, alternative spellings – such as Grisham and Grissom – emerged.  These are their numbers in America today:

  • Gresham – 6,000 (1,000 in UK)
  • Grisham – 4,000 (none in UK)
  • Grissom – 6,000 (none in UK)

As can be seen, the American numbers greatly outnumber the British numbers today.  Alexander Strange’s 1913 book was entitled The Greshams of America and Across the Seas.

The American locations are mainly in the South.  Early Greshams were to be found in Virginia.  Edward Gresham came there via Maryland around the year 1650.  Gresham numbers in Virginia grew in the 1700’s and this was when the spelling transition to Grisham and Grissom began.

Gresham today is most numerous in Georgia, Grisham and Grissom in Texas followed by Tennessee.

Notable Grishams have been Charlie Grisham, the head football coach at Carrollton high school in Georgia; Todd Grisham, a TV sports reporter from Hattiesburg, Mississippi (his wife Stephanie worked in the Trump White House); and the best-selling thriller writer John Grisham.  Gus Grissom. the early American astronaut, came from Huntsville, Alabama.

John Grisham’s Line

John Grisham’s line probably began as Greshams in Virginia, possibly in Essex county in the 1740’s.  Andrew Jackson (Jack) Grisham, the first confirmed of the line, was born in Virginia around 1815.  His likely parents were George and Martha Gresham, with his mother dying soon after his birth.

Why Andrew Jackson? Maybe it was because George had served in an army unit under the man who was then General Andrew Jackson.  In any event, George departed Virginia with his family after Martha’s death for Tennessee.  George made his home in Lawrence county, Tennessee.  And Jack Grisham married his wife Gillie in Tennessee in 1842.  They then moved to Tishomingo county in Mississippi.

During the Civil War, some military deserters followed Jack home and shot him in front of his wife and children.  According to the family story, his wife Gillie was so distraught at seeing her husband being murdered that she drowned herself in a well.  The rest of the family went to live at the home of the eldest son Eaf in Prentiss county.

Not that much is known about George, the fourth of Jack and Gillie’s five sons, except that he married and raised a family in Prentiss county.  Coincidentally, both George and his wife Amanda died in the same year in 1936, as did George’s parents in 1863.

George’s son Mark migrated in the 1920’s to NE Arkansas and Blytheville, an old cotton town in decline, where he ran the Skidmore music store on Main Street.  Other Grishams had worked on the Black Oak cotton farm and many remain in the area.  Mark’s son John Grisham was born there in 1929 and his grandson John Grisham the writer was born nearby at Jonesboro in 1955.

John Grisham Sr’s Death in 2017

John Grisham’s father died in 2017.  The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reported his death as follows:

“John Ray Grisham Sr. died peacefully at his home in Mountain View, Arkansas on Sunday, January 22. He was 87. He was preceded in death by Wanda, his beloved wife of 63 years, and left behind five children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Mr. Grisham moved his family to Southaven, Mississippi in 1967 and lived there for almost thirty years. He was active in the First Baptist Church, Boy Scouts, and local politics.  He led the drive to incorporate Southaven in 1980 and was elected to the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors in 1985. From 1974 to 1990 he was the owner of Grisham Equipment Company in Southaven.

He enjoyed fishing on the White river, woodworking, and watching Cardinal baseball.”

John Grisham’s  Family Tree

  • George Gresham/Grisham (1772-1852) from Virginia m. Martha Thornton (1775-1815) in 1790; rem. Ann Chaffin (1790-1868) in 1817
  • – George Gresham (1796-1850) m. Margaret Files
  • – Solomon Gresham (b. 1797) m. Lizzie Badchell
  • – William Gresham (1799-1893) m. Nancy
  • – Catherine Gresham (b. 1800) m. Ethelred Thomas
  • – Andrew (Jack) Grisham (1815-1863)
  • – plus a further nine children with Ann Chaffin
  • Andrew Jackson (Jack) Grisham from Virginia m. Sarah Gillie Olive (1824-1863) in Tennessee in 1842
  • – Ephraim (Eaf) Grisham (1842-1925) m. Elizabeth Patterson
  • – Matilda Grisham (1844-1914) m. Joseph Anderson
  • – Martha Grisham (1848-1908) m. Robert Mitchell
  • – James Grisham (1849-1926) m. Margaret Jones
  • – Rachel Grisham (1852-1887) m. Hamilton Savage
  • – Andrew (Jack) Grisham (1854-1897) m. Cordelia English
  • – George Grisham (1856-1936)
  • – Richard Grisham (1861-1925) m. Phoebe Welch
  • George Grisham m. Amanda Patterson (1864-1936) in Mississippi in 1883
  • – James Grisham (1884-1964) m. Lula Allen
  • – Pearl Grisham (1887-1958) m. Mr. Prather
  • – Boyd Grisham (b. 1892)
  • – Marshall (Mark) Grisham (1895-1972)
  • – Ada Grisham (b. 1897) m. Mr. Hall
  • – Richard Grisham (1900-1972) m. Rosalie Cartwright
  • – John Grisham (1902-1947)
  • Bluford Marshall (Mark) Grisham m. Mable Yates (1899-1980) in Mississippi in 1916
  • – Bluford Grisham (1917-1989) m. Nola Morgan
  • – Euna Grisham (1920-2000) m. Rex Fuller
  • – Joe Grisham (1924-1973)
  • – John Ray Grisham (1929-2017)
  • John Ray Grisham m. Wanda Skidmore (1934-2015) in Arkansas in 1951
  • – Beth Grisham m. Mr. Bryant
  • – John Grisham (b. 1955)
  • – Kenny Grisham
  • – Mark Grisham
  • – Wendy Grisham
  • John Grisham m. Renee Jones (b. 1958) in Mississippi in 1981
  • – Shea Grisham
  • – Ty Grisham


Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *