These Aren’t the Grays You Think They Are

I finally took the time a few weeks ago to think about something that’s been niggling at my brain for a while now–are the family portraits in The Gray Clan the right people? So many of us have looked at these photos as fact, yet given the dates and the history of photography, there’s no way these photos are connected to the right people.

I feel like the bearer of bad tidings with this post. For myself, I’ve grown accustomed to associating these photos with the ancestors in my mind as I’m researching. It’s a bit of a letdown!

A Timeline of Photography Relevant to the Early Grays

1826 or 1827: The first known photo was created in Burgundy, France and consisted of a very blurry view out a window.

1838: The first known photograph capturing a person is taken in Paris, France.

1839: The first photo of a person is taken in the United States.

Circe 1840-1841: Daguerreotype photography studios begin appearing in U.S. cities

Learn more about the history of photography in America on the Library of Congress’s website

The Gray Clan Photos

thomas and mary gray butler county pa

Thomas & Mary Gray
If the dates in The Gray Clan are correct, Thomas and Mary were both born about 1761. Mary died about 1830 and Thomas 1853. Based on those dates and the photography timeline above, there’s no way it’s Thomas and Mary in this photo.


james gray 1786-1868

James Gray
From The Gray Clan, “The above picture of James Gray, a ver old Daguerreotype, must have been taken about the time of his marriage. We are indeed fortunate to have these pictured faces of our old Pioneers.”

James was supposedly born in 1786, died in 1868 and was married sometime before 1813. Again, given the dates and history of photography, there’s no way this can be James Gray son of Thomas and Mary Gray.


william gray 1789-1867

William Gray
According to The Gray Clan, William Gray was born in 1789 and died in 1847 and gives his age in this photo as “about 30.” That would date this photo around 1819 and again that’s just not possible.


john gray 1791-1853

John Gray
John Gray was born around 1791 and died around 1853. That would make him at least 50 years old in this photo. Unless we have amazing genetics, there’s no way this gentleman is 50!


thomas gray 1799

Thomas Gray, Jr.
The Gray Clan states that Thomas Gray, Jr. is about 30 years old in this photo and this gentleman could very well be that age, but Thomas Gray, Jr. was born in approx. 1799.

A Theory as to Who These Photos Represent

Thanks to some very helpful people in the Genealogy – Dating Old Photographs group on Facebook, including two people with links to our Grays, I have a theory.

The photo we think of as Thomas and Mary is most likely from the 1860s. I believe this could instead be Thomas Gray, Jr. (1799-1876) and Elizabeth Craig Gray (1799-1866). If the photo was taken in the 1860s before they passed, they both would have been in their 60s which seems plausible ages of the people in the photo. Thomas and Elizabeth had eight children including a Thomas (1832-1864), James (1833-1865), John (1834-1853) and William (1840-1863). These could be the gentleman in the other photos, especially if these photos had been passed down through the same branch of the family.

There are also plenty of other Thomas, James, John, and William Grays among the branches of the family tree in the third generation and right time period.

I’d love to hear what you think. Comment below or send me an email. And I’d really love to find out if there’s an ancestor who still has any of these original photos!

Peterson Gray’s Will – September 4, 1869

I got too caught up on the “cool” factor of trying to prove the family connection to Skibo that I lost track of the more important step of proving my husband’s direct line to “Auld” Thomas. I made myself go back to the starting point and have been working my way up the tree for longer than I care to admit. In this research, I came across the Will of Peterson Gray (1813-1869) and I always find these old wills to be interesting – like making sure your kids get to keep their cows.

I’ve transcribed it here for any others it may help or amuse and have done my best to interpret the handwriting correctly. I have added paragraph breaks to make it easier to read.

Continue reading

Thomas Gray, Jr. & Elizabeth Craig in Armstrong County, PA Circa 1834

The following is Chapter 1 of The Gray Clan featuring Thomas Gray, Jr. and his wife Elizabeth Craig. The book does not indicate who the narrator of this long ago scene was. Was it a child, cousin or sibling of Thomas and Elizabeth?

Based on the ages of the children described and the passing of Mary James Gray, I would guess this scene took place circa 1833-1834. I have yet to verify any of the facts presented in this chapter. Once I reach Thomas Jr. on my research list I will update this post.

thomas gray 1799

Thomas Gray, Jr. at about age 30.

Thomas Gray, Jr., and his good wife ‘Lizabet’ Craig Gray, sat at ease enjoying their sunset meal. Three-year-old Thomas Henry, perched on a homemade stool, between his father and his mother, tiny year old Johnny Addison, already asleep in his ‘trundle-bed crib’ the two elderly spinster sisters of ‘Lizabet’ completed the family circle. They are speaking of the past year, with its happenings.

“I wish we could persuade Peterson, James’ son to come and settle near us. He is such a stalwart lad, and I fear he is not content in the old home, since his brother Thomas went away East, to Blairsville, to settle. Even his beloved horses do not seem to arouse him from his lonely unhappy state. He told me, when he came here to bring the tidings of our mother, Mary James Gray‘s death, in 1830, that he seriously considered leaving the old home in Forward Twp., Butler County, to locate elsewhere. He feels that there is no future there for him. Masonry and Carpentry seem to be overworked, the Journeyman’s Cabinet and Carpenter Shop of his father James Gray, on Conoquenessing Creek, near Murderingtown, holds little interest, and, as for farming. Well. The ground seems to have become worthless. ‘If there was just some way to enrich those large fields.”

‘Lizabet’ sighs. “It don’t seem possible that mother has been gone these four years, and our bonny wee Maggie and Elizabet lying on the hill out there, nearly the same time.” Will the day ever come when we can find summat to fight the dread Croup?”

And, she walks unsteadily over to the crib of the sleeping John. Johnny-ah-Addison-ah, as she calls him, she hada–shall we call it–a button hook ending to most of her words. She covers the child and walks to the door, looking out to the opposite hill-side, where the new Cemetery has been laid out, on the North side of their farm.

It is very evident that she soon expects another little one in the family circle.

“Tammas! Will ye be comin here? Who can yonder herseman be? He seems strange. He rids ever so wearily.” Thomas comes to her side and looks intently out over the fields, to the Trail, near the good spring, a few hundred feet from the forks of the road, which ran on to another settlement, through Shouptown, then on to Duncanville and the Trading Post at Kellersburg.

Thomas watched the approaching traveller. “He rides like me Faither! -later- He look like me Faither!” Then with a joyous shout, “It IS me Faither.” He starts running to meet him, gathers him in his strong arms, the tears running unchecked down his cheeks.

Questions, answers, news, all so mixed up that it seems impossible to find a coherent thought or action. But there was never a question of the warmth of welcome or happiness in the presence of the beloved old father, Thomas Gray. Who had come to them for a last haven.

After the wayfarer was made comfortable and at home, and the ‘beastie’ rubbed down and bedded for the night, the story developed, being told and retold, as with the ‘tongue-of-age’ until it become well known, not only to those living there but to all the generations following. We shall give it as completely as our family notes, traditions and records furnish basis for the truth of the same.


Recorded in the Kittanning, Armstrong County, PA court records we find:

Land Transfer; Tract 313. Warrant 2869. 130 A. P. 35 to Thomas Gray, Jr. from the Holland Land Company. (Willink, Agt.) in Madison Twp. – 19 June 1833. Also the Armstrong County History records p. 283 “Madison Twp. land given for Gray Cemetery.”

Map of the Thomas Gray Place – Connoquenessing Twp., Butler Co., PA

The front page of The Gray Clan is a hand drawn “Map of the Thos. Gray Place.” This page in our copy of the book has taken a beating as the cover began to deteriorate and eventually fell off. To begin with, some of the text was faint and difficult to read. I’ve scanned the map and placed a few numbers and words next to their originals in clearer type. I’ve also recreated the key, “Map of the Old Places.”

You can view the .jpg of the map below or download a copy. I’ve also created a Map of the Thomas Gray Place Google Map displaying these locations with my best guess as to their very general locations. Eventually, I hope to compare original land records and early maps with current maps to pinpoint more precise locations. For now, this gives us a general idea of where these places would have been.

map of the thomas gray place butler county, pa