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!

The Grays in the Highlands Part 4: Was Thomas Gray Heritage Owner of Skibo Castle Scotland?

This is the fourth installment of Chapter 2 of The Gray Clan with my research notes, questions and thoughts added. If you read something and have corrections or additional information, I am all ears!

This fourth part of Chapter 2 contains information on pages 10-11. The content in italics is the original transcript from the book. My notes and research will appear below it and start with [KG].

Here are links to the other published portions of this series:
The Grays in the Highlands Part 1: The Memories of Thomas Gray
The Grays in the Highlands Part 2: Leaving Their Beloved Skibo, Scotland
The Grays in the Highlands Part 3: Contributions From Rev. Joseph C. Brown

If interested, I’ve created a document where you can view/read the full text of Chapter 2 without my research notes.

SKIBO! Once upon a time, one of the most famous and beautiful establishments in Northern Scotland, through the Centuries, perhaps more beautiful, when the modern life began to seep in through the vacillated stone structures of the earlier era.

The grass growing to the doors of the homes, not far from this the bed of ‘simples’ for the housewife to use, the herbs (yarbs) for medicines, or seasoning foods, for the poulticing of any unhealing sores and stomach ache.

In the stormy winter evenings, the mothers sitting at the fireside, spinning, scutching flax, knitting the clumsy stockings, rows of apples roasting at the edge of the fireplace, the ‘Rymer’ telling tales of goblins, ghosts,haunted houses, and burial places, headless horsemen and the romance of the wandering singer and storyteller, the memories of the suffering and persecution, which rained upon their defenceless heads when the English Protestants persecuted them, over their native moors and wild recesses of their Mountains. Over the Mantles, the old flint lock gun, lay on deer horns above the fireplace, where the fire was never allowed to go out. The post of hot water on the hearth, stones heated were sometimes used to hasten cooking. Vegetables were backed in the hot embers-even fish or fowl, or sweet smelling loaves of bread. When a new fire was started, two sticks were rubbed together, or two pieces of prized flint to start the spark.

The weary shepherd, roaming all day with the flocks of sheep, which they had brought home at night, to the rude shelter, the goats climbing the eerie Mountain crags, browsing all day, at night slowly wended their way to the “Village of the Goats” a group of stalls where each Goat knew its own pen, these made snug with brush and dirt roofs and walls, and easy to protect from Marauding animals.

SKIBO! No Deed or Title could be given a new owner, by the ones who finally lived on the Gray Estates. Because, the real owners of Skibo, for the long weary years marching into Eternity, had ‘walked out’ on a matter of conscience and principle, and voluntarily had relinquished all claim to their age-old estate that lies between the River Shin, to the West, and the River Evelix, 20 miles to the East, midst the Grampian Hills of Northern Scotland.

[KG] Based on this description I’ve created a map of the Skibo Estate. I think this is probably off by quite a bit on the north. I don’t know that it would have gone inland this much, but for us Gray researchers, it gives us a general place to start when looking for old Thomas. I also recently found out that the Falls of Shin would have been in Skelbo estate lands, not Skibo estate.

We know that the day came when Thomas Gray confessed to his wife, gentle Mary, that he felt the only possible way out of an unbearable situation was to emigrate to the new Continent. Many of their relatives and friends had gone and reported back their deep pleasure and happiness in the change.

Mary grieved. How could she leave her beloved homeland, all she wanted was a place of her own in the World, without strife and loss of kin by sudden death. Her beloved ‘mon’ with her and the prattling children about her knees.——- But! Tammas! Whate’er ‘e says, we will do. We will ready oursel’ and just start quick like. She never quite overcame her burring Gaelic speech.

Reading thus far, we can, in a measure understand the heart wrenchings of those old Patriots, who left ALL for the unknown World in the “New Westmoreland” over the Seas.


[KG] Again, they mention relatives and friends who had already emigrated to the new continent. This could mean the U.S. or Canada, but given the area where they settled in Pennsylvania was called “Little Scotland” and its pioneer nature when they did, I have to believe (or at least hope) that there may be clues among some of their Butler County neighbors.

The Philadelphia Press of some time in 1898, as nearly as can be ascertained, had the following, most interesting item. We feel it should have a place here:

“The fact that Andrew Carnegie should be referred to as ‘Skibo’ that is to say, the name borne by the old Gray family, who for Centuries were lords of Skibo, and owners of the Castle of Skibo, serves to recall the fact that a blood-curdling curse rests on this same Castle. Now, everyone North of the Tweed is asking whether this curse will work against the new American owner of Skibo, the same way that the curse pronounced against the Lord Byron, who made a drinking cup of the skull of one of the old time Abbots of Newstead Abbey, continues to blight, not only all the descendants of the Lord Byron, but likewise the Webb family, who for the last forty years have owned Newstead Abbey; says the Phila. Press.

The ban on Skibo dates from the early part of Century, when by some foul wrong, the Gray’s who had owned Skibo for several hundred years, were deprived of their ancestral home, and possessions by some people of the name of Doul.

Misfortune overtook the latter, and since then Skibo has passed through many hands including those of the (Douls), MacKays, Gordons, Dempsters, Chirnsides and several others, ill luck pursuing them all until the place was acquired by Andrew Carnegie. In fact, since the Gray’s were ousted, near 200 years ago, no family has possessed it for more than one generation. At this time, Mr. Carnegie has the good wishes of all the District, into which he has brought much money and he is adding to the Castle in such a way, regardless of cost, that it promises to, before long, be one of the finest castles North of the Tweed. It is situated in the Northwest part of Scotland.” end quite.

[KG] Good luck to the latest owners with the curse! Maybe someone will eventually return it to the Gray family? 😉

Our Thomas Gray, 1761-1853, was heritage owner, and per present information, Lord Gray of Skibo, Scotland. Sometimes known as Newstead. Comprising a very large acreage and several villages. The waterfall of Loch-Shin included. The Estate lying north of Dornoch Firth.

[KG] And here we are, the claim of our Thomas Gray being heritage owner of Skibo. As much as I would love this to be true I’m just not convinced yet. I think there’s an element of truth here. It seems that the relatives who put this book together from different branches of Thomas’s children all felt that he was from Skibo and that he himself claimed to be from Skibo. Going with that, I think it is most likely that he identified as being from Skibo and was most likely a relative of one of the Grays of Skibo.

I recently came across an article on the blog for the Dornoch Historylinks Museum regarding how Highland men identified themselves. Here are a few quotes from the article that pertain to my hypothesis that Thomas Gray was not heritage owner of Skibo, but rather lived or worked on the estate, and/or was a relative of the Grays of Skibo. He may have felt a strong relationship and identity with the place even if he wasn’t the heir.

“Most men were clearly associated with one specific settlement, farm or estate in the mind of the community.”

“It was through length of years and the intimate use and organising of the landscape that they became identified with it, shaping their self-identity and their identity within the community.”

“Such a man drew his identity from his social status, his membership of a local family, his authority over the residents of the tack, and his association with that piece of land. Holding a tack was part of the old system of clanship, so his and his family’s connection with that land was embedded deeper in time than that of the plasterer and the gamekeeper, even the farmer.”

“Despite the mobility of the nineteenth-century, part of Highland masculinity was a deep identification with the places they were from, where they lived, where they worked, and which they shaped.”

Do you think Thomas Gray was heritage heir? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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.”

The Gray Clan & White Oak Springs Church, Renfrew, PA

white oak springs Presbyterian church, Renfrew, Pennsylvania

Image from “The Gray Clan” of White Oak Springs Church circa 1896.

Below is a transcript of the information appearing at the beginning of The Gray Clan about the White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church in Renfrew, PA. According to family history, this is the church where our immigrant forefather’s family would have attended.

You will notice in the book they refer to the church as “White Oaks Springs Church.” They also mention Mother Mary’s grave lying next to the old stone steps of the original church close to a pine tree. Descendant Bill Brown visited White Oak Springs several years ago and found Mother Mary’s (Mary James Gray) grave under a pine and quite overgrown.

According to the White Oaks Springs Presbyterian Church website, the following history is given for the church with slightly different dates from the information in The Gray Clan.

“White Oak Springs was organized in 1818 when some members left the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church following a controversy over which version of the Psalms should be sung.

The church gets its name from a grove of white oak trees surrounding a spring not far from where the church now stands.

The first worship services at White Oak Springs were held in a tent in summer and in a barn in the winter months.  A brick church was built in 1820  but was destroyed by fire in 1852, with a new church constructed the next year.  The congregation has been served by 26 pastors over its 194-year history.”

White Oaks Springs Church. Erected about 1862. Picture taken 1896. Bell Tower built 1900. The front faces South, toward the Springs. The Cemetery to the East.

Dunning McNair ‘The Land Jabber’ gave the ground, 10 acres. When William McLeod died in 1804. For church and burial purposes.

Early records of the Monongahela Presbytery show reports from here. Rev. Joseph Kerr was assigned to visit the field. Associate Reformed. However, history records, Francis Williams and Poythress here – Saddle-Bags Preachers, as early as 1796. Also Rev. James McConnell, born Antrim Country, Dervock, Ireland, preached here previous to 1800. Using the slab-seated “meetin-house” and tent below the road. This was the usual place to meet for worship. Near the Springs.

It was during his Pastorate – or period of time there – for as yet, no records of this has been located. We do know that he was there over a period of some years, -that the unusual visitation of ‘the revival which they called “The Falling work” because of the remarkable physical manifestations, which accompanying it, when those under deep conviction of sin, would fall prostrate, and would lie prostrate for hours, in an unconscious state, losing all strength of body and mind. On recovering, it showed no harm to the person, but the whole spiritual outlook was changed.’ (This occurred over to the West, in the section nearer to Nebo.)

McConnel, at the ‘Slab-seated Meetin House’ near White Oaks Springs, resented this and remonstrated strongly. “He told his people. ‘It BE BUT. He CANNA’ mean, HYMNS. Nae Nae. He CANNA mean hymns! (This true incident places the “Falling Work” definitely before the 1800 date.) By 1818, the Pioneers were ready to build a Brick Church (see p. 231) The indentations of this Brick Church are still strongly visible, to the right side of the picture. (which is East or on the Butler side.) The steps were near the old pine tree, standing there now, and Mother Mary’s grave lies close to the old steps.

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