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!


  1. Vicki Lauze Brown Middlesworth

    Hi according to my information and pictures from my late grandmother Sarah E. Chamar Lauze she was the daughter of Elizabeth Hannah Gray Chamar who was the daughter of Samuel Boyd Gray and Sarah M Hines. Samuel B. Gray was one of Thomas Gray Jr. sons. So who was Thomas Gray Jr.. parents? The family resemblance to Thomas Jr. in pictures of my family is pretty on target. His great great great great grandson even resembles as does my father, Robert Lauze, son of Sarah Chamar Lauze. Guess your saying we might not know? I have the clan book and many newsletters of Gray reunions that are very old. Just curious.

    • Hi Vicki,

      I’m so glad you’ve commented and have other family photos to compare these with. I have a few of the older billetins that were published before the book but no photos from our line before the 1940s.

      I want to believe that all of the photos in the book are of Gray ancestors it’s more a matter which people are these? It just seems very implausible that these photos could be who they’re listed as given the ages of those people and when in their lifetime photography would have been available. Thomas Sr and Mary Gray’s photo is especially implausible. As far as we know Mary died before photography was available.

      Could it be that the picture of Thomas Jr is really one of his sons? Especially since you’re saying there is a family resemblance in your line. Do you have a photo of Samuel B Gray or any of his siblings?

      On a side note, you came up as a DNA match with my father-in-law who is a descendant of the James Gray mentioned in this post. Unfortunately, you share such a small amount of DNA that it’s in the inconclusive range and you’re the only match that shows up for him under Thomas Jr. using ThruLines. Have you found strong matches with descendants of any of Thomas & Mary’s other children?

      Also, feel free to email me at kathy @ thegrayclan . com if you’d like to talk about any of this in a non-public space.

      • Hi I emailed you some photos from the family album, lots of mystery for sure. From the photos and family bible, I know for sure Hannah Elizabeth Gray Chamar, (my great grand mother) father was Samuel B. Gray, and his father was Thomas Gray. In the email I sent pics that said Father Gray and Mother Gray, no idea who these guys are. James Craig Gray would be my great grand fathers brother, might have pictures if you can send me one. I know my grand mother had a lot of comunication with her Aunt Jennie Gray Hays, lots of cards and letters.

        • Hi Vicki,

          Unfortunately, I don’t personally have any photos of James Craig Gray. I’m hoping this article will attract other family researchers who may have photos. I’m going to do some digging on the photography studio that took the photos that you emailed of Mother Gray and Father Gray. That might help date the photos and figure out who they are.


  2. Hello Kathy, I have looked at the Family Tree Maker I have on the pc. I see similar names like Thomas Sr and Jr, John, James and William but no dates are similar. Our connection to Skibo Castle is the same stemming from a Robert Gray so a lot of Gays must have Skibo on their history. I do have a writing on Georg Gray I am willing to share. Let me know your e mail by emailing me and I will send it to you.

    Dennis Gray

    • Hi Dennis,

      I would love to learn more about the information you have! I’ve just sent you an email.