Select 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 Scotland 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. 

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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 of England.
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. 

.  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 Thomas was imprisoned in Edinburgh castle (where he wrote his book about Anglo-Norman 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 early 1400’s.  It was said that Andrew Gray killed the Constable of Dundee in 1465 over an insult to his father and was 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 Skibo Castle in 1565. 

A notable Gray whaling family operated out of Peterhead in NE Scotland in the 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 Gray 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 Columbia 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 in Georgia and Arkansas.  These Grays were first Presbyterians and then Methodists.

Caribbean.  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 1915.

“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 seventy eight!"

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 fishermen.

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

Select Gray Miscellany

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

Select Gray Names

Walter de Gray was Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor in the 13th century.
Lady Jane Grey was a claimant to the English throne in 1553 who lost her head the following year. 
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 Anatomy.  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)

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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