Select Graves Surname Genealogy

The surname Graves is an occupational name - from the Middle English greyve and Low German greve meaning "steward" or "person in charge of property."

"The serfs in the English manors usually elected one of their number annually to oversee their work for the lord.  From this official the surnames Reeve or Reaves were derived.  In the north of England he was called a Grave, a name related to the German Graff, but which did not attain the higher status that it did in Germany. Sometimes an “s” was added for phonetic reasons to make it Graves.  The name has nothing to do with places of burial."

Graves is a north of England surname, as is the like-sounding Greaves.  Greaves, however, came from a different root, the Old English word graefe meaning "grove."

Select Graves Resources on The Internet
Select Graves Ancestry

England.   It is thought that the Graves name had its origin in the southern part of Yorkshire and in the northern parts of Lincolnshire, Derbyshre, and Nottinghamshire.  Lincolnshire and Yorkshire were leading counties for Graves in the 1881 census.

The older Grave spelling was found in Yorkshire in the 15th and 16th century and persisted in Cumbria until the 19th.  Henry Grave was a husbandman of Buttercrambe in Yorkshire who died in 1465.  Robert Grave was a baker in Keswick in 1841 and a pencil maker there in 1851.  But the name was John Woodcock Graves, born in Cumbria in 1795, who was the composer of the song D'ye Ken John Peel.

One Graves line began at Cleckheaton in west Yorkshire in the 1470's (and possibly earlier).  John Graves moved to London and died there in 1616 at the age of 103.

"There is a portrait of him by Cornelis Janson on a panel in Mickleton House, painted when he was in his I02nd year, and an engraving of him also at 102 in Nash's History of Worcestershire.

It was his grandson Richard Graves who made a fortune in his law practice and acquired Mickleton manor in Gloucestershire in 1656.  His cousin Sir Edward later became physician to Charles II.  By this time a branch of the family had established themselves in Ireland.  Later, some of this Anglo-Irish family were to return to England:
  • Thomas Graves, an Admiral in the British navy, who moved to Thanckes in Cornwall in the early 1700's.  His son Thomas, another Admiral, saw action in the American Revolutionary War, his fleet being defeated by the French off Chesapeake Bay.  He was, however, elevated to the peerage as Baron Graves.
  • and Alfred Perceval Graves, a Dublin-born school inspector and Gaelic scholar, who moved to London in the 1890's.  His son Robert Graves, the distinguished writer and poet, was born and grew up there. 
The Graves name in Hornchurch, Lincolnshire dates back to the 1760’s.   John George Graves was born there in 1866.  At the age of 14 he moved to Sheffield and was apprenticed to a watchmaker.  He started his own practice seven years later and set up one of Britain's first mail order businesses, selling first watches and then a wide range of goods.  The company employed at its peak 3,000 people in Sheffield.  He became one of Sheffield’s great benefactors. 

Ireland.  Graves came to Ireland at the time of Cromwell.  Colonel William Graves of the Mickleton Graves was granted land there in 1647 and later left his two sons Henry and James in charge of properties in Limerick and Ulster.  Neither son had a great time of it. 

"Henry never travelled without his long sword 'for fear of the hostility of the Irish papists.'  In 1689  John, then paymaster for William II, was robbed of his regiment's wages and murdered in his bed."

But these Graves would become a notable Anglo-Irish family.  John Graves was the Sheriff of Limerick in 1720.  From Dublin in the 19th century came Robert Graves the medical innovator, his cousin John Graves the lawyer and mathematician, and another cousin Charles Graves the Anglican Bishop of Limerick.

America.  The long-time reference book for Graves in America has been the three volume tome by General John Card Graves, Genealogy of the Graves Family in America, published in 1896.  He himself was a descendant of the John Graves who had come to Concord, Massachusetts in 1635.  Like all works of that time, it can be prone to error as it lacks the research tools that are available today. 

New England.  Early Graves arrivals in New England were:  
  • Samuel Graves who came from Lincolnshire in 1630 and settled in Lynn, Massachusetts.  Graves descendants were still in Lynn in the 19th century    
  • John Graves, who was in Concord, Massachusetts by 1635.  Among his descendants were General John Card Graves of Buffalo, New York and Henry Graves, the New York banker who made millions from railroad investments in the early 1900’s.  
  • Richard Graves, the pewterer, who arrived on the Abigail also in 1635 and settled in Salem, Massachusetts.   
  • and Thomas Graves, recorded in Hartford, Connecticut in 1645, who settled in Hatfield, Massachusetts in 1661.  Some of these Graves migrated to Rutland, Vermont in the early 1800’s.  The line was covered in Germont Graves’ 1911 book Graves Genealogy.
Virginia.  Captain Thomas Graves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia as early as 1608.  He survived the privations of the ensuing years and was recognized as one of the “ancient planters” until his death in 1636.  His Graves descendants in Gloucester county are via his two sons John and Thomas. 

Francis Graves of Gloucester county was not a descendant, according to DNA analysis.  Many more descendants are thought to have come from him, including over the past hundred years Bibb Graves, the Governor of Alabama in 1927, and Bill Graves, the recent Governor of Kansas. 

German Graves.  There have also been German Graves in America, from Graff or Greve immigrants.   The earliest was probably Johann Sebastian Graff, a refugee from the German Palatinate who arrived in 1730.  He was resident in Pennsylvania for a while before moving with his family to South Carolina and later Tennessee.  “Old John,” as John Sebastian Graves was then called, lived to be 101.

Canada.  A number of Graves Loyalists crossed the border into Canada after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.  Their numbers included:  
  • Edward Graves who left his home in New Hampshire and was one of the first settlers in West Shefford, Quebec in 1796   
  • and George Graves who had suffered imprisonment in Maryland and deportation to England before his eventual arrival in Canada around 1797.
Select Graves Miscellany

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

Select Graves Names

Robert Graves was an eminent 19th century Irish doctor and professor after whom Graves' disease took its name.
Robert Graves was a celebrated English poet, writer and novelist of the first half of the 20th century.
Blind Roosevelt Graves was an American blues guitarist and singer of the 1920's and 1930's. 

Select Graves Today
  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 29,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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