Select Graham Surname Genealogy

Graham is a Scots clan name which traces back to the early 12th century and the Norman baron who came to Scotland, William de Graham (or de Graeme).  He was lord of Grantham in Lincolnshire which is where his name is believed to have been derived.

"In all the early records of England, Graham means Grantham in Lincoln and William de Graham settled  in Scotland at the time of King David I."

However others, including many Montrose Grahams themselves, have advanced an alternative Pichish Scottish connection for William de Gaeme - from their warrior leader Graym.  This Graym had attacked and demolished the Roman wall of Antonious across Scotland sometime around 1057.

Early spellings of the name were Graym and Grame.  It was first written as Graham in the Cambuskenneth charters in 1361.  Spellings like Graeme did persist.  The "h" in Graham often stayed silent.

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Select Graham Ancestry

Scotland.  The first Graham known in Scotland was a William de Graham (or de Graeme) who accompanied King David I on his journey north to assume the Scottish crown in 1128.  From this de Graeme are descended the Montrose line of Grahams.  These Grahams soon took the Scottish side against the English and Sir John de Graham fought with William Wallace in his campaigns in the 1290's.  The clan established their stronghold at Magdock, north of Glasgow, in 1370.

These Grahams were Royalist supporters in Scotland during the Civil War and James Graham, who fought for their cause, was ennobled as Montrose.  Later, John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, gained the titles of "Bloody Clavers" and "Bonny Dundee" - depending on whether you were a Covenanter or not - because he sought to crush them.  He died on the battlefield in 1689 supporting the Stuart cause (although Bonnie Dundee lives on as a regimental song).  By this time, the Graham clan were among the richest in Scotland, holding lands from Loch Lomond east to Perth in Stirlingshire.  Their overall story is covered in John Stewart's 1993 book The Grahams.

There have been various Graham sub-branches, among them being the Grahams of Inchbrakie, Orchill, Morphie, Balgowan, Cairnie, Deuchrie, Drums, Duntroon, Fintry, Killearn, Monzie, and Potento.

A Border Clan  The Grahams were also a Border clan.  The line began with Sir John Graham of Kilbride who had led his followers south in the late 14th century into Border country (where they settled in Eskdale).  They became unruly "reivers," known for their border raids into England, their arch enemies being the Robsons in north Tyneside.  In 1552 they held thirteen fortified towers and could raise, it was said, over 500 mounted troopers for any raid. 

However, the English and Scottish crowns stamped down on them in the early 1600's. Grahams were hanged, transported, banished, and imprisoned.  Even so, there are still a sizeable number of Grahams to be found today in Dumfriesshire and across the border in Cumbria.

  Grahams migrated south from the Scottish borders into Cumberland.  The first of these Grahams was said to be "Lang Will" Graham.  His son Richard was an expert horse-trader whose friendship with Charles I enabled him to acquire the Netherby estates near Longtown on the Esk river.  Netherby Hall featured in the novels of Sir Walter Scott, notably in Marmion in which the Graham family heiress eloped with the young Lochinvar.

Edmond castle, another Graham home, was built in Hayton near Carlisle.  The Graham Arms Hotel, a former coaching inn, is nearby in Kirklinton.  The celebrated clockmaker George Graham was born there of a Quaker family in 1674.  Another George Graham was a gunsmith in Cockermouth in the late 19th century.  William Graham, tried for murder in Penrith in 1857, subsequently became famous in song in Cumberland.

Ireland.  Many of the present day Grahams in Ireland stem from an extended family of that name from the Scottish borders who had come to Glenwherry, county Antrim in the early 1600's.  Grahams at Troy near Enniskillen in Fermanagh date from about 1630.  William Graham was recorded as "the muster master" of the undertakers.  There were Grahams as well in Lisburn and Belfast by the 18th century.  The Graham family of Lisnastrain near Lisburn saw extended medical and military service in India with the British Army during the 19th century.

A Graham family moved to county Derry where they became active in the United Irishmen cause of 1798. With a price on their heads, one brother James managed to escape to America; but the other, Watty Graham, was betrayed and hanged at Coleraine.  He is remembered by the Gaelic football club which bears his name.  A descendant is the present-day Belfast writer Joe Graham.

Many Grahams emigrated in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Scots Irish Grahams are to be found in numbers in America, Canada, and Australia.

America.  James Graham, thought to have been a kin of the Montrose Grahams, arrived in New York on the Blossom in 1678.  His daughter Isabella married Lewis Morris, an early Governor of New York.  The Grahams were early settlers in Dutchess county and the Graham-Brush log house, built there in 1776, still stands.

Many early Grahams in America were Scots Irish, including:
  • Michael Graham who came to Lancaster county, Pennsylvania sometime in the 1720's. 
  • John Graham, possibly related, who came also to Pennsylvania around this time.  He and his family settled in the 1740's in the Calfpasture valley in Augusta county, Virginia.  The family history was traced by a descendant, David Graham, in his 1899 book History of the Graham Family.   
  • James Graham who was in Chester county, Pennsylvania in the 1740's.  Grandson William rose to become Senator and then Governor of North Carolina in the 1840's.
  • and David Graham who arrived with other Scots Irish immigrants to Charleston, South Carolina in 1772. Son Andrew fought in the Revolutionary War and moved to Kentucky.  This family history is covered in Philip Graham's 2008 book David Graham of Chester County, South Carolina.
The evangelist Billy Graham is believed to have come from Scottish roots.  His Graham ancestry has been traced to an Archibald Graham, born in South Carolina in 1806. 

Another Archibald Graham, born in North Carolina in 1879, was descended from a Graham family from Scotland that had disembarked in Charleston in 1780.  His nickname was "Moonlight" and he appeared briefly as a professional baseball player.  He was later immortalized in the 1999 film Field of Dreams.  His brother Frank was president of North Carolina University and for a short time senator for the state.   John Graham from South Carolina migrated to Mexico during the 19th century.

Caribbean.  Grahams were also to be found in the Caribbean.  Jacob Graham from Cumberland moved out to Jamaica in 1746 and owned plantations in St. James.  James Graham from Airth in Stirlingshire arrived there in 1783, working for the Stirlings of Keir. 
Canada.   An Irish Graham family had originally settled in upstate New York in the early 1800's.  Many of them belonged to a small Quaker sect, the Children of Peace.  They moved to Ontario and formed a musical band which toured the country from the 1850's to the 1880's.

Another Irish immigrant to Canada was Francis Graham.  He arrived with his parents in 1845 and was a member of Ottawa's first professional fire department.  Sadly he died in the line of duty in 1877.  But his son John carried on the family's fire-fighting traditions.

South Africa
.  John Graham, from the Fintry Grahams in Forfarshire, came to Cape colony with the British army in 1806.  He pushed the Brtiish line eastward and established the Grahamstown fortified settlement.  He it was who tried to encourage Highland emigration to South Africa.

India.  There have been a number of Graham connections in India.  John Graham, a botanist, went out to Bombay in 1826 and was the superintendant of the botanical gardens in Bombay until his early death in 1839.  Birchall Graham had been with the British Army in India.  In 1872 he used his savings to start tea cultivation.  The Graham family is now in its fifth generation of tea planters in Darjeeling.

  John Graham was a convict and "wild white man" from Ireland who had escaped into the bush in 1827 and stayed at large for six years by living with aborigines.  His kinship with them would later prove useful to the authorities.  In 1836 he was able to negotiate the release of the captain's wife and crew after they had been taken by aborigines from a ship wrecked off the Queensland coast.  The captain's wife, Eliza Anne Fraser, became famous.  He was given a ticket of leave and disappeared from history.

Another convict wild man was William Graham.  He managed to escape from Freemantle jail in 1867 with two accomplices.  Graham stayed at large for several weeks, even managing to elude a police ambush, before - wounded and bleeding - he was finally recaptured.

New Zealand.  Early Grahams in New Zealand proved to be friends of the Maoris.  George Graham had come from England as a colonial administrator in 1840.  His support for the Maori cause in the ensuing conflicts earned him the honarary title of Hori Kereama.

"The leading chiefs entertained a great deal of esteem for Mr. Graham and it was his influence that eventually succeeded in bringing the warrior chief Wirenu Tamehana to Waiharoa to sign a peace bond."

In 1842 Robert Graham arrived in Auckland from Glasgow with his brother David.  He was more of a wandering type (he tried gold mining for a while in Australia and California), but eventually returned to Auckland and, using his influence with the Maoris, helped to pioneer the tourist development of New Zealand's mineral waters and thermal spas.

In 1862 Isabella Aylmer published Distant Homes: The Graham Family in New Zealand.  This was, however, a work of fiction rather than of fact.  John Graham arrived to farm at Hokitika along the west coast of South Island  in 1867.  He became a large landowner in the area and his descendants are still to be found there. Peter and Alex Graham grew up nearby at Okarito.  They became in the early 1900's New Zealand's first mountaineers and guides.  Peter Graham was awarded an MBE for his services to mountaineering in 1956.  

Select Graham Miscellany

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

Select Graham Names

Sir John de Graham was a 13th century Scottish knight who fought and died alongside William Wallace in the struggle for Scottish independence.
John Graham of Cleverhouse was a persecutor of the Scots Covenanters in the 17th century who later took up the cause of the Highland clans.
George Graham from Cumbria was a celebrated London clockmaker of the early 18th century.
Rev. Sylvester Graham was the 19th century American dietary reformer who devised the Graham cracker.
Kenneth Grahame was the Scottish writer of The Wind in the Willows, one of the classics of children's literature.
Billy Graham is the well-known Christian evangelical preacher.
Katharine Graham was the proprietor of The Washington Post newspaper during the Watergate years.

Select Grahams Today
  • 80,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 76,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 48,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

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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