Martin McGraw (b) 1827 Russell Co., VA (d) Magoffin Co., KY

I recently had the privilege of being contacted by a “new” cousin and descendant of our common ancestors, Martin and Margaret McGraw. Jan emailed me telling me she’d been studying my Ancestry family tree and this blog in an attempt to identify her ancestor’s family. Introducing Martin McGraw born in 1827 Virginia, died roughly around 1900 in Magoffin County, Kentucky.

Initially, I thought this “younger” Martin was somehow out of the family of William McGraw of Scioto Co, Ohio (son of George Anthony McGraw and Betsy Brian). But as Ancestry DNA revealed, Jan had more and closer matches to descendants of John McGraw and Sarah/Sally Anderson of Russell County, Virginia. In fact, on Martin’s son’s (James Harlan McGraw) death record, it even states that Martin was born in Greenbrier County, “Virginia.”

James Harlin McGraw death cert snippet
Snip of the Death Record of James Harlin McGraw, son of Martin McGraw and Cyrilda Jones. Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1965,

First, it was necessary to determine whether Jan was actually out of the McGraw family. She had sent a spreadsheet with the names of her matches and the main players from their trees. Lo and behold, she is a match to one of my McGrew cousins – with whom I don’t match but I know for a fact is a descendant from my ancestor Thomas – and another individual, also a descendant of John and Sarah who is a match to me. Funny how DNA works, isn’t it? In short, Jan is one of “our” McGraws.

Secondly: Determine who Martin’s father was. Born in 1827 “Greenbrier County” says the death record of his son, James Harlan McGraw. There were three individuals living in Greenbrier County in that time frame (1820-1830) and they were Samuel, Henry, and my Thomas. We – the collective body of McGraw researchers – have pretty much scorched the earth in locating every possible descendant of these three men. Even if Martin were a twin there were no records with a mysterious male lurking within the numbers. But the fact remains that the family history traveled with the family – “we came from the Greenbrier region” – even to the third or fourth generation. That was, in and of itself, an awesome clue. I think I would have liked James Harlan McGraw for paying attention.

Next came the grueling (and ongoing) task of pouring through unindexed microfilm records at The Tax Lists were extremely revealing* as were other records on microfilm. I do wish the LDS would unlock all of these images while their Libraries are closed due to COVID. Nevertheless, we find that John McGraw (and Sarah Anderson) was in Russell County in 1802. Moving up through the 1840’s, we found the listing of one Martin McGraw in 1844 and 1845. So, he’s at least 16 years of age in 1844 (do the math: 1844-16=birth 1828). Martin also appears in the 1845 tax list but that is the last time we find him in Russell County.

Side note: We also find “John McGraw Jr” in the Russell County tax list for the year 1832 along with John Sr but no more. It stands to reason then that John A. McGraw left for “Uncle” Martin McGraw’s abode in Fayette County, West Virginia where he appeared in the 1840 Census as a male aged 15-19. Until that time, the censuses for Martin McGraw showed no males in the family. I erroneously attributed much of the information I found about “our” John to John McGraw of the Bell Creek vicinity until I discovered his marriage record to second wife Eliza Johnson.

Could Martin be the son of John McGraw and Sarah Anderson? He could be. Could he be a son of William D. McGraw, the eldest son of John and Sarah? Certainly, either scenario would fit. We can’t rely on the sales of the estates of either man, John or William D., to make that determination because the only individuals to whom the estate was sold or passed lived in the vicinity. For instance, John McGraw’s estate makes no mention of John A. McGraw – he lived in Fayette County, WV; nor does it mention Martin McGraw – he lived in Kentucky. William D.’s estate papers make no mention of Martin even though both are living in Kentucky – albeit miles apart.

But we find in the 1830 Census of Russell County that William D. had an adult female and a young male under the age of 5 living in his household. Not so in the 1840 Census. And a check of the 1830 Census for John’s household shows the right number of males in the household to include Martin (aged 1 or 2 at the time) but there are more males than we have names for.

We learn in 1849 that William D. McGraw’s wife, Catherine, divorced him on the grounds of adultery and, apparently, abandonment. She states that he didn’t have anything of value, i.e. wasn’t worth anything, nor was there “any issue of the marriage” therefore support was not requested. Now, “no issue” means no children of the marriage. Could it perhaps in this case be there were no young children living at home that required support? If the children were older and able to work, there was no need to consider their welfare and that scenario might explain why we consistently see 2 taxable males on the Tax Lists for William D. McGraw in 1845 and 1846. Could this be Henry Lloyd McGraw who has been attributed to John and Sarah? After all, there are 8 years between the birth of John & Sarah’s daughter Dorinda and the birth of Henry L. Yes, I know there is such a thing as change-of-life babies and perhaps Nellie living in John’s household in 1850 was a second wife and Henry’s mother. There are lots of scenarios that we can allude to but none that we can substantiate.

But I have this question: If indeed Martin is the son of William D. McGraw and Catherine whomever*, why didn’t Martin take his mother with him to Kentucky to see to her welfare until her death?

As usual, when you peruse old records you usually find something new. In this case, we found another named Charles McGraw in the 1849 Tax List of Russell County. This puts his birth year at about 1833. And, of course, there are no records for him. A new mystery there.

If you have insight into this mystery of Martin McGraw or Charles McGraw, drop it in the comments below. Jan and I both would appreciate your perspective – and data if you have any to support your conclusions.

*Special thanks to Cathy Meder-Dempsey for providing a list of McGraw’s in the Tax Lists of Russell County going all the way back to 1801 with citations and links for each list. This is invaluable to me and others and a very generous gift!

*There are no vital records for Russell County until 1872 due to a courthouse fire therefore marriage records are impossible to locate unless you know something I do not.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Comment