John A. McGraw: “Lost Son” of John and Sarah

I ran across another McGraw in December last year quite by accident. I was scouring records of West Virginia vital records through – records that have not been posted on the WVCulture site due to the near inability to read them – when I came across an entry for John A. McGraw and Eliza Johnson. Eliza Johnson, as we later learned, was Eliza Wood, daughter of George Wood and Nancy __. By “lost” I mean I believe I’m one of very few individuals that has John A listed in the family tree of John McGraw and Sally/Sarah Anderson.

And when I say “we” I mean Cathy Meder-Dempsey and myself. We spent an entire Sunday afternoon collaborating on both this find and a different individual surnamed McGraw.

These records are next to impossible to see let alone read which explains why they aren’t indexed at the WVCulture site. Nevertheless, here they are for your semi-viewing pleasure:

Marriage John A McGraw to Eliza Johnson

The entry for this marriage recorded on 6 May 1856 is the sixth row down: John A. McGraw and Eliza Johnson

John A. McGraw and Eliza JohnsonHere is the image inverted – the “negative” view, as I call it.

John A. McGraw and Eliza Johnson invertedSo, we’re going to stick with the inverted images. Here is 44-year-old John A’s and 43-year-old Eliza’s birthplaces: Russell Co and Bedford Co. Now, back then when two “SS’s” appeared in handwriting together, the first S was shaped like an “f” and the second a regular “s” in case you were wondering what “fs” could possibly mean (Rufsell).

John A McGraw birthplace RussellFinally, John and Eliza’s parents’ names are provided. His are listed as “John and Sarah McGraw.” Eliza’s were listed as George and Nancy Wood.

parents of John A McGraw and Eliza Johnson

Citation: “Familysearch: Sign In”. 2020. Familysearch.Org. Vital statistics, 1853-1860 of West Virginia, Calhoun – Hampshire Counties; Film # 007499353; Image 137.

So, how does this couple appear in the 1860 Census? Surprisingly, they are listed in two different households, next door to one another in Fayette County. This is in two images because they appear on separate pages in the Census: The highlighted segment at the bottom of one page, the black and white at the top of the next page:


1860 Fayette Census John A McGraw

1860 Fayette Census John A McGraw contNow, why there were Dempsey’s living in John’s household remains a mystery but I can tell you this was quite interesting to Cathy, since her paternal line is Dempsey but remains a tangled mystery. But as you can see, Eliza McGraw is listed as living in the very next household as a Governess to her own children.

So, we’ve established that John A. McGraw came to Fayette County from Russell County – for reasons unknown – to live and work and marry. When did he arrive? Working backward, we found that John A. McGraw appeared in the 1850 Census of Fayette County with a wife named Nancy. Working the data, Cathy and I found that Nancy was none other than a daughter of Samuel McGraw and Elizabeth Wood!  The couple were married 18 April 1841 by William G. Margrave in Fayette County, WV:

Marriage John A. McGraw and Nancy M. McGraw
Citation: “West Virginia Vital Research Records – Record Image”. 2020. Wvculture.Org. By Wm. G. Margrave

While I haven’t chased down the actual document that lists Nancy’s death, Ancestry provided clues as to where I could find it. I simply added the date of death and info from the following record so that I can dig this out at later (See that FHL Film Number at the bottom? That stands for Family History Library). Shown are Nancy’s parents’ and her spouse.

Death Nancy M McGraw Fayette County WV

“John McGraw Jr” is listed once in the 1832B tax list for Russell County, VA along with father, John McGraw, Sr, and his brothers James and William D. In subsequent years, his other brothers are named in the tax lists but “John McGraw, Jr” never appears in the Russell County tax lists after 1832. By the way, his brothers (in chronological order) were: William D, James, Thomas, [John A goes here], Anderson, Martin, and Henry. Since he had a brother named Anderson, I’m pretty certain that John’s name was not “John Anderson McGraw.” John came to Fayette County, WV after 1832 and may well be the “John McGraw that appears in the Fayette County Tax List for 1833 with uncles Martin, Henry, Samuel, and Thomas and his cousin George McGraw. The citations for these two tax lists are as follows:

Finally, the exact date on which John A. McGraw died is unknown but I suspect the death occurred in Roane County, West Virginia. He is listed as living in Harper, Roane County, West Virginia in the 1870 Census with his youngest daughter, Nancy J or “Nan.” He does not appear in the 1880 Census therefore his death likely occurred sometime in that decade. His three children by Nancy M. McGraw were:

  1. Margaret M. McGraw, b. Aug 1846, Fayette County, WV; m. 13 Jun 1869 Roane County, WV to Hezekiah Harper, the parents of two daughters: Mary E. and Nancy J. Harper. Margaret died after 1900;
  2. James Alexander McGraw, b. 7 Oct 1847, Fayette County, WV; m. Mary Hammon, 1 May 1873 Jackson County, WV; died 3 Dec 1925 at Swandale, Clay County, West Virginia. James and Mary were the parents of Robert, Margaret, John, and Myrtle;
  3. Nancy J. McGraw, born about 1851. No further evidence has been discovered as of this writing.

And that is the extent of my knowledge of John A. McGraw, son of John McGraw and Sally Anderson of Greenbrier County, WV and Russell County, VA.

**Updated 31 March 2024.**