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John Henry & Flora Lee GRAY
Posted by: Vanessa Cole (ID *****1412) Date: February 18, 2007 at 19:17:49
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I am in search of my great grandfather, John Henry Gray (JHG). JHG has a rather unique story and I am posting here because I have found a JHG on 2 census records in Giles Co. If anyone is decended form this JHG, I would appreciate it if you would contact me so that we could compare notes. I'm wondering if this JHG may have been "my" JHG. The Giles Co. JHG was married to Flora Lee Gray and I have found them on the 1910 and 1920 census records. I am wondering if this was his "other" family. I know it's a long shot, but worth looking into.

The following is the story of my JHG and it is rather lengthy (sorry!).

Thank you,
According to a family Bible owned (later in her life) by Fannie Elizabeth O'Neal Gray Chapman Walton (b. in Nov. 9, 1887), John Henry GRAY was born in 1880 in Nansemond Co., VA. They married on August 23, 1903; she was only 15.

According to my grandmother, John Henry Gray (JHG) was a drifter who had "wandered in from somewhere down in VA", (meaning southern VA) and that he & Fannie "ran off and got married". She got pregnant one month later (Sept. 1903) and he "went off to look for work". My grandmother, Katherine Sykes Gray, was born just 10 months later on Knotts Island on June 27, 1904. She was delivered by a Dr. Sykes (Fannie gave Katherine his surname for her middle name). No first name was listed for him. JHG reappeared in Fannie's life on Knotts Island sometime after Katherine's birth. By Feb. 1905, Fannie was pregnant with Walter Bailey Gray, who was born on Nov. 17, 1905 and John Henry was once again gone, never to be seen or heard from again.

In the year 2000 I began my family history search. Going to down to the archives (VA State Library) I questioned the librarian on how I should go about finding this branch of the family tree. I had already looked through ALL of the birth records for babies born in 1880 in VA and came up with nothing. Not knowing who John Henryís parents were, I just had to look down the list of many.

The librarian suggested that I look for him in the marriage records in VA. When I explained that the bride was from NC she said it was worth a try. And it was! I went to the marriage records for 1903 and there it was. They HAD run off and gotten married in Portsmouth, VA.

He said that he was a 23 year old blacksmith living in Portsmouth. She lied saying that she was 21 and was living and working in Portsmouth, VA. She did admit to being born in Currituck Co., NC and stated that her parents were Bailey & Annie O'Neal. (The record spells it O'Neil.) I also found a copy of her death certificate which by her birth date confirmed that she was just 15 when she married John.

If he was indeed born in 1880, he told the truth saying he was 23 when they married. This being the case, he had already turned 23 prior to Aug. 23. This narrowed down the "birth search" to a baby born between Jan. 1 and Aug. 22, 1880. The marriage record revealed more, however. It stated that he was born in Southampton Co., VA to Jefferson and Ann E. Gray. Back to the birth records. There was NO record of any baby being born in 1880 to a Jefferson and Ann E. GRAY in Nansemond Co. or Southampton Co. There was NO record of a Jefferson, Ann E., and/or John Henry Gray in Southampton Co., Nansemond Co. or in ANY place else or on ANY other record between 1879-1882.

I diligently searched in all records in years before and after the years of his birth and their marriage. I looked in marriage, birth, death, and census records. You name it, I looked. The librarian was very helpful and intrigued herself. Further search showed nothing on any of them at any time. According to what I searched he was not born in VA and these "parents" were not from VA. I looked into the bordering NC counties and found nothing.

I finally decided that none of the names were real. I donít know who he was, but I donít think that he was a GRAY. I think they went through life, and still do; bearing a name that is not really theirs. I think that John Henry GRAY was a better pseudonym than someone named Smith or Jones. It was a name that sounded good, didnít seem too fictitious, but a name that could easily get lost in a crowd. In fact, it was a name that was already on the Outer Banks. Convenient.

My grandmother's birth certificate states her birth date as June 27, 1904. If she was a full-term baby (to my knowledge there were no problems, low birth weight, preemie, etc.), then Fannie got pregnant in Sept. 1903, the month after they married. Uncle Walter was born in Nov. 1905, so she got pregnant in Feb. 1905 (providing he was full-term) so, my grandmother was 8 mos. old. Story has it that JHG never saw Uncle Walter. And I do not know how old Katherine was when he supposedly returned. She always just said "after". She was only 8 mos. old when he got Fannie pregnant again. I wonder, did he even know she was pregnant when he left the first time? Did he know she was pregnant when he left the second time? Obviously, he saw his infant daughter when he came back. They were living (as they had been) with Fannie's parents, Bailey & Ann O'Neal in Knotts Island, NC.

Why did he leave again? Maybe he had a terminal illness & couldn't stand the thought of telling her and then went off and died somewhere. Somehow, I just don't think so. I think he was hiding something (like the fact that he was a criminal, escaped or on the loose?) or someone (like a wife & kids?). Maybe he got caught (again?), was put (back?) in jail (under his real name?) and then died in there, no one ever knowing about his Knotts Island family. Maybe he went off to WW1 & was killed. I just don't know....

I still have so many questions:
~How did they meet?
~How did she manage to run off to VA? Middle of the night?
~How long was she gone when they ran away to get married?
~What did she say when she returned?
~Was he with her when she told her parents?
~How long had he been around when they decided to run off?
~How long after she got pregnant (the 1st time) did he stay?
~Why did he even return?
~When did he leave the 2nd time?
~Did he know that she was pregnant again?
~What kind of work was he doing while w/ Fannie?
(The marriage record states that he was a blacksmith.)

Apparently Bailey & Ann were quite religious, as I have been told that they would go (& make Fannie go with her children) to "tent meetings" up in Virginia. Did JHG & Fannie meet & run off to Portsmouth from one of these events?

Bailey, Fannie, & the children moved to the mainland of Currituck Co. sometime before 1910 and then to Norfolk, VA sometime before 1920. Ann had died.

The story my grandmother always told was that Fannie had John Henry Gray declared dead at some point and married Olin Park Chapman on April 19, 1924. He died in 1928;no children came from that union. I now know that Fannie did not have JHG declared dead, although she could have, she divorced him. My grandmother Katherine kept this a secret. I think she was ashamed.

She then married Clayton Dalvson Walton in 1930. While visiting her son Walter (who was stationed in NY while in the US Coast Guard) she met one of his buddies who was the same age as his sister Katherine, 26. Fannie married him, once again lying about her age. On the 1930 census she is found with him and listed as being 38; she was 43. Again, no children born. Fannie died in 1937 of ovarian cancer.

A letter surfaced recently about JHG. It was written by Katherine to Walter in regards to a letter that a sister of JHG had written to Fannie in 1907 stating that he was dead. Fannie did not believe it. Katherine said that the sister's letter had come from Carrsville, VA (Isle of Wight Co.) and that was JHG's supposed birthplace. However, I have not found birth nor death documentation for him in any place. Nor has he been found on a census in 1900.

My mom also told me that my grandmother had gone looking in the Nansemond Co./Franklin, VA area for him. She had apparently gone off looking for the sister. So, Katherine went searching but "then got cold feet" and never followed up. She was afraid that JHG would be old and in need of a caretaker. Since he had left them, she did not want the responsibility of taking care of him, so she left. She was very bitter.

And one more thought.....did he really ever come back and get Fannie pregnant again? Or did they tell everyone that because she got pregnant by someone else? The more I learn about Fannie, the less credible she becomes.

Katherine did not drink liquor because she said that she was afraid that she would like it too much, like her mother, and her mother liked liquor.

Katherine said that she made a promise that she would never do anything to embarrass her children, like her mother did.

Walter did not have much respect for his mother. (Guess not if she married one of his buddies who was 26 and his mom was 43!)

Fannie did not like to be honest about her age: she lied when she married JHG, saying she was 21 when she was only 15 and she lied when she was married to #3 (Clayton) saying that she was 38 when she was 43.

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