Origin of the McGriff Name

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During the years of research we, like many family genealogists, must look at and decifer the various and suspicious spellings of our surname. Many times this senario is hard to prove but a similarly spelled name found in the general or exact area should sometimes be assumed to be that of an ancestor.

Take, for example, the instance from a Pittsylvania County deed book where John McGrigger was found on the Snow Creek in 1754 (then Halifax County), and twelve years later John McGriff was on the mouth of Snow Creek. One would assume with certain confidence that both entries are probably our John.

Many of our researchers believe the "McGriff" name is dervived from McGriffin, McGriffor, McGriffer, McGrigger, McGriffy, etc. The name was probably changed and shortened due to various reasons such as illiteracy (common at that time), heavy accents, and general sloppiness. At that time and place a surname wasn't treated with the same sense of importance or stature that it is today. The census and/or tithetakers (usually vestrymen) were assigned by the parish for the task of going house to house in a specific geographical area to list occupants and collect tithes (taxes), which was usually tobacco to generate and maintain funds for the nearest parish. These people would simply write down the name they think they heard "phonically" from the occupant, or if the occupant wasn't home they wrote down what a neighbor thought his name was, therefore McGriffer became McGiff, McGuffin, McGuffog, McGriger, Megruff, Magiff, etc.

The earliest and closest spelling to "McGriff" is that of a John McGriffer who qualitfied to be a constable in Halifax County in 1754 .The first recorded "McGriff "spelling for now was a land record of John on the borders of Snow Creek, Halifax County in December of 1765. It seems based on records that the consistent spelling of "McGriff"came to be just prior to the Revolutionary War in the early 1770's. But there are numerous variations of our name found well into the 1800's.

By Stuart McGriff, Ludlow, Kentucky
August 2004