Select Grace Surname Genealogy

The usual explanation of the Grace surname has been that it was a nickname, derived from the Middle English and Old French grace, meaning a charming and pleasant person.  That may have been true in some instances.  But the female name Grace probably came in too late to have had any surname influence.

Grace as an Anglo-Norman surname, found in both Ireland and England, had different origins and meanings.  The word le Gras or le Gros, from which Grace derived, was also a nickname - but one meaning "the big" or "the fat."

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Select Grace Ancestry

IrelandSheffield Grace’s 1823 book Memoirs of the Family of Grace endeavored to trace the Grace family in Ireland back to pre-Norman Conquest days.  The assumption of the book was that the forebear of the Grace family in Ireland was Raymond le Gros, a Norman who had accompanied Strongbow to Ireland in 1170 and indeed married his sister.   Le Gros was the nickname given to him by Strongbow.

However, Raymond le Gros died without issue.  Later research has suggested that the Grace forebear in Ireland was another Norman, William le Gras from Gloucestershire, who had arrived around 1210 and made his base in Kilkenny.
  A century or so later the name became Grace.

.  The Graces lived primarily at Courtstown Castle in Tullaroan, about ten miles from Kilkenny town, on extensive farmlands and the courthouse would have been their townhouse.  In the late 1400’s Baron Oliver Grace of Tullaroan was the Keeper of the Peace in Kilkenny and his descendants remained a force in Kilkenny until the end of the 17th century.

These Graces were Catholic.  Colonel Richard Grace took the Royalist side during the English Civil War.

“Colonel Robert Grace was at the head of 3,000 men, harassing the Parliamentary troops at Wicklow and then at Crogan beyond the Shannon river.  A reward of £300 was set upon his head by the English Commonwealth Government in 1652.  Yet at the conclusion of the war he was permitted to enter the Spanish service with 1,200 of his men.”

Following the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1689, some of the Grace families went with the exiled James II to France; others became soldiers of fortune.  Richard himself died in 1691, still fighting the English.

.  From the Graces of Ballylinch in Kilkenny came Oliver Grace of Gracefield Lodge in Queen’s (now Laios) county.  He was able to survive the change of fortunes in 1689.  Irish Protestants there prevailed upon the Government to grant him a pardon for his adherence to James II.  Oliver's descendants included the Grace baronets from 1818 to 1977.

Near Gracefield was the village of Ballylinan where William R. Grace – the founder of W.R. Grace and Company – grew up before he departed for New York in 1846.

Other Graces migrated to west Cork.  Patrick Grace, for instance, settled in Drinagh in the mid-1700’s and his descendants are still to be found there.  Graces surfaced at the resort town of Clonakilty where the Grace Centre now operates.

While the Grace numbers in Ireland had spread by the mid-19th century, Griffith’s Valuation showed that more than half of the Graces in Ireland were still to be found in Kilkenny.

  Early renditions of the name, as in Ireland, were the Norman Le Gras or le Gros.  It had appeared in this style by the 13th century in Gloucestershire (at Chipping Sodbury), in Essex (near Chelmsford), and in Buckinghamshire (at Hurley).

The Grace name distribution prior to 1600
showed a concentration of the name in Buckinghamshire and, to a lesser extent, in neighboring Hertfordshire.  Whitchurch in Buckinghamshire has been one place for Graces, Tring in Hertfordshire another.  One Grace family in Tring were farmers, millers and corn merchants dating back to 1766.

What about W.G. Grace, the famous Victorian cricketer?  In 1800 his grandfather Henry had been a butler and footman at Ashton Court in Somerset where he had met his wife.  But his origin? – some have suggested possibly Ireland.  His father Henry became a doctor at Downend near Bristol, which is where WG was born.

The Grace family became a great cricketing family.  Fourteen members of the family played first-class cricket, with brothers WG, EM, and Fred (sometimes called the "three Graces") all going on to play Test cricket for England against Australia.

.  There were Graces in the 1881 census also in Lancashire.  One Grace family there dated back to the birth of Thomas Grace in 1604.  These Graces rented Speke Hall, just outside of Liverpool, from 1740 to 1795 and were tenant farmers there. 

“Speke Hall was a Tudor-built mansion.  Henry Grace had farmed the area for many years, using the great hall there as a milking shed and the old tapestries as cow blankets.  By 1795 the mansion had fallen into such disrepair that the Grace lease ended and Speke Hall was sold.”

John and Sarah Grace lived in Liverpool and their son Thomas, born in 1815, became an Anglican missionary in New Zealand.  Graces in Lancashire, many of them in Liverpool, could also be of Irish immigrant stock. James and Joanna Grace had come to Ashton under Lynefrom Waterford in the 1850’s.

  Early Grace arrivals into Virginia were probably English.  George Grace was a London merchant who came there on the Globe in 1635.  He did not stay.  John Grace died in Westmoreland county in 1717.   His descendants moved onto North Carolina and then, after the War, to Georgia.  Michael Vaughn’s 2001 book Descendants of John Grace covered this line.

.  An early arrival from Ireland was Nathaniel Grace, an indentured servant who came to Maryland on the Constant Friendship in 1673.  His descendants later migrated to Kentucky and Arkansas. 

Robert Grace, born in Philadelphia in 1709, bore the Grace Irish coat of arms.  His father, a son of rebel Richard Grace, had left Ireland for an estate in Barbados.  Robert, on growing up, became a friend of Benjamin Franklin and produced the first Franklin stoves.  He died in 1766, but with no children to carry on his name.

Thomas Grace, a schoolmaster, and his wife Margaret - said to be “of genteel stock” - came to Charleston from Kilkenny in the early 1800’s.  Their son Thomas became the second Catholic Bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota in 1859.  A later Thomas Grace, born in Wexford, arrived in America in 1876 and was ordained as the second Catholic Bishop of Sacramento, California twenty years later. 

The Irish potato famine brought two notable Grace families to America:
  • William R. Grace came first to Peru where in 1854 he and his brothers started W.R. Grace and Company, a steamship line that would run between South and North America.  It made him wealthy.  He moved to New York in 1866 and was twice elected mayor of New York City in the early 1880’s.
  • meanwhile in 1850 Thomas Grace departed Tipperary for upstate New York where he farmed for the next twenty years.  He and his family then crossed the country in the 1870's and made their home in Sonoma county, California.  His sons Frank and Joe started a grocery store in Santa Rosa and then acquired what became the Grace Brothers Brewery in 1897.
Australia.  Patrick and Mary Grace were bounty emigrants from Dublin who arrived in Sydney in 1841.  Patrick ended up farming in the Murrumbidgee region west of Yass, NSW.  Patrick also operated the only hotel there, the One Tree Hill Hotel.  Many of his descendants still live in the Yass area.

Joseph and Albert Grace, brothers from Buckinghamshire, came to Sydney in the early 1880’s and started the Grace Brothers department store chain.  The business went through three generations of Graces before its sale in the 1980’s

Select Grace Miscellany

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

Select Grace Names

William le Gras is now considered to be the forebear of the Anglo-Norman Grace family in Ireland.
Richard Grace was an Irish Royalist who commanded troops for three English monarchs – Charles I, Charles II, and James II.
W. G.
 Grace was an English cricketer who was important in the development of the sport and is widely considered as one of its greatest-ever players.   He played the game for a record 44 seasons, from 1865 to 1908.
William R. Grace
 was an Irish-American businessman and politician - the first Catholic mayor of New York City and the founder of W.R. Grace and Company

Select Graces Today
  • 8.000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 11,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 9,000 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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