How to do find birth parents when there was no adoption?

+5 votes
My Great Great Grandpa Thomas McAfee was an orphan from Tennessee. He was not adopted but taken in and raised by a family in Franklin Co. Alabama. He had a younger brother that was ill with "white swelling" and the family took him back to Tennessee. Selmer we believe. The family that took Thomas in was either Graves or Gray and they lived at a place know as King Place. Does anyone know how I'd go about finding his birth parents? Thomas was born February 14, 1837 his wife was Martha McKinney He kept his birth name, we can't find any more McAfee's in our area. Did find his daughter's ggg grand child in LA. She is having problems also going beyond Thomas.
in Genealogy Help by Anonymous Vaden G2G Crew (340 points)
retagged by Keith Hathaway
Just for your information, here are directly transcribed hand written notes from my Aunt, Thomas was her Grandfather.  I have been trying to put a McAfee family tree together and get stuck above Thomas.  Either Thomas was the son of James McAfee or records identifying his parents have not been identified.  I have not found any information on a Dan or Jack (or John McAfee either).  Very little has been passed down about Thomas McAfee.


This is my dads family or all I ever heard of. His dad's name was Tom or Tomas McAfee. He had two uncles, Dan McAfee and Jack, who brought him from Tenn. to Ala. as a young kid. A McKiney raised him, I never heard anything said what happened to his parents. I think they died during the war between the states. When he grew up he married Martha Mat Malone McKiney, they had six children, one was Samuel Arthur McAfee
Thank you!!! The McKinney's are buried behind my great grandpa. Doctor Luther Bonaparte McAfee (Bony). We put flowers on their grave on Decoration Day but no one living remembered how they fit into the family. Thomas and Martha are there too. Decoration Day is the first Saturday in August at Bond's Cemetery in Franklin County, Al. We would love for you to attend if possible. We can fill you in on what we know. I can't thank you enough my Aunt (76) has been wanting to know more, she will be thrilled by this news. We don't know much about Thomas either.


I am not sure I have the right Thomas Mc Afee.  But John S Gray (Gray-7837.) John is my third great grandfather.  He married Jemima Coan could this be your Thomas Mc Afee the 1850 Census has a Thomas Mc Afee 14 and a James Mc Afee 16 born in Tennessee.    

John S Gray in the 1850 United States Federal Census

Name: John S Gray Age: 58 Birth Year: abt 1792 Birthplace: Tennessee Home in 1850: District 6, Franklin, Alabama, USA Gender: Male Family Number: 696

Household Members:

Name Age

John S Gray 58

Jemima Gray 55

Rhody Gray 24

Catherine Gray 18

Daniel R Gray 15

James McAfee 16

Thomas McAfee 14

Year: 1850; Census Place: District 6, Franklin, Alabama; Roll: M432_5; Page: 221A; Image: 637 Source Information 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:



Hello,  I tried to find information about King Place in 1840s Alabama.  All I could find is a reference to a King family.  Maybe this King Place was on the property of this family.  Please see this link,

5 Answers

+4 votes
Did he keep his birth name McAfee ?
by Maggie N. G2G6 Pilot (910k points)
Yes he kept McAfee. The younger brother did too. My Aunt told me that way back then it was common to take in orphans but not adopt them because they were not your blood line. A way to preserve the orphans family name.
+3 votes
.you might check fondling homes for unwed mothers that where i found my mothers birth certficate
Thank you!!!
+1 vote
It's sounds as if there is no easy way. For any birth in Tennessee and/or Alabama in 1837 it would be hit or miss. It was still in many ways frontier, and long before those records were routinely kept. If this were my research problem I think I would:

1. Make sure I had everything I could find on Thomas, step by step - death records, census (state and federal), miltary service and pension records (and widow's pension, if applicable), marriage, church, newspapers and county histories from where he resided.

2. The same for any known siblings.

3. Verify if possible the story about a sibling returning to Selmer, Tennessee and look for McAfee's there (there would have been a reason he returned to that place). Research every McAfee found.

4. Try to find a link between the Gray/Graves and the McAfee families. It wasn't impossible that strangers took in a foundling, but it would be much more likely that family did, albeit collateral family.

My great grandfather had a similar story. It took finding him in the 1870 census, and then connecting with the people researching that family to start to crack it open. I still haven't completely.
by Ellen Curnes G2G6 Mach 7 (73.7k points)
Thank you so much Ellen! I wish my Granny was still alive she always wanted to know where her grandpa came from. I want to solve this mystery for her.....and me
+3 votes
Do you know if Thomas has any male living direct descendants who share the McAfee name? If Thomas had a son who had a son and so on, you can have his Y-DNA tested to find out more about the McAfee line. With any luck, someone else out there will have been tested, be a match, and have information for generations beyond Thomas. Even if nobody else has been tested, having the information can help identify other ancestry groups to look at.
by Erin Breen G2G6 Pilot (258k points)
That is a problem too. Thomas had 5 sons and 3 died young. My Great Grandpa had 2 sons and neither married. We are searching for relatives of Great Grandpa's siblings. I've found one but she doesn't have much more than I do. They seem to have all had mostly girls. Would my Dad work in the DNA or would the Vaden and Maxwell show more? The line would be Thomas...Bony....Myrtle....Daddy. Thanks to cousin bait I found the ggg granddaughter of gg grandpa Bony's sister and we are now working together to fill in hole.
Hi, I know a male McAfee who is a descendent of Thomas.  He is the grandson of Samuel McAfee (Thomas' son).  He is living in Mt. Hope, AL
Thanks Dave! I'd love to meet him. Let him know we have a reunion and Decoration Day on the first Saturday in Aug. It's at Bond's Cemetery where Thomas is buried. We love when cousins come and share their stories.
Have you had any breakthroughs in identifying the parents of Thomas.  I have been on the same quest for years.  I have previously sent you some messages.  Anyway, I have focused most of my time on the Thomas McAfee as shown in the 1850 census with parents James, Nancy and brother William in Tishomingo Co., MS.  All I had to start on was a comment from my aunt that Thomas was brought to AL from TN as a boy by uncles Dan and Jack and raised by the McKinneys.  None of my McAfee family members have any additional information, none.  If indeed he was adopted or raised by the Gray family it will probably take some foot work visiting the counties in question, McNairy, Lincoln, and Davidson, TN.  I did a search and found only two documented McAfees in McNairy Co. between 1800-1840, a Jacob and Moses.  There is a record of a Luke McAfee death in 1840 in Lawrence Co., AL.  The 1840 census indicates 5 mails and 4 females (one male 0-5, one male 10-15, one male 15-20, one male 20-30 and one 40-50).  I found records of names for one male and two females who became part of the new marriage, assuming Luke was one of 5, that means there are 3 unidentified males.  I am taking the mtdna test but it probably wont help in this case.  I would like to locate a direct McAfee male relative and have them take the test.  Anyway, just wondering if you have any new info. and wanted to let you know I am still looking for Thomas' parents as well.
+1 vote
You may also want to check Probate and Legal records for TN and AL.  Often times you will find the guardian papers that list who the parents were and if any provisions were made for them.  I would search using the name of the 2 boys and John S Gray, maybe even Jemima Gray.
by Kathleen Heath G2G6 Mach 2 (20.6k points)

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