For nearly nearly a century, Grinnell descendants were led to believe that they descended from French nobility. Research performed by William Emery in the 1930s, using genealogical "evidence" uncovered by a French genealogist in the employ of a U.S. Consular official in France, William Morton Grinnell, identified Matthew Grenelle as the son of Lord Jean Grenelle of Macon, Burgundy, France. The French genealogist claimed to have found evidence that Matthew was born around 1602. The accepted opinion was that Matthew adopted the Protestant faith, forcing him, among thousands of other Huguenots to flee France to avoid religious persecution and for that reason, he fled to America, perhaps through England. This information was published and accepted as fact for a long, long time.
Exhaustive examination of the records cited by the French genealogist in the early 1990s showed no evidence of a Matthew (Matthieu?) or any other son born to the Grenelle family in that time frame (1580-1600). Furthermore, in the late 1980s, information in British records was uncovered that show positive evidence of Matthew's presence in England, beginning around 1615, when he married Rose French. Additional records up through about 1630 show baptisms and burial records for four of Matthew and Rose's children. The GFA believes that at least two more children (the ones from whom nearly all American Grinnells descend) were born in the New World.
Reaction among the members of the Grinnell Family Association to this new information was mixed. Many were disappointed at the likelihood that the information of Matthew's birth was falsified and that they probably are not descended from nobility. The most conclusive evidence was felt to be (1) documented evidence of Matthew's existence only in England, and (2) a 1602 birth year would presume he married at 13! While not unheard of at that time, it was not generally an accepted practice. The remainder are relieved that positive evidence of Matthew's European life has finally been found.
Over the last few years, the GFA has funded research in England in order to find Matthew's or Rose's parents, to no avail. We continue to hope something will be found, given enough persistence and resources. In the meantime, the GFA is reasonably certain that the only French connection is that of the surname of Matthew Greenell's wife Rose.
Much work remains to be done. We are still working on leads that may identify the ship on which Matthew, Rose, and family sailed to the New World. We also continue to search out leads in England (see below) in an attempt to identify Matthew's parentage.
Other Grinnell-like names appear in English documents dating as far back as 1565 that may connect to Matthew, but definitive links have yet to be found. If this is the case, it is still possible that a link to the French Grenelle family could exist, but about 40 years earlier than previously surmised. The 1565 date coincides with the general timeframe of the Huguenot (French Protestant movement) migration out of France, escaping the French Inquisition. Furthermore, the location where these records were found are in the general geographical area of England where many if not most Huguenots were known to live.
There are other Grinnell families out there that are not related to Matthew and Rose, and for whom researchers need to beware:
- James Grinnalds, who emigrated to Virginia in the 1670s. Many of his descendants adopted the Grinnell surname spelling, but the most common spellings are Grinnalds and Grinnells. Anyone doing Grinnell research in Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, etc., should be aware of this family, as this can be a real "red herring". The 1997 Grinnell genealogy has several pages of descendants of James Grinnalds.
- There are other Grinnell families in the United Kingdom who may or may not have the same roots as Matthew and Rose descendants. Some of these families both in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, as well as the rest of the United Kingdom, may descend from families with the Greenhill (or variant) surname(s).
- There are a number of Grennell-surnamed individuals in Ireland who in all liklihood do not share roots with Matthew and Rose. Some of these individuals may have changed the spelling of their surname to Grinnell prior to or after emigrating to England and elsewhere. These individuals may also have links back to the Greenhill (and variant) surnames.