Finding my Roots/Key branch


History of the Key Family

When surnames were brought into use not every person could read or write, merely pronounce their names, and we find various ways in which all surnames are spelt, caused by the persons writing them and by provincial or dialectic pronunciation, which accounts for many of the variations in the spelling of key (Kei, Kee, Kea, Kay, Keese, keyes and so on.)

The earliest records of the family are found in England. On the Fabric Roll of York Minister and the wills and inventories, John Kay appears, and on the Old Hundred Rolls, Jordan Kay’s name is inscribed. Later records show that a Nicholas Kay (1420) lived near London and who was probably the father of John Key, the poet laureate of Edward IV. This John Key is noted as having committed to posterity an English prose translation of a Latin history of the siege of Roads, in the title of which, dedicating his work to Edward IV, in 1442 he called himself “hys humble Poet Laureate.”

Thomas Key, son of Gilbert Key of Kent, resided in Forest Place, where he died about 1525. He left issue among who was Richard Key, Sergt.-at-arms to Henry VIII, and Capt. Sandgate Castle 1540. Richard Key married Mrs. Mildred Diggs, daughter of Sir John Scott and the widow of John Diggs. Richard and Mildred Key had the following children: Thomas, William, Edward, Reginald, and Sibbell.

Thomas Key,(1540-1578), son of Richard was Queen Elizabeth’s Sergeant Porter. He married (1)___? and had two children Thomas and Isabell Key. In August 1565, he secretly married Mary Grey, a maid of honor at Queens Court. She was the daughter of Henry and Francis (Brandon) Grey and granddaughter of Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk, and his wife Mary daughter of Henry VII, and sister of Lady Jane Grey. (Reg. Dictionary of National Biography Vol. 31, p. 87.)

John Kaye of Woodsome, who was advanced to the dignity of baronet by King Charles1,Feb.4, 1641.

John Key of Milcombe in Oxfordshire, had two sons (Probably others), Richard and Josiah. The latter applied in 1688 for a grant of arms, and his petition was supported by Lord Clarendon in whose service he was, and by John Thornicroft who married Josiah’s daughter and heir, Elizabeth Key. Josiah
is described as a man of good repute and ample fortune, well able to support the charges and position of a gentlemen. The petition was granted. The coat-ofarms conferred being; argent, two bendlets humetty purpure. Josiah Key died in 1695 leaving a sum of money to his brother Richard, and his estate to his son-in-law, John Thornicroft. In 1701, the later petitioned to leave the bendlets in the arms, granted to his late father-in-law, changed from purpure to stable, and his petition was granted but Sir Arthur of Yorkshire, who bore two bendlets sable, opposed the grant as the new arms resembled his own too closely. Accordingly in 1704, the Earl Marshall granted to the Key; Argent two bendlets pean (black and gold fur), the bendlets being know longer huetty.

Richard, son of John Key of Oxfordshire, England married Mary Cartwright, and had issue, vis: Phillip, born in Loundon, March 21,1696, Henry and perhaps other children.* Henry and Phillip came to America and settled on the north bank of the Potomac River, near Leonardtown, Henry is said to have died young and unmarried. Phillip was the great grandfather of Francis Scott Key, the author of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”


“God sifted many nations that He might bring good seed into this wilderness.”

From the very beginning of the English settlement in America we find among the colonists, the name Key and from then until 1720 there were at least seventy-five emigrants of the Key family. of whom were John Key of Main, Robert and Solomon of Massachusetts, John and Moses of Pennsylvania, William, Peter, and Phillip in Maryland, Daniel, Thomas, Adam, William, Martin, and Robert in Virginia, and John, William, and Thomas in the Barbados. They were decedents from a long line of noble ancestry, distinguished in the military annals of their kingdom from the days of the first Crusade.

Those Pioneers of this Country, with their heroic virtues helped to make the wilderness to blossom as a rose and become the greatest habitation on the face of the globe for us who now enjoy its bountiful inheritance, Surely,

“Theirs were deeds which should not pass away,
And their names which must not Wither.”

Source: Key And Allied Families – By Mrs. Julian C. Lane

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