Thomas Alva Edison and His Family Tree

Thomas Alva Edison (TAE) was interested in his family history, but his autobiographical notes and other writings reveal major misconceptions that have found their way into numerous biographies. For example, he mistakenly believed that John Edison, whom he characterized as “a Rebel in [the] Revolution” who “fled to Nova Scotia,” was his grandfather, rather than his great-grandfather. Moreover, he claimed that his great-grandfather, whose name he never mentioned, was a “Banker in Wall Street.” This garbled account of TAE’s ancestry also appears in the authorized biography, Edison: His Life and Inventions (1910) by Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Commerford Martin. The authors embellished TAE’s recollections by giving his great-grandfather a name (Thomas) and stating that he had been a “stalwart Continental” during the War of Independence—a position that supposedly estranged him from his Loyalist son and inspired John to move to Canada after the war.

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