The History of the Family of

William Francis and Eugene William Perry

Robert Oscar Perry peered into the early morning mist, trying to make out what he was hearing in the distance.  The enemy was beginning to stir.  He could hear them moving now across the pontoon bridges on the Rappahannock.

Why had they waited so long?  Even for the battle-tested Company M of Virginia’s 55th Infantry, this was nerve-racking.

He was just 18 years old, but he had already seen more blood and gore than any man should in a lifetime. Robert served with distinction in several battles before this, and had been recognized for his bravery.

But this was different, this was personal. The Yankee scum were invading his hometown – the city his great-great grandfather helped build over a century ago.   

He could hear them coming; the drums, the war whoops, and the ominous thud-de-duh-thuds of horse hooves on frozen ground.  Louder now...  They're coming... This was it…

To be continued…


This is a preliminary report of the results of my research, written for the descendants of William Francis and Eugene William Perry – two brothers born in Washington, DC, a decade apart, whose lives spanned most of the 20th Century.

William, “Bill,” or “Billy” as he was usually called, was born at the beginning of the First World War.  And Eugene, usually called “Gene,” was born just prior to the Great Depression. 

They both married women who, like their mother, had a strong Roman Catholic faith. And the religious and ethnic sensibilities of Catholocism, alloyed with their Southern Protestant heritage, shaped their unique character and outlook on life.

Together with their wives – Olive Massey and Josephine Ellen Harrigan – these two men raised a total of 16 children - children who have, in turn, produced numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

We stand on their shoulders as beneficiaries of all that they and those who came before them did for us.  But, inevitably their memory will fade if we don’t record what we know for future generations. This history is my attempt to do that, presented with the hope that future generations of Perrys will do the same. 

I’ve learned a lot about our family over the last three years, and yet much still remains hidden.  I hope that in publishing this preliminary report, others with more or better information will come forward with amendments, additions, and corrections that will help me more fully flesh-out our common Perry, Massey, and Harrigan heritage.

While William and Eugene Perry anchor this piece, I hope that this will be of service to other Perry researchers who may also provide me with information of their own.

One of the problems with investigating the Perry family tree is that there are just so many of us – beginning with the settlement of English colonies on the East Coast of North America in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Perrys were on board the ??? ship that sailed from England to Jamestown, VA, in 16??.  They were also among the English who settled Massachusetts during that same century. More Perrys came from Ireland in the early 1700s.  And further complicating things, Perrys may well have been among the many indentured servants brought to America before the advent of slavery.

Most estimates I’ve seen peg “Perry” as the 80th most popular name in the United States.  As one researcher wrote – “that’s a mess of Perry’s.”

But there are some tools available to us today, like the internet and DNA testing, that help narrow the field of possible Perry precursors.  Along the way it has been fun to put myself in the shoes of the men and women in our family who participated in some of the most momentous moments in American history.

We know that our ancestors were among the first to arrive on our shores, I’m fairly certain that some of them fought in the French and Indian, and Revolutionary Wars, and that living in colonial Fredericksburg during that era, they likely rubbed elbows with James Madison, George Washington and his mother, Mary.

Depending on your perspective, you may be either proud or appalled that Perrys fought with distinction for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and may be uncomfortable learning that it’s likely that some of our family owned slaves.

My intention is to present what I find about them with as little bias as possible.

I am indebted to Alice Perry (late daughter of Bill), and Catherine “Katy” Perry (daughter of Gene), for the invaluable work they have done in researching and documenting our ancestors.  This would have been a lot harder without the material they provided.

So, now let’s turn to the first person we are reasonably sure is our direct ancestor in America – Thomas Perry.

Thomas appears in Fredericksburg, VA, in the early 1700s and marries a woman named Sarah Bartlett.  They own land and he appears to be prominent enough in the years following the establishment of the city to be used as a witness to deeds signed by others that were kept in the records of St. George’s Episcopal Church in that city.

From that point on, our Perry ancestry is pretty well recorded.  But the attempt to discover exactly where Thomas came from, and who his father was, has frustrated Perry researchers for decades.

In February 2014, I got a lead, which seems to be quite plausible that I still have to back up with more solid evidence.  One family tree in Ancestry.com lists our Thomas Perry, as the son of Pierce Perry, whom we can trace all the way back to William Pierce Perry who was born about 1647, in Orange County, VA.

Perrys, as I said were among the first settlers of Virginia, just 35 years before this, and so were the Pierces, but I have not been able to make that connection yet.  But this may yet provide us with a link to direct ancestors who came to our shores over 150 years before the American Revolution.

Nevertheless, Thomas Perry’s true origins remain a mystery.  And so, just as in any mystery, we must begin by reviewing the evidence we have concerning the “likely suspects.”

Chapter One: The Mystery of Thomas Perry 

More to come...