(excerpt from Tenney Family Descendants of Thomas Tenney of Rowley, Mass; vols. 1-4; copyright 2007)
The Tenney’s were, and continue to be, a very progressive family. Although research to discover more information on the beginnings of the family in England is on-going, the progenitors can be considered quite remarkable. Ensign Thomas Tenney, his wife Ann Mighill; and shortly after, his brother William left the comforts of their English family and home to set off across an ocean for lands unknown. To date, Thomas and William are the only known Tenney’s to originally come to America.
Research indicates that all persons in the United States with the surname “Tenney” or direct lineage to the surname can trace their ancestry to Ensign Thomas Tenney and his wife Ann Mighill; as younger brother William Tenney had only daughters survive into adulthood, his one son died young.
They landed in the Northeast, along the Eastern Seaboard; they settled in the “New England”. They followed land and opportunity into areas surrounding Massachusetts including New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Connecticut and Vermont. They are considered “Northerners” until after the Civil war when a major exodus of Tenney sons started “west” to claim their wartime pay – land. This migration led them south to Virginia and Florida; northwest to Illinois and the plain states; southwest to Texas and the Midwest; then west to California and the Pacific Northwest. Today, there are Tenney’s in every one of our 50 states.
Tenney’s raised their families and their new country with puritanical steadfastness and determination. Even today, Tenney ideals are prevalent: Tenney’s educated their daughters as well as their sons. They are consistently noted as pillars of their communities – holding positions of political, financial and religious status. They are doctors and lawyers, clergy and landholders, teachers and artists, engineers and merchants. They built their homes and their farms with their own sweat and blood. They served in every one of our country’s military conflicts. No matter the religious path, they stood by their beliefs and their morals. Their sense of justice, fairness and reason-ability is repeatedly evident in their actions, opinions and remembrances. It has been claimed that “If a Tenney says it is so, it is so”.
The family is not without its frailties – they are plagued with circulatory health issues; high blood pressure and weak hearts; they suffered through tragic maladies of the day – tuberculosis (formerly consumption) and influenza. In the course of working on this project, another interesting trend came to light, that of two characteristic physical traits – one of fair complexion, tall stature and angular features; the other of olive complexion, short stature and round features.
There are many spelling variations of the surname, the most common, but certainly not the only, include Tinney and Tenny. One theory for these variations, as noted by Joseph Swift Tinney is at the time when Tenney’s/Tinney’s could not read or write, census takers wrote what they saw fit. In viewing documents of various time periods, it is easy to see how the “e” could be mistaken for an “i” resulting in Tinney. Another explanation insists the second “e” is unnecessary, and thus was dropped resulting in Tenny. Efforts to trace the spelling change through documents have been unsuccessful to date (2001). Some family members continue to use whichever spelling they are most familiar with.
In 1891, and again in 1904, Martha Jane (M.J.) Tenney wrote and published the first documented genealogy of the Tenney family. She was atypical of the family heritage; intelligent and passionate in her work. As Tenney Rawson Humphrey, Association genealogist stated 1967 “Martha Jane left 2 great memorials; one, primarily to her father, but of which the entire Tenney Family can be justly proud; the other a nearly incomparable genealogy, the equal of which is seldom found the world-over”. She never married and was an invalid most of her life. Her work focused on what she had access to, mainly her own line of Tenney’s with some details of nearby families; hence her notation “went west” when her sources disappeared. Her work is phenomenal for its time and as former Tenney Family Association president, Mr. Dubke stated in his Annual Association meeting address 1999 “If it wasn’t for Martha Jane Tenney, we probably wouldn’t be here today. Because of her many years of dedicated research and letter writing, most of us are able to trace our Tenney lineage back to Thomas and Ann Tenney of Rowley, Massachusetts”.