The strange case of Guy Dunn- alias Charles McCray

September 30 marked the 124th birthday of Mom’s uncle Charles McCray. For the first 17 (or so) years of his life, Charles was known as Guy Dunn. Why Guy changed his name to Charles McCray is one of the more puzzling mysteries of the Dunn family.

The name change occurred some time prior to 18 August 1913. That’s the day “Charles” married Ellen Simpson, who had emigrated with her family from Ireland to Worcester 4 or 5 years earlier. Mom suggested to me that Guy’s name change may have had something to do with resistance (actual or feared) to the marriage on the part of Ellen’s parents. Ellen’s family was Catholic, while Guy’s parents had raised him in the Congregational Church. Ellen and Charles McCray were married by a Catholic priest in Worcester. (Ironically, Guy’s father, Daniel Dunn was born Catholic, but apparently converted to Congregationalism after he was shipped off to Jaffrey as an orphan after his father killed his mother).

I became aware of Guy Dunn’s name change early on in my family history research, but I’ve come across some interesting additional information recently. Most intriguing is the actual record of Charles and Ellen’s marriage. Charles’s parents are listed as “Earnest J. McCray” and “Julia Traverse McCray”, not Daniel and Mary Alice Dunn. Not surprisingly, I’ve been unable to find any other record of “Earnest” and “Julia”.

Mom told me she had long been aware of her uncle’s name change, but gave me the impression that it had been a secret in the beginning. She recalled being told by her father that he only learned of the situation after running into his brother by chance on a sidewalk in Worcester. That story also suggests that Guy may have run away from home, without telling his family where he was headed.

Guy/Charles and his new family did return to visit Rindge over the years. In July 1917, the Fitchburg Sentinel included this social note from East Rindge: “Mr. and Mrs. Guy Dunn and son have been visiting at Daniel Dunn’s”. Daniel Dunn, Guy’s father, died in October 1918 at the age of just 52. Five months later the Sentinel reported that Guy’s mother and sister Mildred were “spending several days in Worcester with Guy Dunn”. There are additional similar notes in the Sentinel as late as the early 20’s, always referring to “Guy Dunn”, rather than Charles McCray.

The final twist to the story comes in 1943. In that year Charles apparently filed paperwork in New Hampshire to legally change his name from Guy Dunn to Charles McCray. Why did he feel the need to do this after thirty years of being Charles McCray? We may never know. Charles died just five years later, at the age of 54.

Epilogue: Charles and Ellen McCray had three children- Charles Jr., Elizabeth “Betty” McCray, and Rita McCray Valentine. Charles Jr. moved to the Spokane, Washington area in the 1940’s. He died there in 1986. Rita passed away in 1989 and is buried in the Dunn family plot at Hillside Cemetery in Rindge, under a distinctive heart shaped stone. Betty McCray, whom Mom stayed in touch with until her death, died in 2007. She is buried in Shrewsbury’s Mountain View Cemetery, along with her parents.

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  • Kerry Sheehan Lavoie

    We met Charles Jr in 1980ish when Mom and I spent some time with Uncle Bud and Barb at their house in Cour de Lane, Idaho. Charles and his wife had a big barbecue with some of his family.