Land of Opportunity: Family History Dates Back to 1500s

Scottish family history begins in 1509, and family travels to the land of opportunity beginning in the 1600s.

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We have our family history back to 1509; and our journey to the land of opportunity didn’t take place until the early American colonies.

Sir Knight John Keay of Scotland has the record printed of a large tree that shows where Francis Scott Key came in; our record follows him. A legend handed down by the old Scot says that they are descendants of the lost tribe of Israel and that in the early days of civilization – before the Norman conquest – they settled in a small country called Saxony. This country later fell into the hands of the Germans.

Unable to speak German, the Scots began looking for another land to settle. They wanted hilly land with fertile valleys and streams. They found what they were looking for in what is now Scotland and settled there, scattering into Ireland, Wales and Lancashire, England. Most of those who came to America sailed out of Lancaster and landed in New York, then found their way into the southern states. The name Key has been spelled Kaey, Keay, Keys and Kee, but our lineage settled on the name Key. All the variations trace back to the ancient families of England and Scotland and the lineage of Sir Kaey, an ancient Briton and one of the knights of the warlike table of the noble Prince Arthur. In 1641, at the time of the Norman conquest, John Key was made a baronet. He was the first to spell the name Key. From the family's earliest history, it has been noted for its energy, pride, resourcefulness, initiative, mental ability, love of nature, courage and leadership.

The first name recorded in America was Thomas Key of Warwick River, Virginia, 1626. Seven Key brothers came from Scotland at about the time of the Revolutionary War. They took up land where the city of Brooklyn, New York, now stands. Later, they deeded this land away for 99 years and moved farther west. The 99-year term expired about 1870, but the Key brothers had failed to keep a complete family record and were unable to regain their property. The property, which comprises about five blocks on both Broadway and Fifth Avenues, was worth at least $200 million several years ago.

Our Key family settled in Crawford County, Missouri, around Steelville. A new town nearby was named Keyville because most of the people in the area were named Key. On January 24, 1901, they decided to leave this area and move to a new land called the Oklahoma Territory, which did not have statehood until 1907. The families, along with farm animals, farm implements and household items, came by boxcar on the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad line. They settled in Lincoln County at Chandler, about 40 miles from Oklahoma City.

Distinguished Key family members include: American lawyer and author of "The Star Spangled Banner" Francis Scott Key; English military historian Sir John William Key; British Admiral Sir Ashley Cooper Key; American jurist and cabinet officer David McKendar Key of Tennessee; and Swedish social writer Miss Ellen Key.

Whenever we meet a person named Key, they all go back to the story of the seven brothers leaving Scotland and the 99-year lease in Brooklyn.

Gladys Key Perry
Guymon, Oklahoma


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.