Researching John Wayne's Roots - Iowa


Marion Robert Morrison aka John Wayne (1907-1979)

John Wayne was a larger-than-life movie hero, but his ancestors were the same type and could have fit right into his film roles, according to a Utah genealogical research company.

Research International was in the midst of work on a book about Wayne's ancestors when the announcement came of the actor's death from cancer at age 72.

According to Kendall Williams, the company's founder explained: "He had authorized us earlier to do research for a magazine article, although he said he didn't think we'd find anything interesting.  But we did, and he was quite excited about what we found."

The actor indicated he'd like the information developed into a book, so the genealogical firm obtained funding, found a publisher, and was working on the project when Wayne died. A condensation from several chapters appeared in a new genealogy-oriented magazine, "Heritage," issued July 1, 1979.


In 1977 and 1978, I had contracted with the Genealogical Society of Utah to microfilm records in the Midwest (United States). Following my return to Utah, I was commissioned by Research International to work on documenting the Iowa segment of Wayne's ancestry as his parents, Clyde L. Morrison and Mary A. Brown, lived in Winterset, Madison County, Iowa when he was born as Marion Michael Morrison (records found later  show it as Marion Robert Morrison). "His namesake, Marion Mitchell Morrison (grandfather) served in the Civil War and was badly wounded in an attack by rebels as a detail repaired telegraph lines.  Although shot in the head and stabbed three times with a saber, he dragged himself five miles to a river where he was rescued. He served two terms as Warren County Treasurer [Iowa], being elected in 1899 and reelected in 1901. His deputy was Guy Morrison, a son.  In California, John Wayne only knew his grandfather as a "senile old man."

My assignment was to research and document these two generations in the Iowa area.  I spent five weeks on-site and several weeks prior to the July-August 1979 on-site project, and a couple of months afterward in preparation, compilation, and reporting the details gleaned from that trip. 


Concurrently, Professor Garn Coombs from Brigham Young UniversityTeacher Education Department researched the Tennessee area.  It was here that Marion Mitchell (M.M.) Morrison was ambushed and left for dead to get that segment's story, including other ancestry from Kentucky and South Carolina. Some of his progenitors had moved from the South to Ohio and then to Illinois where he had joined the military.

Another researcher worked on the Ohio and Illinois portion of the project, since the M.M. Morrison family had left the Illinois area before coming to Iowa, probably due to the proported healing mineral waters in the Colfax, Iowa area.  During his later years, he petitioned the government for increase in his disability pension which created many documents and affidavits.

As a result of this research trip and associated planning and reporting, I fell in love with the Greater Des Moines, Iowa area and its people.  The skills that were developed during this project have been used to assist others in their family history research, as well as benefit untold others whom I have had the opportunity to teach and help over 36 years since that time, professionally and voluntarily.


Beverly Faretta
From The . . . (plains) . . . Of Montezuma


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