The British-American Roots of John Astin

By James Pylant
Copyright © 2008—All rights reserved
Do not post or publish without written permission
Posted 1 December 2008

In 1964, John Astin was cast as Gomez Adams in the classic, offbeat television series The Addams Family, starring opposite Carolyn Jones. The actor, who also has credits as a writer and a director,1 is predominantly of English and Scottish descent, with many of his ancestors immigrating to the U.S. in the 19th century.

John Allen Astin was born 30 March 1930 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Dr. Allen Varley Astin and Margaret Linnie (Mackenzie) Astin.2 Just days later, he was enumerated on the rolls of the federal census for that year with his parents, Allen and Margaret Astin, both 25 years-old and Utah natives, who were renting an apartment on St. Paul Street. Allen Astin, the census notes, was a doctor of philosophy.3

Dr. Allen Varley Astin was born 12 June 1904 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to John Andrew Astin and Catherine Varley. A physicist, Dr. Astin was director of the National Bureau of Standards from 1952 to 1969. He and Margaret Mackenzie were wed on 31 August 1927.4 Margaret Mackenzie Astin was born 21 June 1904 and died 3 January 1991 in Los Angeles.5 The Astins had another son, Dr. Alexander William Astin, born 30 May 1932 in Washington, D.C.6

At age fifteen, Allen Astin is found on the 1920 census in the Salt Lake City household of his mother, the widowed Catherine Astin, age thirty-eight. Born in Utah to English parents, Mrs. Astin’s occupation is noted as copyist and county treasurer. Three others were in the Catherine Astin’s household: her two daughters, Marie, age thirteen, and Helen, age twelve; and a sister, Marie Varley, age forty-two, a sales lady at a dry goods store. The birthplace of Allen, Marie, and Helen’s father is given as Pennsylvania.7

A decade earlier, Catherine W. Astin, a 28-year-old widow, is shown living in Salt Lake City with her three children, Allen, age five; Marie, age three; and Helen, age two. The 1910 census indicates that she was the mother of six children, three of whom had died. Her sister, Marie Varley, age thirty-three, lived with the family and held the same job shown in 1920.8

John Andrew Astin never appears with his wife and children in federal census schedules, as his marriage and death occurred between enumerations. He died at age 26 of cerebral meningitis on 16 August 1908 in Salt Lake City. He was born on 12 July 1882 in Monongahela County, Pennsylvania, to Joseph Astin and Martha Glackin.9

The 1900 census shows John Astin, a 17-year-old servant, born in July of 1882 in Pennsylvania, “at school,” is shown in the household of Maggie Dick, a 36-old Scottish housekeeper. However, both were probably living in the household of a 62-year-old Englishwoman named Priscilla Jennings.10 Meanwhile, John’s mother, Martha Astin, is enumerated in East Mill Creek, Salt Lake County. At age 51 and widowed, her occupation is given as “home duties.” She was born in October of 1848 in Scotland to Irish-born parents. She came to America in 1870, and she was the mother of nine children, six of whom were living in 1900. A son, David Astin, 15 (born March 1885 in Kansas) lived with her.11 In 1880, farmer Joseph Astin (age 54, born in England) and wife Martha (age 30, born in Scotland) appear in Saint John, Stafford County, Kansas, with their three Pennsylvania-born children: Joseph, age six, Mary, age five, and William, age three.12

Martha Glackin Astin—John Andrew Astin’s mother—was born on 14 October 1849 in Coathbridge, Lankarkshire, Scotland, to Irish-born parents Hugh Glackin and Jane Scott. She died of tuberculosis on 20 July 1926 in Salt Lake City.13

Catherine Varley, actor John Astin’s paternal grandmother, was born 16 August 1881 in Utah and died in Salt Lake City at age seventy-four on 20 February 1956 of coronary occlusion. Her parents were William Varley and Mary Ellen McDuff.14 In 1900, William Varley supported his family as — according to the federal census of that year. He was 62, having been born in June of 1837 in England. He and wife, Mary, 60 (born in April, 1840) arrived in the U.S. in 1860. Their children, all Utah-born, were: Marie, 27 (born in May 1873), a saleswoman; Thomas, 22 (born in November 1877), an engineer; Franklin, 21 (born in September 1879), a laborer; and Catherine, age eighteen (born in August 1881).15 William Varley, born 11 June 1837, died at age 71 in Salt Lake City on 23 November 1908. According to John Varley, William was the son of Abraham Varley and Maria Baker.16

Actor John Astin and his first wife, Suzanne Hahn, had sons David, Allen, and Tom Astin. John Astin’s second marriage was to actress Patty Duke (born Anna Maria Duke), and they had two sons—both noted actors—Sean Patrick Astin and Mackenzie Astin. John Astin is now married to Valerie Ann Sandobal.17


  1. John Astin biography, Internet Movie Database, <>, accessed 1 November 2008.
  2. John Astin entry, Who’s Who in America 1997 (New Providence, New Jersey: Marquis Who’s Who, 1996), p. 143.
  3. Allen Astin household, 1930 U.S. census, Baltimore County, Maryland, population schedule, city of Baltimore, 12th Ward, dwelling 6A, family [blank], p. 171, sheet 4B, enumeration district [ED] 4-181, supervisor’s district [SD] 4; National Archives [NA] microfilm T626-856.
  4. Allen Varley Astin (deceased), Marquis Who’s Who on the Web, online,>, accessed 19 July 2007.
  5. Margaret Mackenzie Astin entry, no. 579-88-7100 (previously 578-58-7782), Social Security Death Index, online <>, accessed 17 March 2008.
  6. Alexander William Astin, Marquis Who’s Who on the Web, online,>, accessed 19 July 2007.
  7. Catherine Astin household, 1920 U.S. census, Salt Lake County, Utah, population schedule, Salt Lake City, ED 130, SD 344, p. 223, sheet 5B, dwelling 52, family 67; NA microfilm T625-1866.
  8. Cathrine [sic] W. Astin, 1910 U.S. census, Salt Lake City, Utah, population schedule, Salt Lake City, SD [blank], ED 128, sheet 1B, dwelling 13, family 14; NA microfilm T624-1607.
  9. John Andrew Astin, Utah State death certificate no. 1160. This record actually gives his mother’s name as Martha Blackin (instead of Glackin). The informant was his brother-in-law, Thomas Varley.
  10. Maggie Dick household, 1900 U.S. census, Salt Lake County, Utah, population schedule, Salt Lake City, ED 39, SD 273, p. 139, sheet 9A, dwelling 129, family 130; NA microfilm T623-1684.
  11. Martha Astin household, 1900 U.S. census, Salt Lake County, Utah, population schedule, East Mill Creek, ED 64, SD 273, p. 158, sheet 7A, dwelling 85, family 88; NA microfilm T623-1685.
  12. Joseph Astin household, 1880 U.S. census, Stafford County, Kansas, population schedule, Saint John, ED 326, SD 2, dwelling 84 [85], p. 18, family 84 [85]; NA microfilm T9-398. This entry is marked through and “Entered by mistake” was written by the enumerator.
  13. Martha Glackin Astin, death certificate no. 1303 (1926); Bureau of Health Statistics, Utah State Department of Health, Salt Lake City.
  14. Catherine Varley Astin, Utah state death certificate no. 56-18-0380 (1956).
  15. William Varley household, 1900 U.S. census, Salt Lake County, Utah, population schedule, Salt Lake City, ED 31 SD 273, p. 44, sheet 1A, dwelling 6, family 6; NA microfilm T623-1684.
  16. William Varley, Utah state death certificate no. 0802636 (1908).
  17. John Astin biography, Wikipedia online <>, accessed 17 November 2008.