Trying To Confirm Or Deny Major General Nathanael Greene As A Relation or Ancestor

Original portrait painted from life in 1783 by Charles Wilson Peale.
Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

Ever since my husband and I started dating four and a half years ago, I have heard him and his family talk about a connection with Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene. Initially, the claim was “descended from”, but this soon changed to “related to” as I started to question the connection and ask for documentation. As a historian by training and a librarian by profession, I don’t buy into family history claims passed down over generations unless there is documented proof.

This attitude can make me a bit unpopular at family get-togethers. I am sure the same is true of fellow genealogists who require documented sources. I make that distinction because I see way to many “genealogists” who don’t seem to care one hoot about documentation (one only need to look at the bulk of public Member Trees on Ancestry).

When the topic of a Nathanael connection comes up in our Greene family discussions, I try to gently affirm that I can neither confirm not disprove this connection yet. And I have tried to explain to our kids why they shouldn’t claim such a connection in their history classes. I run into the same issue on my side of the family, since they “believe” we are descended from Spanish soldier Manuel Nieto who was part of the Portola expedition into Alta California in 1769–another undocumented claim which I cannot yet prove of disprove.

Because of this, I decided recently to finally buckle down and start the search to either prove or disprove a connection between Major General Nathanael Greene and my husband’s family. I gathered together copies of family papers provided by my father-in-law, and took those to Salt Lake City to read and investigate further at the Family History Library during my RootsTech visit. The primary document of value here is a family history handwritten by my husband’s 2nd great grandfather, William Henry Greene (1837-1921), in 1908, who claims that his great grandfather Christopher Greene (my husband’s 5th great grandfather) is a first cousin of Major General Nathanael Greene.

I also brought along a recently find of mine, a Greene Family Genealogy, from the personal papers of General Greene, published four months ago on Facebook by the General Nathanael Greene Homestead. This family history traces Nathanael’s line back to his family’s founding U.S. ancestor,his 2nd great grandfather John Greene Sr. from Salisbury, England. You can see my notes and analysis in outline format on Evernote.

As soon as I started comparing our William Henry Greene Family History against my analysis of the Homestead’s Greene Family History from Nathanael’s personal papers, I encountered a discrepancy. Our family, via my husband’s 2nd great grandfather William Henry Greene, claims that William Henry’s great grandfather Christopher Greene is a first cousin of General Greene.
According to the family history from Nathanael Greene’s family papers, Nathanael has no first cousin named Christopher.

  • The Nathanael Greene papers Family Genealogy only lists one first cousin: William (5), son of William (4), son of Samuel (3), son of John (2), son of US family founding member John (1).
  • The Nathanael Green papers Family Genealogy does list two Christophers.
    • Nathanael’s younger brother Christopher (b. 1748). 
    • Nathanael’s first cousin once removed: Christopher (4), son of Job (3), son of John (2), son of US founding family member John (1).
What does this prove? Nothing. Yet.

The Nathanael Family History does not list the names of his brother Christopher’s sons, so I cannot compare them again our family’s Christopher. But, wouldn’t it be quite the boon if our Christopher turned out to be the brother of Nathanael rather than a cousin?!

The Nathanael Family History does not list the names of Christopher’s (4)–the first cousin once removed–sons either, for comparison.

The Nathanael Greene papers Family History does not go beyond the level of his father’s first cousins,  US Generation 4. Nathanael and his first cousins are US Generation 5. Except for very prominent members of the Greene clan, this history did not include additional members of Nathanael’s generation–including first cousins from his father’s five brothers. So there could still be a first cousin named Christopher that just was not included in the Nathanael’s Family History.

And, of course, it is possible that my husband’s family is much more distantly related, or not related at all (which seems unlikely that there isn’t a common ancestor at some point).

Regardless, it all means a LOT more research for me!

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