My recent exploration of the life of seventeenth-century mariner Joseph Greene alerted me to the possibility that there could be two men with the same name and the same occupation, living in the same parish at around the same time, and married to women who also shared the same name. I’m still not sure whether the Joseph Greene who lived in Limehouse and received his master’s certificate from Trinity House in 1663, was the same person as the mariner of that name who lived in the neighbouring hamlet of Ratcliffe during the same period.

Of course, this is not the first such confusion that I’ve come across. In the past I’ve spent some time trying to disentangle the records for my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, from those of another mariner with the same name who lived in nearby Wapping at about the same time. It doesn’t help that both of these men were widowers who married their second wives, both of whom were named Elizabeth, in the same year (1676-7).

The fact that Greene is such a common name, and that so many Stepney residents at this period worked as mariners, makes these coincidences and confusions very likely. Needless to say, they are a headache for the family historian, trying to follow particular names through the parish and other records.



This reminder that there might be more than one person with a particular name, living in a particular area at a particular time, has sent me back to the records bearing the name of William Greene. Some time ago, I wrote about a mariner named William Greene who lived in Ratcliffe in the 1630s and was married to a woman named Margaret. I suggested that this man might be William Greene the younger, one of the three sons of William Greene the elder of Ratcliffe, yet another mariner, who died in 1634 (the other two sons being Bartholomew Greene and John Greene of Newcastle, also mariners).

The dates that we have for the William Greene who was married to Margaret are far too early for him to be my ancestor, Captain Greene. If the inscription on his tomb is to be believed, then my 8 x great grandfather was about 60 when he died in 1686, meaning that he was probably born in about 1626.

Section of Rocque's map of 1746, showing Brook Street, Ratcliffe

Section of Rocque’s map of 1746, showing Brook Street, Ratcliffe

The records for William and Margaret Greene of Ratcliffe begin in 1632 and end in 1636. But returning to these records has made me wonder if there was actually more than one couple with these names living in the area at this time. On 28th October 1632, William Greene of Ratcliffe, a mariner, and his wife Margaret had a son named William christened at the church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. Just over two years later, William Greene of Brook Street, mariner, and his wife Margaret buried their son William at the same church. Brook Street was one of the two roads that ran from east to west through the hamlet of Ratcliffe (see map above; the other was Broad Street, to the south), so this William and Margaret Greene were certainly ‘of Ratcliffe’.

The Greenes of Brook Street must have had another son named William in the following year – 1635 – for on 21st September of that year another child named William, son of William Greene of Brook Street, mariner, and his wife Margaret, was also buried at St Dunstan’s.

On 21st August 1636, yet another child named William Greene was christened at St Dunstan’s. His father was also a mariner named William and his mother was called Margaret. However, this couple were said to live not in Brook Street, but in White Horse Street (see map below). When I first came across these records, I thought this must be the same couple, having moved to another house in the same village of Ratcliffe. However, there is then a burial record for exactly a week later, on 28th August 1636, for William, son of William Green of Brook Street, mariner. This child had died, like hundreds of others, from the plague that spread through the area at this time.

Section of Rocque's 1746 map, showing White Horse Street, Ratcliffe

Section of Rocque’s 1746 map, showing White Horse Street, Ratcliffe

Now, it’s possible that all of these records refer to the same William and Margaret Greene. After all, according to Rocque’s map of 1746, Brook Street and White Horse Street met at the junction with Butcher Row. What if the Greene family lived at the junction itself, or if, a century before Rocque, the distinctions between the streets of Ratcliffe were less clear?

On the other hand, I wondered why the parish clerk had gone to the trouble of giving details of the streets, rather than simply writing ‘of Ratcliffe’. Perhaps it was to distinguish clearly between two local mariners with the same name, both confusingly married to women named Margaret?

The clerk reverts to the more general address ‘of Ratcliffe’ when recording the burial, on 18th September 1636, of another victim of the plague. This was Margaret, said to be the daughter of William Greene of Ratcliffe, mariner, and his wife Margaret. I’ve yet to find a christening record for this child. Was she the daughter of William and Margaret of Brook Street, or of White Horse Street – or are they the same people?

Four days later, on 22nd September 1636 the plague claimed another victim named Margaret Greene. However, this Margaret lived in Ratcliffe Highway, which is not necessarily the same as the hamlet of Ratcliffe. Moreover, she was said to be a widow, and I have no evidence that William Greene of Ratcliffe had died in the few days since the burial of his daughter Margaret.

I had hoped that William and Margaret Greene of Ratcliffe might turn out to be the parents of my ancestor Captain William Greene. However, there are two problems with that hypothesis. One is that the dates are too late: all of the children named William Greene mentioned above were born in the 1630s, not the 1620s. The other, more serious problem is that they all died in infancy: none of the sons born to William and Margaret Greene, whether in Brook Street or White Horse Street, survived.