It sometimes happens in family history research that, despite your best efforts, you somehow miss the obvious. Similarly, a sudden whim can lead you to evidence that you could kick yourself for not spotting before.

As my recent posts have shown, my search for information about my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe (1626 – 1686) has been frustratingly difficult. I’ve tried searching for details of his children and grandchildren, in the hope that this might throw some light on his earlier life, but with no conclusive results.

Then, today, I thought I’d try something different. I knew that Elizabeth (William Greene’s widow when he died in 1686) was almost certainly not Captain Greene’s first wife. I was fairly sure that she was the Elizabeth Elliott, herself a widow, who married William Greene, a widower, in 1676 – the year before their son, my 7 x great grandfather Joseph Greene, was born. But if that was the case – what was the name of William Greene’s first wife?

The church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

The church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

I decided to search the parish burial records at Ancestry to see if I could find out. I put in the information I knew: the surname Greene, husband’s name William, and the parish of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. I then made a guess that William’s previous wife had probably died in the early 1670s.

Jane Green burial screenshot

Almost at once, and to my great surprise and delight, I discovered a burial record for ‘Jane wife of Capt. Willm. Green of Ratcliffe’, on 7th March 1677 (see above). The inclusion of William’s rank and his address confirmed that this was, indeed, my ancestor: Joseph’s christening record in the following year describes his father in exactly the same terms, as does William’s own burial record in 1686. At last: I’d found another member of William Greene’s family!

17th century funeral procession

17th century funeral procession

The date of Jane Greene’s death needs some explanation. She died in March 1677 ‘new style’ – i.e. reckoning the beginning of the year from January. William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott declared their intention to marry on 20th March of the same year (i.e. less than two weeks after Jane Greene was buried). According to the parish register, their son Joseph was christened on 14th March 1677 – but this was ‘old style’, reckoning the year’s beginning from 25th March, so it was effectively 1678 ‘new style’. This removes any lingering doubt that Jane was, indeed, my ancestor’s wife.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any other records for Jane Greene, at least not in Stepney. There is no record of William Greene marrying a woman named Jane at St Dunstan’s or nearby parishes during this period, or of any children born to the couple. How can we explain this? It could simply be that the records are difficult to find: perhaps they’re hidden behind one of those irritating Ancestry transcription errors? Perhaps the marriage of William and Jane was short-lived and there were no children. Or it’s possible that Captain Greene lived elsewhere in London as a young man: there are a number of possible matches in parishes elsewhere in London, and I shall be following these up at some point.

On the other hand, just having the record of Jane Greene’s burial is useful in a number of ways. Firstly, it provides confirmation that William Greene was, in fact, married at least twice, and lends additional support to the theory that Elizabeth Elliott was his second (or certainly his final) wife. Secondly, the burial record confirms that William was living in Ratcliffe during his first marriage – or at least, towards the end of it – and not just in the last years of his life. Thirdly, the inclusion of his rank or status – ‘Captain’ –links this person definitively to the father of Joseph Greene, and the man who died in 1686.