Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Too many Greens

I've been working on a project for the surname Green/Greene in Coventry between 1750 and 1800. This is a time period in Rhode Island research that can be ridiculously challenging since there were few vital records kept, and the best way to establish relationships or identity is by using land and court records. So I toddled off the the Coventry Town Hall to look through the land records which date back to about 1748.

Does anyone know how many male Greens there are in Coventry between 1750 and 1780? Do you have any idea how many land transactions there were? I counted 34 index entries per page and about 50 pages of Greenes for grantor entries up to the year 1845 which is more than 1700 deed entries (and that's just the Grantor index). There have to be over 40 unique individuals with the surname Greene in the area during that time period. When you look at the transactions of just the males named Benjamin Greene in the Grantee Deed Index there are over 30 entries. How does one sort out who's who, how they're related, and which ones to focus on when there are so many?

I've been using 2 techniques (mind maps and spreadsheets) with moderate success for distinguishing all Greene and how they are related. Often, the men or the people taking the information identify their fathers to distinguish among the 3 James, 3 Joseph and 2 Ebenezer Green's all living concurrently in the town.  I had to start somewhere, so I used mind mapping software to help me visualize various families and how they may all be connected. Taking information from a number of different sources I consolidated it into one picture using sources for a specific time period (of course, don't ask me which information came from which source, this is just a visual to sort out who's who on a general scale, I'd have to go back to document everything.) Below is one of the mind maps I created for Greene's in Coventry in the decade between 1740 and 1750.
Mind Map of Greenes in Coventry

I then did it for a later time period when there were even more individuals. In 1778, there were more than 30 taxable inhabitants in Coventry, all with the surname of Greene. Some were women (which helps), and based on how much they were taxed, I could determine if they owned real estate or not which I color coded. This could be helpful when searching for deeds (see below).
X Map of Greenes in 1778

While I have only touched the surface of mapping, I can imagine creating a mind map for each source with all the information contained in it. I can imagine shifting the families around to then overlay them onto a map of town to determine if they group geographically. Fortunately, Coventry covers the largest amount of area of any town in Rhode Island so reconstructing land parcels using physical maps might prove useful as well. But which specific deeds should I look at?

My thought was that as I looked through the Grantee index, I could often distinguish individual land sales from the distribution of an estate by looking for "et al" or "administrator," suggesting that the land sale had something to do with a probate. While the probate records are pretty good, if someone didn't leave a will, it's often difficult to determine who the heirs were, despite the fact that the estate still had to be divided amongst the heirs. So I went through the index and chose all the grantor deeds that contained "et al" and put them into a spreadsheet that I could then sort in a number of ways.
Example of Greene Spreadsheet

Greene et al Grantor Grantee Vol pg Year
Ann  et al Benjamine Green 9 66 1777
Benjamin Nathaniel Green 5 5 1767
Benjamin Thomas Stafford 6 18 1768
Caleb Elisha Greene 5 130 1769
Caleb John Andrews 5 308 1771
Catherine John Matteson 7 57 1777
Cathrine Jacob Greene 10 13 1779
Christopher et al Griffen Greene 4 381 1770
Christopher et al Peter Levally 7 68 1778
Christopher et al Michael Letson 7 507 1777
Christopher et al Jacob Greene 10 13 1779
Deborah Charles Cook 5 209 1772
Elihu et al Griffen Greene 4 381 1770
Elihu et al Benjamine Vaughan 5 340 1777
Elihu et al John Greene 5 425 1782
Elihu et al John Matteson 7 52 1777
Elihu et al Michael Letson 7 507 1777

There were more than 70 entries. Then, by sorting them by volume and page, I could see which individuals mentioned in an "et al" deed sorted together, were found in the same volume and page, meaning that they appeared in the same deed together and were probably related. I can later determine whether they were all related using other documentary evidence. It worked pretty well. I could also sort based on year, or grantee, to organize my research plan and focus on the years when I knew someone died, or a significant first name, or whatever.

While my Green project isn't quite finished, I hope that other folks working in towns with dozens of individuals with the same surname can use these techniques to sort out family groups to focus your research to find what you're looking for!


  1. I'm working on my Greene family in Warwick.

  2. So interesting, Shellee. I need these tricks to sort out Arnolds in Warwick. Just as bad. Thanks! Diane Boumenot

  3. You just completely helped me decide how to move on in my O'Connell project. I downloaded all the transcriptions of church records from the area mine are from and could not decide how I was going to figure them all out. Mind Mapping them just might do it.

  4. I'm so happy that you all found something useful! It can often be difficult with all those related families and common surnames!

  5. With mind maps you have truly unlimited ways of organizing the data. For example, you could create a mind map with branches/nodes listing the various locations in the county. For each branch, you could list those names that are on the deeds for that property. You could then use connector arrows to make connections among various locations that you believe might be related to one particular individual (assuming they moved a bit. A few programs even allow you to create a custom background using your own images. So, for example, you could use a map of Coventry as your mind map background and then have branches/nodes which point or connect to various residential addresses. Via email I'm going to send you a mind map I presented at the APG PMC this past February.
    Ron Arons
    Author of Mind Maps for Genealogy
    Oakland, CA

  6. FindAGrave.com has 971 entrees for individuals named Greene in Kent County. There is quite a bunch of additional information re parents and siblings. Caveat emptor.
    Ron Arons

  7. I'm Alexis Uribe Green from Chile, my ancestors lived in Shetland Islands since 1750 but before that, I don't know anything