Willie Nelson Family History


Willie Hugh Nelson was born on April 29th, 1933 to Ira and Myrie Nelson in Abbot, Texas.  His mother left soon after he was born and his father remarried and also moved away, leaving Nelson and his sister Bobbie to be raised by their grandparents.  His grandfather William bought him a guitar when he was six and taught him a few chords.

Willie Nelson was into song-writing at a young age, into country music as well, and in 1960, at the age of twenty seven after a wandering early period of his life, made the move to Nashville.  He was successful in song-writing there (his song Crazy being a big hit for Patsy Cline), but not in his singing performances; and he stepped back from the music busiess in 1972 and moved to Austin, Texas.

His career rebounded later on in the 1970’s on the back of an outlaw country album made with Waylon Jennings.  There followed a series of hit songs and records as the public came to recognize and love his very distinctive country sound and style.

From North Carolina to Texas

Willie Nelson’s four times great grandfather was Major John Rogers Nelson who fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War.

Born in Orange county, North Carolina in 1756, John Rogers was an Elder at the Hawfields Presbyterian church from 1770 until his death in 1822.  During the fighting he was a major with the Ist North Carolina regiment.  He was captured at Charleston in 1780 but released under a prisoner exchange a year later.  And he appears to have been married twice, most of his children – including Willie Nelson’s line – coming with his second wife Margaret whom he married in 1799.

The family line before John Rogers is somewhat speculative, but suggests that there were one possibly two Nelson generations before him in North Carolina.  Were they Scots Irish as the Presbyterian church  and a possible origin in county Monaghan might suggest?

Most of John Rogers’ children remained in North Carolina.  But one son Alfred moved south with his wife Nancy and their two children to Arkansas sometime in the 1850’s.  Alfred’s grandson Franklin, known as Uncle Peck, was a blacksmith in Newton county, Arkansas.

His son William Nelson was also a blacksmith.  He and his wife Nancy (Papa and Mama Nelson as they were known) were caring parents.  When their daughter Clara died during childbirth in 1921 at the age of nineteen, they raised her surviving daughter Mildred.  In 1929 their son Ira had gotten married and moved to Texas in search of work.  But when he abandoned his children they again stepped in to take care of Bobbie and Willie who had been born in Texas.

Reader Feedback: Willie still has one direct cousin that I know of. For privacy reasons I am not listing her name here.  She is the only daughter of Mildred Turney, the daughter of Clara Mae and Otto Turney. Aunt Mildred passed away a few years ago and her husband was Cecil Wilcox, brother of my grandmother.  Bob Cox.

Reader Feedback: I was told when I was a child by my grandfather that Willie Nelson’s ancestors married a Grinder. My family is from St Joe, Arkansas. And I heard from grandfather that Willie is from Harrison, Arkansas.  Adam Grinder.

Reader Feedback: I have a different story that could explain why Willie Nelson’s mother left and then his father left. My grandfather’s father Isam Elijah Bradford Nelson lived in Milford, Texas and in 1932 had an affair with a married woman in the next town over whose last name was also Nelson. He had left her family because of shame. Ricky Nelson.

Willie Nelson’s Family Tree

  • Samuel Nelson (died in 1765) m. Margaret (died in 1765) in North Carolina
  • – David Nelson (1735-1780)
  • David Nelson m. Isabel Craig (1737-1821) in North Carolina in 1756
  • – Samuel Nelson (1756-1837)
  • – John Nelson (1756-1822)
  • – Margaret Nelson (1767-1824)
  • Major John Rogers Nelson m. Jennet Tate (1771-1825) in 1789, rem. Margaret Rankin (1785-1821) in 1799, both in North Carolina
  • – John Nelson (1798-1872) m. Nancy Griggs
  • – Samuel Nelson (1801-1846)
  • – Alfred Nelson (1806-1872)
  • – Mary Nelson (1807-1860)
  • – Ann Nelson (1808-1884) m. Mr. Walker
  • – Melinda Nelson (1811-1871) m. Robert Wharton
  • – William Nelson (1813-1897)
  • Alfred Nelson m. Nancy Gill (1808-1869) in North Carolina in 1824
  • – Thomas Nelson (1827-1904) m. Elizabeth O’Daniel
  • – Newton Nelson (1837-1904)
  • Newton Nelson from North Carolina m. Amanda Midget (1840-1910) in Arkansas in 1856
  • – Franklin Nelson (1857-1934)
  • Franklin Nelson m. Aprilla Marshall (1858-1929) in Boone county, Arkansas in 1875
  • – Amanda Nelson (1877-1934) m. Pleasant O’Daniel
  • – Nora Nelson (b. 1882) m. Oscar O’Daniel
  • – William Nelson (1884-1940)
  • – Matilda Nelson (b. 1886) m. Joe Butler
  • – Claudie Nelson (1889-1939) m. Wesley Smothers
  • – John Nelson (1894-1974) m. Eary Randle
  • William Alfred Nelson m. Nancy Smothers (1882-1979) in Newton county, Arkansas in 1900
  • – Clara Nelson (1902-1921) m. Otto Turney
  • – Rosa Nelson (1903-1978) m. William Nichols
  • – Ira Nelson (1913 -1978)
  • Ira Doyle Nelson (1913-1978) m. Mytie Marie Greenhaw (1913-1983) in Newton county, Arkansas in 1929
  • – Bobbie Nelson (b. 1931)
  • – Willie Nelson (b. 1933)
  • Willie Nelson m. Martha Matthews in 1952 (divorced in 1962); rem. Shirley Collie in 1963 (divorced in 1971); rem. Connie Koepke in 1971 (divorced in 1988); rem. Annie D’Angelo in 1991
  • – seven children from four wives



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Written by Colin Shelley

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