Posted by: Richard Chennault | October 10, 2006

The Lost Chennault’s


My name is Richard Daniel Chennault. I am the great grandson of Claire Lee Chennault. I, as is the line of Chennault’s I descend from, are not clearly recorded in the anals of history as a descendant of the General. However I come by the name honest and true yet the story is not as clear as one would hope.

To be honest I’ve only been able to piece together fragments of the story as to how my grandfather, William Stanley Chennault, came into being. It is a tale of the old south, misogyny and honour.

From stories I’ve heard from my grandfather, over a bottle of Jack Daniels, the story began in the lates teens of the 1900’s. Cliare was a young man met a woman named Anna Mae Griffin. I know little of my great grandmothers early life as she we tight lipped about Claire and her relationship with him. But they did have a child together and that was my grandfather. Now the story, as I’ve heard, was that Claire wanted to go off to war but leaving a pregnant woman behind was simply not allowed in those days. So a scheme was concocted where Claire’s brother William would marry Mae. I suppose Mae and Claire relationship was short and bitter. May never mentioned Claire in all her days and referred to him as a war mongerer. Perhaps it was love scorned and promises broken. She died with the true story locked in her heart at the age of 94 in 1991. She had only the one child; William Stanley Chennault.

My grandfather said the name was given to him in honor for what William Chennault did for May. And to this day every first born of William Stanely Chennault is named after my great uncle William. While I’ve no coorborating records or evidence to this story the timing and the resemblance of William to Claire is uncanny. My brother and I attempted to check the official record but birth records have been lost and sadly uncle William passed in the eighties before my brother and I were able to contact him.

I’m sure this story will raise the hackles of some purist Chennault’s out there and it is not my intent to sully a greats man name. I simply wish to fill in a small portion of the history and hope that somewhere out there in the ether as some one may know more than I.


  1. Wow, It sounds like Chennaults’ have alot of hidden secrets. E-mail me at jay_chennault@ and I shed some light on another side of Claire Lee Chennault, my grandfather.

  2. I too am a Chennault who descends down the line from Claire, or at least I believe so. I live in Celeste, Texas, which is about 20 miles north of Commerce where Claire was born. My story is almost like Richard’s, except the fragments of my story are smaller and almost always lead to dead ends. My grandfather, Lewis Chennault, was probably the only person to truly know how we were related to Claire, but that bit of family history died with him decades ago. Lewis also beared an uncanny resemblance to Claire which also leads me to believe that he was related to the General in some way. Not much was ever said about my grandfather’s geneology because he left my grandmother not long afer my father, Lewis Dale Chennault, was born. My uncle, Jerry Lee Chennault who resides in Leonard; just 7 miles north of Celeste, also has very little information on our family geneology. The only other people who could’ve known about our family history were my Aunt Dee and Uncle Bob who sadly passed on several years ago. It seems that everywhere I turn to receive information I always end up back where I started, the beginning. If you or anyone else has any information on the Chennault dynasty, it would really benefit me to know. E-mail me at This is my aunt’s e-mail which I have to use since I do not have one. If unable to e-mail, send a letter to P.O. Box 273, Celeste,TX, 75423.

  3. My father, Ernest Nelson Chennault, was the younger brother of Claire and the story you told has been around for a long time. When Claire was a young man, teaching school, he had a liason with one of his students that produced a baby. Being married to Nell at the time, his younger brother Bill married the girl (his full name was William Stephen Chennault). The marriage of convience was soon dissolved and Bill later married twice more and had two children. The daughter died young and his son, Bill, Jr. died in the late ’90’s in Shevreport, LA.

    My father and mother are both dead now, but as a side note, my late sister Renne’s husband who is a Urologist in Springfield, MO tells of a patient he had that came in for treatment sometime in the ’90’s and said he was the son of Claire. I have often wondered if this is child that Claire fathered in that long ago story. I hope that this helps you.

  4. Rhonda,
    Your sister husband treated my grandfater, William Stanely Chennault. He is that son. He developed prostate cancer but managed to recover and still lives in MO. Thank you for adding to this tail. You add another interesting and telling chapter into the story.

  5. hello. I am tracing my grandmother’s lineage. She was Mabel Claire Chennault. Her father’s name was John Riley Chennault. Her Grandfather’s name was Stephen Nelson Chennault. Her Great Grandfather’s name was WILLIAM CHENNAULT, who was the son of Estienne Chenneau. Estienne (Steven) Chenneau and his wife (name unknown) came to Manakin Town, Virginia in the year 1700. They were French Huguenots escaping persecution from Catholics. His name is spelled slightly differently, because it was changed once he came to America. His name appears on the passenger’s list of a ship named (I believe) “Le ____ Navare” Maybe the word “Semme” goes in that blank. And it is possible that in the word Navare, the e could be an a. Look this up on the Internet. Good Luck. We might be kin.

  6. Does anyone really know the real story??

  7. In doing some genealogy for my husband, I have come across the name of William S. Chennault,Jr. who was married to Wilda L Bowles(born 1932) on 17 May 1962 in Texas. They later divorced. I can find nothing on William except he was born in 1887. This seems a bit old for my Wilda Bowles. If anyone has any information please write and share with me. I will return the favor if I can.

  8. According to the Chennault biographys I have read he seems to have only had 10 recorded chilren. Eight from his first marriage with Nell. A picture from “Chennault” by Sam Jackson lists the names of Rosemary, Max, Pat, Jack, David, Charles, Peggy and Robert. From his second marriage in China he had two daughters named Cynthia Louise and Claire Anna. And Richard when you mentioned about your great grandmother pregnant and Chennault going off to war I’m assuming you mean WWI? Because in the biographys I think they state that he missed WWI and served after it…but by WWII he was definitely married with eight children. And his WWII started in 1937 in China.



      For clarification the story and comments posted are outside the official record.   We all know what is written in the anals of history.  What we don’t know is what is not written and can only be discerned through oral history. –Richard D. Chennault

  9. Hello, my name is William Lee Chennault, brohter to Richard Daniel Chennault, grandson of William Stanley Chennault, great grandson of Mae Griffin latter to become married to William Steven Chennault (brother to Claire Lee Chennault.) The Texas library is where I confirmed through local paper obituray of William Steven Chennault. I contacted his decendents, I believe it was his daughter Karen, but she could not give me any concrete information about direct geneology. Best that can be surmised is that Claire met Mae through the war efforts of time, as she was a nurse. Claire took his carrer of aviation to the next level and joined the military. As historians tell us Claire had a most difficult time entering any branch of the military simply because he was too short to be a piolt, intresting hunh! Back to point, researching tax records may be the next step in the investigation of finding clues for the geneology tree. I offer this to anyone that has the tenacity to do further research in hopes that we can all fill in the blanks of our history for the common curiosty of it all. Best of luck everyone… PS I know there is one family sect of the Chennault line that is very adamnt about being true bloods, as did spend about 15 min on the phone with them one time before I was given an abrupt brush off. I as my brother stated do not wish any ill will on anyone with regards to the historic name General Chennault made for himself and for this great country as a honored hero.

  10. I am sitting here with several family members doing a quick google search and happened upon your website. I am one of Claire’s great grand children, granddaughter of Peggy Chennault.

    Quite frankly, this inforamtion is a complete SHOCK to me as it is to the reast of my family. My grandmother was the family historian and I have NEVER heard this part of Claire’s past before!!!! Unfortunately, my grandmother has passed so I cannot ask her about it. However I am curious to ask my great aunt what she knows.

    Good luck in your search.

  11. I am the granddaughter of dorthy chennault and great grand daughter of earnest chennault his father was Andrew Jackson Chennault and his father was William Jackson Chennault b: 1842. i am not sure if this is the same line. i have just recently started researching my family. I know there is a william chennault

  12. For the last few months I have had a strange interest in knowing my real lineage to Claire Chennault. I view your sight often, Richard, to see how you are doing. I know we don’t get to talk much but I am compelled to share what I can here. I’ve heard alot of stories about how great grandmother (Monnie as I knew her, Anna Mae Griffin) was pregnant out of wedlock and that Claire was the father. Her child (my grandfather) was named William Stanely Chennault, and for some reason I was always told that he hated his middle name. The reason is a little confusing to me but has to do with it reminding him of William Stephen Chennault (Claires Brother), the man that is claimed to have married Monnie in lue of her out of wedlock pregnancy. The reason I don’t believe the tale about W.S. Chennault marrying Monnie is because I was always told his middle name was Stanely and thats why my grandfather hates his middle name. After I realized that his middle name was not Stanely, I began to question the legitimacy of that claim.

    I began to research more about Claire Chennault. Everything written about the man, that I have read, makes me think of him as a gentleman, humanitarian, Christian and a hero. I have a letter from him to his daughter Peggy. He asks her to “shop” for items that will benefit a needy chinese family, I’ve read 4 more like this. Claire’s reason, as described by historians, for being in China during WWII was due to his love for the people. Only after his recruitment of U.S. pilots, did the U.S. commision him back into U.S. service.

    I’ve read tons on his life during WWII, and know little of it before. I did find this, which lets me know that Claire Chennault is my great grand father.

    The 1920 Census lists William Stephen Chennault married to a woman named Norma(19) with a 1 1/2 year old daughter named Ruby. William Stanley Chennault is not listed.

    Claire Lee Chennault on his WWI draft card, signed June 7th, 1917, noted that he should be exempt. His reasoning was, he has a wife and three children. Only two children from Nell Thompson were born at the time. My grandfather was born in 1915, 2 years before Claire Lee Chennault registered for the draft.

    Bobby Chennault

  13. The name of the ship was Nemme Le Nassau. William Stephen Chennault, Sr. was born in 1897, not 1887. He was never married to Wilda Bowles. This was William Stephen Chennault, Jr. Virtually no generation of Chennaults, since landing in America at least, have gone without using the names William, Stephen, John, Nelson, James and later Lee, in some combination. Sometimes they were used multiple times in the same generation. This makes it imperative to know birthdates or at least what generation you are looking for. I have never seen a Chennault spell their name Steven, though. ***To Barbara Ashford Mood- I believe your grandmother’s great grandfather William was the grandson, not son of Estienne (and son of Felix and Miss D’Aubigen). Estienne had only two sons to my knowledge, Hugo b. 1702, and Felix. Felix had 7 sons, William, John, Stephen (twin), Reuben (twin), Benjamin, Daniel, and James. I am a descendant of this Stephen. Hope this helps you… John Chennault

  14. I am not fluent in French, but I believe “Nemme Le” translates to “The Name”. So “Nassau” was the name of the ship. If you go to you will see a list of the passengers aboard the Nassau when it sailed to Virginia in 1700, which included Estienne Cheneau and sa femme.

  15. I am looking for someone who can tell me what the General’s sisters name was….could it be Anna Letha Chennault who married William James Knight? Anna was my great grandmother. I have had a great deal of trouble finding any information on her genealogy.

    Also, who was Ligh (Elijah?) Chennault and how did he fit in the line? As a small child I heard that name mentioned many times but never knew who he was and now it is too late to ask my Grandmother.

    Thanks for any scrap of information anyone can give me.

  16. Linda,

    General Chennault did not have a sister. I looked at my copy of our family tree which goes back to Estienne’s arrival from France and did not see any of the names you mentioned.


  17. Hi Richard…I did a search the other night with my son & came across this site. I am the great granddaughter of William Stephen Chennault Jr. and found it fascinating to read all of this info. Hopefully, people will keep talking!

  18. this is the son of rebeccatx and I just wanted to say that this is really cool and my mother is from celeste,tx I thought that it was cool because we all wond up in the same place.

  19. rebeccatx:

    I suppose I am your great uncle, as I am WSC Jr.’s son. Write back at if you would like.

  20. I would like to know if Stephen could send me a family tree, at

    thank you very much

  21. Please post comments to the Chennault-Forums

    Chennault Forums URL:

  22. My great grand mother, Mrs. Green of Dallas, Texas, was the sister of Claire L. Chennault’s mother. When Claire Lee was born, my great grandmother and my grandmother went to Commerce from Dallas to stay with Claire’s mother for 2-3 weeks. I had the pleasure of meeting Claire’s daughter, Peggy (real name Jessie Nell), at the CAF Airshow in Midland, Texas, in 2003. As we talked, she told me her father (Claire) nick named her Peggy, after a song that was popular at that time–“PEG O’ My Heart”. She told me that Jessie Nell is a family name. She, Peggy, is married to a Mr. Lee and they live in Beverly Hills, Calif. I told Mrs. Lee that she and my one surviving aunt, Aunt Jessie, who looked enough alike her to be sisters has a daughter named Nell. This information seemed to please her very much. She was a very gracious lady. (Tex Hill’s wife, who was listening to the conversation, said later that as long as she had known Mrs. Lee, she had never known that her real name was Jessie Nell).
    Mrs. Lee told me that I was the first person she had met “from a different family line.” I really have not researched anymore about this lineage. It is just satisfying to know there is a line to the Chennaults on my side of the family.
    Dan—Midland, Texas

  23. I read the note from Sandi, dated 11-17-06, stating she was the granddaughter of Peggy Chennault. I was sorry to read that she, Peggy Chennault Lee, had passed away. If Sandi reads this, I would like to hear more of Mrs. Lee’s passing. As I stated in my note, dated 3-10, I met Mrs. Lee (2002 or 2003) at the Air Show in Midland, honoring the Flying Tigers. We had pics taken that were in the CAF News. I guess by blood lines, she and I were 4th cousins. Not close, but almost. Again, sorry to hear about Mrs. Lee.
    Dan Wise

  24. hey he was my cousin

  25. This note is for Sandi, who wrote on Nov. 17, 2006, that she is the grand daughter of Peggy Chennault. I would like to hear from her. Or, any member of Claire Chennault’s family. Thanks, Dan

  26. hi im stephanie wright.
    im sharon daughter. dan and dorthy chennault daughter. i dont know how ive decended from who but i just wounted to stop by and say hi.
    ive been interested in our famley history for a while.

  27. I just found this while searching for names and I would like to tell you that every Chennault, Chinault, Chenault, Shinault and so on is related. We are all descended from Estienne De Cheneau. I my self am Claire Lee Chennault’s 8th cousin 6 times removed.

  28. I have searched for two weeks for a family tree and have come up empty handed so if anyone who has one or an idea how i can get ahold of one i would be really thankfull, I do not no where ny father is but i know he has but it is probally lost, so pleaqse if you have one email it to me thankyou.

  29. Hello to all of my official and unofficial relatives. I found this website a year or more ago, and I have been very interested in reading about the extended family.

    My father was Col.John S. Chennault, Claire Chennault’s eldest son; my mother was Irene Shaffer. I have met a couple of you, I believe, over the years, and am glad to have this venue in which we can converse.

    My major question concernng the Chennault family is: I have always assumed that I had unofficial part-Chinese relatives (the discussions on this list make me even more certain..), and have wondered if any of them would come to light. Have any of you met/heard of an Asian branch of the Chennaults (other than Anna’s descendants, of course).


  30. Hi all, this is my first time here and I found a lot of cousins I did’t know I had. Sandi, is your father Bobby Pat? If so he is named after my father. Rhonda, did I take you to your dorm in New Orleans back in the 50’s. Might have been your sister. Dink was running for office at that time.
    I am the first grandson named Chennault. Jack had a daughter about four years older than me with the same name.

    “Butch” Chennault

  31. In September 07 I met a Pam (or Pamela) Chenault who works at West Shores Senior Living in Hot Springs AR. She has not traced her family so I’ve been searching the web for info. Does anyone recognize the name and have some family tree data for her?

  32. To Janet Lee Chennault, Hi cuz. I haven,t heard from your side of the family in years. We lived in Germany back in the early 50s when your father was base commander. My father,Pat was a P-51 pilot there. How are Claire and Sherry. What part of the world do you live in? Daddy and Rosie are the last of the eight children. I am 66 and I never heard of our Asian cousins.

  33. I am doing a report on my family and was wondering if you can help me. My last name is Chennault. I am from CA. THank you

  34. I’m no relative, but offer the following info for you. I have a WW2 era class book from Luke Field, Arizona, Class 44A, containing Army pilots who had just earned their wings in early ’44. I found Claire P. Chennault from Waterproof, La. as a pilot graduate. Thinking it might be a son of the famous pilot I Googled it and found this websight. I offer this to you for your research. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but what a coincidence!

  35. Jay, Claire P Chennault is my father. He retired from the USAF as a LT/Col and lives in Ferriday, LA. He is 87 years old.

  36. To Claire L.Chennault: Hello. I really should check this site more often. Yes, I remember Pat, though I never got to know him well. My parents retired to California in 1964, and I currently live in the LA area (thought I moved around a lot between then and now). I spent some time in the AF myself, at the end of the Vietnam era – I was enlisted and did not make it a career. Shari also lives in this general area, having retired from teaching DOD a decade ago. Claire (my eldest sister) has moved from Switzerland to France, and shows no desire to return to the US.

    So far, there have been no hands in the air to substantiate the hypothetical asian cousin contingent.


  37. To Janet Lee Chennault,

    Jan, email me.

  38. Can anyone tell me the names of any sisters of nell thompson chennault..I believe my children are related thru a sister or so I was told many years ago and have always been curious…thanks

  39. I am looking for information on Elijah or E.V. Chenault of Arkansas in late 1800s. Particularly the names of his parents.
    Also looking for descendents of Constable Elijah Chennault, d. 1823

  40. I have to snicker a little when I read of records destroyed, “good Christian” and so on. According to my own Homeland Security issued paperwork, my father apparently married his own aunt, but at the time the original was created, I wasn’t permitted to ask my parents questions, and simply named the only two grandmas (one was a great-grandmother) I knew, one of which was married to a David.

    I suppose it was easier to be a “good Christian” in a day and age when paternal DNA could not be determined and there weren’t computers tracking and notifying the boss of where funds were going, or raising questions about where funds came from.

    Try asking “James Sheets”, former mayor of Quincy, MA. and still listed as residing there, about Chinese cousins.

  41. Hello to my fellow Chennaults. Claire Lee was my grandfathers uncle.


  42. My children (Dad-Doug Chennault of Hanford, CA) are descendants of Claire Chennault. I was wondering if Steven in my kids’ uncle? My children would be Ernest’s great-grandkids, and Gene’s grandkids. I would like to know, since our oldest child (Dustin Craig) is now embarking on his own military career as a Army Ranger. Would like to have some kind of contact with this side of his family.
    Doug is about to be a grandpa (twice) and doesn’t even know yet. Would like to let him know!! Isn’t funny how these descedents keep going for a career in the military!!

  43. Hi all! I am also Claire Chennault’s grandaughter,sister to Claire (Butch) who posted earlier. I spoke with our Aunt Ruth who is widow to Robert Chennault, youngest son of Claire, about Anna Mae Giffin. Some years ago there was a Chennault family reunion at my father’s house Claire Patterson Chennault(87 and still living)and this reunion was attended by Bill Chennault Jr. Bill Jr. said Bill Chennault (William) had married Anna Mae because Claire was already married to Nell, Anna Mae was pregnant, and her father said she was going to marry a Chennault. I hope this helps. It is just another verbal link but it did come from William’s son.


  45. Hello, I am looking to identify who I believe was a niece of Claire Chennault in Monroe, LA. In about 1955-’57 I met and dated this niece, whose first name I cannot remember. I was able to meet Claire and wife Anna during that relationship in their home in Monroe.

  46. BTW: I just finished reading “Flying Tigers” by Sam Kleiner. A wonderful documentary, well researched and written.

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