Brodnax part II: Mildred Ezell’s book, Emma Brodnax Rankin, a pie chart, & coming attractions

Here is the remainder of a now-deleted Brodnax post. It has information about the authoritative compiled history of the family and a bit about my own Brodnaxes. It also has an irrelevant and irreverent meme I cannot resist sharing, as well as a preview of upcoming posts.

 The definitive Brodnax book and where to find it.

Mildred Seab Ezell[1] wrote the authoritative compiled genealogy on this family. It is titled Brodnax: The Beginning  and is available at the libraries  listed here. An Addendum was published in 2005. So far as I have found, the only place to purchase The Beginning and the Addendum is on Ebay.[2]

Fortunately, LDS has digitized The Beginning  and it is available online  here. You can only access the book if you have an account with FamilySearch.org and you are logged in when you click on that link. Accounts are free, and you can create one here. FYI, a FamilySearch account is far and away the best bargain in genealogy for family history researchers. The website has images of millions of original county and other records, including deeds, probate and tax records – if the LDS has filmed it, you can probably find it at Familysearch.org. Some of the records can be viewed only at an LDS “Family History” center, but many are available online from your own kitchen table.

My own Brodnaxes

My father’s mother was née Brodnax: Emma Leona Brodnax (“Ma”) Rankin. She lived and died in small town north Louisiana from 1878 – 1968, and she was a card-carrying, equal-opportunity bigot. Sadly, that particular insanity was almost certainly the norm in the Caucasian population when and where she lived. On the positive side, she was evidently much admired by her Eastern Star sisterhood. She raised my father, as kind and decent a person as I’ve ever known.

Ma Rankin may have smiled once or twice in her life, although none of her grandchildren mentioned ever having seen that happen when we got together at the first Rankin cousins’ reunion in 1995. The adjective of choice for Ma was “strict.”

The Rankin cousins were late getting together as adults. I am the youngest of the six first cousins, and I was just shy of fifty in 1995. Butch, the host, had to ask a P.I. friend to find me. I had last seen a Rankin cousin at my father’s funeral in 1979.

There was a good historical reason for this. Family occasions at Ma Rankin’s absurdly overheated house in Gibsland, Bienville Parish, Louisiana were torture for attendees of all ages. “Conversation” consisted mostly of long silences, punctuated by desultory remarks about the state of someone’s health. I first heard the term “gall bladder” in Ma Rankin’s living room. I gathered it was an unnecessary anatomical feature, since someone was always having one removed.

Occasionally, someone attempted to break the silence. Uncle Louie once made a feint at lively repartee during a Thanksgiving get-together in 1957. He said something about Sputnik, the satellite Russia had launched the previous month. Ma Rankin stopped that conversation dead in its tracks, a bullet through its heart, like so: “If God had meant for man to be on the moon, he would’ve put him there.” The grandkids bolted outdoors, where the temperature was cold enough to see your breath and was a welcome relief. I was 11, and my cousins were ages 16-19. I think we had a pecan-throwing war, although that may just be me romanticizing my Rankin cousins, whom I like.

Ma did not have an easy adult life, having married a penniless Rankin. At that first reunion, I asked Butch what our grandfather did for a living. “Anything he could, hon … anything he could.” Butch hit the nail on the head. Once I discovered census and other records, I learned that our grandfather worked at various times as a driver of a dray wagon, restaurant waiter, and parish sheriff, all while raising four kids and living in a rented house. There was a dusty old popcorn wagon under the Rankin pier-and-beam house in Gibsland, which was built on a fairly steep slope from front to rear. The rear of the house had sufficient headroom underneath for an adult to stand up, and that is where the popcorn wagon rusted away. As a child, I thought my grandfather’s profession was selling popcorn. It seems he did that, too. Ma Rankin took in mending to supplement his earnings.

Fate intervened to improve family finances. Ma’s brother, Joe Brodnax, died and left part of his estate to her. Great-Uncle Joe owned mineral rights in considerable land sitting atop a prolific gas field in north Louisiana. Ma Rankin’s inheritance allowed the family to buy a home and send three of their four children to college. After that, according to my father (the youngest), “the money ran out.”[3] Joe’s bequests also allowed another Brodnax sister, Great-Aunt Effie, to remain unmarried and live in Washington D.C., where she single-handedly raised an orphaned niece. Effie always had a smile and a big, welcoming embrace for her great-nephews and nieces, who were concerned only that we might suffocate in her ample buxom. I think (but am not positive) this is Effie Theo Brodnax as a young woman.

And here is a picture of James Harper Tripp Brodnax and Susan Demaris Harkins Brodnax, the parents of Ma Rankin, Great-Aunt Effie, Great-Uncle Joe, and seven other children. J.H.T. Brodnax and Susan married in Perry County, Alabama in 1865 after he returned from the Civil War. He enlisted as a Corporal, but mustered out as a Private. There is bound to be a good story in there somewhere, but I haven’t found it.

Finally, here is the meme I cannot resist. Someone posted this in response to a stupid tweet about the Notre Dame fire by the junior senator from Texas. Politics aside, the tweet was tone-deaf and dumb, something about Disney princesses in new Notre Dame stained glass windows. I won’t be able to use it, because I don’t tweet. But one of you out there can perhaps put it to good use.

 

 

Coming attractions on this blog include an article Gary is working on about a Foster Willis. From me, a continuation of a series of articles about the family of John Burke of Jackson County, Tennessee. Then Parrotts, Graves, Rivers or all of the above.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1]Mrs. Ezell died in 2015. Here is her obituary.

[2]Here is the book at Ebay.

[3]My father did say exactly that, but he was probably being facetious. Ma Rankin remained in that house until she died, and she certainly didn’t have a pension on which to draw. I would bet that Uncle Joe’s bequest was sufficient to provide for her old age.

Revised Post & Apology: What Does the Name Brodnax Mean?

This revision is necessary to correct and apologize for a mistake I made in the original post. At best, it was merely boneheaded. At worst, it was unthinkingly racist.

The text of the original post follows. I will point out the problem when I get to it. I have also abandoned the clumsy Brodnax/Broadnax duplication. They are the same name with different spellings.

As for the question posed in the title: “What does the name Brodnax Mean?” 

I haven’t found anything definitive online. However, a reader posted a comment suggesting it is a derivation of “broad ax,” which makes sense. Wikipedia defines a broad ax as “a large axe with a broad blade, once used as a weapon and also used for hewing timber.”

Google responds to a question about the name’s meaning  with links to commercial or genealogy websites. Google also offers a link to “Names.org,” which invites you to define what Brodnax means to you.

In a more constructive vein, Wikipedia has this to say (I added the links and one name to Wikipedia’s list):

“Broadnax is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Here is where I went off the rails in the original post: “If you are genetically related to a Brodnax/Broadnax, these men[1]are probably your relatives (assuming they are also genetic Brodnaxes). It is possible that every genetic Brodnax in this country descends from a family that emigrated to Virginia in the 17thcentury.”

Let’s talk about “genetically related,” using another surname to illustrate. In the Willis DNA project, there are a number of genetically distinct Willis families whose Y-DNA doesn’t even remotely match each other. If they ever shared a common ancestor, it was thousands of years ago. They aren’t “genetically related” in any meaningful sense, i.e., within a genealogical timeframe. Nonetheless, a group of Willis men whose Y-DNA matches are all “genetic Willises” if they trace back to any Willis ancestor. That is so even if they don’t match other Willis lines. (I am ignoring possible NPE issues here for the sake of simplicity).[2]

Why are there genetically distinct families who share a common surname? The explanation has to do with the origin of surnames themselves. When given names became inadequate to distinguish among men (yes, I mean “men,” not “people”), men acquired surnames based on, among other things, occupations. That gave us families named Cooper, Smith, Miller, and Forrester, for example. Perhaps it also gave us Brodnax, for men who hewed timber (possibly also forresters). Other men had a surname based on his father’s name, such as Davidson, Johnson, and Williamson, or shortened versions such as Wilson, Wills, or Willis. There are also toponymic names based on where one lived, such as a name ending in field, brook, or wood. Finally, in the feudal system of late antiquity and most of the middle ages, many serfs wound up with the name of the lord they served.

Serving a common master, or having a common profession, doesn’t imply a genetic relationship, of course. The bottom line is there is no reason to believe that everyone who shares a surname also shares a common ancestor. 

Back to my own error. Keep in mind that some Brodnax researchers believe that all Caucasian Brodnaxes in this country are descended from the Brodnax family of Kent described later in this post. 

Now click on the links for the seven people in the above list. Five of them are African-American. If they descend from enslaved persons, it is possible that the first free people in each one’s family adopted the surname of his or her former “owner.” Somehow, I forgot that was often the case, if not the norm. There is no more reason to believe that those five African-American Brodnaxes were related to each other than there is to believe that everyone named Willis is related to each other. Likewise, there is no reason to think the Brodnaxes in that list are all descended from a Caucasian Brodnax in Kent.

Nor is there any reason to question whether they are all genetic Brodnaxes. If each of them descends from an ancestor named Brodnax, he is a genetic Brodnax (again, ignoring a possible NPE issue). He just might not genetically match other men named Brodnax.

I am not certain how I fell into these stupid mistakes. What I evidently did was take the Caucasian Brodnax assumption – the likelihood that we are all descended from the Kent family – and apply it to five African-Americans. This effectively makes the parochial and essentially racist assumption that the Caucasian experience applies to everyone. Incredibly, I managed to make that assumption while entirely forgetting the way many formerly enslaved people acquired a surname. 

When some old white lady says that the given name “Ta-Nahesi” (for example) is a “strange” name, what she really means is that it isn’t a typically Caucasian name. Her statement is racist because she is assuming that Caucasian names are normal

That’s a perfect analogy to what I did in my original Brodnax post, so I apologize. Especially to a new third cousin, a charming woman descended from enslaved people. She and I are related through a Brodnax, and we found each other through DNA testing.

So … go take an autosomal DNA test and find out how connected we all are. That is still good advice. You will meet some nice people.

Back to the original post. It originally contained (1) a brief history of the early Brodnax line from Kent, England to colonial Virginia, (2) information about the most authoritative compiled genealogy on the family, and (3) a bit about my own Brodnaxes. Because this has now become so long, I will make the second and third items a separate post. Besides which, I have a number of other pictures I need to share.

Brodnax history[3]

Just to be clear: this is Caucasian Brodnax history, largely unchanged from the original post except to correct errors.

The family can be traced to a Robert Brodnax who was born in the early 1400s in Kent, England.[4]Circa 1590, the family acquired land in Kent that had formerly been in the possession of Canterbury Benedictines. The estate on that land is called Godmersham Park. It still remains in private ownership, although it is no longer owned by a Brodnax.[5]

In 1727, a Thomas Brodnax who was then in possession of Godmersham changed his surname to May in order to inherit an estate from a relative named Thomas May. The name change required an act of Parliament. In 1738, an additional inheritance further enriched Thomas Brodnax-May. It required that he change his surname to Knight – again needing Parliament’s permission.

As a result, some wag in Parliament suggested passing a bill to allow Thomas “to change his name to anything he pleases.”[6]Two name changes evidently sufficed: Thomas Brodnax-May-Knight died in 1781. Godmersham passed to his son Thomas, presumably Thomas Knight. In 1794, the estate passed from Thomas Knight’s widow to Edward Austen, brother of novelist Jane Austen. Edward Austen also took the surname Knight. Jane Austen often visited and wrote at Godmersham, which is surely the best part of the Brodnax story in Kent.

The estate is impressive. Here is an image of the “house” (mansion?).

Godmersham Park, Kent, England

 

The colonial part of the story begins with Major John Brodnax (1608-1657), a descendant of the original Robert of Kent. He was a Royalist Cavalier during the English Civil Wars. Since the Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”) prevailed, Major John fled to the colonies, either to escape Cromwell’s ax or because he was exiled. He died in York County, Virginia. The William & Mary Quarterly published an inventory of his estate, which included three pair of gloves, five broadcloth suits, three periwigs, one rapier and belt, ribbon, slippers, cuffs, et al.[7]The wardrobe apparently identifies him as a Cavalier, as does his heritage – try to imagine a Brodnax from Godmersham as anything but a Royalist – and the fact that his family remained behind in London. 

William and Mary Quarterly and Virginia Magazine of History and Biography have both published Major John’s will, either in its entirety or abstracted.[8]The will evidently mentions his wife Dorothy, eldest son Thomas, who “lives in ye Golden Griffin with Mr. Thomas Turges in Fenchurch St.,” son John “living with Mr. Joseph King at the Golden Sonne in Gracious St.” (now Gracechurch St.), youngest sons William and Robert, and daughter Elizabeth, to whom he bequeathed his“Bible-booke and my Eare ring with a Dyamant in itt.”

A 1676 suit in chancery styled Brodnax v. Gibbonproves that Major John was a son of Thomas Brodnax and his wife Elizabeth Taylor of Godmersham (descendants of the first Robert of Kent). It also proves Major John was the grandfather of the next Brodnax immigrants to Virginia.

They were John and William Brodnax, sons of Robert of Holborn. John (1668 – 1719) was a goldsmith, like his father. He lived in Williamsburg and left a will naming three sons and two daughters. The will directed that two sons be sent home to England and “bound out to such trades as my executors” see fit. According to the Virginia Magazine, “it is not believed that John Brodnax has any descendants to-day [1916] in Virginia.”[9]

William I, also a son of Robert of Holborn, settled in Jamestown. He married Rebecca Champion, widow of Edward Travis. It is possible, perhaps likely, that William Brodnax I and Rebecca Champion Travis are the ancestors of all Caucasian Brodnaxes in the U.S., including two presidents.[10]

William I brought with him from England his father’s Bible and paintings of his parents. There are also extant portraits of William I and his wife Rebecca, as well as their son William II, daughter Rebecca Elizabeth Brodnax, and son Edward Brodnax. There are eight Brodnax portraits in all, now in the possession of the Richmond Museum of Fine Arts. Several of them are terrible portraiture, even to an untrained eye. Here are images of the Brodnax family portraits:

William Brodnax I of Godmersham Park and Jamestown Island, VA

Rebecca Champion, widow of Edward Travis, wife of William Brodnax I of Jamestown

William Brodnax II, son of William and Rebecca Champion Travis

Edward Brodnax, son of William Brodnax I and Rebecca Champion Travis Brodnax

Elizabeth Rebecca Brodnax, daughter of William Brodnax I and Rebecca Champion Travis Brodnax

Robert Brodnax of Holborn, London, father of William Brodnax I

Wife of Robert Brodnax, goldsmith of Holborn, London

William Brodnax, son of William Brodnax II and Ann Hall Brodnax

Rebecca Champion Travis Brodnax was surely more attractive than her portrait suggests. She and William I were buried in the Travis burying grounds on Jamestown Island. Their tombstones are gone, but a marker and large slab for two John Champions, presumably Rebecca’s kin, remains. There is also a marker and tombstone for Edward Travis, first husband of Rebecca Champion Travis Brodnax. Here are some pictures I took in the Travis graveyard: 

Marker on grave of two men named John Champion

Champions’ tombstone

Marker, grave of Edward Travis, first husband of Rebecca Champion Travis Brodnax

Edward Travis tombstone

Oops! A picture of an attractive silver-haired dude slipped in here somehow …

Whew! That’s more than enough for this installment. I will promptly re-post the information about how to find the definitive Brodnax book, as well as some information about my own Brodnax family.

See you on down the road.

Robin


[1]I can’t find any notable women named Brodnax, although one of the men in the list was transgender, female-to-male.

[2]This discussion ignores non-paternal events” such as adoptions. Here is a provocative discussion of  that topic by my friend Roberta Estes.

[3]This history is taken from facts in Mildred Seab Ezell’s book, Brodnax: The Beginning (1995),  a UK website about English parks, the William and Mary Quarterly, Series I, Vol. XXVII 181, and The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography,Vol. 24, No. 4 (Oct. 1916) 417.

[4]According to the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, a pedigree of the Brodnax family may be found in Berry’s Visitation of Kent. I haven’t looked at either that august tome, Berry’s Kentish Genealogy, or Burke’s Peerage, so I have no helpful citations.

[5]Godmersham Park.

[6]I cannot find a citation, although I am certain about my memory. If a member of Parliament didn’t say that, someone should have.

[7]William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. XXVII, Series I, at 181. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography published a slightly different list. My notes aren’t entirely clear, but I may have viewed the original and come up with a third interpretation.

[8]The published versions differ in some respects, and I haven’t seen the original will.

[9]Id. Mildred Ezell said that John Brodnax’s eldest son, Robert, lived and died in Pennsylvania. I haven’t seen any information about him. 

[10]Several sources say that William and Rebecca Champion Travis Brodnax were the ancestors of Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. See, e.g., this website.

Ancestry.com: a new beef

If you have come anywhere close to this blog before, you have heard me grouse about online family trees at Ancestry, Family History Search, and other websites. I have preached ad nauseam that “information” on such sites does not prove anything.[1] It is not even evidence, much less proof. Actual family history evidence — which leads to proof — comes from original sources such as county probate records, deeds, tax lists, state birth and death records, and so forth. Online trees are, at best, clues. For the most part, they aren’t worth the paper it would take to print them. (See, e.g., this post: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2019/03/01/reprise-what-is-proof-of-family-history/).  

I obviously haven’t bitched and moaned enough. It’s time to kick it up a notch.

A friend with considerable DNA expertise advised Gary and me to take the autosomal DNA test at Ancestry, although we had already tested at FTDNA. He said Ancestry has a larger database and that (at the time) their autosomal results featured something useful called “circles” of people to whom you are genetically related. The “circles” are now gone. What is left is something called “thru lines.”

I haven’t looked at “thru lines.” What I found out right off the bat (according to Ancestry) is that one’s autosomal results aren’t worth a spit unless you have a family tree at Ancestry.

Accordingly, I began to create one. Ancestry purportedly makes it easy by providing “hints.” For example, when I entered the name of a grandparent, a census record in which the grandparent appeared popped up. For the first few generations of a new tree, Ancestry’s suggestions are probably mostly accurate and harmless. There is good information in plenty of readily accessible information in twentieth-century census, marriage, birth and death records. More importantly, most of us know from personal experience the names of our parents, grandparents, and perhaps some great-grandparents. When that is the case, Ancestry’s suggestions, even if erroneous, don’t really matter. No harm, no foul for, say, the twentieth century.

The wicket gets a bit sticky as you make your way into the 19th century. It gets worse the further back in time you go. Let’s assume you have already done a good job researching your family history via conventional paper research in county and other primary records. You will be well-equipped to know whether Ancestry is providing accurate information when it suggests the names of an ancestor’s parents … or whether it is just providing names obtained from other family trees.

I eventually gave up on my autosomal results because of the arrant nonsense Ancestry was suggesting as possible parents for my relatives. Here are examples:

  • Ancestry suggested that the mother of my ancestor “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn Estes (wife of Lyddal Bacon Estes of Tishomingo Co., MS) was Lettice “Letty” Stone. This misinformation gets the “SAY, WHAT?” award. Other than the fact that Letty may also have been from Lunenburg and may have married a Winn — Lunenburg was awash in Winns and Stones in the nineteenth century — that is pure fiction, not fact. There are a million Lunenburg County records proving that “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn’s parents were Benjamin Winn and that his wife’s name was Lucretia (Andrews). Please forgive my hyperbole.
  • Ancestry suggested that Nancy Winn Estes’s husband Lyddal Bacon Estes (“LBE”) married Sally Alston Hunter. We need an emoji here for a big Bronx cheer. Sally Hunter did marry a Dr. Lyddal Bacon Estes (“Dr. LBE”). Dr. LBE and LBE were different men. I wrote about “same name confusion” about these two men here: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2016/06/04/same-name-confusion-sorting-out-three-men-named-lyddal-bacon-esteslyddal-estes/ The Lunenburg couple — LBE and Nancy Winn — married there in March 1814. Dr. LBE died November 1814 in Maury Co., TN, and his widow was named “Sally” in at least two county records. LBE continued to appear in Lunenburg tax lists after Dr. LBE died. A comment by Shirley McLane’s character Ouizer Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias comes to mind: “these are not difficult questions!”
  • Chesley Estes, son of Benjamin and Frances Bacon Estes of Lunenburg, was not the father of the LBE who married Nancy Winn. Chesley died in Maury Co., TN, having never married and having lived with his parents most of his life. This one at least gets a “close, but no cigar” award: Chesley’s sister Mary Estes was LBE’s mother. Her identity is, I confess, a more difficult question, although Chesley’s lack of children  is not.
  • Benjamin and Frances Bacon Estes were the parents of Dr. LBE who married Sally Alston Hunter and died in Maury Co., TN in 1814. They were not the parents of LBE who married Nancy Winn in Lunenburg in 1814 and eventually settled in Tishomingo Co., MS. LBE died there between December 1844 and March 1845, and Nancy was his administratrix. I’ve written about LBE and Nancy Winn Estes’s family here: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2017/05/28/identifying-the-children-of-lyddal-bacon-estes-and-nancy-ann-allen-winn-the-follow-the-land-theory-of-genealogy/

When Ancestry tells you it may have identified a parent for one of your ancestors, you can click on a link for the source of the information. You get only one guess for the source. And the winner is: someone else’s family tree. I made the mistake of messaging one of the tree owners about an error (yes, I was kind), but I should have known better. Correcting someone else’s family tree is like trying to teach a pig to sing: it is a waste of your time, and it just irritates the pig. 

I still don’t have any idea what “thru lines” are, or even how to find them. Fortunately, a good genetic genealogist and blogger has explained them here: https://dna-explained.com/2019/03/11/ancestrys-thrulines-dissected-how-to-use-and-not-get-bit-by-the-gators/.

Here’s the bottom line. It has always seemed obvious that many, if not most, family trees on Ancestry and other genealogy sites are constructed by copying other people’s family trees. This is a fast way to spread both bad and good information. Ancestry has now exacerbated and accelerated that process by helping people rapidly construct family trees with information obtained primarily? exclusively? from other peoples’ family trees. Ancestry, bless its heart, is killing credible family history research. That may not be a good long-term business model.

Gary, who likes to predict comments I will receive on my posts, says I’m going to get one saying, “No, Ancestry is just killing antiquated effete intellectual ‘researchers’ who think solving genealogical puzzles by digging through actual records is ‘fun.’”

One final note: if you aren’t familiar with Southern idiom, “bless her/his/its heart” means “what a total idiot.”

See you on down the road.

Robin


[1]Some online trees do provide sources such as census and probate records. Such information is obviously worthwhile provided it is associated with the right person! I can’t tell you how many references to probate records I have seen attached to Mr. X, when the will in question was actually written by Mr. Y, who lived a generation later and lived 6 counties west. Both Mr. X and Mr. Y were named John Smith, but that doesn’t mean they were the same man!

An exceptional genealogist: Linda Sparks Starr

I recently stumbled across the website of an extraordinary genealogist:  https://sites.rootsweb.com/~lksstarr/. The author — Linda Kay Sparks Starr — was articulate, intelligent, and a serious family history researcher. She cited to sources, argued her point of view convincingly, and provided an astonishing array of facts and sources. She gave generous credit to collaborators, and clearly enjoyed working with other researchers. There are fabulous old photos on her website, and some new ones. She was the author of a book titled W. R. Rankin: Manassas to Appomatox.

Sadly, she died in October 2014. Here is what her obituary says about her website:

“Her website, “Virginia Connections,” is a vast resource of information for those researching family background in the colonial period or later years. She wrote a book on the Civil War experiences of her husband’s great-grandfather. Her data, research findings and opinions are valued by readers across the country for their adherence to sound scholarship principles and reliable documentations.”

Indeed. I found her website via a Google search on the line of George Rankin who died in 1760 in Augusta Co., VA, some of whom went to Pendleton/Anderson, SC. If those are your Rankins, go to her website ASAP. However, she was not solely a Rankin researcher. Her website has links to articles, photos, and/or records about the following families and perhaps others:

Adams, Anthony, Bell and Withers, Brooks, Brown, Candler, Carrell, Clark, Elder, Griffin, Jackson, Johnson, Jordan and Dent, Kerby, LaCount, Lewis, Martin, Miller, Moorman, Ogletree, Orr, Pate and Crawford, Pinkston, Potter, Rankin (this is the only family I have explored), Reynolds, Snead, Starr, Tinsley, Traylor, Wilkerson, Womack, and perhaps others.

The ultimate compliment I can accord: all family history researchers have friends whose information they will take on faith as absolutely accurate. When Jody McKenna Thomson told me that a Rankin died at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill, I knew that was a fact, by gum. When John Alexander told me that the wife of Adam Rankin (who d. 1747 in Lancaster Co., PA) was Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James Alexander the carpenter, that was that. I could come up with several other examples, but you get the drift. I will now add Linda Starr’s name to the list of people whose facts may be accepted at face value. I only regret I didn’t find her twenty years ago, as I would have loved to work with her. In addition to all her other virtues, she was a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. R.I.P., Linda, and thanks for the website.

Hope there is something in it for you.

See you on down the road.

Robin

Indices to Administration Accounts of Caroline County, Maryland

As many of you know, Family Search publishes online scans of original documents such as wills and probate record books. Some of those original volumes contain at least a partial index in the front or back. You must look at each book to discover if you are lucky enough to find one with an index, and further, whether the surviving pages contain names you seek.

I recently discovered that the Caroline County, Maryland Administration Accounts Books available on Family Search do not have any such index. Finding anything related to my ancestors meant I had to page through every image. I felt like I was back in front of a microfilm reader scrolling, scrolling, and scrolling, forever.

Knowing that I would never know every name to capture on the first run through the volume, I decided to make an index. Then, I could come back later and pick up people I had missed the first or second time through the record.

There are seven volumes of Admin Accounts from 1703-1850. Initially, I completed an index for the volumes for 1790-1805 and 1805-1817. I asked the Upper Shore Genealogical Society of Maryland (USGSMD) to publish them on their website free of charge to all interested parties, and they have gladly complied. Here is a link … http://usgsmd.org/research-links.html#wills  

I recently finished the index for 1703-1776 and have sent it to USGSMD. I expect them to post it soon. Most of this particular record, of course, is for Dorchester County, prior to the formation of Caroline. By the way, this record contains data not included in the books previously indexed. Many of these accounts indicate surviving children of the deceased, sometimes noting those of age and those who are minors. If your ancestor did not leave a will, an administration account containing children’s names might be the only direct evidence available of those relationships. You will want to check out the result to see if you are among the lucky ones!

Once you have found a name in the index at usgsmd.org you will need to find that item at Family Search. This link goes straight to the page in Family Search containing the Administration Accounts (and many other records)  https://www.familysearch.org/search/image/index?owc=SNYC-K68%3A146535101%3Fcc%3D1803986

However, the link may not work unless you are already signed in to your (free) account at Family Search. Therefore, here is the step-by-step approach.

1) Login to Family Search. If you do not have an account, create one for free.

2) Select “Search” and then “Records” from the pull down menu.

3) At the Research By Location page, click on the US map and select “Maryland.” 

4) On the Maryland Research Page scroll below the section titled Indexed Records to “Image-Only Historical Records.”

5) Scroll down to the fourth subsection, “Probate and Court.”

6) In that subsection, click on “Maryland Register of Wills Records, 1629-1999.”

7) When the next page comes up, click on “Browse through 1,933,787 images.” Browsing through 2 million records really sounds like fun doesn’t it? Don’t worry … press on.

8) Select “Caroline.”

The next page will display all the available records including the seven volumes of Administration Accounts from 1703-1850. Unfortunately, the records from 1776-1790 are missing.

Again, the indices for the first, second, and third volumes are available at Upper Shore Genealogical Society of Maryland. I will get to the other four in due time.

Reprise: what is “proof” of family history?

This is a repost of an article from 2018. It has received more views on this website than any article I’ve written except the one about the Scots-Irish. The title indicates the topic is genealogical proof , which is a slight misdirection. The article is initially about what is, and is not, genealogical evidence. Then it attacks a tougher question: how much evidence is needed to say we have proof. Now, back to the original article.

I have a distant cousin (seventh cousins, maybe?) named Roberta Estes. We “met” online via Estes research some twenty years ago.  We finally met in person, spending a week together in Halifax County, VA doing nitty-gritty research among records in the basement of the Halifax courthouse. I knew I had found a kindred spirit when I learned she likes tax and deed records as much as I do.

Roberta writes an excellent blog called “DNA Explained.” A great many of her posts are about DNA “science.” When I have a question about DNA, the first place I go is to her blog and search her Archives.

Roberta’s post today is on a topic that will interest all family history researchers: what is, and what is NOT, genealogical “proof,” as she uses that term. Here is a link to  her post. 

What resonated most with me was her list of things that do NOT constitute “proof.” I have copied part of it below, with my comments and modifications in italics (the numbering has changed from her original list since I deleted a few items):

  1. Proof is not an oral history, no matter how much you want to believe it or who said it. Oral history is a good starting point, not an end point.
  2. Proof is not, not, 1000 times NOT someone else’s tree. A tree should be considered a hint, nothing more.
  3. Proof is not a book without corresponding evidence that can be independently corroborated. Being in print does not make it so. People make mistakes and new information surfaces. Unfortunately, there are also genealogical frauds – see, e.g., Gustave Anjou.
  4. Proof is not a man by the name of Jr. [taken to mean] that he is the son of a man by the same name with the suffix of Sr. “Sr.” often means older and “Jr.” means younger, but not necessarily related. In fact, the suffix can change over time for the SAME MAN: a Robert Rankin who initially showed up in Guilford, NC records as “Robert JUNIOR.” became “Robert SENIOR” after Robert the elder (his father) died.
  5. Proof of a father/son relationship is not just two men with the same name in the same location.  I have a copy of a 1762 Lunenburg Co., VA deed, Thomas Winn grantor, witnessed by John Winn, Daniel Winn, John Winn, and John Winn. Nothing to distinguish between the John Winns. Some of those colonists clearly had a sense of humor. Lunenburg Deed Book 7: 227. 
  6. Proof is not just a will or other document … without evidence that a person by the same name as the child named in the will is the RIGHT person. For example, suppose the child eventually sells an inherited tract of land and the deed recites that the tract was “left to me by my father William Rankin by his last will and testament dated 2 April 1792 …” 

The lawyer in me, retired though she might be, feels compelled to expand on Roberta’s discussion of “proof.” Namely, I want to draw a distinction between “proof” and “evidence,” and the amount of evidence that is needed to produce a certain standard of proof. 

The definition of “evidence” takes up a full page in Black’s Law Dictionary. Fortunately, the essence of the meaning of “evidence” as it relates to genealogical research is pretty easy to distill. Try this on for size: EVIDENCE is anything that is offered to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact. In genealogy, evidence includes deeds, will and other probate records, tax lists, church birth and death records, census records, tombstone inscriptions, and so on. It does not include a family tree posted at the FHL or Ancestry websites, nor does it include a compiled family history, which is how trees were published in the pre-internet era.

Notice that the word “prove” appears in the definition of evidence. Here is what Black’s has to say about that: PROOF is the effect of evidence.

Boiling both definitions down, evidence is what supports a belief that a fact is proved (or disproved).

If you have ever served on a jury, you already know there are different “standards of proof.” In a Texas criminal trial, the standard of proof requires a defendant’s guilt to be established “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a Texas civil case, the standard of proof is usually “preponderance of the evidence.”

Another standard of proof lying somewhere between those two is “great weight and preponderance of the evidence.” Law students, who like to boil things down to something understandable, may view it like this:

  • Beyond a reasonable doubt: at least 95% of the facts compel a certain conclusion.
  • Great weight and preponderance: 65-85% of the evidence supports a conclusion.
  • Preponderance of the evidence: a conclusion is more likely than not – it has the weight of at least 51% of the evidence.

Naturally, there are parallels in family history research, or I wouldn’t be carrying on about this.

You frequently see the phrase “conclusively proved” in family history articles. This is roughly equivalent to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For example, my paternal grandmother’s identity – Emma Brodnax Rankin – is conclusively proved by my birth certificate, my father’s birth certificate, his mother’s will naming him as a son, census records naming him as a son, ad infinitum. There is also my recollection of all those awful holiday dinners in her grotesquely overheated house in Gibsland, Bienville Parish, Louisiana. A court would call my testimony about those dinners at Ma Rankin’s “direct evidence” based on personal knowledge. If I’m a credible witness, THAT case is closed.

When you see the phrase “conclusively proved,” it means there is really no reasonable argument to the contrary. That is how I use the phrase on this blog.

Use of the word “probably” in family history articles seems to equate with “preponderance of the evidence.” Namely, a conclusion is more likely than not.

Similarly, the phrases “most likely” or “almost certainly” are somewhere in between the other two. There may be a reasonable doubt, but the weight of credible evidence strongly points one way.

The “eye of the beholder” obviously plays a role in this determination. I may deem a conclusion “most likely;” you might find it only “probable.” This is a major reason why one would want to know the evidence for another genealogist’s conclusion … you might not find the evidence sufficiently compelling to justify accepting the conclusion.

We also need to talk about “circumstantial” evidence, because sometimes there is no other proof of a family relationship. That is particularly true in counties where records have been lost and documentary evidence is limited. “Circumstantial evidence” just means facts that lead to a reasonable inference.

For example, the fact that a 65-year old man named Jedediah Rankin is listed in the 1860 census in a household immediately adjacent to 40-year old Jacob Rankin constitutes circumstantial evidence of a relationship. You can reasonably infer some family connection between the two men because such an inference accords with common sense and experience. If Jacob and Jedediah witness each other’s deeds, that would provide additional circumstantial evidence of a family relationship. If Jacob named his eldest son Jedediah, and Jedediah Sr. was security on Jacob’s marriage bond, those facts would also be circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence such as this can establish a compelling web of family connections suggesting one reasonable conclusion: Jacob was Jedediah’s son. It is a powerful tool in serious research.

One last red flag about “proof:” beware the passive voice, a grammatical form that frequently signals lack of evidence. Keep an eye out for these phrases, which appear in many compiled family histories: “it is thought that …” or “it is believed that …”  or “it is reported that ...”  Hmmmmm…. who believed or reported? And what is his or her evidence? Those phrases rightfully justify a jaundiced eye unless the writer provides evidence supporting the “belief.”

In all fairness, I do need to point out one thing about those old compiled family histories. Academic writers routinely cite evidence supporting factual assertions in their books, papers, and articles. Historically, family history researchers have not done so. No telling why — perhaps because genealogists, unlike academics, aren’t writing to burnish a reputation or (usually) to make money. We do this because it’s fun, or we want to share, or we’re just curious about our history. Or all of the above. 

Fortunately, more family history researchers now seem willing to share evidence and provide citations to county and other records. As a cautionary note, though, here’s a piece of advice I received from a woman researcher I had been peppering with questions via email back in the ’90s. She had obviously reached the end of her rope. “Honey,” she said, “if you really want to find answers to all those questions, I suggest you go dig around in the records of Middlesex County, Virginia. Your library has a bunch of good abstracts.” <grin> I took her advice.

Finally, back to Roberta’s list of “not proof,” item #2, someone else’s tree. It may be a fact that “many online trees” show Jedediah Rankin as Jacob Rankin’s father. Those online trees are not even evidence of a relationship between those two men. All they might prove is that many online trees are copies of other online family trees. Or that many people believe Jedediah was Jacob’s father. But … evidence? Nope.

See you on down the road.

Robin

Heads up: a genealogy scam

We learned about a new genealogy scam today. It seems unlikely that many people would fall for it, but … just in case, here’s a heads up. Here’s how the scam works:

  • The scammer hacks someone’s account at Ancestry.com (or at least finds their Ancestry password and accesses the account). From there, he can view any tree on Ancestry and send messages to any tree owner via the Ancestry messaging system.
  • He sends the message quoted below to anyone on Ancestry who seems a likely target. In the email below, the scammer is targeting a man named Willis, attempting to peddle Willis family records.
  • The name of the message sender is genuine: it is the name of the person whose account has been hacked. The account owner is unaware of the scam.
  • The scammer tells the potential victim to contact him directly, rather than the actual account owner (see boldface sentences in the message).

Bottom line: the scammer tries to sell alleged family history documents to the message recipient. 

Here’s an actual scam message, verbatim except for names at the beginning and end. Some of the information about William Willis in the second sentence may be genuine. I didn’t check. It would certainly make the scam more credible if it included accurate info, although that sounds like too much work for a grifter.

“A message from John Doe [name of person whose Ancestry account was hacked]

Good Afternoon [name of potential victim], I am writing you because I recently acquired a box full of genealogical information on your family from an auction in Sykesville, MD. Documents are mostly from the 1920-30s by William Nicolas Willis (1879-1939), a noted author, poet, genealogist and historian. This is a true treasure trove of family history that goes back at least 7 generations from his perspectives. There are some interesting photographs of family members, family properties, tomb stones, several trees illustrating the connections, many dozens of letters to & from his desk, journals, contemporaneous newspaper articles, etc. it appears from how William Willis drew his family tree there is a solid connection to George Washington during the 1600’s timeframe. There is even two photos of a family Elm tree from the John Willis plantation that is most suiting for this project of his. It appears that William had only one son, William, Jr. … so perhaps with his death the papers co no longer be passed to a next generations, so I ended up with them at an auction that would have thrown it all away otherwise. Please contact me so that I can go into detail and see if you would be interested in acquiring this tribe which I am definately certain will beef up your family tree on this site. I am using my nephew John Doe’s page on Ancestry so please write to me at {email address} If you respond on this site my nephew (in Ohio) will receive it but not know why as this is not his project. I look forward to hearing from you. [name of person who will receive the responsive email]”

End of message.

We don’t know whether the person who originally received this message reported it to Ancestry (we don’t know who he/she is – just that he a Willis researcher). If you get something similar, please do report it.

Anyone who reads carefully would probably not fall for this. It was plainly written by someone for whom English is a second language, not unlike those emails from a “Nigerian Prince” that we have all received. However, it’s hard to overestimate the appeal of all those alleged family history records, supposedly establishing a connection to the line of George Washington.

Also, based on the amount of obvious errors one finds in online trees, perhaps there are naïve possible victims for this scam on Ancestry. 

Here’s my latest experience with bad trees, also passed on as a caution.

I recently took Ancestry’s autosomal test, and then learned that I really needed to post a tree to make it useful. That is no fun at all, and it quickly escalated my blood pressure. Here’s why.

If you have worked on building a family tree at their website, you know that Ancestry provides “clues” every time you enter a name. For example, I added to my tree the name of an ancestor born in the early 1800s. Up popped a “clue” to the name of his parents. The suggested parents were so far out in left field that I couldn’t even imagine how someone invented them. I’d never heard of them.

Fortunately (or not), Ancestry lets one connect to the source of the information in its clues. When I went to one of the trees sourcing that bad clue, I found a host of Ancestry trees having a picture of my mother. Several of them gave her an inaccurate name or a nonexistent middle initial. 

A number of friends have told me how upset they get by the bad information posted online about their families. I am not usually among them. Still. This was my mother. Golly gee, if someone can post my mother’s picture, he or she could at least get her name right! I realize that is a minor error that won’t lead anyone down the wrong ancestor trail, so it is really of no consequence.

NONETHELESS: I promptly fired off a really cranky message to one of the portrait/wrong name posters (who also had the error about an ancestors’ parents, a meaningful one), implying that she was giving serious genealogists a bad name by copying other peoples’ info without verifying it. Upon further examination of the tree, I figured out the identity of the tree owner and her relationship to me. Unfortunately, it’s a close one. Ergh.

Gee, I wish I hadn’t fired off that cranky message!

Takeaways from that experience …

  • Don’t accept information posted on other family trees without confirmation in ACTUAL records. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: online trees don’t prove anything except how easy it is to construct and copy family trees that are full of errors. Look closely at posted trees, and you will find, say, a 9-year-old women having children. Or a woman marrying a man who was already married. See, e.g., “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn, who allegedly married in Lunenburg Co., VA a man named Lyddal Bacon Estes who lived in Maury Co., TN). My favorite: a 120-year-old woman who was still reportedly having children, nontwithstanding that she had been dead for 60 of those 120 years. I’ll bet you have one that can top it. If so, please share.
  • Likewise, don’t accept Ancestry’s “clues” at face value. Check them out. Just because Ancestry provided the will of some William Rankin, that doesn’t mean it is your William Rankin — an error called “same name confusion.” At least take the time to read the damn will, where you might learn that the testator wrote the will in Franklin Co., PA in the 1790s, while your ancestor William Rankin died in 1850 in Lackawanna Co. You wouldn’t believe how many wills, S.A.R. applications, church and other records are attached to the Ancestry profile of a person who has no family connection whatsoever to the attached “source.” They might not even share a given name, which really boggles the mind.
  • Don’t be an old grouch who attempts to correct someone else’s tree, as I did. You will be wasting your time. They probably won’t give a fig if their info is wrong, especially if they just copied it from someone else’s tree – or blindly accepted an Ancestry clue. Furthermore, errors on Ancestry multiply faster than Tribbles: exponentially. Trying to correct them is a losing battle. Finally, don’t send a cranky message to the owner of the erroneous tree because you might wind up regretting it.

That’s it for now. More Rankins are calling. Also Burkes, Trices, Estes, Winns, and Lindseys. Oakes, Odoms, Stubbs, and Hubbards. Powells, Vaughans and Perrymans. As a distant Alexander cousin likes to say: NOBODY HAS MORE FUN THAN WE DO. <grin>

See you on down the road.

Robin

Will the “correct” David Rankin of Franklin Co., PA please stand up?

I told my husband at breakfast several days ago that I was working on an article to correct bad information about some Rankins in the Pennsylvania Archives 5th Series.

He put down his fork, arching his eyebrows. “Are you kidding me? You’re taking on the Archives? That’s practically sacred scripture among Pennsylvania family history researchers.”

“Well,” I said (yeah, I realize this sounds prissy), “the Archives has confused two men named David Rankin who were contemporaries in the late 1700s – early 1800s.”

“So,” said Gary, “who would care, anyway?” 

“Hmmmm,” I temporized, “perhaps descendants of either of the two men? Or someone who is trying to track early Rankin families around, as I am doing? Perhaps people with D.A.R. or S.A.R. aspirations? One of these two men was a soldier in 1780, but the other was too young.”

“You realize you will receive a dozen comments from people saying there are ‘many online trees’ showing you are wrong?”

At this point, I dug in. I’m not a Scots-Irish Rankin for nothing. “You’re undoubtedly right,” I responded, “but I’m writing the article anyway.”

Here ‘tis. It includes (1) a very brief chart, (2) the Archives’ misinformation, (3) the bottom line, (4) the argument supporting the bottom line, and (5) an Epilogue about where one of the men migrated. 

(1) A brief Rankin family chart 

Let’s start by putting the two men in their Rankin family context.

Adam Rankin was the immigrant ancestor in this Rankin line and was the grandfather of both Davids. He died in 1747 in Lancaster Co., PA. His wife was Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James Alexander.[1] Adam’s 1747 will named his sons James, William, and Jeremiah, and a daughter, Esther Rankin Dunwoody.[2] We’re only concerned with James and William in this article. I’ve written about Adam’s family on this blog before, see this link: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2018/07/27/adam-d-1747-lancaster-mary-steele-rankins-son-william-follow-land/

James Rankin, son of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin, died in 1795 in Montgomery Township, Franklin Co., PA. James’ wife was Jean, whose maiden name is unproved so far as I know. His will named sons William, Jeremiah, James and David #1, and two daughters, Esther Rankin Smith and Ruth Rankin Tool.[3]

William Rankin, son of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin, died in 1792 in Antrim Township, Franklin Co.[4] His wife was Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald and Agnes Houston.[5] His will named seven sons and one daughter: Adam, Archibald, James, William, Betsy, David #2, John, and Jeremiah.[6] (A quick aside on a case of “same name confusion” in this line: William Rankin, son of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin, was most emphatically not the same man as the William Rankin who married Victoria Alcorn or Alcoran. That  William migrated to Orange Co., NC by 1765.[7] “Many online trees” incorrectly identify Victoria as the wife of William who died 1792.)

I will continue to distinguish these two David Rankins by number simply because it helps me to keep them straight.

(2) What the Pennsylvania Archives got wrong

Here’s what the Archives says about one of these two Davids:

 “David Rankin is shown in 1780, as a private under Captain William Smith. The will of David Rankin of Montgomery Twp., was dated 1829 and prob. 1833. He names wife Molly and two children, James and Betsy. To Mary Elizabeth Sellers, only child of daughter Molly, who had married Alexander Sellars, Oct, 7th 1824.  Miss Molly L. McFarland of Mercersburg stated the above David was the son of William Rankin of Antrim Township who died 1792.[8]

(3) The bottom line

With all due respect to Miss Molly L. McFarland of Mercersberg, the man the Archives describes was David #1, son of James and Jean, not David #2, son of William and Mary Huston Rankin of Antrim Township. 

Here are the key factors for telling the two men apart: age, wife’s identity, and – the pièce de résistance – location. As epilogue, we’ll see where David #2 went when he left Franklin County.

(4) The argument

Age. Although the law or custom varied from time to time, men were typically required to serve in the militia beginning at age sixteen (although sometimes boys served as early as 13).[9] Thus, the David Rankin who was a private in 1780 must have been born by 1764, and certainly no later than 1767. According to county tax lists, David #1, son of James and Jean Rankin, was born no later than 1767-68.[10] On the other hand, David #2 was most likely born about 1776-1777, and definitely in the 1770s. Estimating his birth year was tedious, as this supporting footnote illustrates.[11] In short, David #2 was too young to have been a member of a militia in 1780. Strike 1, Archives.

Wife’s identity. We know the wife of the David Rankin who died in 1833 was named Molly, maiden name unproved. We don’t know how long they were married, although it was apparently long enough to have three children including a daughter, also named Molly. I have found no deeds or other records identifying the wife of David #1. We have better luck with David #2, because deeds conclusively establish that he was married to Frances (“Fanny”) Campbell, daughter of Dongal Campbell.[12] Frances and David #2 were grantors in a deed dated August 1827, not long before the David who died in 1833 wrote his June 1829 will.[13] In short, the evidence strongly suggests that Molly’s husband was David #1. Strike 2, Archives.

Location. Here is the pièce de résistance: a deed dated 27 May 1818 from James Rankin (brother of David #1) to Jacob Kline conveying a tract in Montgomery Township. Part of the tract was surveyed per a warrant to Adam Rankin dated 11 Nov 1742 and devised by James Rankin, dec’d, to grantor 25 March 1788.[14] The tract clearly passed from Adam Rankin to his son James Rankin Sr. (whose will was dated 25 March 1788), then by will to James Sr.’s son James Jr., the grantor in this 1818 deed. The conveyed tract was adjacent to David Rankin, inter alia. That would be David #1, who inherited the Montgomery Township tract where his father James Sr. lived.

The deed proves that David #1 owned a tract adjacent to Jacob Kline (the grantee in the above deed) in Montgomery Township at some point in time. There are two other relevant facts:

  • In the 1830 federal census for Montgomery Township (three years before David #1 died), David Rankin was listed adjacent Jacob Kline, grantee in the above deed.[15] He was the only David Rankin in Montgomery.
  • David Rankin’s 1829 will, proved in 1833, referenced his Montgomery tract adjacent Jacob Kline.

Plaintiff rests. The David Rankin who died in 1833 was David #1, son of James Sr. and Jean Rankin, and not David #2, son of William and Mary Huston Rankin.

(5) Epilogue

This is a long post, so I will cut to the chase. Some genealogists (the ones who didn’t believe the Pennsylvania Archives about which David died in 1833) believe that David #2 went to Greene Co., TN.[16] He didn’t. He went to Des Moines Co., Iowa with at least three of his children.

Here’s the thing. While he lived in Franklin, David #2 almost certainly attended the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague,”[17] as did his brother Archibald.[18] On the other hand, David #1 and his brothers were pew holders in the Welsh Run Presbyterian Church, also known as the “Lower Conococheague” Church.[19] Ironically, I am relying on the Pennsylvania Archives for that fact. 

The Upper West church kept baptism records, although they are plainly not complete.[20] Four children of a David Rankin who is almost certainly David #2 are listed: Frances Rankin (baptized 9 May 1814), David Huston Rankin (28 Apr 1817), Archibald Rankin (10 Oct 1819), and Adam John Rankin (13 Feb 1822). The family names are compelling, aren’t they? In light of David Rankin’s entry in the 1820 Franklin census (seven children in the household), you would expect other children.[21] 

The family left Franklin between 1827 and 1830. I didn’t find David again until the 1840 census in Iowa Territory.[22] The 1850 census in Des Moines County lists him as age 73, born in Pennsylvania about 1777.[23]  Here is a link to an image of his tombstone in the Round Prairie Cemetery in Des Moines County. It says he died 14 Mar 1853, age 77, making him born about 1776.

Also buried in the Round Prairie cemetery: Adam J. Rankin, born 29 Dec. 1821. I will bet my right arm that his full name was Adam John Rankin, and that he was baptized in the Upper West church on 13 Feb 1822 at age six weeks or so. See tombstone image here.

Here is another tombstone in Round Prairie cemetery: D. C. Rankin, 1812 – 1885. Iowa death and burial records identify him as Dugal Campbell Rankin, a male, born 1812 in Franklin Co., PA.[24]  Can there be any doubt that he was a son of David #2 and Frances Campbell Rankin, daughter of Dongal (or Dugal) Campbell? 

Finally, the Kossuth Cemetery in Des Moines County has a tombstone for Archibald Rankin, born  1 Aug. 1819. I’m betting that Arch was baptized in the Upper West church on 10 Oct 1819 at about two months of age. See tombstone here.

Quit drilling, Robin. You’ve struck oil.

See you on down the road.


[1] For evidence establishing that Adam Rankin’s wife was Mary Steele Alexander, see the text accompanying the footnotes and the source citations in notes 5, 6, and 7 of this article.

[2] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J, Vol. 1: 208, will of Adam Rankin dated 4 May 1747 proved 21 Sep 1747.

[3] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin of Montgomery Township dated 25 Mar 1788, proved 20 Oct 1795.

[4] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, will of William Rankin of Antrim Township dated 20 Oct 1792, proved 28 Nov 1792.

[5] Franklin Co. WB A: 110, will of Agnes Huston, widow of Archibald Houston, dated 15 Nov 1776, proved 14 Mar 1787. Her will names William Rankin, husband of daughter Mary, as an executor.

[6] See Note 4.

[7] The William Rankin who m. Victoria lived in Hamilton Township, Franklin Co. and is fairly easy to distinguish from William, son of Adam, who lived in Antrim Township. See Pennsylvania land grant to William Rankin dated 8 May 1751, 100 acres in Hamilton Township, Cumberland Co., adjacent Thomas Armstrong (image available online at Ancestry.com); Cumberland Co., PA Will Book A: 79, will of Joseph Armstrong of Hamilton Township dated 1760 proved 1761 devising “land between Robert Elliot’s and Willm Rankins,” establishing that a William Rankin lived in Hamilton Township; Cumberland Will Book A: 88, will of James Alcoran naming daughter Victoria and husband William Rankin; and Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 6: 124, deed dated 30 Oct 1765 from William Rankin of Orange Co, NC, farmer, to James McFarlan of Cumberland, 2 warrants by Rankin for a total of 250A in Hamilton Twp., Cumberland, adjacent Thomas Armstronget al.

[8] Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Volume 6: 275. Betsy was a nickname for Elizabeth Rankin, see Franklin Co. Deed Book 16: 507.

[9]  There are several online articles about militia here and  here and here.

[10]David #1 was listed on the Montgomery Township tax list for 1789 along with his father James (Sr.) and brothers William, Jeremiah, and James Rankin. David was a “freeman,” meaning that he was age 21 or older and not married.

[11] BIRTH YEARS OF THE CHILDREN OF WILLIAM AND MARY HUSTON RANKIN. I’ve listed William’s children in the order he named them in his 1792 will, which is almost certainly their birth order.

  1. Adam was born 1760 – 1763. Adam first appeared on the 1785 Franklin Co. tax list as Dr. Adam Rankin. At minimum, he was of age by 1785 and born by 1764. He was definitely born before 1763-64, when his younger brother Archibald was born. Dr. Adam went to Henderson Co., KY and married Elizabeth Speed in Danville, KY on 1 Nov 1792. In the 1810 Henderson Co. census, he is listed as > 45, and therefore b. by 1765. My age range for Dr. Adam is just a reasonable guess, since children seem to have born quite regularly in this family.
  2. Archibald was born 1763 – 1764. Records from the Upper West Conococheague Presbyterian Church (images available online at Ancestry.com) establish that Archibald died 24 Jun 1845 at age 81.
  3. James was born about 1767 – 68. James is listed in the 26 < 45 age category in the 1810 Centre Co., PA census, and was thus born 1765 – 1784. That’s no help. Based on his birth between Archibald and William, whose birth years are known, 1767-68 seems a reasonable estimate for James.
  4. William was born 5 Nov 1770. Commemorative Biographical Record of Central Pennsylvania: Including the Counties of Centre, Clearfield, Jefferson and Clarion (Chicago: J. H. Beers, 1898) at 100-101.
  5. Betsy was born about 1773. She was less than 21 when her father William’s will was executed on 20 Oct 1792, so she was born after Oct 1771. I’ve estimated Betsy’s and David’s birth years by spacing them out more or less evenly between their siblings William and John, whose birth dates are established by credible evidence.
  6. David #2 was born about 1776-77. It is certain that David was born sometime between 1775 (see the 1790 Franklin Co. census, when he was included in his father’s household and was < 16) and early 1778, a year prior to the birth of his younger brother John.
  7. John was born 1 May 1778 or 1779. See his tombstone in the Bellefonte Cemetery: John Rankin, 8 May 1778 – 22 Apr 1848, 69Y 11M 4D. Another source, John Blair Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania (Louis H. Everts, 1883, reprinted Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1975) at 222-223 says that John Rankin was born 1 May 1779.
  8. Jeremiah was born November 1783 according to his Centre Co., PA tombstone.

[12] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 9: 288, deed dated 8 May 1807 from David Rankin of Franklin and wife Fanny conveying land devised to David by the will of William Rankin dated 20 Oct 1792. Frances/Fanny’s father is also conclusively proved by a deed, see Franklin DB 14: 245.

[13] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 14: 266, deed dated 28 Aug 1827 from David Rankin and wife Frances of Montgomery Township, 54 acres in Peters Township, deed witnessed by Archibald Bald.   

[14] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 12: 28.

[15] 1830 federal census, Montgomery Township, Franklin Co., household of David Rankin, 0000101-000010001 adjacent Jacob Kline. There are two people age 20 < 30 in David’s household, as one would expect: his daughter Molly was already married when David #1 wrote his will in 1829. The age category for the eldest male is clearly erroneous. He should be in the same age category as the eldest female, age 60 < 70 (born in the 1760s).

[16] See, e.g.,  an example here.. Please be advised that the application for historic site designation at that link contains Rankin history errors and unproved assertions.

[17] The archaic spelling was Conogogheaue with, as you would expect, several variants.

[18] The Upper West church records show Archibald’s marriage to Agnes Long, as well as his death date. Recall that David and Archibald each inherited a part of their father William’s “Mansion Place,” so they originally lived next to each other. You would expect they would both choose the nearest Presbyterian church.

[19] Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Vol. 6, p. 262, 269, 274, 282, 374. “Jeremiah Rankin, Ranger on the Frontier, served in 1778, under Capt. John McConnell and as Ensign, 1780-81, with Captain Wm Huston; a son of pioneer James Rankin of Montgomery Township. He mar. Mary, dau. of James Clark. His will was dated June 1803 and prob. August 1803, [named] only son James Clark Rankin and three daus: Nancy; Mariah; Esther. The widow Mary later married Charles Kilgore. James, Jeremiah, David and William Rankin were pewholders in the “Lower Conococheague” or Welsh Run Church.”

[20] Some records of the Upper West Conococheague church are available online at Ancestry.com. They name only one child of Archibald and Agnes Long Rankin, a daughter Franny who died the same day as Agnes. The Franklin census records suggest that Archibald had five or six children.

[21] David #2 was then living in Peters Township and is listed as age 26 < 45 (born 1775 – 1794). There were seven children in his household, including 1 male and 2 females age 10 < 16 (born 1804 – 1810), plus 3 males and one female under age 10 (born 1810 – 1820).

[22] 1840 federal census for Iowa Territory, Des Moines Co., David Rankin, age 60 < 70 (born 1770 – 1780).

[23] The 1850 census for DesMoines Co. for David Rankin’s household includes Dugald Camel, 30, b. PA, and Frances Camel, 14, b. Indiana. Given the spelling perversions one finds in the census, I read “Dugald Camel” as Dugal Campbell. Not quite Dongal Campbell (the name of Frances Campbell Rankin’s father, see Franklin Deed Book 14: 245), but it’s close.

[24] Ancestry.com. Iowa, Deaths and Burials, 1850-1990 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

Query: Ann Winn Webber of Northam Parish, Goochland, VA

A recent comment on a Winn post on this blog asked the following (lightly edited):

“I am wondering if you, or anyone else reading this blog, might have run across an Ann Winn who married William Webber III on 1 August 1764 in Goochland County, Viriginia. The marriage is recorded in the Douglas Register. The family seems to have resided in St. James Northam Parish, where William Webber died in August 1794. William Webber III and his wife Ann Winn had at least the following children: Philip (named for William Webber III’s father), Benjamin, John, Mary , Keturah, Susannah Winn, Charles, William IV, and Archer. I’ve also seen a son named Archibald attached to this family, although Archer and Archibald may be the same person. Ann Winn Weber is sometimes identified as a daughter of John Winn and Mary Pledger of Hanover County, but my impression is that their daughter Ann was married to Nathaniel Holman and no one else. Any information, thoughts, theories, or suggestions on who this Ann Winn was and where she fits in the Winn family would be much appreciated. Thanks.”

OK, Winn experts, please weigh in! Either post a comment on this blog or communicate directly with Jeff Duvall, who is looking for this information, by email at jduvall@iupui.edu. Sissy? Bill? Anyone?

Hope this gets some results! Thanks in advance …

Robin

Rankin, Upton County, TX

Want to see two characters from Lonesome Dove taking a selfie? Get yourself to Rankin, Texas. The town is perched atop the Edwards Plateau in the Middle of Nowhere, population 778.[1]

I have no idea what the town is best known for, but I’ll put my money on an old corrugated tin building decorated with a funky Texas flag and portraits of Augustus “Gus” McCrae and Woodrow F. Call of Lonesome Dove. Someone with a puckish sense of humor painted the pair on horseback, with Call taking a selfie.[2] Tommy Lee Jones would probably approve.

Google says the town is named for F. E. Rankin, a “local rancher.”[3] In fact, F. E. did receive a grant of 640 acres in Upton County in 1911.[4] However, he apparently never lived in Rankin. Instead, he and his family lived in Midland County. He is listed in the 1910 census there as “Finis E. Rankin” with his wife Eliza and son Porter, age 20 (born about 1890). The name Porter Rankin rang a tiny bell, but I wasn’t sure why. Finis, Eliza and Porter were born in Tennessee, and the couple’s parents were also born in Tennessee.[5] The 1900 Midland census reveals that F. E. was born in January 1856 and was a “cattle raiser.”[6]

The “Findagrave” website often has errors in its unsourced obiter dicta, but the tombstone pictures and obituaries posted there are pretty good evidence.[7] The Fairview Cemetery in Midland has a tombstone for F. E. Rankin (“father”), 1856 – 1916, and Eliza Rankin (“mother”), 1862 – 1953.[8] Better yet, there is a Midland County death certificate for Robert Porter Rankin (1890 – 1 Nov 1962). It identifies him as a son of F. E. Rankin and Eliza Smith. Best of all, it says Porter was born in Belt Buckle, TN. That town is in Bedford County, telling us where to go look for Finis et al. before they came to Texas.

With a name like “Finis” and the additional information, tracking this line was a piece of cake. There is a marriage record for F. E. Rankin and Elizabeth Smith for 27 Jul 1879 in Bedford County, TN. At age 5, Finis and his younger brother Porter were listed in the 1860 census for Bedford County with their presumed parents Robert and Matilda Rankin.[9] The 1850 Bedford census adds a middle initial: his name was Robert D.Rankin, and there was a David G. Rankin, a child, in the household.[10] The 1880 census identifies David G. Rankin as a son of Robert D. and Matilda.[11]

At this point, bells began to ring in earnest. The names David G. Rankin and Porter Rankin are firmly planted in my memory … and in my family tree software. David G. Rankin was a son of Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC – my ancestors. I have written several article about Sam and Eleanor on this website. Here is one of them: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2017/10/22/samuel-rankin-abt-1734-abt-1816-m-eleanor-alexander-new-post-replace-old-ones/ David. G. Rankin’s wife was Anne Moore Campbell, and they had a son, Rev. James Porter Rankin, who died at age 26.[12]

David G. and Anne Rankin migrated from Lincoln Co., NC to Rutherford Co., TN. A deed there identifies a Robert D. Rankin as a resident of Bedford Co., TN; other records make it clear that Robert D., father of Finis, was a son of David and Anne.[13]

And that’s enough for Rankin, TX: I’ve just written more words than there are people in the town. And whoda thunk I’d find relatives near there.

See you on down the road.

Robin


[1]Rankin’s population of 778 is per the 2010 census. https://www.google.com/search?ei=M5lkXIi3H42Q0PEP3_GU-Ag&q=population+of+rankin+texas&oq=population+of+rankin+texas&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0i22i30.409200.413316..421342…0.0..0.231.2861.10j15j1……0….1..gws-wiz…….0i71j0j0i67j0i131i67j0i131j0i22i10i30j33i22i29i30j0i13i30.Uev8UFzyER0

[2]A friend who writes a travel blog called Wanderwiles took these two pictures and kindly sent them to me.

[3]See Note 1.

[4]Texas Land Title Abstracts, Certificate No. 982, file No. 85690, 640-acre grant to F. E. Rankin dated 26 Oct. 1911.

[5]1910 federal census, Midland Co., TX, household of Finis E. Rankin, age 54, b. TN, parents b. TN, with wife Elisah (sic, Eliza), 48, TN/TN/TN, and son Porter Rankin, 20, TN/TN/TN.

[6]1900 federal census, Midland Co., TN, T. E. or F. E. Rankin, b. Jan 1856, age 44, married 20 years, cattle raiser. Household includes wife Eliza, b. Feb 1862 who has had 3 children, all living, daughter Maud, b. Apr 1880, son P. B., b. Dec 1881, and son Porter, b. Feb 1890.

[7]The deceased isn’t ever around to give his/her date of birth, and my experience is that children often haven’t a clue what year their parents were born. Tombstones are subject to that possibility. AND, once in a while, people have been known to shave a few years off their ages, a frequent occurrence in census records.

[8]https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18412790/finis-ewing-rankin  

[9]1860 federal census, Bedford Co., TN, District 4 has household of Robert Rankin, 45, farmer, $16,500 realty, $15,000 personalty, b. TN. Also listed in the household (all born in TN, and all with the surname Rankin, were Matild (sic, Matilda) 35, Nancy 21, David 19, Thomas 17, Jame 16, Ellen 13, Susanah 11, Malinda 9, Virginia 7, Finis, 5, and Porter, 1. 

[10]1850 federal census, Bedford Dist. 4, Robert D. Rankin, farmer, $7K real property, b. TN. Matilda Rankin, 33, Nancy A. Rankin, 10, David G. Rankin, 9, William Thomas Rankin, 8, Janes? C., female, 6, Martha E., 4, and Susannah M., 1. 

[11]1880 federal census, Bedford Dist. 5, David G. Rankin, 38, farmer, b. TN, parents b. TN, wife Laura T., 30, NC/NC/NC, sonsRobert E. Rankin, 12, Wm A Rankin, 10, Leon Augustus Rankin, 7, Albert E. Rankin, 2, and Osman G. Rankin, 1.

[12]Rev. James Porter Rankin, born May 10th, 1805, died Sep 11th, 1831, aged 26 years 1 mo. & 1 day. (obit in National Register & States Gazette, Sept. 17, 1831, says Rev. J. P Rankin died in Rutherford Co.). Tombstone in the Old City Cemetery in Murfreesboro, TN shows May 10, 1805 – Sep 11, 1831. His parents David G. and Anne M. C. Rankin are buried in the same cemetery. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&amp;GRid=24947618&amp;ref=acom

[13]Rutherford Co., TN Deed Book Z: 93, bill of sale dated 15 Jan 1842 from Robert Rankin of Bedford Co., TNto Martin Alexander of Rutherford, an enslaved person. See also Rutherford Co., TN Deed Book 1: 523, Robert D. Rankin and William C. Rankin, administrators of the estate of their sister Mary (Rankin) Montgomery. Mary M. Rankin married Joseph A. Montgomery in Rutherford County in 10 Sep 1831.