Coming attractions …

I told my husband today I must live at least another 20 years in order to complete my to-do list. A significant part of the list has to do with fun family history. Some of it, considerably less appealing, has to do with ridding our closets of a half-century of accumulated stuff. Since we are about to go on vacation – a time when to-do lists and closets are happily forgotten – I thought I might leave some promises in our wake. Perhaps someone will hold me to them.

So here is a list of coming attractions, i.e., posts I have already largely written in my head.

Burkes: it is high time for me to publish an article about Esom Logan Burke of Wilson County, Tennessee and his son William Logan Burke I, the McLennan County, Texas sheriff of the 1880s. William Logan Burke II, the Sheriff’s son, was a polo player, hunter, and well-known teller of tall tales like his great-grandfather John Burke, who died in 1842 in Jackson County, Tennessee. I also have articles about John Burke’s children which are already drafted but which are so boring I haven’t been able to convince myself to post them.

Rankins: in the “famous Rankins” category, an article about James Lee Rankin (1907 – 1996). He argued the amicus curiae brief as Assistant Attorney General in the so-called “segregation cases,” six cases consolidated before the Supreme Court in 1953. The Court rendered its decision in the familiar 1954 case styled Brown v. Board of Education. Atty. Gen. Rankin “argued forcefully for desegregation of the nation’s public schools.” He also represented the American Civil Liberties Union in advancing the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right of an indigent person accused of a crime to have legal counsel at public expense. He was a moderate Republican who managed the Eisenhower for President campaign in Nebraska. Wow. He descends from David and Jeanette (not Mildred) McCormick Rankin of Frederick Co., VA. There is one hinky spot in his lineage that I haven’t quite worked out, but there is no doubt of his immigrant ancestors. That family is Lineage 3 on the Rankin Family DNA Project. I really wish we were related.

… more famous Rankins: Jeanette Rankin and her sister Edna Rankin McKinnon. The Rankin sisters had a habit of being “first” at this and that, as well as being reformers in feminist causes such as suffrage and birth control. Jeanette was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Montana, in 1916 – before she was even eligible to vote for herself: women didn’t get the vote until 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified. Her sister Edna, an attorney, was the first native-born woman to be admitted to the Montana Bar, and was a birth control pioneer. Their Rankin grandfather was born in Scotland, and (so far as I know), no member of that Rankin family has Y-DNA tested and joined the Rankin DNA Project.

… Rev. John Rankin, the famous abolitionist of Ohio, who provided a major stop on the Underground Railroad. He belongs to what is called Rankin “Lineage 2A” in the Rankin family DNA project – namely, the Rankins of Jefferson County, Tennessee and the famous Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church Cemetery bronze tablet. I am happy to claim Rev. John as a genetic relative. I disclaim the unproved parts of his lineage, which is anyone prior to John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. <grin>

Charts: I am working on charts of several families. First, Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, wife Mary Steele Alexander. I have posted articles about that line here, and  here, and  here, and also here.

Second, a chart for the line of David and Jeanette McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia. I have posted two articles about them, but both are subject to correction so I will eschew links.

Third, a chart for John and Elizabeth Graves Burke of Jackson County, Tennessee. All of the three Burke articles I have posted have been about that family. First, here, then here, and then here.

And that’s enough from me for now. I must go find my Astros t-shirt, because one stop on vacation is Yankee Stadium on Saturday, June 22, when the dreaded Yankees will take on the Houston Astros.

See you on down the road.

Robin

My Disreputable Ancestors

Please note: my friend and distant cousin John Alexander authored this article, notwithstanding that WordPress automatically attributed it to me. John has written a book about his Alexander family, see a book review  here.

His  website has a wealth of information, including the entire book as an HTML file with operable links. Check it out. Enjoy!

Robin

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 My Disreputable Ancestors, by John Alexander (Jun 13, 2019)

If genealogical researchers are ever satisfied that they have done enough digging and get around to writing their family histories, they often present their ancestors as model citizens who never strayed from the strait and narrow or, alternatively, as stick figures without personality. Although my wife assigns me to the second category by accusing my characters of being present only so they can take part in the begetting of future generations, I want to introduce you to three Alexanders, two of them named James, first cousins through fathers and through mothers, and show that these men had foibles just as we do today. One of the men, my great-great-great grandfather James, seems to have always used James C. when referring to himself, probably to avoid confusion with his cousin. However, when I began my research, I found that, in spite of this precaution, many genealogists had mixed up the identity of the two, sometimes making them one person. This tale also involves James C.’s son William.

Although I have never found him mentioned in histories of the region, the man known only as James was among the very first European settlers in western Tennessee, the area lying between the Tennessee River and the Mississippi River. He can be found on the 1820 federal census[1] where he and his brother William are listed near Amos Milligan (sometimes Milliken) and Adam Row (sometimes (Rowe). Milligan and Row, who, along with James House,[2] arrived in 1819, are credited as leading the way in settling Henry County, Tennessee. James and William were soon joined by other family members, including their parents and their cousin James C., although most of them probably arrived after formation of the county in 1821.

Religious meetings in early Henry County likely took place in the homes of settlers, but, in December 1828, as stated in the minutes of Antioch Primitive Baptist Church, James and his wife Hester (sometimes Esther) Siddall/Siddle joined six other people to found one of the first churches in the region. Although he was one of the founders, James was excluded from the church only a few years later, in May 1834, and the minutes of the church report dismissal from the church due to “reports unfavorable to Christian character, excluded for making too free with ardent spirits.”[3] Not too long afterward, James, Hester, and their family left Henry County to settle in western Missouri, where he may have found a new place of worship. Perhaps, he, William, and cousin James C. got together too often in Henry County as might be inferred from James C.’s and William’s episode, just below.

When James C. arrived in Henry County in the 1820s with wife Judith Siddle, son William, son John Priestly (my great-great grandfather), and other children, he appears to have been a man of means since he purchased property and posted money as bondsman for relatives’ legal transactions. However, by the late 1840s, his money was gone, and he and William owed many of their kinfolk and neighbors. I have not found any mention in records of the cause of their decline in fortune, but James C. and William were forced to mortgage their real and personal property and eventually sell it at public auction to satisfy claims against them.[4] Although they were not unique in losing all their money and becoming indebted, the interesting aspect of their situation is the listing of assets that were mortgaged and put on sale. There were the common-place items of “two feather beds and bed clothing, steads, & furniture, one claybank mare, one sorrel studcolt, one cow, & side saddle,” “one small bay horse, three yoke of oxen, one ox wagon,” and “one tract of land lying in the 13thcivil district in Henry County containing by estimation about eighty eight acres,” but, in William’s listing, was also “one still, one cap & worm, & twelve still tubs.” Someone’s love for that still must have prompted separate listing of each component. With twelve tubs to provide raw material for the distillation process, there may have been enough product for William, his father, and his cousin-uncle James all to indulge too freely in ardent spirits. That I sometimes don’t remember whether the still and equipment belonged to William or to James C. can perhaps be explained by my overindulging each time I opened the books on their situation.

Lest one believes from this look into their lives that this trio were extremely different from their neighbors, the reader should know that historians tell us that men and women of that time living in the still-frontier area of western Tennessee and Kentucky did more than a bit of drinking and that speculating in land was not uncommon. James, James C., and William merely had the misfortune to have their failures spelled out in public records for all to see.

The subjects of our story survived their troubles without any record of permanent harm and prospered in their new homes, Webster County, Missouri, for James, and Fayette County and Shelby County in Tennessee for James C. and William. James and James C. – and William – have numerous Alexander descendants living today and very likely have surviving non-Alexander descendants, although I have not attempted to trace non-Alexanders after a couple of generations. These descendants include some rather prominent citizens, and I apologize if any descendants are embarrassed by these revelations. Remember, one was my ancestor also, and I am not ashamed that he was human.

[1] 1820 U S Census, Stewart Co., Tennessee, p. 233.

[2] I have never been able to find James House listed on any early Stewart County or Henry County census.

[3] “Minutes of the Antioch Primitive Baptist Church,” transcribed and annotated by Johnny Walker. A copy is in the Inman Genealogical Room, Henry County (TN) Library.

[4] Registration of Deeds, Grants, in Henry County, 1847; reprinted on-line at https://johnandval.org/genealogy/AlexFamHist.html, Appendix I (upper-case I not  1).

 

Welcome home, sir, and thank you for your service

They weren’t given a welcome back then. About 2.7 million Americans – almost 10% of their generation – served in Vietnam. Fifty-eight thousand names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

This isn’t a political rant, though. It’s just a story.

One of the American survivors, an Air Force pilot, left Vietnam on the so-called “Freedom Bird” on July 4, 1970. He landed in San Francisco and flew from there to Chicago’s O’Hare Field for a morning flight to Oklahoma City. Lacking cash for a hotel room, he stretched out on a bench at O’Hare. He slept soundly until a janitor working in the area dropped a metal bucket on the floor with a loud crash. The pilot was underneath the bench before he was fully awake.

Anyone living in a forward operating location was attuned to the sound of incoming mortar rounds. Those reflexes were basic survival skills.

This particular pilot was a forward air controller (“FAC”) in Vietnam, flying a plane designated 0-1E by the Air Force. It is a high-wing, tail-dragging airplane, less than 26’ long, able to take off and land in less than 600’. Crew: one person, protected by an armored plate under the pilot’s seat. Armament: eight smoke rockets, four under each wing. The sight for aiming the smoke rockets? A grease pencil mark on the cockpit windscreen to mark the horizon in level flight, installed by each pilot to his individual specifications – a function of the pilot’s height.

Here are a couple of pictures of the plane, one in the air and one on the Bien Hoa flight line at sunset.

These particular planes and the pilots who flew them, plus the supporting ground and radio crews, were part of the “Red Marker” unit. Red Marker FACs flew in close air support of the Vietnamese Airborne Division, elite Vietnamese paratroopers who went wherever in the country they were needed — the hot spots.

The O-1E FACs flew at about 1,500’, directing air strikes and occasionally ground artillery fire. That means the FAC would locate a target, call in a flight of fighter aircraft, make a low pass to fire a smoke rocket to mark the target, then clear each fighter to bomb with the characteristic radio call, “hit my smoke!”

The Vietnamese Airborne called the FACs “angels in the air.”

The ground living quarters for FACs at forward location bases were well-fortified. Here is an example.

The Song Be residents did not lack for a sense of humor …

And the Red Markers did not lack for pride.

The pilot who returned to U.S. soil on July 4, 1970 wrote a book about the Red Markers. His radio call sign was “Red Marker 18.” He only included a couple of his own stories in the book, because he didn’t want the book to be “a personal memoir.” The following is a small supplement.

The propeller story

A so-called “tail-dragging” airplane (see above photos) has its third gear under the tail, as opposed to a tricycle gear plane, which has its third gear under its nose. Consequently, when a tail-dragger is on the ground, the pilot’s line of sight is slightly elevated – he cannot see the ground immediately in front of him.

If a pilot was in a hurry to refuel, reload rockets, and turn around for the next mission, and had been flying 2 or 3 flights a day for some time and was exhausted, he might take a short cut through a small ditch running alongside the runway. If there happened to be a metal runway marker between the runway and the ditch, he wouldn’t have been able to see it. This might be the result to the runway marker and the propeller …

 

The night landing story

The longest day Red Marker 18 had was 11 hours flight time on three separate missions. Long days were common, especially during the Cambodian incursion. One evening, he didn’t get back to his home field until after dark. Runway lights in forward operating locations weren’t standard domestic airport issue. Instead, “runway lights” were what you would call smudge pots — bulbous metal pots with sand in the bottom, filled with diesel fuel and then lit. The duty for lighting the pots rotated among crews. It wasn’t, apparently, popular duty: it may have interfered with beer call.

Red Marker 18 returned to Phouc Vinh one night, low on fuel. The pots weren’t lit, and he didn’t have enough fuel to land at an alternate field. His Red Marker radio control was unable to round up a crew to light the pots, so he took his jeep to the beginning of the runway and parked there with his headlights on. (Not a small heroic feat itself.)

When the 0-1E passed over the jeep and flared for landing, the pilot couldn’t see the runway ahead in the dark. So the jeep chased the plane all the way down the runway, illuminating it for the airplane with its headlights.

The mountain landing story

The 0-1E’s smoke rockets weren’t “armed,” i.e., live, while the airplane was on the ground, for obvious reasons. The crew chiefs loaded each rocket into a firing tube, four under each wing. Each tube had a safety pin at the rear which prevented an electrical connection needed to fire the rocket. Each pin had a red ribbon attached. Before the FAC took off, the crew chief would pull the pins and hand the ribbons to the pilot through the plane’s window, assuring the pilot that his rockets were ready to fire.

Unfortunately, Red Marker 18 and his crew chief each apparently had a bad day at the same time. About halfway to a pre-designated target area, he realized that his smoke rockets were not armed. The pins were still in, red streamers flying in the breeze. He had three choices. He could return to base to remove the pins, although he would then miss the scheduled rendezvous with a flight of fighters. That would effectively cancel the mission. Alternatively, he could have marked the target for the fighters by throwing smoke grenades out the window of the airplane. (I am not making this up). Of course, the fighter pilots would have seen the red ribbons, and he would have never heard the end of jokes at his expense. His third alternative was to salvage the mission (and his reputation) by doing something which, in retrospect, was really, really ill-advised.

He landed on an abandoned air strip on a mountaintop. In the middle of the jungle in Vietnam. In the middle of the jungle in Vietnam. Alone, for heaven’s sake. He got out of his plane to pull the pins, but did not turn the engine off for fear that it might not restart — possibly the only sensible thing he did that day. This created a problem, because the brakes were unable to prevent the plane from creeping forward. Red Marker 18 had to hold on to the plane while removing the pins on each side of the aircraft.

When Red Marker 18 returned from that day’s mission, he handed the ribbons to the crew chief. No words were exchanged.

There are many more stories, of course. Every person who served in Vietnam, or any other war, has stories to tell.

If you by any chance meet a grizzled old Vietnam vet, please extend your hand and offer the appropriate greeting: welcome home, sir, and thank you for your service.

Here is a picture of Red Marker 18 with his airplane. Welcome home, sir, and thank you for your service. I am grateful to have him home every day.

Happy 52nd anniversary, June 7, 2019.

See you on down the road.

Robin

In memoriam … Capt. Samuel L. James, USAFA 1967; Lt. Thomas L. Lubbers; Lt. Kennard F. Svanoe, USAFA 1967; Capt. Douglass T. Wheless, USMA 1968.

How many Jeremiah Rankins WERE there near Greencastle, PA in the late 1700s?

The answer depends on who you ask. American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania has one opinion.[1]  The Biographical Annals of Franklin County, Pennsylvania[2] and the History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania[3] share a second opinion. The latter two sources add an extra Jeremiah to the family tree of the Rankins of Lancaster, Cumberland, and Franklin Counties, Pennsylvania.

Let’s start with an inventory of the proved Jeremiah Rankins, then assemble them into a family chart for a bigger picture.

Jeremiah #1: the eldest of the lot. He was a son of the Adam Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1747 (“Adam d. 1747”) and his wife Mary Steele Alexander.[4] Jeremiah #1 died in 1760 near Greencastle, which was in Cumberland before Franklin County was created.[5] Jeremiah #1’s only appearance in county records that I have found was in his father Adam’s 1747 will.

Jeremiah #2: a son of Jeremiah #1 and a grandson of Adam d. 1747. He was born during 1756 through 1761.[6] He moved to Fayette County, Kentucky, where he died about 1804.[7]

Jeremiah #3: a proved son of James Sr. (who died in 1795 in Franklin) and Jean Rankin. James Sr. was a son of Adam d. 1747, so Jeremiah #3 was also Adam’s grandson.[8] Jeremiah #3 was probably born in the early 1750s, but definitely no later than 1755.[9] The identity of his children is the main issue in this article.

Jeremiah #4: a proved son of William (d. 1792, Franklin) and Mary Huston Rankin. Since William was a son of Adam d. 1747, Jeremiah #4 was also Adam’s grandson. Jeremiah #4 was born in 1783. He moved to Centre Co., PA, where he died in 1874 at age 90.[10]

Wildcard Jeremiah:  Annals and History add another Jeremiah, which place him as a son of Jeremiah #3. Annals and History also name three other sons of Jeremiah #3, although they disagree on one given name.

Here is an abbreviated outline family chart for the Lancaster, Cumberland, and Franklin County Rankins, including the above list of Jeremiahs.[11]

1 Adam Rankin, d. 1747, Lancaster Co., PA, wife Mary Steele Alexander, possibly wife #2.[12] Their four children (not in birth order):[13]

2 Esther Rankin m. Mr. Dunwoody.

Jeremiah #1 Rankin, d. near Greencastle, Cumberland Co., PA about 1760, wife Rhoda Craig.[14]

Jeremiah #2 Rankin, b. 1756-1761, Cumberland Co., PA, d. about 1804, Fayette Co., KY, wife Nancy.

3 Three other sons of Jeremiah #1 (Rev. Adam, Thomas, and William Rankin), all of whom went to Fayette or Woodford Co., KY.

2 James Rankin, d. 1795, Franklin Co., PA, wife Jean/Jane. Identified as a son in the will of Adam d. 1747.

Jeremiah #3 Rankin

4 Wildcard Jeremiah, added here by Annals and History.

4 Three other sons of Jeremiah #3. Annals identifies them as James, David and William; History identifies them as James, David and Archie.

3 Five other children of James and Jean. All six children are proved by James’ 1788 will.[15]

2 William Rankin d. 1792, Franklin Co., PA, wife Mary Huston. Identified as a son in the will of Adam d. 1747.

Jeremiah #4 Rankin, b. 1783, Franklin Co., PA, d. 1874, Centre Co., PA.

3 Seven other children of William and Mary, all proved by William’s 1792 will.[16]

OK, let’s see what Revolutionary Soldiers has to say about Jeremiah #3, son of James and Jean Rankin:[17]

 “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, 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.[18] Nancy Rankin mar. John Imbrie, Beaver Co., Penna., 10 children. Maria Rankin mar. Samuel Johnston, son of Thos. and Anne Houston Johnston. Esther Rankin mar. Alex. M. Johnston, son of Thos. and Anne Houston Johnston.”

The will of some Jeremiah Rankin was, in fact, dated and proved in 1803, and it did name his wife Mary and the four children listed above.[19] Both the Annals and History associate the 1803 will, wife Mary Clark, and those four children with Wildcard Jeremiah. Revolutionary Soldiers assigns that family to Jeremiah #3. Putting it another way, Revolutionary Soldiers concludes that the Jeremiah who died in 1803 was Jeremiah #3, a son of James d. 1795 and Jean. Annals and History claim that the Jeremiah who died in 1803 was Wildcard Jeremiah, a grandson of James and Jean.

Besides adding a new Jeremiah to the line, Annals throws in three other new Rankins, brothers of Wildcard Jeremiah and also allegedly sons of Jeremiah #3: David, James, and William. History does the same thing, but identifies the brothers of Wildcard Jeremiah as David, James and Archie.[20] History also adds this information: Jeremiah #3, son of James and Jean, “patented 800 acres … he divided his acreage into four farms, inherited by his four sons Jeremiah, David, James and Archie” (emphasis added).

The evidence relevant to this puzzle is not compelling on either side. I’m just going to throw it all out there and hope that someone will offer an opinion in a comment. Or, better yet, tell us about other evidence.

  • I cannot find an 800-acre patent by a Jeremiah Rankin in the Pennsylvania patent records. If one exists, it must have been in an area then considered part of Pennsylvania, perhaps West Virginia or Ohio. I cannot find such a patent in those places, either. I am clearly missing something: surely, History did not just imagine that patent. And the will of Jeremiah who died in 1803 did mention land in Ohio. Perhaps somebody can point me toward a good source …
  • History says the four sons of Jeremiah #3 inherited that 800-acre tract. I have found only one will and estate record for a Jeremiah Rankin in Franklin: the Jeremiah who died in 1803 and had only one son, James Clark Rankin. Thus, if four Rankin sons of a Jeremiah inherited 800 acres, it must have been through the law of intestate descent and distribution rather than a will. However, I can’t find any relevant estate records for a second Jeremiah, who would (according to Annals and History) be Jeremiah #3. If anyone knows anything about the estate of a Jeremiah who died intestate in Franklin, I’d love to hear about it.
  • I cannot find those four alleged sons of Jeremiah #3 in the Franklin records. There was only one Archibald (“Archie”) Rankin and he was easy to track. The sole man by that name in the county during the relevant time period was Archibald (1763-64 – 1845), a son of William and Mary Huston Rankin. If three brothers of Wildcard Jeremiah actually existed, they clearly got the heck out of Dodge early, without bothering to leave significant tracks in the records. All of the David, William, James, and Archibald Rankins who appear in the Franklin Co. records can reasonably be accounted for without any “extras” left over.
  • The family of James Sr. and Jean Rankin lived in the area that eventually became Montgomery Township, Franklin County. James Sr.’s sons William, James Jr. and Jeremiah started appearing on tax lists there in 1778. A wrinkle appeared in 1782, when a second Jeremiah showed up on the same tax list as James Sr. and family. The second Jeremiah is identified as a “freeman,” meaning he was 21 or over, not married, and owned no land. That freeman is obviously not Jeremiah #1 (who died about 1760), Jeremiah #3 (on the 1782 tax list as a landowner), or Jeremiah #4 (who wasn’t born until 1783). Perhaps Annals and History identified Jeremiah the freeman on the 1782 tax list as Wildcard Jeremiah, a son of Jeremiah #3?

That theory doesn’t work. Jeremiah the freeman was too old to have been a son of Jeremiah #3, who was almost certainly born in the early 1750s. Jeremiah, the freeman who first appeared on the 1782 tax list, was born by at least 1761, perhaps 1760.

It is possible that Jeremiah the freeman was Jeremiah #2, son of Jeremiah #1 and Rhoda Craig Rankin. The last appearance I can find in the Franklin records for Jeremiah the freeman is on the 1787 tax list. The first appearance I found for Jeremiah #2 in Fayette County, Kentucky was on the 1789 tax list (although I haven’t had access to Fayette deed records). In other words, the records leave open the possibility that freeman Jeremiah was the same man as Jeremiah #2.

  • The 1790 federal census for Franklin lists a Jeremy Rankin having three males who were 16 and over in his household. The 1800 census makes it clear that the head of household in the 1790 census must have been Jeremiah #3. In the 1800 census, the only Jeremiah was listed in the “over 45” age bracket, born by 1755. That must be Jeremiah #3, son of James and Jean, born during the early 1750s. The 1800 household also includes a male in the age 26 to 45 category, who might be a (highly speculative) Wildcard Jeremiah. The oldest female in the household was also 26 to 45, and there were two females less than 10. Those three females fit the profile for Nancy Rankin (widow of Jeremiah d. 1803) and her two eldest daughters, Nancy C. and Mariah, twins born in 1796. The household also includes a male less than ten who could be James Clark Rankin, whose hazy birth year was 1800 or 1801.

The short of it is that I just don’t rightly know which source is correct. I find myself agreeing with Revolutionary Soldiers for two reasons. First, it’s a pretty tight squeeze to add an extra generation of four sons between Jeremiah #3, who was born in the early 1750s and who was out soldiering on the frontier in 1780-1781, and the death of a Jeremiah with four children in 1803. It is certainly possible, although apparently requiring marriage at an earlier age than was typical of colonial men. Second, Revolutionary Soldiers, written by a woman in conjunction with the Chambersburg D.A.R., has more credible heft than either Annals or History, books churned out for profit for many counties in Pennsylvania, often by the same publishers.

If all else fails, go with a source you trust. I would delete Wildcard Jeremiah and his three alleged brothers from this Rankin family tree. That would make Jeremiah #3 the man who died in 1803, leaving a widow Nancy, three daughters, Nancy, Mariah and Esther, and a son, James Clark Rankin.

See you on down the road. Before I do, I hope one of you will uncover some evidence about those 800 acres. Also, the land located in Ohio when Jeremiah wrote his 1803 will.

Robin

[1] Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the D.A.R., 1969) (copyright 1944), 180.

[2] Biographical Annals of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Volume I (Chicago: The Genealogical Publishing Co., 1905), 126-28.

[3] S. P. Bates, History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: Warner, Beers & Company, 1887), 68.

[4] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankin of Lancaster dated and proved in 1747. The will names sons James, William, and Jeremiah and daughter Esther Rankin Dunwoody. For evidence establishing that Adam Rankin’s wife was Mary Steele Alexander, see the text accompanying the footnotes and the citations in notes 5, 6, and 7 of  this article.

[5] Rev. Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (New York: R. Carter, 1847), cited in this post this post about Rev. Adam Rankin, a son of Jeremiah #1 and Rhoda. Rev. Davidson’s book is available online as a pdf  at this link.

[6] Jeremiah #2 of Fayette Co., KY had an older brother, Rev. Adam Rankin, who was born in 1755. See link to article in Note 5. The father of Jeremiah #2 and Rev. Adam — Jeremiah #1 — died in 1760. Id. Jeremiah #2 must therefore have been born during 1756 through 1761, inclusive.

[7] Jeremiah #2’s last appearance on the Fayette Co., KY tax lists was in 1803. He had definitely died by 1808, when his son Samuel was identified as a ward in a guardian’s bond.

[8] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin dated 1788 and proved 1795. The will names his wife Jean, sons William, Jeremiah, James (Jr.), and David, and daughters Ruth Rankin Tool and Esther Rankin Smith.

[9] Jeremiah #3 was listed in the 1800 federal census for Franklin Co., PA in the over 45 age category, born by 1755.  Jeremiah’s elder brother William was probably born 1746-1750. On balance, a birth year of 1750-1755 is probably a reasonable estimate for Jeremiah #3.

[10] See Mary Belle Lontz, Tombstone Inscriptions of Centre County, Pennsylvania (1984) and Note 11 in  this article.

[11] This Rankin family all lived near Conococheague (or Conogocheague) Cr. in what is now Franklin Co. in southern Pennsylvania, near Greencastle. As nearly as I can tell from the land and tax records, the Rankins stayed in basically the same geographic location for several generations. The jurisdictions in which they resided just changed as new counties and townships were created.

[12] See Note 4.

[13] Adam’s 1747 will named three sons James, William, and Jeremiah Rankin,and a daughter, Esther Rankin Dunwoody. That is likely the correct birth order for the sons.  I don’t know about Esther. Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208.

[14] So far as I know, the only evidence regarding Jeremiah’s #1’s family is oral tradition contained in an 1854 letter and a book about Kentucky Presbyterians, see Note 5. The letter identifies the children of Jeremiah #1 and Rhoda Craig Rankin as (1) Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, Fayette Co., KY (the Psalmody fanatic, see Note 5), 1755 – 1827, wife Martha McPheeters, (2) William Rankin, b. 1757, d. 1797 or 1798, Woodford Co., KY, (3) Thomas Rankin, d. Woodford Co., 1808, wife Mary “Polly” Young, and (4) Jeremiah #2 Rankin, d. 1804, Fayette Co., KY. See a transcription of the letter  online here.

[15] See note 8.

[16] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, will of William Rankin, dated and proved in 1792. I wrote about William and Mary Huston Rankin’s family in this post. Their children were: (1) Dr. Adam Rankin, b. Cumberland, PA b. 1760- 63, d. 1820-30. Went to Henderson Co., KY and married three times. (2) Archibald Rankin, b. 1763-64, d. 1845, Franklin Co., wife Agnes Long. (3) James Rankin, b. 1767-68, d. after 1820. Went to Centre Co., PA. (4) William Rankin, 1770- 1847. Went to Centre Co., PA. Married #1 Abigail McGinley and #2 Susannah Huston. (5) Betsy Rankin, b. abt. 1773. (6) David Rankin, b. 1776-77, d. 1853, Des Moines Co. Wife Frances Campbell. (7) John Rankin, b. 1778-79, d. 1848. Went to Centre Co., PA, married Isabell Dundass. (8) Jeremiah Rankin, 1783 – 1874, moved to Centre Co. Wife Sarah Whitehill.

[17] See Note 1.

[18] The Welsh Run Church is about 4.2 miles southwest of Mercersburg in Montgomery Township, where the family of James and Jean Rankin lived and owned land. Conococheague Cr. crosses PA Highway 995 about a mile NE of Welsh Run. The pewholders named in Revolutionary Soldiers should all be from the line of James d. 1795 and his wife Jean, and are almost certainly their four proved sons. The Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague, attended by some of the family of William and Mary Huston Rankin, is located in Mercersburg.

[19] Franklin Co., PA Will Book B: 167, will of Jeremiah Rankin of Montgomery Twp. dated 13 Jun 1803 proved 1 Aug 1803. Wife Mary, four minor children, all less than 18: James Clark Rankin, only son; daughters Nancy Rankin, Mariah Rankin and Esther Rankin. Mentions land in Ohio. Executors wife, brother James Rankin, brother-in-law James Clark, brother-in-law David Humphreys.Witnesses John McFarland, David Rankin, John Rankin. Nancy and Mariah were twins, born in 1796. James Clark Rankin was b. 1800-01. Esther was b. 1802.

[20] See Note 3.

WILLIS or WILLEY – A Critical Misread

Occasionally, we each run into difficulty interpreting handwriting in old documents. It comes with the territory. Modern genealogists are not the only ones affected by the problem. Decades ago, clerks who hand copied original documents ran into the same issue. Worse, publishers then printed typeset versions of those recopied texts (or abstracts of them). Once a misinterpreted word gets into print, it becomes accepted wisdom and resistant to change.

The situation is particularly vexing when the misinterpreted word is a person’s name. Willis and Willey provide a good example. Families of each surname lived close to each other in early Dorchester County, Maryland. The handwritten name Willis in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often ended with a downward swooping tail on the “s,” which made it look like a “y.” [1]

The following illustrates the script anomaly. Parties to legal documents of the era often took an oath on the “Holy Evangels of Almighty God,” meaning the Christian Gospels. Here is the way that phrase appears in a Dorchester County Will Book:

 

There is no discernable difference in the “y” at the end of the words Holy and Almighty and what is supposed to be an “s” at the end of Evangels. The scribe who recopied this deed into a nicely readable volume misread a long-tailed “s” in the original, writing it as a “y.”

No harm done. We know there is no such word as “Evangely,” so we can just move on … maybe tsk, tsk-ing under our breath. But what of the poor Willis and Willey families? A similar misread could easily convert a Willis into a Willey, or vice versa. In fact, an authoritative source of marriages in early Maryland states that Francis Insley married Keziah Willey on 27 Oct 1785 in Dorchester County.[2] However, a land sale by that couple twenty years later provides evidence that the bride’s name was actually Keziah Willis, not Willey.

In 1805, the Insleys’s sold 60 acres of land called “Addition to Adventure.”[3] The Willis family had owned that parcel for four decades, dating back to Richard Willis’s purchase in 1764.[4] The 1805 Insley deed recites that Benedict Meekins and his wife Mary [nee Willis] had sold the land to Andrew Willis, who devised it to his son Andrew. The deed does not state how Francis Insley and his wife Keziah got title to the land from the younger Andrew, and there are no other deeds that explain their ownership.

Explaining the Insley’s ownership is simple, however, if Keziah’s maiden name were Willis rather than Willey. Keziah was one of four children of the elder Andrew Willis and his wife Sarah.[5] The elder Andrew willed the land to his son Andrew, Jr. The younger Andrew subsequently died without a will and without children some time after 1796. His estate therefore passed to his heirs as defined under the Maryland laws of intestate descent and distribution, i.e., his siblings and the children of any already deceased siblings.

Keziah Willis Insley and her husband possessed the land in 1805 because she was Andrew’s only surviving sibling, and her brother George and sister Mary had each died without surviving children. Dorchester records make no mention in the relevant time frame of either George or Mary — no marriage, deed, death, or migration information. Their absence from the record supports the theory that they both died young and without issue.

The circumstantial evidence is sufficient to conclude that 1) a transcriber erroneously interpreted Keziah’s last name in the marriage record, 2) that Francis Insley married Keziah Willis in 1785, and 3) she was a party to the sale of Willis family land twenty years later.

The critical misinterpretation of Keziah Willis’s name will never be corrected in most published sources, but some of us will know the truth.

 

[1]Lower case “i” and “e” are also hard to distinguish.

[2]Palmer, Katherine H., Dorchester County, Maryland: Marriage License Records, 1780-1855, 1960.

[3]McAllister, James A., Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 42 (Liber HD No. 21), Cambridge, Maryland, 21 HD 569

[4]McAllister, Abstracts, Volume 15 (Liber Old No. 19), Cambridge, Maryland, 1964, 19 Old 163

[5]Old Trinity Church records show that the elder Andrew Willis and his wife Sarah baptized three children — Andrew, Keziah, and George — between 1768 and 1775. The couple also had a fourth child, Mary.

Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, KY (1755-1827), revised: Psalmody & other controversies

Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington is associated with some fun Rankin family history issues. He also caused considerable controversy in his denomination during his lifetime. Even aside from genealogical questions, Rev. Adam’s life is a story unto itself.

I’m issuing this revised post to update the YDNA information and to add another important source about Rev. Adam’s family, which I previously excluded due to doubts about its authenticity.

Here are the major issues surrounding Rev. Adam:

  • What was Rev. Adam’s life all about? He is famous for stoking the flames of an uproar about an arcane theological issue. He was rabidly fanatic on the matter, and that may well be an understatement.
  • Who were Rev. Adam’s parents? I have found no evidence of Rev. Adam’s family of origin in traditional primary sources such as county records: deeds, wills, tax lists, marriage records, and the like. Instead, the only evidence of his origins are secondary sources, usually deemed less reliable than primary evidence. In Rev. Adam’s case, however, the secondary sources are unusually credible.
  • What is the YDNA evidence about Rev. Adam’s line? YDNA testing is inconclusive as of May 2019. However, the existing evidence casts doubt on one piece of family oral tradition that affects more than one Rankin line.

Rev. Adam’s theological mess

There is a wealth of evidence regarding Rev. Adam’s personality in history books. George W. Rankin’s 1872 History of Lexington describes Rev. Adam as a “talented, intolerant, eccentric, and pious man, [who] was greatly beloved by his congregation, which clung to him with devoted attachment through all his fortunes.[1]

Even more colorfully, Rev. Robert Davidson’s 1847 history of Kentucky Presbyterianism says that Rev. Adam “appears to have been of a contentious, self-willed turn from his youth … and his wranglings at last ended in a schism. Obstinate and opinionated, his nature was a stranger to concession, and peace was to be bought only by coming over to his positions … his pugnacious propensities brought on at last a judicial investigation.”[2]

An early twentieth-century Kentucky history describes Rev. Adam as “a strange, eccentric man, a dreamer of dreams, a Kentucky Luther, and, perhaps, a bit crazed with the bitter opposition his views received.”[3]

What on earth do you suppose all the fuss was about?

Ahem. The theological issue about which Rev. Adam was fanatical is the so-called “Psalmody controversy.” Psalmody, said Rev. Davidson, was “his monomania.”

The what controversy? I have a friend who is a retired Presbyterian minister, and he didn’t have a clue when I asked him about it.

An article entitled “How Adam Rankin tried to stop Presbyterians from singing ‘Joy to the World’” describes the issue and its origins:

“In 1770 [sic, 1670], when Isaac Watts was 18 years of age, he criticized the hymns of the church in his English hometown of Southampton. In response to his son’s complaints, Watts’ father is reputed to have said, ‘If you don’t like the hymns we sing, then write a better one!’ To that Isaac replied, ‘I have.’ One of his hymns was shared with the church they attended and they asked the young man to write more.

For 222 Sundays, Isaac Watts prepared a new hymn for each Sunday, and single-handedly revolutionized the congregational singing habits of the English Churches of the time. In 1705, Watts published his first volume of original hymns and sacred poems. More followed. In 1719, he published his monumental work, ‘The Psalms of David, Imitated.’ Among those many familiar hymns is the Christmas favorite ‘Joy to the World,’ based on Psalm 98.

For many years, only Psalms were sung throughout the Presbyterian Churches and the old ‘Rouse’ versions were the standard. The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States convened at the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1789. One of the Presbyterian ministers of the time, a man by the name of Rev. Adam Rankin, rode horseback from his Kentucky parish to Philadelphia to plead with his fellow Presbyterians to reject the use of Watts’ hymns.[4]

You had to be a virtual lunatic on the issue to ride more than 600 miles from Lexington to Philadelphia, right? Assuming the Reverend’s horse was capable of 12-hour days at an average speed of four miles per hour, that’s a good 12-day trip each way.[5] And we must surely assume that Rev. Adam rested on the Sabbath.

The trip is even more extraordinary because Rev. Adam had no “commission” to attend the Assembly, meaning he was not an official attendee.[6] He simply requested to be heard by the Assembly on the subject of Psalmody. Specifically, he sought a repeal of a 1787 resolution allowingWatts’ hymns to be used in churches. Rev. Adam presented this query to the General Assembly:

 “Whether the churches under the care of the General Assembly, have not, by the countenance and allowance of the late Synod of New York and Philadelphia, fallen into a great and pernicious error in the public worship of God, by disusing Rouse’s versification of David’s Psalms, and adopting in the room of it, Watts’ imitation?”[7]

The Assembly listened to him patiently. Then it suggested (gently, it seems to me) that Rev. Adam behave in a similar fashion by demonstrating “that exercise of Christian charity, towards those who differ from him in their views of this matter, which is exercised toward himself: and that he be carefully guarded against disturbing the peace of the church on this head.”[8]

You can probably guess how well Rev. Adam followed that advice:

“No sooner had he returned home than he began to denounce the Presbyterian clergy as Deists, blasphemers, and rejecters of revelation, and debarred from the Lord’s Table all admirers of Watts’ Psalms, which he castigated as rivals of the Word of God.[9](Emphasis added).

“Debarred from the Lord’s Table” means that Rev. Adam refused to administer communion to his parishioners who disagreed with him about Watts’ hymns. It is hard to imagine a more radical punishment in a Presbyterian church short of, I don’t know, burning dissenters at the stake.[10]

Rev. Adam didn’t mince words. He verbally abused his Psalmody opponents in ways that would make even some partisan politicians cringe. He called them weak, ignorant, envious, and profane, compared them to swine, said they bore the mark of the beast and that they were sacrilegious robbers, hypocrites, and blasphemers. It makes Newt Gingrich’s instruction to his House colleagues circa 1986 to refer to members of the opposing party as “traitors” and the “enemy” seem almost collegial, doesn’t it?

In 1789, several formal charges were brought against Rev. Rankin before the Presbytery to which his church belonged. One charge was that he had refused communion to persons who approved Watts’ psalmody. Apparently attempting to dodge a trial, he made a two-year trip to London. When he returned, his views unchanged (of course), his case was tried in April 1792. Rev. Adam simply withdrew from the Presbytery, taking with him a majority of his congregation.[11]

He then affiliated with the Associate Reformed Church, although that also ended badly. Rev. Davidson wrote that Rev. Adam “was on no better terms with the Associate Reformed than he had been with the Presbyterians; and his pugnacious propensities brought on at last a judicial investigation.” In 1818, he was suspended from the ministry. He and his congregation simply declared themselves independent.

Rev. Adam wasn’t merely stubborn and pugnacious. He may also have been deluded. He claimed early on that he was guided by dreams and visions, convinced that “God had raised him up as a special instrument to reinstate ‘the Lord’s song.’” Eventually, he was led by a dream to believe that “Jerusalem was about to be rebuilt and that he must hurry there in order to assist in the rebuilding. He bade his Lexington flock farewell, and started to the Holy City, but, on November 25, 1827, death overtook him at Philadelphia.”[12]

I find myself wishing he had made it to Jerusalem just to see what happened. Of course, there is no telling what additional trouble we might now have in the Middle East if he had done so.

Rev. Adam’s widow eventually moved to Maury County, Tennessee along with her sons Samuel and Adam Rankin Jr.  She died there, and her tombstone in the Greenwood Cemetery in Columbia reads simply “Martha Rankin, consort of A. Rankin of Lexington, KY.”[13] It was probably no picnic, being a planet in Rev. Adam’s solar system.

Moving on to the next issue …

Who were Rev. Adam’s parents?

As noted, there appears to be no primary evidence available on Rev. Adam’s family of origin. The family oral tradition is that he was a son of Jeremiah and Rhoda Craig Rankin of Cumberland Co., PA. Jeremiah, in turn, was one of the three proved sons of the Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and his wife Mary Steele Alexander Rankin.

Family tradition also says that Jeremiah died young in a mill accident. There are no probate records concerning his estate, so far as I have found. One would expect there to be some records, since Jeremiah owned land devised to him by his father Adam. In fact, the only reference I have found to Adam’s son Jeremiah in county records is Adam’s 1747 Lancaster County will.[14] Likewise, I haven’t found any guardian’s records, although Jeremiah’s children were underage when he died. I may have missed something, and it wouldn’t be the first time. If you have seen anything in the county records on Jeremiah, Rhoda and/or their children, please let me know.

Fortunately, there are at least two pieces of credible secondary evidence about this family: (1) Rev. Robert Davidson’s History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky and (2) personal family knowledge and oral tradition, preserved in an 1854 letter written by one of Rev. Adam’s sons. Both provide evidence concerning Rev. Adam’s family of origin.

Here is what Rev. Davidson wrote about Adam (boldface and italics are mine):

“The Rev. Adam Rankin was born March 24, 1755, near Greencastle, Western Pennsylvania [sic, Greencastle is in south-central PA]. He was descended from pious Presbyterian ancestors, who had emigrated from Scotland, making a short sojourn in Ireland by the way. His mother, who was a godly woman, was a Craig, and one of her ancestors suffered martyrdom, in Scotland, for the truth. That ancestor, of the name of Alexander,[15] and a number of others, were thrown into prison, where they were slaughtered, without trial, by a mob of ferocious assassins, till the blood ran ancle [sic] deep. This account Mr. Rankin received from his mother’s lips. His father was an uncommon instance of early piety, and because the minister scrupled to admit one so young, being only in the tenth year of his age, he [Rev. Adam’s father] was examined before a presbytery. From the moment of his son Adam’s birth, he dedicated him to the ministry. He was killed in his own mill, when Adam, his eldest son, was in his fifth year. [Rev. Adam] graduated at Liberty Hall [now Washington & Lee University], about 1780. Two years after, Oct. 25, 1782, at the age of twenty-seven, he was licensed by Hanover Presbytery, and, about the same time, married Martha, daughter of Alexander McPheeters, of Augusta county [Virginia].”[16]

The most important thing Rev. Davidson said about Rev. Adam was in a footnote: “[t]his sketch of Mr. Rankin’s early history so far is derived from his autobiography, prepared, shortly before his decease, for his friend, Gen. Robert B. McAfee, then Lieut. Governor of the State.” Rev. Davidson obtained his information information straight from the horse’s  mouth, so to speak, establishing its credibility. Several facts stand out in Rev. Davidson’s sketch:

    • The death of Rev. Adam’s father in a mill accident confirms the family oral history. The date of death is established at about 1760, when Rev. Adam was five.[17]
    • Adam’s mother was, as the family history says, a Craig. There are a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the line named “Rhoda Craig” or “Rhoda C. Rankin,” providing additional circumstantial evidence of her given name.
    • Adam was born in Greencastle, Cumberland County. The county was created in 1750 from Lancaster, where Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin lived. Adam and Mary’s sons James and William began appearing in Cumberland in the 1750s. Rev. Adam’s birth in Greencastle is consequently good circumstantial evidence that he was a son of Jeremiah and grandson of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin.

The other significant piece of evidence regarding Rev. Adam’s family is an 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin, Rev. Adam’s youngest son. John Mason obviously wrote from personal knowledge as to his father’s generation and their children, all of whom lived in Fayette and Woodford counties, KY. He also had information from the family’s oral tradition as to his earlier ancestry. Because I had been unable to find anyone who had ever seen that letter, I had reservations about its authenticity. Fortunately, Susan Faust, a Rankin researcher, located and communicated with one of the two Rankins who transcribed the 1854 letter and other materials.

You can find the extraordinary 1854 letter  here. There are a couple of interesting things about the letter, in addition to the broad scope of information and detail. There are also some minor and unsurprising errors.

First, John Mason identified the original colonial immigrants in his Rankin family as the brothers Adam (his ancestor), John, and Hugh. This precisely echoes some of the information contained on the famous bronze tablet in the Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Cemetery in Jefferson County, TN. The tablet has a wonderful, colorful story about the Rankin family in Scotland and Ireland which is worth reading. A transcription can be found  in  this post.

The Mt. Horeb tablet also identifies the original Rankin immigrants as the brothers Adam, John and Hugh. It further names Adam’s wife as Mary Steele. It is thus certain that John Mason Rankin and the Mt. Horeb tablet were dealing with the same immigrant family. John Mason claims descent from Adam (d. 1747) and Mary Steele Rankin; the Mt. Horeb Rankins are descended from John (d. 1747, also in Lancaster), who was Adam’s brother according to both family traditions.

The John Mason and Mt. Horeb tablet histories diverge prior to the Rankin immigrant brothers, however. John Mason’s letter does not include the colorful stories of Alexander and William Rankin in Scotland and Ireland. Those legends must also have been omitted from Rev. Adam’s autobiography, or Rev. Davidson would surely have mentioned it. This raises the possibility that the Mt. Horeb stories about the Killing Times in Scotland and the Siege of Derry in Ireland were not part of Rev. Adam’s family’s oral history.

In the interest of full disclosure, here are some of the minor errors or discrepancies in John Mason’s 1854 letter:

  • Adam Rankin (wife Mary Steele Alexander) died in 1747, not 1750.
  • John Mason identified the father of the three Rankin immigrant brothers (John, Adam and Hugh) as Adam. The Mt. Horeb tablet identifies their father as William Rankin. I don’t know which, if either, is correct. There is apparently no evidence either way other than family oral histories.
  • What John Mason called “Cannegogy Creek” appears in the colonial records as “Conogocheague” Creek. In later records, it is spelled “Conococheague” Creek. In any event, John Mason was clearly talking about the creek where Jeremiah’s mill was located. Two Presbyterian churches on or near that creek are where Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s sons William and James attended. That puts the three proved sons James, William and Jeremiah in close physical proximity, a nice piece of confirming evidence of their family relationship.
  • Jeremiah Rankin, Rev. Adam’s brother, had four sons, not three: Adam, Joseph, Andrew and Samuel.

And that brings us to the last issue …

YDNA evidence concerning Rev. Adam’s line

A proved male Rankin descendant of Rev. Adam and Martha McPheeters Rankin (and probably a descendant of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin) has YDNA tested. He is not a Y-DNA match with descendants of John Rankin (d. 1749 in Lancaster), who is traditionally identified as Adam’s brother. At least six of John’s proved Rankin male descendants have YDNA tested, and they match closely. Further, there is no reasonable doubt as to their descent from  John d. 1749.

This raises two possibilities: either (1) Rev. Adam was not a grandson of Adam d. 1747 and Mary Steele Rankin, despite good secondary evidence; or (2) Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 were not brothers, despite family tradition.

I have been in contact with two Rankin men having solid paper trails back to Adam and Mary Steele who have YDNA tested. Neither man matches any other Rankin in the FTDNA database. Nor do they match each other.

There may be some profound genealogical conclusion to be drawn from those results, but it eludes me. In any event, the question whether Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 were brothers remains unresolved.

See you on down the road. With, I hope, more enlightening YDNA results in hand.

Robin

[1] George W. Rankin, History of Lexington, Kentucky (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1872), 108-110.

[2] Rev. Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (New York: R. Carter, 1847), 95. For “The Rankin Schism,” see p. 88 et seq. The book is available online as a pdf at this link.

[3] John Wilson Townsend and Dorothy Edwards Townsend, Kentucky in American Letters (Cedar Rapids, IA: The Torch Press, 1913), 17.

[4] Staff of the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, March 20, 2015, “How Adam Rankin Tried to Stop Presbyterians From Singing ‘Joy to the World,’” published online by the Aquila Report here.

[5] Average horse speed stats here.. Distance at Google maps.

[6] Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church, 82.

[7] Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One: 1607-1861 (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963), 115-116.

[8] Id. at 218-219.

[9] Id.

[10] I was baptized and confirmed in, and currently belong to, a Presbyterian church. I am, after all, a Scots-Irish Rankin. A frequent message at my church, including on its LED marquee, is “ALL ARE WELCOME.” That phrase has several layers of meaning in this era of immigrant hatred, but its most fundamental meaning is that everyone is invited to participate in communion.

[11] Rankin, History of Lexington, Kentucky, 108-110.

[12] Townsends, Kentucky in American Letters,17.

[13] Fred Lee Hawkins, Jr., Maury County, Tennessee Cemeteries with Genealogical and Historical Notes, Vol. 1and Vol. 2(1989).

[14] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankindated 4 May 1747 proved 21 Sep 1747. To son James Rankin, £ 5 “pencelvaney currancy” plus the “place he is now in possession of being fully given over to him.” Daughter Esther Rankin alias Dunwoody, £ 5. Wife (name omitted), 2/3rd“of all my worldly substance.” Sons William and Jeremiah the remainder, including the plantation to be equally divided betweenthem.

[15] Interestingly, it isn’t clear whether Alexander was her ancestor’s given name or surname. Both occur frequently among the Scots-Irish..

[16] Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church,95.

[17] I only say “about” 1760 because of the difficulty a small child might have in pinpointing his exact age when his father died.

Where are you from? Here’s a great source for Anglo names …

A couple of decades ago, my first cousin Butch Rankin[1] posed this question to me: “where are we from, anyway?” He didn’t specify which of our many shared ancestral lines he meant, but he was clearly asking about Rankins.

Hmmmm… there were some Rankins who came to the colonies from England, often Quakers. For example, there was a James Rankin in York Co., Pennsylvania in the 1770s, a Tory, whose estate was confiscated and who fled back to England.[2] But the vast majority of Rankin immigrants to the colonies during the 18th century came from Ireland. They were overwhelmingly Scots-Irish, Presbyterian, and Patriots.

Sometimes, names, locations and religion can reveal a great deal, and this is a good example. Butch’s and my earliest known Rankin ancestor first appeared in colonial records in Rowan County, North Carolina, smack dab in the middle of the Scots-Irish settlements of the Piedmont Plateau. Moreover, our ancestor Samuel Rankin – known as  Old One-Eyed Sam  – married  Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander. As nearly as I can tell, “Alexander” is the Scots-Irish equivalent of “Smith.” Samuel and Eleanor are buried in the Old Goshen Grove Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Belmont, NC. There was once a marker on the wall of Goshen Cemetery “in memory of the following Revolutionary soldiers,” including Robert Alexander (Eleanor Alexander Rankin’s brother), William Rankin (eldest son of Samuel and Eleanor), and Samuel Rankin  – Old One-Eyed Sam himself, who was too old to fight, but who was deemed a “patriot” by the DAR because he contributed supplies.[3]

OK, Scots-Irish, Presbyterian, and patriot: check, check, check. The correct answer to Butch’s question is that we came to the colonies from the province of Ulster in northernmost Ireland. And before our Rankin ancestors migrated to Ulster, they lived in Scotland.

But where in Scotland? I’ve done no research there because I hadn’t a clue where to start. Many Rankin researchers claim the highlands of northwest Scotland, reciting a frequently reported connection between the Rankins and the Maclean Clan of Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull. It is a popular story, although I’ve never seen a reference to evidence in any records. However, I never found a credible alternative opinion on the issue.

Until this week. There is a book at Clayton Genealogical Library that is new to me: The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, published by the Oxford University Press.[4] If you have Anglo ancestors, you might want to check this source, because it has some interesting information. Also, Oxford University has a certain aura of credibility.

This is what the Dictionary says about Rankin, in part (emphasis added):

“Rankin. Variants: Rankine, Ranken, Ranking

Current frequencies: GB 6341, Ireland 1281. GB frequency 1881: 4297

Main GB location 1881: widespread in Scotland and England, chiefly SW Scotland; Lancs; Northumb

Main Irish location 1847-64: Ulster: esp.Derry, Donegal, and Antrim    

Scottish, English: relationship name from Middle English Ran(d)kin, a diminutive of Ran(d), a pet form of the personal name Ran(d)ulf. See Rand, Randolph, Randall.

Further information: this name was brought to Northern Ireland (Derry) from Scotland in the 17thcentury.

Early bearers: given names: Rankin de Fowlartoun, 1429 in Ayr Charters (Ayr, Ayrs).”

I’m a bit foggy about what “Ayr Charters” are, although this article is helpful.  But I am quite clear about the counties Derry, Donegal and Antrim in the province of Ulster, Ireland, to which many Scots migrated during the 1610-1690 period. (See a map of Irish provinces and counties comprising them  here). Google Maps is also unambiguous about Ayr, a city on the Firth of Clyde in the province of Ayrshire in southwest Scotland. As the crow flies, Ayr to Londonderry (or Derry, depending on your politics)  in Northern Ireland is about 120 miles. Just for fun, there is a Rankintown about 12 miles southeast of Ayr.

Based on just the numbers, there is a decent chance that your Scots-Irish Rankin ancestor lived in Ayrshire, Scotland before migrating to Derry, Donegal or Antrim county in the province of Ulster  – and then arriving in the Colonies during the “Great Migration” of the 18th century. I like the odds.

To check the Dictionary’s source for identifying “Rankin de Fowlartoun” as a resident of Ayr in 1429, just Google “Ayr Charters.” You will find a mind-boggling text in both Latin and English. The document says it is the full text of “Charters of the royal burgh of Ayr.”

The relevant text in Latin is described in the heading as a “Notarial Instrument concerning the Rendering of Accounts by the Bailies of Ayr,” dated 17 November 1429. It’s been more than half a century since I wrestled with Virgil’s Aeneid, so the only things I recognize are dates and names. The latter includes “Johannes de Bathcate” and “Thomas de Carrie,” who were the “bailies” (Bailiffs? Sheriffs? Tax collectors?) of the Burgh of Ayr.

The other Latinized names in the text include Henrico Forrestar (Henry Forrest or Forrester, the Chamberlain’s deputy), Rankino de Fowlartoun, Alexandro de Cragy, Thoma[s] Crotteche, David Glassynwricht, Macolmo de Qulchone, Johanne Litster, Johanne Gray, Johanne Bannezour, Gilberto Askirk, and Thomas Hakete, the notary.

Fortunately, there is an abstract of the Latin text at the same link, although it omits all names except for the two bailies and the Chamberlain’s deputy. Here is what it says, in part:[5]

“Notarial Instrument narrating that John of Bathgate and Thomas of Carrick, bailies of Ayr, being charged to render their account for the past year by Henry Forestar, depute of the chamberlain, in the manner and form contained in a certain instrument accepted by the said depute;

They having advised with the best men of the burgh of Ayr declared that they were never before the past year charged or required to make such account … Done in the Tolbooth of Ayr, about eleven o’clock on 17th November 1429.”

Taking into account both the Latin text and the abstract, it appears that “Rankine of Fowlartoun” was among the “best men of the Burgh of Ayr” with whom the bailies consulted about how and when to render accounts in 1429. Nice – perhaps an offsetting balance to my Rankin ancestor who was a Civil War deserter.

Now I will run, because I must call Butch and tell him that our Rankins most likely came originally from Ayrshire Province in Southwest Scotland before they wound up in Ulster. Then I will head back to the library to look up Brodnax, Lindsey, Winn, Estes, Bacon, Lyddal, Harkins, Hubbard, Stubbs, Odom, Rivers, Whittaker, et. al.…

Hope you also find interesting information in the Dictionary.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] “Butch” is not his actual given name, of course – it was his nickname as a kid. Now he is stuck with it, so far as the Rankin cousins are concerned. I still wonder briefly who the hell his wife is talking about when I hear her call him by his “real” name. I am quite fond of Butch, with whom I talk on the phone often.

[2] Franklin Ellis and Samuel Evans, History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Evets & Peck, 1883), 752-53: “Rankin’s Ferry was established a few years prior to the Revolution by James Rankin, who resided in York County. The Rankins were Tories. James Rankin was a Quaker, and was appointed a justice of the peace for York County prior to the Revolution. He was one of the most prominent men in the country.  … Being suspected of secret machinations against the patriots he suddenly went over to the British when Howe had possession of Philadelphia, and thence to England … several farms were confiscated … in 1790, James Rankin and Dr. Robert Harris owned the ferry and the land at the eastern end. It became the subject of litigation, which very likely grew out of the confiscation of Rankin’s estate.”

[3] Family History Library Film # 0,882,938, item 2, “Pre-1914 Cemetery Inscription Survey, Gaston Co., prepared by the Historical Records Survey Service Division, Works Progress Administration.”

[4] Patrick Hanks, Richard Coates, and Peter McClure, The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017), 2214.

[5] For the record, the bailies were arguing about the form of and timing to submit the accounts, and not the need to render them.

Foster Willis, Maryland to Missouri, 1804-1850

One rewarding aspect of genealogy is meeting wonderful people while digging up those pesky dead relatives. I had that privilege several months ago when the Reverend Charles Covington introduced himself via the Internet. The Rev (as he asked to be called) and I are related by marriage. One of his Covington ancestors married a descendant of my ancestor John Willis of Dorchester County (d. 1712). The Rev previously documented the descendants of his earliest known Covington ancestor down to the present and gifted the finished product to his children. He proposed that we do the same thing, generation by generation, with the descendants of John Willis. This joint project has led to many discoveries I would not have found on my own.

Case in point is the subject of today’s article. Foster Willis has always been of interest because he is the twin of my great-great-grandfather Zachariah Willis. This project forced me to focus on Foster for the first time. Deed, probate, and census records tell most of Foster’s story. The tale is typical of an early nineteenth century farmer/craftsman who achieves some success, raises a large family, and moves west seeking other opportunities. However, like most stories constructed after the fact, there are gaps and mysteries.

Born into a Farming Family

Two days after Christmas in 1804, Foster and Zachariah were born in Caroline County, Maryland, to Richard (1759-1823) and Britannia Willis, née Goutee (1765-1826). Richard was a successful farmer who amassed several hundred acres of land on the upper reaches of Hunting Creek northeast of the present town of Preston. He willed adjacent parcels of land to his four surviving sons Senah, Foster, Zachariah, and Peter. Foster’s share of the land was about 75 acres, part of a tract called Battle Hill.[1]

On 23 Mar 1826, Foster married Sarah Emerson. They had one child, Thomas Foster Willis born 16 Nov 1827. Tragically, Sarah died 15 Dec 1827, most likely from complications of that birth. Foster remarried 12 Jul 1828 to Anna Andrews who lived on adjoining land. Over a period of twenty years, they would have ten children, six of whom reached maturity.

Move to Town

Foster grew to some prominence in the county, but not as a farmer. The 1830 and 1840 censuses list his occupation as “manufacturing & trades” indicating he was a craftsman, although the exact trade is not specified.[2]His craft probably dictated his move from the countryside into a population center providing more access to customers for his services. Foster and Anna sold small pieces of Battle Hill in 1831 and 1832, including one-half acre as the site for the Friendship Methodist Church and a schoolhouse.[3]In 1834, they sold the remaining seventy acres to their neighbor Caleb Bowdle for $250 and bought a house in the town of Federalsburg where five of their children would be born.[4]

In Oct 1829, his elder brother Senah declared insolvency, and under a Deed of Trust Foster took control of all Senah’s assets except his wearing apparel. This was an unusual development, especially since Senah had only four months earlier sold his inherited land for $300 to Caleb Bowdle.[5]We do not know where Senah’s money went.

Foster was appointed Justice of the Peace for Caroline County, serving two terms in 1835 and 1836. However, the next year, he and Anna sold their house and lot in Federalsburg to Steven Andrews, presumably a relative of Anna, and moved to Cambridge in Dorchester County.[6]Deed records do not indicate Foster and Anna purchased property in Cambridge, so they must have rented a home.

Foster last appeared in Maryland records in the 1840 census for Dorchester. That census shows Foster as head of household with his wife and six children.[7]The household also includes a young couple, possibly Foster’s younger brother Peter W. Willis and his wife Susan.  A William P. Flint and his wife Sarah were neighbors of Foster and Anna Willis in the Dorchester 1840 census. Flint owned several lots and houses in Cambridge and in Church Creek. Flint was a likely doctor and quite possibly Foster’s landlord.[8]

Move to Missouri

In 1843, Flint and his wife sold their Cambridge properties. In 1845, they were noted as being “of Buchanan County, Missouri” when they sold the Church Creek land and houses. It is possible that Dr. Flint attended the Willis family and was there at the birth and the death of two Willis children born in 1842 and 1843 in Cambridge. It is further likely that the families migrated together to Missouri in the 1843-1845 timeframe.

In Missouri, Foster Willis applied for and was granted a quarter section of land located a few miles southeast of St. Joseph, Missouri.[9]Not coincidentally, William P. Flint and his wife Sarah owned adjoining land. In 1849, the Willises had their last child, a daughter Sarah E. A. Willis, probably named in part for their friend Sarah Flint. However, tragedy befell the Willis family during this period. Eldest son Thomas Foster Willis died in November 1849, and Foster died in April 1850 without leaving a will.[10]

The widow Anna Willis probably did not outlive her husband by more than a year or two. She appears as head of household in the 1850 census in Buchanan County with real estate valued at $3,000 and personal property of $1,000.[11]However, Anna never appeared in the probate records. She never received any moneys from the estate, leading to the conclusion she passed away during the probate period.

Probate of Foster’s Personal Estate

After Foster died intestate, the court appointed Erasmus F. Dixon administrator of the estate on 3 June 1850. The probate records are extensive, but in many ways unrevealing. The records do not include an inventory of Foster’s personal property. A list of his tools might have defined Foster’s tradecraft. A list of crops in the field, livestock, or farm implements would provide an understanding of his life on the land. Without this detail, we are left to wonder if he maintained his tradecraft. In fact, one wonders if even his tradecraft in Maryland were successful. If it were, why would he move to Missouri and acquire farmland? Did he plan to entirely depend on farming, at which he previously had not shown success? A clue to the answer may be that the 1850 census lists his widow Anna as a farmer, and the 1860 census lists each of his sons as farmers. Whatever Foster’s craft, he did not hand it down to his sons.

Furthermore, the probate record lists about 50 claims against the estate, many of them filings by claimants directly in the county court.[12]However, few claims indicate the basis, such as a note, an account at a store, or a time purchase of equipment or inventory. The few details that are available paint a picture that is fuzzy around the edges.

Take for example the following three items. First, one asset of the estate in 1851 was an “Amount against William P. Flint … $116.34.” Second, Flint filed a demand against the estate in 1853 for $136.00, which the court allowed to offset the estate’s claim. Third, Buchanan County in 1852 had entered its claim against the estate for $138.63 for the unpaid balance of Foster’s quarter section of land. We can conclude from these items that Foster and Flint each signed a bond ensuring payment for the other’s land purchase, and that those two obligations offset in probate. The record also shows Foster still owed money for his land. This makes sense because the sale did not become final until 25 Dec 1850, eight months after Foster had died. The balance due became an obligation of the estate.

The record also shows claims of $120.60 against the estate by a firm named “Donnell, Saxton, and Duvall,” a retail mercantile enterprise. Another firm, “[illegible]tor & Riley,” claimed $137.69. To have $160 debts outstanding to a couple of stores seems excessive. However, Foster died in the Spring. These debts may have been related to farming during the upcoming season, such as the purchase on credit of seed and equipment. Additionally, Foster owed money to numerous individuals. Several individuals claimed amounts ranging from $25 to $80, which may have been personal loans.

In the final analysis, Foster owed a lot of money to a lot of people. His personal property was valued at $991.52 in October 1851 but proved insufficient to satisfy the estate’s debts, resulting in the need to sell some of the estate’s land. In 1854 and 1855, the administrator sold with the court’s permission a total of about 40 acres of land, netting an additional $880 to the estate. Despite that, the final personal estate settlement in April 1855 does not show any residual amount paid to the heirs, nor does it even list the heirs.

In fact, Foster’s widow Anna does not appear in the probate record. Instead, the couple’s eldest surviving son, James R. Willis, filed a $195.00 claim against the estate. We can conclude that Anna died shortly after her husband and that James became head of household at age 20 or 21. Logically, he received money from the estate to support his younger siblings.

Disposition of the Land

By 1860, all the heirs resided outside Buchanan County. Each apparently still owned a share of the remaining family homestead of 118 acres. Even eleven year-old Sarah is listed in the census as owning $900.00 worth of real estate. Five heirs were in three households in Doniphan County, Kansas Territory, just across the river from Buchanan County[13]One heir, Harriett, was with her husband in Andrew County, Missouri, just north of Buchanan.[14]

Sarah Willis’s $900 interest in the land represented one-sixth of its total value in 1860. Therefore, the whole parcel was worth $5,400. Regardless of Foster’s success or failure as a craftsman or farmer, his and Anna’s investment in the land proved a good legacy for their children.[15]

I have not yet located the final sale of the land by the heirs of Foster Willis. However, they likely sold it to a Mr. A. M. Saxton.  An 1877 atlas of Buchanan County shows him as owner of the former Willis land and the quarter section north of it. The atlas states Albe M. Saxton operated a mercantile partnership in St. Joseph with Robert W. Donnell.[16]Foster’s estate owed their firm $130.60 back in 1850. Saxton became extremely wealthy from the store and other ventures, including banking, steamship building, and land holdings of more than 1,000 acres. Saxton not only owned the Willis property but also the Flint lands, since the atlas states he married in 1856 “Mrs. Sarah Emeline Flint originally of Dorchester County, Maryland.”[17]

As the story circles back to a connection with Maryland, it seems like a good place to end this discussion of my great-great-great-uncle Foster Willis.

[1]Caroline County Will Book,Liber JR-C, Folio 465 and subsequent Deeds

[2]Manufacturing and Trades would include cobblers, blacksmiths, silversmiths, wheelwrights, wood carvers, carpenters, cabinetmakers, etc. Other occupation categories in the 1840 census were Mining; Agriculture; Ocean Navigation; Canal, Lake, River Navigation; and Learned Professions & Engineers.

[3]Caroline County Deed Books, Liber Jr-R, Folios 115 and 130.

[4]Caroline County Deed Book Liber JR-S, Folios 340 and 402

[5]Caroline County Deed Book Q: 259.

[6]Caroline County Deed Book T: 524.

[7]The age ranges in the census indicate the children are Thomas F. Willis from Foster’s first marriage, and James R. born 1830, Harriett A. born 1832, Peter M. born 1835, John F. born 1837, and William H. H. born 1840, from the second. Deceased are Foster and Anna’s eldest son John W. born in 1829 and their daughter Louisa born in 1833. The couple had two more sons who died as infants: Charles E. born 1842 and Samuel A. A. born 1843.

[8]Flint’s occupation in the 1840 census for Dorchester County, MD, was “Learned Professions and Engineers.”

[9]The southwest quarter of Section 19, Township 57, Range 34, surveyed at 158 acres priced at $1.25 per acre for a total cost of $198.00. The land transaction completed on 25 Dec 1850.

[10]Thomas F. Willis may have been married. There is no marriage record and no probate record, which argues against there being any heirs at law. However, a Rebecca J. Willis, age 26, appears in the 1860 census in brother James Willis’s household. She is possibly the widow of Thomas, although she would have been age 15 at the time of his death.

[11]Living with Anna, age 44, are James, age 20; Harriett, age 18; Peter, age 15; John, age 13; William, age 11; and Sarah age 1. Sarah, by the way, is listed as Sarah E. H. (sic} A. Willis in a later census. I originally thought she was the daughter of Foster’s deceased son Thomas Foster Willis, who named the child after his mother Sarah Emerson Willis. However, the 1880 Cole County, MO, census of her brother James R. Willis’s household lists her as “Lizie A. Willis, age 31, sister.” She is clearly the child of Foster and Anna, and her full name is likely Sarah Elizabeth Anna Willis.

[12]Volumes A and B, Buchanan County, MO, Probate Records

[13]The Doniphan County, Kansas census shows the following, including the value of their real estate: James R Willis, age 30, $3,000, Married with four children; Peter M. Willis, age 25, $2,500, Single; John F. Willis, age 23, $1,000, Single, residing with the following two: Wm H. H. Willis, age 20, $1,000, Single, and Sarah E. Willis, age 11, $900, Single. Curiously, Peter and Sarah are listed a second time in James’s household.

[14]The Andrew County, Missouri census lists John Speed S. Wilson, age 36, $3,200, and Harriett A. Wilson, age 28, Married with four children.

[15]As a final comment regarding the estate administrator, there is no apparent familial relationship between Erasmus F. Dixon and the Willises. He served as a court appointed administrator for the estates of several unrelated parties. In any event, James R. Willis clearly held him in high regard for his handling of the estate and support of the family. James named his first son Erasmus D. Willis, obviously honoring Mr. Dixon.

[16]Published online by The State Historical Society of Missouri, “An Illustrated Historical Atlas Map of Buchanan County, MO, 1877,” p. 31

[17]The atlas does not state that Mrs. Flint was a widow, but we can presume that to be the case.

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