Reorganizing family history research files sometimes produces a surprise. My ongoing coronavirus cleaning orgy turned up a tombstone photograph we took at the Goshen Cemetery during a trip to North Carolina in 2008.
Samuel Rankin, his wife Eleanor “Ellen” Alexander Rankin, and a host of their relatives are buried there. A book published a number of years ago about North Carolina Rankins asserted that Sam and Eleanor’s tombstones had vanished. We couldn’t find Sam’s, but Eleanor’s is there, big as Dallas. It may be a replacement tombstone, considering its condition compared to adjacent stones. Interestingly, the Find-a-Grave website in the Goshen cemetery has no listing for either Eleanor/Ellen or Sam.
This photograph is the best image Gary could produce after improving the contrast … really a disappointment, but here ’tis.
About the only thing you can clearly read from the image reproduced here is her name: Ellen Rankin. From my paper print of the enhanced photo, however, one can clearly discern the following …
“In Memory of ELLEN RANKIN who died Nov. 26th 1805 Aged 62 Years 7 Months and 10 days.”
The rest of the inscription from my original notes is, “No ill repine at death no more But with a cheerful gasp resign To the cold dungeoen of the grave These dying withering limbs of mine.”
Assuming the dates are correct — children don’t always know the actual age of a parent, and a replacement stone introduces another possibility for errors — Ellen was born April 16, 1743. My current reading of the photograph is the same as I wrote in my contemporaneous notes in 2008.
The only other evidence I have found about Eleanor/Ellen’s birthdate:
- LDS Film #882,938, item 2, “Pre-1914 Cemetery Inscription Survey, Gaston Co., prepared by the Historical Records Survey Service Division, Works Progress Administration.” That survey recorded the inscription as “Ellen Rankin b. 6 Apr 1740 d. 26 Jan 1802.”
- The Rowan County court (Order Book 2, page 90) allowed “Elinor” Alexander to choose her mother Ann as her guardian on October 22, 1755 after the death of her father James Alexander. That would mean Eleanor/Ellen was born by 1741, because a child had to be at least 14 to choose her own guardian. The only way the court would know “Elinor’s” age for certain would have been a statement by her mother.
I’m sharing this because a photograph is always fun and Find-a-Grave doesn’t have it. Also, both Eleanor’s correct name and age are a source of controversy among Rankin researchers, as I discussed in a previous article.
Among the available evidentiary sources about her age — (1) the tombstone as of 2008, (2) the WPA survey of pre-1914 tombstones, and (3) Ann Alexander’s statement of her daughter “Elinor’s” age to a court in 1755 — the third seems to me the most credible. If anyone on earth (!) knows your birthday, it’s your mom. Thus, I continue to give Eleanor’s birth year as 1740-41.
Wish the photograph had turned out better. See you on down the road.