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

Reprise: what is “proof” of family history?

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

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you see the phrase “conclusively proved,” it means there is really no reasonable argument to the contrary. That is how I use the phrase on this blog. There is no reasonable argument that anyone other than Emma Brodnax Rankin was my paternal grandmother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on down the road.

Robin

 

Heads up: a genealogy scam

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NONETHELESS: I promptly fired off a cranky message to one of the portrait/wrong name posters (who also had the error about an ancestors’ parents, a meaningful one), implying that she was giving serious genealogists a bad name by copying other peoples’ info without verifying it. Upon further examination of the tree, I figured out the identity of the tree owner and her relationship to me. Unfortunately, it’s a close kinship, despite the fact that I didn’t recognize her married name.

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

Takeaways from that experience …

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

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

See you on down the road.

Robin

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

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

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

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

Hope this gets some results! Thanks in advance …

Robin

Rankin, Upton County, TX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on down the road.

Robin


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

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

[3]See Note 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Line of Adam Rankin d. 1747, Lancaster, PA: Serendipity + Civil War History + Baseball

Many of us have ancestors who served in the Civil War and may have some interest in its history. Likewise, many of us have experienced serendipity while doing family history research – namely, finding something good even though you weren’t looking for it. Having a little major league baseball thrown in with research serendipity and Civil War history is a new one for me, but this article has them all. What next? Hot dogs? Apple pie?

Here is the background

The family in this article belongs to the line of Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and his wife Mary Steele Alexander. An earlier article  about the same line dealt with the family of William Rankin, one of Adam and Mary’s three sons. William and his wife Mary Huston Rankin (daughter of Archibald and Agnes Huston) had eight children, all named in William’s 1792 will:[1]

  1. Dr. Adam Rankin, b. early 1760s – d. ?
  2. Archibald Rankin, b. 10 Apr 1768, d. 24 Jun 1849, Mercersburg, Franklin Co., PA
  3. James Rankin, b. ca. 1770, probably d. 1820-1830, Centre Co., PA
  4. William Rankin (Jr.), b. 5 Nov 1770, d. 29 Nov 1847, Centre Co., PA
  5. Betsy Rankin (dang, I wish it were easier to follow women!)
  6. David Rankin (still haven’t gotten around to researching David)
  7. John Rankin, b. 8 May 1778 or 1779, d. 22 Apr 1848, Centre Co., PA
  8. Jeremiah Rankin, b. 26 Nov 1783, d. 18 Feb 1874, Centre Co., PA

The earlier article on William and Mary’s family gave short shrift to their eldest son, Dr. Adam Rankin, because I had not been able to track him after 1798. Here is what that article originally said about Dr. Adam (I have now updated it to include more current research):

Adam Rankin (b. ca 1760 – ?) was a doctor, probably born in the early 1760s. In 1792, he granted his brother Archibald a power of attorney for “as long as I am absent” to “transact all my business.”I don’t know where Dr. Adam went when he was “absent.” In 1796, Archibald sold on Dr. Adam’s behalf the land his brother had inherited from their father.[2]… in 1798, Dr. Adam Rankin was listed on a Franklin County tax list … I can find no record for him after that.”

Truth in lending compels me to admit that I didn’t look very hard for Dr. Adam, because at that time I was hot on the heels of four of his brothers in Centre County. Spoiler alert: Dr. Adam is (hang in there) a part of this narrative.

Here are the Civil War and baseball parts

Not long after publishing that article, I was exchanging emails with a Rankin family history researcher and distant Rankin cousin. He is a Civil War history expert, having taught several short college courses on the subject. We were talking about “historical” Rankins. He mentioned a Confederate Brigadier General named Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson and enclosed an article about him.

Here is Stovepipe’s photograph.

Stovepipe acquired his nickname in July of (probably) 1862, like so …

“With a mere thirty-five men at his command, he crossed the Ohio [River] – he believed it to be the first Rebel “invasion” of the North – and attacked the town of Newburgh, Indiana, on July 18. There were two hundred or more Federals in the town, though mostly convalescent soldiers in hospitals. To bluff them into surrendering, Johnson mounted two stovepipes on an old wagon and paraded it around to look like artillery. The ruse worked, the town gave up, and he became ever after Stovepipe Johnson.”

Stovepipe was born in Henderson, KY in 1834, but moved to Burnet, Texas when he was twenty. (That’s pronounced BURN’-it, with emphasis on the first syllable, for you non-Texans). He went back to Kentucky when the war broke out, made a name for himself as a scout for Nathan Bedford Forrest and as a recruiter, and evenually organized and equipped the 10th Kentucky Calvary. He was accidentally shot in the face by one of his own men in August 1864, lost his eyesight, and was captured and imprisoned at Fort Warren until the end of the war. He returned to Texas, where he founded the town of Marble Falls (nicknamed “the blind man’s town”), worked to harness the water power of the Colorado River, served as a contractor for the Overland Mail, and founded the Texas Mining Improvement Company. Oh, yeah, he also wrote an autobiography that is considered a “must read” regarding certain aspects of the Civil War. Whew!

He died in Burnet  in 1922, and was reportedly a happy, cheerful man, blind or not. It sure didn’t slow him down much, did it? I’m just sorry he wasn’t fighting against slavery. He is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. There is a ton of information about him on the internet – Googling “Adam Rankin Stovepipe Johnson” will produce a wealth of hits for you. Here is a  short article posted by the Texas State Historical Association, so it has some credibility (and has a citation to Stovepipe’s autobiography).

Among other things, the TSHA article tells you that Stovepipe had six children. Keep Googling, and you will find that one of them was named Adam Rankin “Tex” Johnson (1888 – 1972). He was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals during 1914-1918. His ERA in the majors was a very respectable 2.96. Dallas Keuchal should have done as well for the Astros today (August 18, 2018). Here is a picture of Tex:

AND Tex had a son, Rankin Johnson Jr., who was also a major league pitcher — for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1941. He’s a nice-looking man, and his tombstone is inscribed “TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME,” so you’ve got to love him! Here’s his picture:

… the next time the announcers for the Houston Astros have a trivia question about father-son major league players, I’ll be ready with “Tex” Johnson and Rankin Johnson. I imagine they will be stumped.

The serendipity part

What, you may well be asking, do Brigadier General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson, “Tex” Johnson, and Rankin Johnson have to do with the family of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin of Lancaster Co., PA? Or their grandson Dr. Adam Rankin?

The serendipity was having my Rankin cousin and friend just drop Gen. Adam Rankin Johnson in my lap. From there, it doesn’t take too much imagination to deduce that Stovepipe Johnson’s mother was née Rankin. Yes, indeed, says the Texas State Historical Association summary about Stovepipe. Her name was Julia Rankin, and she was the daughter of … Doctor Adam Rankin of Henderson Co., KY, who was originally from Pennsylvania.

Apparently, Dr. Adam Rankin (son of William and Mary Huston Rankin and brother of Archibald) was “absent” from Pennsylvania in 1792 because he was busy marrying Elizabeth Speed of Danville, KY that year. She was the first of his three wives, by whom Dr. Adam fathered thirteen children — including a daughter Mary Huston Rankin (his eldest child) and a son Archibald Rankin.

Here is a link to a biographical article about Dr. Adam’s family in an 1887 history of Henderson County, KY.

I haven’t been into the deed and probate records of Henderson Co., KY, yet. With any kind of luck, they will provide evidence tying Dr. Adam Rankin, grandfather of Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson, back to Franklin Co., PA. As for me, I consider the names of those two children to be  extremely persuasive circumstantial evidence.

See you on down the road. There are more Pennsylvania Rankins on the horizon.

Robin

[1] Will of William Rankin of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., PA dated 20 Oct 1792 proved 28 Nov 1792. “Advanced in age.” Franklin Co., PA Will book B A-B: 256.

[2] Westmoreland Deed Book 7: 392. The deed recites that Archibald Rankin was of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., that the 274-acre tract in Westmoreland was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim on 27 July 1773 and William devised it to his son Dr. Adam Rankin by will dated 20 October 1792. The deed also recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald Rankin power of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at DB 7: 392.

PA/TN Rankins: correction & additions, 1749 will of John Rankin

My most recent post (yesterday, July 18, 2018) contained a one-sentence summary of the 1749 will of John Rankin of Lancaster Co., PA. The original post had an error about the will, so I feel compelled to correct it … and add a bit to it. This post will contain images of John’s original will, an abstract, and a start of a chart for his family. As always, the facts are accompanied by opinion and commentary (or, as one relative described it, highly opinionated commentary).

Given that my reference to John Rankin’s will arose in the context of a post of the Mt. Horeb tablet in Jefferson Co, TN, we will focus on what we know about John’s son Thomas, rather than Thomas’s brother Richard or any of his eight sisters. Thomas was the patriarch of the Mt. Horeb/Jefferson Co., TN Rankins. A disclaimer: all of this is conventional wisdom, so this post doesn’t add one iota to the accumulated knowledge of this Rankin family. All it does is add a tiny bit of evidence here and there for those who like that kind of foolishness.

Here are images of John Rankin’s original will — in case you really love these old documents. These are screenshots from an online image of the original. That image is available at FamilySearch.org. at this link. You may need an account at the Family History Library to view it, but accounts are free and very worthwhile. The original will, dated 1 Jan 1749 and proved 25 Feb 1749/50, is recorded in Lancaster Co, PA Will Book J at page 211. It is the absolute dickens to find online, since the people who photographed these documents apparently didn’t give a whit about making sure page numbers were clearly photographed.

Here is image #1 of 3:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images #2 and #3 …

Here are the genealogically important parts of John Rankin’s will:

  • John named his wife Margaret. Conventional Rankin wisdom identifies John’s wife as Jane McElwee. I don’t know how the conventional wisdom reconciles the name Jane with the will. Some people claim her name was Margaret Jane McElwee, although that runs counter to the fact that virtually no one of that era had a middle name. That approach seems a real cop-out. I would call her Margaret, period. Anyone have any record evidence of her maiden name, I hope? They were reportedly married in Ireland, where I have done no research.
  • John named his two sons Richard and Thomas. Richard inherited his father’s clothes. Thomas inherited half of the plantation immediately and the other half at his mother’s death. Reading between the lines, Margaret was Thomas’s mother.
  • John identified six of his daughters as Elizabeth, Ann, Margaret, Catrin, Rebecca and Agness. He also named two sons-in-law — William White and John Waugh, although he didn’t mention the given names of their wives. Interestingly, one of John’s grandsons — John, a son of John and Margaret’s son Thomas Rankin — married a Waugh in Pennsylvania. Perhaps she was his cousin? More on him in another post.
  • Son Richard and wife Margaret were executors. Witnesses were James Crokett (sic, Crockett), Richard Rankin, and Jane Steel. First time I’ve ever seen a beneficiary witness a will. These days, and most days, that is/was a no-no.

I haven’t tracked any of John and Margaret’s daughters, although that’s on my Rankin to-do list. As for the sons, Richard (says the Mt. Horeb tablet, reproduced in yesterday’s post), went to Augusta Co., VA. So, apparently, did Thomas, at least for a time.

Here is some of the evidence concerning Thomas (other than the information contained in oral family history traditions) …

First, there is a deed dated 20 Nov 1779 (Cumberland Co., PA Deed Book E-1: 511), from Thomas and Isabel Rankin of Cumberland Co., PA to John Rankin of same … 100 acres in Fermanagh Township on the north side of the Juanita River. The deed is signed by Thomas Rankin and Isabel (her mark) Rankin. In light of multiple family oral history traditions that Thomas (son of John Rankin d. 1749) married Isabel Clendennon/Clendenin — plus recurring names in the line — there is little doubt that this was Thomas, son of John. Also, the grantee John Rankin was probably the John Rankin who remained in PA at least long enough to marry either Martha or Jane Waugh and have a couple of sons before moving to TN.

Thomas and Isabel moved to Augusta County, VA, where his brother Richard lived. I haven’t found them in the records in Augusta (have only looked in Chalkey’s), although their presence there is proved by the Revolutionary War pension application of Thomas and Isabel’s son William. It is an extraordinary application because it proves so much. Here is Virgil White’s pension application abstract:

William Rankin, wife Sarah, PA and VA line. Born 27 Jan 1759 “some 5 miles below Carlisle in Cumberland Co., PA” and he lived at Juniata in that county at enlistment. In Jun 1780 he moved with his father to Augusta County, VA and also enlisted there. Soldier married Sarah Moore 29 Aug 1787 in Greene Co., TN and she was b. Jul 1763. Soldier d. 13 Dec 1833, widow applied 25 Mar 1844 in Green Co., TN. Children were (1) Thomas b. 13 Jul 1788, (2) Peggy b. 1 Jan 1790, (3) John Moore Rankin b. 10 Apr 1792, (4) Anthony b. 23 Aug 1794 (see Greene Co. TN records for Anthony) (5), Isabel Clindinon Rankin b. 30 Aug 1796, (6) William b. 23 Mar 1799, (7) Ginny b. 17 Nov 1801 and (8) David b. 10 Feb 1804.

Note that the Mt. Horeb tablet identifies Thomas and Isabel Clendennon Rankin’s son William as having married Sarah Moore. So … the pension application gives us a nice link between the Rankins of Cumberland and the Rankins of Greene/Jefferson.

OK, so let’s stop right here and draw a conventional chart containing what is supported by the evidence:

1  John Rankin b. unknown, d. 1749, Lancaster Co., PA. Wife Margaret.

2 Eight daughters. I apologize for giving them short shrift here.

2 Richard Rankin, to Augusta Co., VA.

2 Thomas Rankin, m. Isabel or Isabella Clendennon/Clendinnin, Cumberland Co, PA to Augusta Co., VA to East TN (Greene/Jefferson counties).

3 William Rankin, b. 27 Jan 1759, Carlisle, Cumberland Co., PA, to Augusta Co., VA in 1780, then to Greene Co, TN by 1787. Wife Sarah Moore.

This extraordinary family has a history that is, for the most part, very easy to trace. Some of it is inspiring, some heartbreaking, such as the descendant of John and Margaret Rankin whose family perished (or at least half of then did) in the 1918 flu epidemic.

Stay tuned. If you don’t wind up loving this East Tennessee family, I will not have done my job. And I’m not even descended from them (although we clearly share YDNA).

 

 

 

 

Poking a Snake With a Stick

OK, I’m a city girl … if you count Shreveport, LA, located in northwest Louisiana (aka East Texas) as “city.” I learned some good rural stuff, though, at Camp Fern, Marshall, Harrison Co., TX. I was a camper or a counselor there for a decade.

FYI, Harrison County, Texas is home to all four poisonous snakes resident to the US of A: water moccasins, rattlesnakes, copperheads, and coral snakes.

In my ten summers at Camp Fern, I saw them all. Nobody was ever bitten in all that time. I came to accept snakes as fellow occupants of God’s good green earth. Sometime in the late 1950s, a copperhead was hanging around on a rock near my cabin. I reported it to my counsellor. “Honey,” she said, “it won’t hurt you if you just don’t poke it with a stick.”

Live and let live: a good piece of advice.

But a snake is still a snake.

I actually remembered my counsellor’s advice with respect to the administrators of a certain FTDNA family DNA project. I failed to follow my gut hunch. Instead, I poked the snake, and wound up being defamed in an email (sent to gosh knows how many people), and two good friends of mine were tossed out of that DNA project for totally meretricious reasons. My friends are understandably upset.

That is a sad story that is probably about power and control. The project administrators in this case are (in my personal opinion) snakes, and they are out of control. That’s a damn shame.

THE PURPOSE OF THIS POST: if you are a member of a family DNA project, make sure that your administrators remain kosher. There are a zillion DNA projects, and FTDNA cannot possibly monitor everything the administrators do (although I think FTDNA does its best). The administrators are all volunteers, and most (in my experience) are committed to furthering family research in their particular family line. Most don’t punish people they don’t like by making up phony reasons to kick them out of a project. However, it is primarily up to us, as project members, to make sure that administrators do their jobs. There is no excuse for administrators to violate FTDNA ethical standards and/or to abuse their power over their members. So please keep an eye on ’em. Poke the snake, if need be. Report them to FTDNA.

Kudos to FTDNA!

No, I don’t work for FTDNA, or get free stuff from the company, or have any stake in its success. My only connection is that I did my own autosomal (“Family Finder”) test with FTDNA, and convinced two of my male first cousins to Y-DNA test with the company. I have also encouraged other people to do the same.

I just want to say “good for you, FTDNA” about their ethical/privacy standards on a couple of issues. If you read this blog, you know I had a run-in with a family surname project administrator not long ago. I wrote about my experience on this blog and gave some advice about maintaining control of your FTDNA account. Several friends (project administrators) and I discussed the privacy/ethics issues involved, but we didn’t have hard and fast answers.

So I emailed the FTDNA help desk. I asked two questions:

(1) Is it ethical for a family surname project administrator to upgrade a participant’s test kit without first getting prior express written permission from the participant who tested?

(2) Is it ethical for a family surname project administrator to revise a test participant’s family tree without getting prior express written permission?

FTDNA’s prompt reply was “NO” and “NO.”  Here is FTDNA’s reply verbatim:

“1) Before ordering testing on any account, you must have express written permission from the test taker where they agree to further testing.

2) You are not allowed to make changes to a members tree without their express written permission.”

There is nothing equivocal about that. No exceptions, no caveats. FTDNA did not say “except it is OK to change a member’s tree if you have the account password.” Ditto on ordering further testing — unequivocally verboten, even if you have the account password.

So thanks, FTDNA. I’m glad to hear it.

Surname DNA Projects: Protecting Your Tree From a Meddling Administrator

The names in this post have been changed to protect the innocent.

Here’s what happened to me as a member of a family surname DNA project. I have taken the “Family Finder” (autosomal) DNA test with FTDNA, and have joined several surname DNA projects.

  • On January 9, I received an email from FTDNA telling me that I had been added to the family tree of (let’s call him) John Doe. I was already aware that John Doe and I are an autosomal match. The co-administrator of the Doe Surname DNA project had pointed the match out to me in recent email correspondence about other issues.
  • I checked out John Doe’s tree that he has posted at FTDNA. I can do that from my FTDNA account by going to my Family Finder matches, locating John Doe in the list, and clicking on the chart icon to the right of his name. Lo and behold, there I was on John Doe’s tree — a living person, not supposed to be shown to the public on MY tree. My Doe line was also on John Doe’s tree.
  • I emailed the man who manages John Doe’s account — let’s call him Younger Doe — and asked him to please remove my name from John Doe’s tree since I am, last time I checked, alive. I didn’t ask him to remove my entire Doe line. I did point out one misspelled name in the line.
  • He replied, saying, in essence, “huh?” He hadn’t checked John Doe’s account lately. He had NOT added my Doe line to John Doe’s tree.
  • I emailed the co-administrator of the project. I told her Younger Doe and I hadn’t a clue what was going on, and could she please fill us in as to how my Doe line might have found its way into John Doe’s family tree at FTDNA?
  • She (in my opinion) ducked and ran for cover. She said perhaps the Doe project administrator might have added my line to John Doe’s tree. She copied the administrator on her email to me and Younger Doe.

I replied and said I was outraged that a DNA project administrator would alter a project member’s posted family tree.

The reply from the administrator said my line “has been removed” from John Doe’s tree. Don’t you just love passive voice? It’s as though some ghostly apparition removed my info, rather than an identifiable person. Although I have some suspicions about who both added and deleted that stuff. She also suggested that, if I didn’t like what happened, I should change my privacy settings. She was using the sarcastic AND disingenuous font, since changing my privacy settings wouldn’t have prevented what happened.

I began checking this matter — and the issues of control and privacy that it raises — with genealogy friends. I also got help from a friend who is a member of the Rankin project. She let me fool around with her account to find out what I could do, and what I could not do, as an administrator. Her account has strict privacy settings, so I didn’t learn much from that exercise.

Here’s what I did learn from conversations and online experimentation.

  • There is no way to prevent a project administrator from looking at your posted FTDNA tree, no matter what your privacy settings may be. The most restrictive setting to prevent administrator meddling is “read only.” (See advice on settings below). Thus, there is no way my settings would have prevented the Doe project administrator from getting information about my Doe ancestors. Obviously, if there is a problem with privacy settings in this particular saga, it is on John Doe’s account, not mine.
  • What she did with the ancestry information she obtained from my account was completely out of my control. Administrators are, of course, subject to FTDNA guidelines for administrators and the FTDNA privacy policy.
  • None of my friends were comfortable with what happened here. No one was sure whether FTDNA’s guidelines for project administrators might have precluded the revision of John Doe’s tree. No one was sure whether the privacy policy precluded it, either. I’m also not sure about either of those things.

Finally, here’s some concrete advice: if you belong to a DNA project, you need to make sure you are comfortable with the amount of control your privacy settings give to project administrators. Here’s how to check. In your FTDNA account, look on the left side of your home page at the bottom of your “profile” information, and go to….

Manage Personal Information → Contact Information → Privacy and Sharing → Account Access. 

“Contact Information,” “Privacy and Sharing,” and “Account Access” are all tabs — easy to find at the top of each subsequent page after your home page. When you get to “Account Access,” you will see the question “how much access do administrators have?” If you have maximum protection, it should be set to “READ ONLY.” If you click on the “READ ONLY” link, you can view the “complete permission list” and give an administrator limited access if you wish.

While you are in your FTDNA account, CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD. It is possible that the administrator in this case unaccountably felt that it was acceptable to modify John Doe’s tree (without telling Younger Doe) because she had the account password. I am told administrators are sometimes given passwords by the test kit owner if he or she needs help. That’s all well and good. Get whatever help you need from a project administrator, then CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD.

That’s something akin to the First Commandment of the digital age, isn’t it?

I cannot identify anything in the “complete permission” list that might limit an administrator’s authority to revise a member’s family tree. Likewise, I can’t identify anything specific in the guidelines for administrators that either prohibits it OR allows it. I plan to contact FTDNA and suggest they might want to look at this issue.

That said, it’s hard to imagine that anyone involved in DNA testing for family history purposes would find it acceptable to modify someone else’s family tree without getting express permission to do so. Written guidelines and policies shouldn’t be necessary here. Common sense and thoughtfulness should work just fine. 

Another option is to withdraw from a project altogether, which is what I did with the Doe family surname project.