Senator Lamar Alexander’s Rankin Ancestry

Sissy Wynne, a friend who remembers every piece of genealogical information she has ever seen or heard, tells me that Senator Lamar Alexander’s mother was née Rankin. You will recall that I took issue in yesterday’s post with the Senator’s claim that he is related to two Rankin men who had distinguished careers at Tusculum College. My argument was that the two Tusculum Rankins – Rev. William Bradshaw Rankin and Professor Samuel Thomas Rankin – are descended from two genetically different Rankin family lines. Senator Alexander could reasonably claim a family relationship with one of them. Being related to both might be a little tricky.

For fun, I started tracking the Senator’s Rankin line. It turned out to be a “how to primer” in family history research when the answers simply fall into your lap. The bottom line is that Sen. Alexander shares a common Rankin ancestor with Rev. William Bradshaw Rankin, the first President of Tusculum College. Both the Senator and Rev. William are descended from the John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA. I have not found any evidence, however, that the Senator is related to Prof. Samuel Thomas.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the Wikipedia biography for Sen. Alexander. It identifies his mother as Genevra Floreine Rankin Alexander. Thanks to that lovely and ususual name, information on Mrs. Alexander was easy to find. To begin with, Mrs. Alexander’s obituary is posted at a findagrave website. Although the obit does not name her parents, it identifies her maiden name as Rankin and says this:

“Mrs. Alexander was born in Barry County, Mo., on Aug. 14, 1914. Her father, however, was a fifth generation native of Dumplin Valley in East Tennessee’s Jefferson County.”

That’s a lot of good information, leading to the next stop on the research tour: Barry Co., MO. There is a marriage record there for Florence Edens and Reu Raymond Rankin, married on Oct. 22, 1913. Reu Raymond (no, his first name is not a typo) and his young family appeared in the 1920 census in Lee Co., Iowa, and in Harvey Co., Kansas in the 1930 census. The latter census identifies his occupation as “locomotive engineer,” which may be why the family moved around.

In the 1920 census, their first child is listed as “Floreine,” age five, born in Missouri about 1915. In 1930, she is listed as “Florine G.,” age 15. Reu Raymond’s state of birth, and his parents,’ are given in both censuses as Tennessee. Seems a safe bet that we have the right Genevra Floreine Rankin Alexander in these records.

In a stroke of really good research luck, the state of Tennessee issued Reu Raymond Rankin a “delayed certificate of birth.” It says that Reu Raymond Rankin was born Dec. 18, 1886 in Jefferson Co., TN, and that he was a son of James Thomas Rankin and Nancy Jane Webb. Dumplin Valley, of course, is in Jefferson County.

Fortunately, the Jefferson County records are darn good. There is a marriage record there for “J. T. Rankin” and “N. J. Webb” dated Nov. 26, 1877. James Thomas Rankin (1834 – 1901) and Nancy Jane Webb Rankin (1851 – 1918) are both buried in the Hebron Cemetery in Jefferson County. The cemetery is located less than 3,000’ from Dumplin Creek.

Now  … where to go for evidence of James Thomas’s parents? The first time he would appear by name in a census would be 1850, when he was about 16. He was born in September 1834, so he is probably listed as 15 in the census, usually taken earlier in the year. Bingo: there is only one James T. Rankin in the 1850 census for Jefferson County. He is listed in the household of Christopher Rankin, age 40, and Frances Rankin, age 32. James T. is listed as age 15.

It wasn’t until 1880 that the federal census started identifying the relationship between the head of household and individual household members. Consequently, there is no statement in the 1850 census that James T. Rankin was a son of Christopher and Frances Rankin. Most researchers, including me, presume that the head of household is the parent of the children listed therein who have the same surname – until proven otherwise. If you are an attorney, you would call that a rebuttable presumption.

Works for me. Given the family tradition that Floreine Rankin Alexander’s father was a fifth generation native of Dumplin Valley, we are clearly in the midst of the right Rankin line, even if James T. Rankin was Christopher’s nephew rather than his son.

Identifying Christopher’s parents required a bit more luck. Probate records were the place to look, because the census prior to 1850 isn’t much help. There we are: Jefferson County Will Book 2 at page 306 contains the will of Thomas Rankin of Jefferson County. It names his wife Jennett, four daughters, and eight sons, including one Christopher Rankin. He was the only Christopher Rankin of that generation whom I found in Jefferson County, so he is surely the same man as Christopher, father of James Thomas. Christopher inherited part of the home plantation. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that it is only a short distance from his land to the Mt. Horeb Cemetery’s bronze tablet.

That is precisely where we will go for the next bit of evidence. The tablet contains errors, some of which have been corrected in a second bronze tablet installed by Roy Marshall Rankin, another descendant of the Dumplin Valley Rankins. Here, in part, is what the tablet says, with Roy’s corrections added by me in italics:

“Thomas Rankin, 1724-1826 (1812), married Isabel Clendenon of Pennsylvania and settled in that state. Their children were:

  • John 1754-1825 m. Martha Waugh
  • Richard 1756-1827 m. Jennett Steele
  • Samuel 1758-1828 (1834) m. Jane Isabelle Petty
  • William 1760-1834 (1759–1833)m. Sarah Moore.
  • Thomas 1762-1832 m. Jennett Bradshaw 
  • James 1770-1839 m. Massey
  • Jane m. William Gillespie
  • Margaret M. m. Samuel Harris
  • Ann m. Lemuel Lacy
  • Isabel m. Robt. McQuiston
  • Mary m. James Bradshaw (Andrew McQuiston)
  • Nancy m. Samuel White”

Thomas Rankin, the father of all those children, was a son of the John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA. As noted above, John Rankin d. 1749 is the ancestor of both Rev. William Bradshaw Rankin, the first President of Tusculum College, and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The Senator’s outline descendant chart for his Rankin line looks like this:

1 John Rankin d. 1749, Lancaster Co., PA, whose wife is traditionally identified as Mary McElwee.

2 Thomas Rankin (1724-1812) m. Isabel Clendenon.

3 Thomas Rankin (1762-1832) m. Jennett Bradshaw.

4 Christopher Rankin (1809-1881) m. Frances.

5 James Thomas Rankin (1834-1901) m. Nancy Jane Webb

6 Reu Raymond Rankin (1886-1977) m. Florence Edens

7 Genevra Floreine Rankin (1914-2000) m. Andrew Lamar Alexander Sr.

8 Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

As for Sen. Alexander’s claim that he is also related to Tusculum College’s Professor Samuel Thomas Rankin, who was a professor of Latin for 47 years? I have no idea whether that is correct.

See you on down the road …