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 …





MORE Accomplished Rankins … and a Possibly Confused TN Senator

We’re on a run of accomplished Rankins here, although I promise not to find any royalty in the line! A friend forwarded the October 2018 newsletter he received from Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The Senator claims some distinguished Rankin relatives. Here is what he had to say in his newsletter:

“Joined Tusculum University to inaugurate their new president, and celebrate their 225th homecoming celebration

I enjoyed my time at Tusculum University yesterday (about Oct. 13, 2018), where I got to participate in the inauguration of their new president, Dr. James Hurley. Dr. Hurley has a lot to offer this university — he knows the territory, has a passion for education and basketball, was the first in his family to graduate from college and became president of that college, and we already know he thinks big. Big dreams include new programs to help the region deal with the opioid epidemic, transitioning from a college to a university and announcing a new College of Optometry. I also got to celebrate Tusculum’s 225th homecoming. Let’s look at Tusculum’s roots. Tusculum was founded two years before Tennessee became a state. There were a lot of Presbyterian pioneers and fighters who came to the area, including Rankin relatives of mine —William B. Rankin, who became president of Tusculum College in 1854, and Thomas Samuel Rankin, who was a professor at Tusculum from 1885 when he graduated until 1931. These pioneers created the first higher education institution in Tennessee. This homecoming was a good reminder that Tusculum has plenty that is unique to celebrate, and it now has the arrival of an experienced, big thinking, new president who dreams of building on the success Tusculum has already had.”

Senator Alexander needs someone to examine his Rankin roots! It is unlikely that he is related to both Rev. William B. Rankin (call him “Rev. William,” since he had a Doctorate of Divinity) and Professor Thomas Samuel Rankin (“Prof. Thomas,” who taught Latin, bless his heart, for 47 years). Here is a link to information about Rev. William published online by Tusculum College.

Rev. William, the first president of Tusculum College, descends from John Rankin who died in Lancaster Co., PA in 1749. The family of John’s son Thomas (whose wife was Isabell Clendenon/Clendennin) wound up in Jefferson Co., TN, where they are memorialized on the famous bronze tablet in Mt. Horeb Cemetery. I’ve written about the tablet, and John d. 1749, here and here. Six descendants of Thomas have done YDNA tests and have joined the Rankin Family DNA Project. They belong to what Rankin Project administrators have designated “Rankin Lineage 2A.” 

Prof. Thomas descends from David Rankin Sr. of Greene Co., TN, who died there in 1802. At least four proved descendants of David Rankin Sr. have done YDNA tests and have joined the Rankin Family DNA Project. They belong to “Lineage 3.”

Rankin Lineage 2A members are not a YDNA match with members of  Lineage 3, of course –or they would all belong to the same lineage. Thus, the only way Sen. Alexander could have been related to both Rev. William and Prof. Thomas would be if someone from Rev. William’s family married someone from Prof. Thomas’s family, and the combined L2A/L3 family is related to the Senator. A good researcher could puzzle it all out in a trice. I didn’t go to the trouble. Sen. Alexander is, after all, a politician, and the cynic in me suspects he was just burnishing his Tusculum resume for the attendees. <grin>

Here are outline descendant charts for both of the Rankin men Sen. Alexander claims as relatives. Part of Rev. William Bradshaw Rankin’s chart is taken from his own S.A.R. application. His ancestry was easy to verify, because this is an extremely well-documented Rankin line. The application says that Rev. William remembered his grandfather talking about the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. And Rev. William said he owned a piece of grapeshot from Yorktown that his grandfather gave to him. I was charmed. I’m tickled to claim him as a distant cousin.

Here is the line of Rev. William, Rankin Lineage 2A:

1 John Rankin, birth date unproved, died 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA. Wife traditionally identified as Mary McElwee; will names his wife as Margaret.

2 Thomas Rankin, abt. 1724 – 1812. Wife Isabella Clendenon (various spellings).

3 William Rankin, 27 Jan 1759 – 13 Dec 1833. Wife Sarah Moore, 21 Jul 1764 – 9 Oct 1850. William was the Revolutionary War soldier whose service was the basis for Rev. William’s S.A.R. application. See Virgil White’s abstract of William’s pension application in the footnote at the end of this sentence.[1] William and Sarah are both buried in the Timber Ridge Cemetery in Greene Co., TN.

4 Anthony Rankin, 1794 – 1872. He married Margaret Gray (1796 – 1863) on 25 Dec 1821 in Washington Co., TN. Both are also buried in the Timber Ridge Cemetery. 25 Dec 1821.

5 Rev. William Bradshaw Rankin, MA, DD, 1825 – 1903. He is buried in the Salem Churchyard at Washington College, Limestone, TN.

And here is the line of Prof. Thomas, Rankin Lineage 3:

1 David Rankin Sr., birth date unproved, d. 1802, Greene Co., TN. Wife’s identity unproved.

2 Robert Rankin, wife Elizabeth Dinwiddie of Greene Co., TN. Possibly married in Campbell Co., VA in 1798.[2] Robert’s Greene Co. will named his son Thomas C. Rankin as an executor.

3 Thomas C. Rankin(30 Mar 1806 – 12 Nov 1851) and Elvira Blackburn (1810-1901). His 1851 will named his son Robert. Thomas and Elvira are both buried in the Mt. Bethel Presbyterian Cemetery in Greene Co.

4 Robert Rankin, b. 25 Mar 1832 – d. 15 Apr 1866, Greene Co., TN. Wife Margaret McGaughey. Married in Greene Co. in 1854.

5 Professor Thomas Samuel Rankin, b. 15 Jun 1858 d. 30 Oct 1938 or 1939, buried Oak Grove Cemetery, Greenville, Greene Co., TN. Tombstone says he was “47 years professor of Latin” and a college trustee, as well as a ruling elder of Mt. Bethel Presbyterian. His first wife was Margaret Folk (1849 – 1887); second wife was Mary Coile (1866 – 1941).

As always, please let me know if you spot any errors or have any questions. Senator Alexander, I welcome your comments!

See you on down the road, friends.

[1]William Rankin, wife Sarah, served in the PA and VA line. Born 27 Jan 1759 “some 5 miles below Carlisle in Cumberland Co., PA.” 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 Moore29 Aug 1787 in Greene Co., TNand 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.

[2]The Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy, 1750-1930, Vol. VI(, Inc., 2006), 849.