Find-a-Grave Bloopers: a Really Cool One

First, I need to acknowledge that Find-a-Grave is a wonderful source for family history researchers. The information on tombstone images can be invaluable. Of course, the website itself doesn’t commit “bloopers,” e.g., confusing two men having the same name. Instead, Find-a-Grave members who post on memorials or add pictures sometimes provide bad information.

I am now aware of three Find-a-Grave bloopers for Rankins, all of which are wrong identifications of men named William. See articles about the first two here and  here. But the third Rankin blooper takes the cake. It’s not only that some Find-a-Grave poster has claimed the wrong William Rankin is interred in the Mahnes Cemetery in Ridersville, Morgan County, West Virginia. In this case, the grave has an image of a tombstone that wrongly identifies him! Better yet, the tombstone image is attached to two William Rankins who allegedly have different birth dates. Somebody has some ‘splaining to do, Lucy …

Here are the facts. If you go to the Find-a-Grave page for the Mahnes Cemetery and search on Rankin listings, it will take you to this page. There are three men named William Rankin who were born in the 18th century in that list of Rankin burials:

  1. William Rankin, 1760 – 25 Feb 1830
  2. William Rankin, 1748 – 22 Feb 1830
  3. Private William Rankin, 1720 – 1783

There is no tombstone photo for Private William, who was allegedly the father of the William born in 1748, according to a poster’s information.

Both the William born in 1748 and the William born in 1760 have tombstone images. It is the exact same stone for both men, although the two photos were clearly taken at different times. Here is the tombstone image for the William allegedly born in 1748, with what appears to be a slightly altered birthdate that is clearly not 1748. And here is the tombstone image for the William allegedly born in 1760, again with a slightly fuzzy birthdate on the stone.

You will notice that the marker doesn’t look like an almost 200-year-old stone. It looks more 20th century-ish. I wonder (1) when the stone was installed and (2) who paid for it. I have not yet tried to find answers to those questions.

The tombstone has this inscription:



This is great information because it is subject to easy verification. In fact, there was a Private William Rankin who enlisted in Capt. Brady’s Company, Stephenson’s Regiment, later known as Rawling’s Regiment (not Rowling’s, although that’s close). His Revolutionary War pension application says he enlisted in July 1776 in Berkeley County, Virginia. Morgan County was created from part of Berkeley in 1820. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the rest of the facts present serious problems. Private William Rankin of Brady’s Company, Rawling’s Regiment, filed his pension application from Mason County, Kentucky in 1833 — three years after the Mahnes Cemetery Williams reportedly died.[1] He lived in Frederick County, Virginia after the war. He may have moved to Mason County by at least 1800, based on tax lists. He was definitely in Mason County by 1810, when he was listed in the federal census there with a profile that fit his family. He died in Mason County on 12 April 1836. His estate was probated there. For detailed information about Private William Rankin of Brady’s Company, see articles about him here and here. His war story is fabulous and you might enjoy it, even if you aren’t related.

I don’t have any information about the William Rankin in the Mahnes Cemetery whose tombstone is attached to two listings. There is virtually no  chance that he is the same man as Private William Rankin of Brady’s Company, Rawling’s Regiment, who died in Mason County in 1836 — not in 1830, as the two listings in the Mahnes Cemetery claim. FYI, it is 500 miles from Washington, Mason County, Kentucky to Ridersville, West Virginia. Even if the Mahnes Cemetery Williams had the same death date as William Rankin of Mason, it is highly unlikely that the family would transport a body that distance for burial.

The William Rankin who died in Mason County in 1836 may be buried in the Old Washington Cemetery there, although there was a cemetery plot on the land William owned. When his children sold his land after he died, the deed reserved a 70 square foot graveyard.[2] It is a reasonable bet that William and his wife, who also died in 1836, were both buried in that family cemetery.

Finally, the odds are absolutely nil that there were two Private William Rankins in Brady’s Company, Rawling’s Regiment. Military records are clear on that point. The one and only William Rankin who served in those units lived in Mason County, Kentucky, where he applied for a pension in 1833, died in 1836, and is surely buried.

I would love to know more about the Morgan County Rankins. There are quite a few of them buried in the Mahnes Cemetery in Ridersville. Perhaps there is a living male Rankin descendant who might be persuaded to Y-DNA test? It wouldn’t be surprising to find that he is related to Private William of Mason County. There were more Rankin families in Virginia’s Northern Neck and into West Virginia than I can count. And we need more information about Private William’s important family.

Here’s hoping someone reading this knows about the Mahnes Cemetery Rankins. If so, I would love to hear from you.

See you on down the road.


[1] I have omitted citations to supporting records because my two articles about William Rankin’s war story provide considerable documentation, readily available for anyone who is interested. See links here and here.

[2] Mason Co., KY Deed Book 43: 65, deed dated 24 Sep 1836 from the heirs at law of the late William Rankin, dec’d, of Mason County, tract near Washington on the Waters of Lawrence’s Creek adjacent Berry, et al., 70 square foot graveyard excepted.

3 thoughts on “Find-a-Grave Bloopers: a Really Cool One”

  1. Robin
    How do I find information on the Northern Neck Rankins. I’m pretty sure my Rankins came from there.
    Michael Rankin

    1. Hoo boy! Michael, that’s one heck of a question! There is no easy answer. I’ve been looking at deed, probate, tax, and court records from Richmond County to WVA. There are a zillion Rankin records. So far as I know, NO one has assembled all of that information into one coherent whole. I’m still researching them … please stay tuned …

  2. I’d like to point out that besides Find-a-Grave, another of’s features that is fraught with errors (also due to bad data submitted by users) is ThruLines. I’ve found numerous cases where ThruLines computes a Rankin relationship to me that is completely wrong (so the relationship must be otherwise). A particularly egregious one popped up two days ago and it involved MRCA Wm Steele [sic] Rankin whose burial in Allegheny Co, PA you debunked in your blog of dec 2020 that you refer to in today’s blog. First of all I am not completely sure* that WSR is my GGGGGgpa (this info from my tree was used by ThruLines), then ThruLines connects this to a gentleman (my DNA match) via WSR’s son, a Wm Rankin 1743—1823. However, the Wm who is the son of WSR was b. 5 Nov 1770 in Franklin Co, PA; m. Abigail McGINLEY; and lived most of his life and d. in Centre Co, PA. The proof is in a Bible record once owned by descendant Rev. John Alexander Reed of Opelousas LA (you kindly shared a copy of this with me). I have no idea who the parents of Wm Rankin 1743—1823, but at least 134 sheeple at claim his pa is WSR. There are probably more than 500, but I gave up after checking 200 of 1420 trees that include Wm 1743—1823 at WHEW!!!

    (*) My tentative connection is that my GGGgpa Wm Rankin (yet another Wm! and unknown to me or any other researchers until I found his Will of 1844 in the Clarion Co, PA records, which mentions widow Jane (my GGGgma), dau Elizabeth Jane—b. Centre Co PA according to death cert. of her son Charlie— (my GGgma), and another dau Sarah) is the son of James Rankin b. 20 apr 1766 who moved from Franklin Co PA to Centre Co PA where he inherited land from his pa, WSR. Wm shows up in an 1836 deed of Armstrong Co (now Clarion Co, Vol 2, p. 144) showing Joseph Rankin to pay Wm Rankin $75/year for sustenance of James and wife Sarah. My interpretation is this is GGGgpa Wm, his bro Joseph and father James, who had moved from Centre Co to Clarion Co. Also I think the Wm Rankin Jr of the 1820 federal census in Potter Twp, Centre Co, PA is my GGGgpa Wm, as the other household members are consistent in age with his wife, my GGGgma Jane, and his dau Sarah. Rather tenuous but the best I have for now—if I’m wrong then I’m just as guilty of contributing to the bad data used by ThruLines!

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