Enter Spade and Columbo: Autosomal Evidence

It pays to have friends who excel at family history research and know DNA stuff. In that category, I am lucky to know Spade and Columbo. Y’all have met Spade before at least twice.[1] He is a California guy, famous for slurping Cutty Sark and hanging up on people. I don’t know where Columbo lives or what he drinks, if at all. Like Spade, though, he usually gets his man.

The two genealogy detectives are distant cousins. Both are descended from Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and his wife Mary Steele Alexander. Spade has a solid gold paper trail back to Adam and Mary. Columbo’s chart has one, um, interesting link, but it is still golden. Spade is descended from Adam and Mary through their son James and his wife Jean Campbell Rankin. Columbo descends through their son William and Mary Huston Rankin.

That brings us to an article published here on October 29, 2023 concerning Joshua and Mary Rankin Cox and her purported parents, John and Anna Craig Rankin.[2] That article wonders whether there was a relationship between those Rankins and Adam’s line. The article suggests some speculative possibilities — with no evidence as far as the eye could see.

It also pays to admit it when you don’t know nuthin’ and ask for help. Enter Spade and Columbo, both of whom have done autosomal tests, as have three of Columbo’s close relatives. Between them, they have numerous Cox matches. Spade sums up the autosomal evidence as follows:

“There’s zero chance that Mary Rankin Cox was not a very close relative of Adam Rankin d. 1747.”

Of course, we are still in the dark about how Adam and Mary Rankin Cox were related. DNA leaves that for us to figure out. Here are some possibilities:

…  Mary Rankin Cox and Adam Rankin were siblings.

…  Mary Rankin Cox was Adam’s niece; thus her alleged father John and Adam would have been brothers.

…  Mary Rankin Cox was Adam’s daughter.

Here is what Spade has to say:

“Lady, you ask so many questions I’m going to have to demand my usual retainer pretty soon. But this one’s on me: I go with siblings as the relationship between Adam Rankin and Mary Rankin Cox. Her oldest child would have been born about 1726, while Adam and Mary Steele Rankin were also having children in the 1720s. Joshua Cox, Mary Rankin Cox’s husband, died the same year as Adam, 1747, also in Lancaster County.  That looks like Mary and Adam were from the same generation. I think she would have been  Adam’s younger sister. Looks to me like there are too many matches at too many centimorgans to say that the connection extends back another generation.”

Columbo, on the other hand, opines that the John who was allegedly Mary Rankin Cox’s father was Adam’s brother, which puts Mary in the role of Adam’s niece. That theory gets support from the oral family legend that Adam of Lancaster County had a brother John.

The notion that Mary Rankin Cox may have been Adam’s daughter seems like forcing Cinderella’s shoe to fit. The argument in favor is that Mary had a proved brother William, while Adam had a proved son William. The glaring flaw here is that Adam’s will didn’t name a daughter Mary or a son-in-law Cox. Adam did give his married daughter Esther Rankin Dunwoody a cash bequest, so he wasn’t just omitting daughters. If there was ever a surefire way to stir up resentment, or even a will contest, failing to give a child at least a token bequest qualifies.

The other issue with the theory that Mary Cox was Adam’s daughter arises from the plethora of William Rankins in the area. Why pick on Adam’s son William to be Mary Cox’s brother out of all the William Rankin possibilities who appeared in Franklin County? Equally as reasonable — although just as speculative — Adam Rankin and Mary Rankin Cox could well have had a brother William, who would then have been the Rankin named in Joshua Cox’s will.

Spade’s argument sounds more persuasive. My only addition is the fact that Joshua Cox’s will, written in April 1747, provides that his children should be “put to trades” at age sixteen.[3] That suggests some of his children were born in the 1730s. His son John, named an executor, was probably indeed born by 1726. That seems to support Spade’s opinion that Mary Rankin Cox may have been Adam’s younger sister.

In short, there doesn’t seem to be any compelling logic dictating the type of family relationship between Mary Rankin Cox and Adam Rankin. Also, there is the niggling matter of evidence, which is entirely lacking in this matter. Does anyone reading this have any other ideas, evidence, or suggestions? If so, please share!

Meanwhile, I owe you the next installment in Adam and Mary’s descendant chart. Soon.

See you on down the road.


            [1] See articles written by or featuring Spade here and here.

            [2] See the article about Mary Rankin Cox and her possible parents at this link.. So far as I know, the only evidence of the existence of John and Anna Craig Rankin is a Cox researcher’s letter in a Franklin Co. historical society.

            [3] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book A: 131. The clerk’s transcription twice calls the testator Joshua and once John. In the margin where the deceased’s name is written, “Joshua” is struck through and “John” is written in. This may be the reason many people refer to this man as “John Joshua Cox” or “Joshua John Cox.” In any event, the will names as executors Joshua’s wife Mary and son John, with Joshua’s brother-in-law William Rankin to assist his wife. Joshua left two-thirds of his estate to his children, but identified by name only his sons John and Richard and a daughter Mary. The will also provided that his children should be “put to trades” when they reached age 16. That suggests at least some of the children were born after 1731, since the will is dated 22 April 1747. John, named an executor, was probably of age in 1747 and thus born by 1726.