The Missing Sister

Week 2: #52 Ancestors – Favorite Find

By Eilene Lyon

All the genealogical information passed down to me about my Anderson ancestors gave the impression that my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Anderson) Ransom, was the oldest child in her family. There was also some confusion about the identity of her mother, and I still haven’t tracked down the source.

Elizabeth’s father, William C. Anderson Jr. married Agness Grier on February 13, 1806 in Belmont County, Ohio.1 It seems reasonable that a child would have been born not long after. Elizabeth, however, was born July 2, 1809, more than three years after the marriage.2 Was there a child missing from the records?

The first inkling that Elizabeth possibly had a older sister came from a county history by attorney Benjamin G. Shinn, written in 1900: Biographical Memoirs of Blackford County, Ind. On page 273, after naming all the members of the James and Elizabeth Ransom family who arrived in October 1836, Shinn states:

“About the same time or soon after, James Ransom’s father-in-law, William Clark Anderson, came, having also a large family. His wife’s name was Eliza, and the children who came to Indiana were Mary Dean, Elizabeth Ransom, Asa, Humphrey, Bazel, William T., John K. and Ann, wife of Thomas H. Bowen.”3

There are a number of incorrect “facts” given here. William Clark Anderson did not move to Indiana at the same time as his (adult) children. By the time he did arrive, sometime in the 1840s, he was with his second wife, whose maiden name was Mabel Waters. Eliza (sometimes given a last name of Fry or Frew) is almost certainly erroneous.

Was Mary Dean also a mistake, or could she have been Elizabeth’s older sister? For years, I searched and found nothing. There was a Thomas Dean associated with the Ransoms and Andersons in Indiana, but his wife was Hannah Anderson and her parents were not William C. and Agness. Last year, I tried a more organized approach.

A search in the marriage records for Belmont and Guernsey Counties, Ohio, where the Anderson family lived for many years, turned up two Mary Anderson nuptials. In 1826, a Mary Anderson married a man named James James.4 If Mary was the child of William C. and Agness Anderson, she likely was born about 1807 and would have been 19.

The second record was for an 1837 marriage to James Lanning.5 If both records were for the same woman, then the second marriage should have given Mary’s last name as James, not Anderson. Since I have not found additional records for James James, I speculated that he may have died shortly after their marriage (or the marriage was annulled) and Mary reverted to her maiden name. Or maybe Mary simply didn’t wed until the age of 30.

Guernsey County, Ohio, marriage record for James Lanning and Mary Anderson in March 1837. (

The Lanning and Ransom families had close ties—they were neighbors in Blackford County, Indiana. It stands to reason that Elizabeth and Mary might have chosen to live close to each other after relocating west. I found a “James Laning” in Blackford County in the 1840 census, but of course his is the only household name given.6

Shinn’s book, on page 244, states that Mary Lanning was the executrix for the estate of James Lanning, sometime after Blackford County established a probate court in 1851. Unfortunately, Blackford County disposed of their old probate records (shame!) and only created an index list that names the deceased and the estate administrator and a box number. No dates.

The index gives James Lanning’s administrator as Robert H. Lanning, not Mary, but it could be a different James, or Mary could have turned the matter over to her brother-in-law. I suspect that the probate actually occurred well before 1851, because…

I received some photocopies in 2019 (for my gold rush research) from a family history that includes the Lannings. The pages state that James and his older brothers, Robert H. and Ezekiel, moved to Blackford County in 1839. James patented land there in 1840.7 This document (without supporting evidence) states that James died August 28, 1844.8

Headstones for James and Elizabeth (Anderson) Ransom in the Trenton South Cemetery on land they once owned. (E. Lyon 2017)

The history also states that he was buried in the Trenton Cemetery, which is on land that once belonged to James and Elizabeth Ransom. I know from personal inspection that the grave is no longer marked, if it ever was. The oldest stones I found date to 1849.

So what happened to Mary after James Lanning’s death? She married again to…James Dean! (Note that she never had to worry about calling her husbands by the wrong first name.) This marriage took place in Blackford County on January 29, 1848.9 In the 1850 census, James and Mary “Deen” lived in neighboring Delaware County (a place I had not searched previously).10 Her birth year is calculated as 1807—just right to be Elizabeth’s older sister, and William C. and Agness Anderson’s first child.

The 1850 census record for “Mary Deen” gives her age as 43 and birthplace as Ohio. Along with a marriage record for Mary Anderson and James Lanning, and a marriage record for Mary Lanning and James Dean, this supports the assertion by historian Benjamin G. Shinn that Mary Dean was the daughter of William C. Anderson and older sister of Elizabeth Ransom. (

Feature image: Elizabeth Anderson Ransom photo taken in 1850s or 1860s. Courtesy of Bruce Wickward.

  1. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1774-1993 for William Anderson> Belmont> 1803-1825 image 21 – via 
  2. Date calculated from death date and age at death on headstone. 
  3. Shinn, Benjamin G. Biographical Memoirs of Blackford County, Ind. (Chicago: Bowen Publishing Co., 1900). 
  4. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1774-1993 for James James> Belmont> 1822-1835 image 186 – via 
  5. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1774-1993 for James Lanning> Guernsey> 1809-1940 image 415 – via 
  6. 1840 United States Federal Census for James Laning> Indiana> Blackford> Jacks image 1 – via 
  7. Bureau of Land Management – General Land Office Records. 
  8. Schmidt, Robert C. (n.d. no title) A family history. Photocopied pages supplied by Judy Weisenaur, pp. 94, 154. 
  9. Mary Lanning and James Dean. Indiana, U.S., Compiled Marriages, 1802-1892 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. 
  10. 1850 United States Federal Census for Mary Deen> Indiana> Delaware> Delaware image 7 – via 

42 thoughts on “The Missing Sister

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  1. That is a good find and demonstrates tenacity pays off. I wondered if your Dean family might be connected to the actor James Dean since his family lived in southeastern Grant Co, very near Delaware Co. But, I looked at his genealogy and do not see a connection.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Why, oh why would ANYONE get rid of probate records??? What a shame that someone thought that was a good idea.
    Delaware County is a frustrating area, isn’t it? I’ve been searching their records for some time now, as I suspect that my Morris ancestors were from there, and not the state of Delaware.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’re researching Delaware County, Indiana, you must go to the Muncie Public Library’s digital resources page. They scanned tons of county documents, including case files from the courts (not just dockets) and it’s all searchable by name and record type, even names of witnesses and other parties. It’s incredible!

      Liked by 1 person

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