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Are We Related?: Shank

June 6, 2024

This month we explore the potential connection between my colleague Kathy’s Shank ancestors and those of Indianapolis Mayor, Samuel Lewis ‘Lew’ Shank. Lew Shank was elected mayor twice, non-consecutively and served from 1910-1913 and 1922-1925. He was an interesting political figure, decrying and combatting what he saw as high cost of living by selling products he purchased at cost to Indianapolis residents and physically laboring to assist in the clean-up after the 1913 flood, seen above. Alas, I don’t have space to provide a full accounting of Shank’s activities and will leave those descriptions to a future blog.

Lew Shank was born in Indianapolis, the son of Samuel Shank. His father and grandfather, John, were born in Pennsylvania. All three lived in Indiana until their deaths here in 1859 (John), 1900 (Samuel), and 1927 (Lew). Lew Shank resided at various homes in Indianapolis until having a home built in the elite subdivision of Golden Hill in the mid-1920s.

Samuel Lewis ‘Lew’ Shank, ca. 1920 and his home in Golden Hill, to which he moved between 1924 and 1925. Bass Photo Co. Collection, IHS (cropped).

My colleague Kathy’s Shank ancestors had a similar background. Her ancestor Joseph Morris Shank was born in Indiana, though his father and grandfather were both born in Pennsylvania much like Lew Shank’s predecessors. They moved to the Hoosier state at about the same time as well. I was excited to find information on Findagrave that connected the two families, seemingly definitively.

Death listing for Daniel Shank, ancestor of my colleague Kathy, showing Samuel Shank, Samuel Lewis Shank’s father and grandfather, circled. Excerpted from Findagrave.com, May 2024.

I am quite cautious in my trust of genealogical resources, even when they seem quite solid and well-founded. So, before trusting the above information on Findagrave, I dug a little deeper. It is quite lucky that I did so as this connection is erroneous. This is clear in the following pieces of historical evidence.

Excerpt from a profile of Daniel S. Shank in “Old Pioneers of Webster Township,” The Richmond Item, 16 April 1903; Daniel Shank’s Indiana death certificate, 11 August 1906; Article in The Richmond Item, 16 November 1906. Articles from Newspapers.com, May 2024; Death Certificate from Ancestry.com, Library edition, May 2024.

As noted above, Daniel’s parents were Joseph and Sarah Jane Shank, not John and Nancy Shank, as shown in the Findagrave entry. This is confirmed in both the newspaper article and death certificate, see the details underlined. As further evidence related to the Shank families, formerly of Pennsylvania, I include a newspaper clipping showing that Daniel Shank’s land was prosperous to the point of fetching the highest price ever in Wayne County, Indiana (to that time – 1906), after Daniel’s death. It is clear both Shank lines flourished after their arrival in Indiana.

While Kathy’s Shank family may be connected to that of Samuel Lewis ‘Lew’ Shank’s family a bit further back, there is no immediate evidence easily findable to connect the two families. I did, however, discover this particular research to be some of the most fascinating due to the misattribution of the parents to Daniel Shank in Findagrave which was then further perpetuated in family trees located in Ancestry.com.

Let this be a lesson to you to take resources with a grain of salt until you can find supporting and confirming resources yourself. I hope you enjoyed this blog as much as I did doing this research. Please see other previous Are We Related? entries and other great blog content on the IHS blog site.

Amy Vedra

Amy Vedra is the director of reference services. She is currently reading her way through the Great American Reads list.

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