Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, KY: YDNA Controversy, Ancestry Issues, and Theological Fanaticism

A distant Rankin cousin recently introduced me to Confederate Brigadier General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson. His mother was a Rankin, so I wrote about him here. Today’s subject is Presbyterian Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky. Rev. Adam is the source of Rankin YDNA and family history issues, although he didn’t just become controversial after he died: he caused considerable turmoil in his denomination during his lifetime.

Here is a summary of the issues …

  • The YDNA question. YDNA tests of Rev. Adam’s descendants cast doubt on one part of famous Rankin family legend preserved on a tablet in Mt. Horeb Cemetery  in Jefferson Co., TN. The story concerns an Alexander Rankin and his son William (two other sons having been martyred) who fled to Ulster in 1688 to escape the “Killing Times” in Scotland.[1] The family then survived the Siege of Londonderry in 1689. Three sons of William reportedly immigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania in the 1720s, where one died without children. One of the two surviving brothers was probably Rev. Adam’s grandfather. Descendants of Rev. Adam and the other surviving brother have YDNA tested, and they do not match each other. Absent another explanation, this means the two men traditionally considered sons of William Rankin weren’t brothers.
  • The family history question. One explanation for the YDNA mismatch might be an error in the ancestry of descendants who have tested. Alternatively, there might be an NPE (a so-called “non-paternal event,” such as an adoption) in a line. To figure that out, we need to look at the other YDNA matches and ancestor charts of the Rankins who have tested.
  • Theological turmoil. During his lifetime, Rev. Adam caused an uproar in the Presbyterian church about an obscure theological issue. Rev. Adam was a fanatic on the question. If anyone reading this post has ever even heard of it, you must be a serious theologian. Read on …

The YDNA Question

The Mt. Horeb Rankin legend described above identifies three brothers who came to Pennsylvania in the 1720s:

(1) Adam Rankin, who died in 1747 in Lancaster Co., PA. His wife (reportedly his second) was Mary Steele Alexander. Let’s call him Adam d. 1747. His will named three sons and one daughter.[2] I’ve written about Adam here  and here.

(2) John Rankin, who died in 1749, also in Lancaster Co., PA. His first wife was reportedly Jane McElwee, and his widow was named Margaret. His will named two sons, six daughters, and two sons-in-law.[3] Let’s call him John d. 1749. You can find John’s will at this link.

(3) According to the legend, Hugh Rankin, the third brother, died without children

Conventional wisdom says that Rev. Adam was a grandson of Adam d. 1747. Two of Rev. Adam’s descendants have YDNA tested and fall into “Lineage 3” at the Rankin Family DNA Project. At least five descendants of John d. 1749 have also YDNA tested. They fall into Rankin “Lineage 2.”

The Lineage 3 descendants of Adam d. 1747 do not match the Lineage 2 descendants of John d. 1749. However, descendants of Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 are all genetic Rankins. We know that because each of them matches men descended from other Rankin lines. For example, the descendants of John d. 1749 are also YDNA matches to descendants of Samuel and Eleanor Alexander Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC. That is also true of the descendants of Adam d. 1747, who match yet another Rankin line. Because all of the descendants of John d. 1749 and Adam d. 1747 are genetic Rankins, a non-Rankin adoption in one line, or an illegitimate birth, probably cannot explain the Lineage 2/Lineage 3 mismatch.[4]

The question becomes whether there is an error somewhere in these men’s ancestry charts. That brings us to …

The Family History Question

Let’s start with the descendants of John d. 1749, because we can dispatch them quickly. There is no doubt about their ancestry. All five of them descend from Thomas, one of John d. 1749’s two sons, and there are no weak links in their descendant charts.

Rev. Adam as a descendant of Adam d. 1747 is a tougher case. Rev. Adam is traditionally deemed a son of Jeremiah Rankin and his wife Rachel Craig. Jeremiah, in turn, was a proved son of Adam d. 1747.[5] Family tradition also says that Jeremiah died young in a mill accident.

The problem is a lack of primary sources of evidence identifying Jeremiah’s children. Consequently, we have to rely on secondary sources of evidence. That means information that has no reasonable guarantee of accuracy. Primary sources of evidence include county deeds and probate records, for example. Secondary sources of evidence include books. (Online family trees are not evidence of any sort.)

The best secondary evidence about Rev. Adam’s family of origin may be an 1847 book by Rev. Robert Davidson titled History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky.

Here is what Rev. Davidson wrote about Rev. Adam. The emphasis and italics are mine.

“The Rev. Adam Rankin was born March 24, 1755, near Greencastle, Western Pennsylvania [sic, Greencastle is in south-central Pennsylvania]. He was descended from pious Presbyterian ancestors, who had emigrated from Scotland, making a short sojourn in Ireland by the way. His mother, who was a godly woman, was a Craig, and one of her ancestors suffered martyrdom, in Scotland, for the truth. That ancestor, of the name of Alexander, and a number of others, were thrown into prison, where they were slaughtered, without trial, by a mob of ferocious assassins, till the blood ran ancle [sic] deep. This account Mr. Rankin received from his mother’s lips. His father was an uncommon instance of early piety, and because the minister scrupled to admit one so young, being only in the tenth year of his age, he was examined before a presbytery. From the moment of his son Adam’s birth, he dedicated him to the ministry. He was killed in his own mill, when Adam, his eldest son, was in his fifth year.[Rev. Adam] graduated at Liberty Hall [now Washington & Lee University], about 1780. Two years after, Oct. 25, 1782, at the age of twenty-seven, he was licensed by Hanover Presbytery, and, about the same time, married Martha, daughter of Alexander McPheeters, of Augusta county.”[6]

The most important thing Rev. Davidson said about Rev. Adam was in a footnote: “This sketch of Mr. Rankin’s early history so far is derived from his autobiography, prepared, shortly before his decease, for his friend, Gen. Robert B. McAfee, then Lieut. Governor of the State.” That qualifies as information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.[7] Several facts stand out:

  • The death of Rev. Adam’s father in a mill accident is consistent with the conventional wisdom. The date is established by the autobiography at about 1760, when Rev. Adam was five.[8]
  • Adam’s mother was, as the conventional wisdom says, a Craig.[9]
  • There was a Presbyterian martyr among Rev. Adam’s ancestors, although the murdered man was his mother’s kin, not his father’s.
  • Adam was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, created in 1750 from Lancaster County (where Adam d. 1747 lived). Adam d. 1747’s sons William and James began appearing in Cumberland in the 1750s. The location alone is solid circumstantial evidence that Rev. Adam is from the line of Adam d. 1747.

Rev. Davidson didn’t mention the legend preserved on the Mt. Horeb tablet, although he does recount Rev. Adam’s father’s examination before a Presbytery at age ten. Surely Rev. Adam would have been aware of the Mt. Horeb legend if it had concerned his family, and would have included that story in his autobiography. Had he done so, then surely Rev. Davidson would have mentioned it, because the Rankin martyrs were as important as both the murdered Craig and the Presbytery examination at age ten. The omission raises an inference that the Mt. Horeb legend was not part of Rev. Adam’s family history.

On balance, the limited biographical facts about Rev. Adam provided by Rev. Davidson support the conventional wisdom – that Rev. Adam Rankin, born in Cumberland Co., PA, was a son of Jeremiah and Rachel Craig Rankin and a grandson of Adam d. 1747. However, the best way to resolve the issue would be with a YDNA test by a proved descendant of Adam d. 1747. I need some help on that, because I’m terrible at convincing men to take a YDNA test. Let’s all pause here while you phone or email a prospective YDNA test participant … then let’s move on to Rev. Adam’s theological controversy and remarkable character.

Theological Turmoil

There is plenty of evidence regarding Rev. Adam’s personality. An 1872 History of Lexington describes him as a “talented, intolerant, eccentric, and pious man, [who] was greatly beloved by his congregation, which clung to him with devoted attachment through all his fortunes.”[10]

Rev. Davidson wrote that Rev. Adam “appears to have been of a contentious, self-willed turn from his youth … and his wranglings at last ended in a schism. Obstinate and opinionated, his nature was a stranger to concession, and peace was to be bought only by coming over to his positions … his pugnacious propensities brought on at last a judicial investigation.”

Another source describes Rev. Adam as “a strange, eccentric man, a dreamer of dreams, a Kentucky Luther, and, perhaps, a bit crazed with the bitter opposition his views received.”[11]

What on earth do you suppose all the fuss was about?

The theological issue about which Rev. Adam was fanatical is the “Psalmody controversy.” Psalmody, said Rev. Davidson, was “his monomania.”

The what controversy?

An article entitled “How Adam Rankin tried to stop Presbyterians from singing ‘Joy to the World’ ” describes the origin of the issue:

“In 1770 [sic, 1670], when Isaac Watts was 18 years of age, he criticized the hymns of the church in his English hometown of Southampton. In  response to his son’s complaints, Watts’ father is reputed to have said, ‘If you don’t like the hymns we sing, then write a better one!’ To that Isaac replied, ‘I have.’ One of his hymns was shared with the church they attended and they asked the young man to write more.

For 222 Sundays, Isaac Watts prepared a new hymn for each Sunday, and single-handedly revolutionized the congregational singing habits of the English Churches of the time. In 1705, Watts published his first volume of original hymns and sacred poems. More followed. In 1719, he published his monumental work, ‘The Psalms of David, Imitated.’ Among those many familiar hymns is the Christmas favorite ‘Joy to the World,’ based on Psalm 98.

For many years, only Psalms were sung throughout the Presbyterian Churches and the old ‘Rouse’ versons were the standard. The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States convened at the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1789. One of the Prebyterian ministers of the time, a man by the name of Rev. Adam Rankin, rode horseback from his Kentucky parish to Philadelphia to plead with his fellow Presbyterians to reject the use of Watts’ hymms.[12]

You had to be a fanatic on the issue to ride more than 600 miles from Lexington to Philadelphia, right? Worse yet, Rev. Adam had no “commission” to attend the Assembly: he was not even an official attendee![13] He simply requested to be heard by the Assembly on the subject of Psalmody. Specifically, he sought a repeal of a 1787 resolution allowing Watts’ Psalms to be used in churches. He presented this query to the General Assembly:

 “Whether the churches under the care of the General Assembly, have not, by the countenance and allowance of the late Synod of New York and Philadelphia, fallen into a great and pernicious error in the public worship of God, by disusing Rouse’s versification of David’s Psalms, and adopting in the room of it, Watts’ imitation?”[14]

According to Rev. Davidson, the Assembly listened to him patiently and recommended “that exercise of Christian charity, towards those who differ from him in their views of this matter, which is exercised toward himself: and that he be carefully guarded against disturbing the peace of the church on this head.”[15]

You can probably guess how well Rev. Adam followed that advice:

No sooner had he returned home than he began to denounce the Presbyterian clergy as Deists, blasphemers, and rejecters of revelation, and debarred from the Lord’s Table all admirers of Watts’ Psalms, which he castigated as rivals of the Word of God.[16]

“Debarred from the Lord’s Table” means that Rev. Adam refused to administer communion to his parishioners who disagreed with him about Watts’ hymns. It is hard to imagine a more radical punishment in a Presbyterian church short of, I don’t know, burning dissenters at the stake.[17]

Rev. Adam didn’t mince words, to put it mildly. He verbally abused his Psalmody opponents in ways that would make even current partisan politicians cringe. He called them weak, ignorant, envious, and profane, compared them to swine, said they bore the mark of the beast and that they were sacrilegious robbers, hypocrites, and blasphemers. It makes Newt Gingritch instructing his House colleagues circa 1986 to refer to Democrats as “traitors” and the “enemy” seem almost mild-mannered, doesn’t it?

In 1789, several formal charges were brought against Rev. Rankin before the Presbytery to which his church belonged. One charge was that he had refused communion to persons who approved Watts’ psalmody. Apparently attempting to dodge a trial, he made a two-year trip to London. When he returned, his views unchanged, his case was tried in April 1792. At that point, Rev. Adam just withdrew from the Presbytery, taking with him a majority of his congregation.[18]

He then affiliated with the Associate Reformed Church, although the honeymoon was brief. Rev. Davidson wrote that Rev. Adam “was on no better terms with the Associate Reformed than he had been with the Presbyterians; and his pugnacious propensities brought on at last a judicial investigation.” In 1818, he was suspended from the office of the ministry. He and his congregation simply declared themselves independent.

Rev. Adam wasn’t merely stubborn and pugnacious. He claimed early on that he was guided by dreams and visions, convinced that “God had raised him up as a special instrument to reinstate ‘the Lord’s song.’” Eventually, he was led by a dream to believe that “Jerusalem was about to be rebuilt and that he must hurry there in order to assist in the rebuilding. He bade his Lexington flock farewell, and started to the Holy City, but, on November 25, 1827, death overtook him at Philadelphia.”[19]

That is a sad ending: I find myself wishing he had made it to Jerusalem. Although there is no telling what additional trouble we might now have in the Middle East if he had done so.

Rev. Adam’s widow moved to Maury County, Tennessee along with her sons Samuel and Adam Rankin Jr.  She died there, and her tombstone in the Greenwood Cemetery in Columbia reads simply “Martha Rankin, consort of A. Rankin of Lexington, KY.” It was probably no picnic, being a planet in Rev. Adam’s solar system.

One final note: I keep promising to post outline descendant reports on the Rankin lines I write about. I keep failing to do it, so I am not going to make that promise about Rev. Adam’s family. Faced with facts, I must admit that I just don’t like compiling descendant reports. If you have a question about Rev. Adam’s line, you know where to find me.

See you on down the road.

[1]Many sources recite the history of this Rankin family during Scotland’s “Killing Times” and the Siege of Londonderry in Ireland. The memorial tablet in the Mt. Horeb cemetery in Jefferson County, TN may be the most well-known example: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/10727017/family-memorial-rankin.  Another source for an abbreviated version of the legend is Rev. Samuel Meek Rankin, The Rankin and Wharton Families and Their Genealogy (Salem, MA, reprint by Higginson Book Company, origianally published in 1931), pp. 13, 16. The legend is even posted on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1441329275900632&id=157190774314495

[2]Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208.

[3]Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 211.

[4]An Alexander cousin of mine suggested that perhaps Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James Alexander and wife of Adam Rankin d. 1747, may have had Alexander children who adopted the name Rankin when she married Adam d. 1747. Nice theory, but it doesn’t work. Descendants of Adam d. 1747 don’t even remotely match descendants of James Alexander’s family, the so-called line of “Seven Brothers and Two Sisters.”

[5]Adam’s 1747 will named sons Jeremiah, James and William. Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208. Adam d. 1747 left land to each of them in what was then Lancaster Co., PA. Cumberland County was created from Lancaster in 1750, and Franklin was created from Cumberland in 1784. Adam d. 1747’s sons James and William left numerous records in both counties, including their Franklin Co. wills. Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, 345.

[6]Rev. Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky(three publishers, including C. Marshall, Lexington, 1847), p. 95. Chapter III of the book is titled “The Rankin Schism,” see p. 88 et seq.The book is available online as a pdf at https://ia802302.us.archive.org/24/items/historyofpresbyt00davi/historyofpresbyt00davi.pdf, accessed 30 Aug 2018.

[7]I’m looking for that autobiography. No luck so far.

[8]I said Rev. Adam’s father died “about” 1760 simply because of the difficulty a 70-year-old man would naturally have pinpointing the exact time something happened when he was a child.

[9]Rev. Davidson may have been more impressed by the Craig connection than the Rankin name on account of Rev. John Craig, a famous Presbyterian minister from Ireland who lived in Augusta Co., VA. See, e.g.,Katharine L. Brown, “John Craig (1709–1774),” Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia, published 2006 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Craig_John_1709-1774, accessed Aug. 29, 2018).

[10]George W. Rankin, History of Lexington, Kentucky(Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1872), pp. 108-110.

[11]John Wilson Townsend and Dorothy Edwards Townsend, Kentucky in American Letters(Cedar Rapids, IA: The Torch Press, 1913), p. 17.

[12]Staff of the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, March 20, 2015, “How Adam Rankin Tried to Stop Presbyterians From Singing ‘Joy to the World,’ published by The Aquila Report at this URL: https://www.theaquilareport.com/how-adam-rankin-tried-to-stop-presbyterians-from-singing-joy-to-the-world/

[13]Davidson at 82.

[14]Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One: 1607-1861(Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963), pp. 115-116

[15]Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume One: 1607-1861 (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963), pp. 218-219.

[16]Id.

[17]I was baptized, confirmed, and currently belong to a Presbyterian church. I am, after all, a Scots-Irish Rankin. My church’s motto is “ALL ARE WELCOME.” That has several meanings in this era of immigrant-hatred, but one of them is that everyoneis welcome to take communion.

[18]George W. Rankin, History of Lexington, Kentucky (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1872) pp. 108-110.

[19]Townsends, Kentucky in American Letters at 17.

Adam Rankin d. 1747, Lancaster PA & Family: Serendipity + Civil War History + Major League Baseball

Any genealogy researcher whose family has been in the U.S. for a while probably has ancestors who were Civil War soldiers. Likewise, many genealogists have experienced what seems to be family history research serendipity — finding something good even though you weren’t looking for it. Having a little major league baseball (complete with pictures) thrown in along with the research serendipity and Civil War history is a new one for me, but this post has it all. What’s next? Hot dogs? Apple pie?

Here is the background

This post starts from the line of Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster Co., PA, and his wife Mary Steele Alexander. My July 27th post on this family was about what Gary and I call the “follow the land” (“FTL”) theory of genealogical research. In that post, FTL made it possible to track four of Adam and Mary’s grandsons, sons of their son William Rankin.

William and Mary Huston Rankin (daughter of Archibald Huston) had eight children, all named in William’s will:[1]

  1. Dr. Adam Rankin, b. early 1760s – d. ?
  2. Archibald Rankin, b. 10 Apr 1768, d. 24 Jun 1849, Mercersburg, Franklin Co., PA
  3. James Rankin, b. ca. 1770, probably d. 1820-1830, Centre Co., PA
  4. William Rankin (Jr.), b. 5 Nov 1770, d. 29 Nov 1847, Centre Co., PA
  5. Betsy Rankin (dang, I wish it were easier to follow women!)
  6. David Rankin (still haven’t gotten around to researching David)
  7. John Rankin, b. 8 May 1778 or 1779, d. 22 Apr 1848, Centre Co., PA
  8. Jeremiah Rankin, b. 26 Nov 1783, d. 18 Feb 1874, Centre Co., PA

The “FTL” post tracked James, William Jr., John and Jeremiah from Franklin to Centre County, PA. Their father William Sr. had devised land to each of them in his 1792 will. He described the devised tracts with sufficient particularity to make finding those four sons easy as (apple) pie.

I gave rather short shrift to one son, Dr. Adam Rankin, who had me stumped at the time I wrote that post. Here is what the FTL post originally said about Dr. Adam (the post is now updated to include more current information):

Adam Rankin (b. ca 1760 – ?) was a doctor, probably born in the early 1760s. In 1792, he granted his brother Archibald a power of attorney for “as long as I am absent” to “transact all my business.” I don’t know where Dr. Adam went when he was “absent.” In 1796, Archibald sold Adam’s inherited Westmoreland tract pursuant to the power of attorney[2]… in 1798, Dr. Adam Rankin was listed on a Franklin County tax list … I can find no Pennsylvania record for him after that.”

Truth in lending compels me to admit that I didn’t look very hard for Dr. Adam, because at that time I was hot on the heels of his four brothers in Centre County. Spoiler alert: Dr. Adam is (hang in there) a part of this narrative.

Here are the Civil War and baseball parts

Three weeks after the above FTL post, I was exchanging emails with a nice Rankin family history researcher and distant Rankin cousin. He is a Civil War history expert, having taught several short courses on the subject at a well-known university. We have been talking about his Rankin family specifically, and Rankins in general. He mentioned a Confederate Brigadier General named Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson and enclosed an article about him. Here is Stovepipe’s picture:

Stovepipe acquired his nickname in July of (probably) 1862, thusly:

“With a mere thirty-five men at his command, he crossed the Ohio [River] – he believed it to be the first Rebel “invasion” of the North – and attacked the town of Newburgh, Indiana, on July 18. There were two hundred or more Federals in the town, though mostly convalescent soldiers in hospitals. To bluff them into surrendering, Johnson mounted two stovepipes on an old wagon and paraded it around to look like artillery. The ruse worked, the town gave up, and he became ever after Stovepipe Johnson.”

Stovepipe was born in Henderson, KY in 1834, but moved to Burnet, Texas when he was twenty. (That’s pronounced BURN’-it, with emphasis on the first syllable, for you non-Texans). He went back to Kentucky when the war broke out, made a name for himself as a scout for Nathan Bedford Forrest and as a recruiter, and evenually organized and equipped the 10th Kentucky Calvary. He was accidentally shot in the face by one of his own men in August 1864, lost his eyesight, and was captured and imprisoned at Fort Warren until the end of the war. He returned to Texas, where he founded the town of Marble Falls (nicknamed “the blind man’s town”), worked to harness the water power of the Colorado River, served as a contractor for the Overland Mail, and founded the Texas Mining Improvement Company. Oh, yeah, he also wrote an autobiography that is considered a “must read” regarding certain aspects of the Civil War. Whew!

He died in Burnet  in 1922, and was reportedly a happy, cheerful man, blind or not. It sure didn’t slow him down much, did it? I’m just sorry he wasn’t fighting against slavery. He is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. There is a ton of information about him on the internet – Googling “Adam Rankin Stovepipe Johnson” will produce a wealth of hits for you. Here is a  short article posted by the Texas State Historical Association, so it has some credibility (and has a citation to Stovepipe’s autobiography).

Among other things, the TSHA article tells you that Stovepipe had six children. Keep Googling, and you will find that one of them was named Adam Rankin “Tex” Johnson (1888 – 1972). He was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals during 1914-1918. His ERA in the majors was a very respectable 2.96. Dallas Keuchal should have done as well for the Astros today (August 18, 2018). Here is a picture of Tex:

AND Tex had a son, Rankin Johnson Jr., who was also a major league pitcher — for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1941. He’s a nice-looking man, and his tombstone is inscribed “TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME,” so you’ve got to love him! Here’s his picture:

… the next time the announcers for the Houston Astros have a trivia question about father-son major league players, I’ll be ready with “Tex” Johnson and Rankin Johnson. I imagine they will be stumped.

The serendipity part

What, you may well be asking, do Brigadier General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson, “Tex” Johnson, and Rankin Johnson have to do with the family of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin of Lancaster Co., PA? Or their grandson Dr. Adam Rankin?

The serendipity was having my Rankin cousin and friend just drop Gen. Adam Rankin Johnson in my lap. From there, it doesn’t take too much imagination to deduce that Stovepipe Johnson’s mother was née Rankin. Yes, indeed, says the Texas State Historical Association summary about Stovepipe. Her name was Julia Rankin, and she was the daughter of … Doctor Adam Rankin of Henderson Co., KY, who was originally from Pennsylvania.

Apparently, Dr. Adam Rankin (son of William and Mary Huston Rankin and brother of Archibald) was “absent” from Pennsylvania in 1792 because he was busy marrying Elizabeth Speed of Danville, KY that year. She was the first of his three wives, by whom Dr. Adam fathered thirteen children — including a daughter Mary Huston Rankin (his eldest child) and a son Archibald Rankin.

Here is a link to a biographical article about Dr. Adam’s family in an 1887 history of Henderson County, KY.

I haven’t been into the deed and probate records of Henderson Co., KY, yet. With any kind of luck, they will provide evidence tying Dr. Adam Rankin, grandfather of Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson, back to Franklin Co., PA. As for me, I consider the names of those two children to be  extremely persuasive circumstantial evidence.

See you on down the road. There are more Pennsylvania Rankins on the horizon.

RRW

[1]Will of William Rankin of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., PA dated 20 Oct 1792 proved 28 Nov 1792. “Advanced in age.” Franklin Co., PA Will book B A-B: 256.

[2]Westmoreland Deed Book 7: 392. The deed recites that Archibald Rankin was of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., that the 274-acre tract in Westmoreland was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim on 27 July 1773 and William devised it to his son Dr. Adam Rankin by will dated 20 October 1792. The deed also recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald Rankin power of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at DB 7: 392.

Rankins of Fayette Co., PA: Help Wanted

I’ve been exchanging emails with a charming family history researcher who said she frequently feels she is going in circles. She said the circles are “usually good, weird or funny coincidence sort of things.” Specifically, she had read Roberta Estes’s blog about genealogical proof, which contained a link to my article on the same subject at this website, where she read some of my Rankin posts, which led her to the  Rankin Family DNA Project, where she emailed project administrators with questions about the project website, which led her back to me because I responded to her questions. Completing the circle, I recommended Roberta Estes’s blog as one source of information for her. Voila!

My own version of going in circles feels more like chasing my own tail, because it usually goes nowhere.

I’ve been working on various Pennsylvania Rankins and going nowhere on one puzzling part of the Rankin family of Fayette County. I need help, and someone out there undoubtedly has answers.

A Rankin family started appearing in Westmoreland (a predecessor to Fayette County) in the 1770s.[1] There seems to be no evidence in the records where they lived immediately prior to Westmoreland/Fayette. The Rankin family patriarch, William Sr., may have been the original immigrant in his line. Alternatively, he may be related to one of the other Rankin families multiplying like rabbits across Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century during the Great Migration of Scots-Irish that began in 1717. YDNA testing doesn’t provide a definitive answer. YDNA of a descendant of the Fayette County Rankins puts him in Lineage 2 of the Rankin Family DNA Project — along with fourteen other participants from a number of Rankin families whose common ancestor has not yet been identified.

I need help on one particular branch of the Fayette County line. Deed records, cemetery tombstones, and an old county history establish a good start for a conventional outline descendant chart for the Fayette Rankins. As usual, I will omit material available on countless online family trees for which I have not yet found proof, and stick to facts for which I can provide actual evidence. In the interest of brevity, I will omit detail about these families.

1 William Rankin Sr.,whose will was dated 1794,  proved 1799, in Fayette Co. The children listed below are not necessarily in birth order.[2]

2 James Rankin, who left Fayette circa 1800 and headed “west.”[3] The deed records make it clear that he was well over his head in debt to a number of people in Pennsylvania and Virginia, including quite a few members of his own family.[4] He was probably born in the late 1740s or early 1750s. I have no idea where James went, but would be interested to hear from anyone who has tracked him.

2 Hugh Rankin, 1750 – 1826, died in Fayette Co., wife Esther MNU. They had four children born between 1790 and 1810. Three of the children reportedly also “went west.”[5] The only child who remained in Fayette County, a son Thomas born about 1802, had quite a few children. I tracked his line looking for a male descendant who might be willing to YDNA test, but found none. In the memorable phrase of my most longstanding Rankin researcher friend, the line may have “daughtered out.” Or I may have made a research error, which would not be a first.

Elizabeth Rankin m. William Gillespie.

2 William Rankin Jr., died intestate in Fayette in 1807, wife Jane. This is the line of interest in this post.

At this point, I had to leave the deed and probate records to find William Jr.’s family because I have limited local access to Fayette records. The best evidence I have found so far for William Jr.’s family is a family Bible posted online.  Nobody seems to know (or say) who currently owns the Bible, or its provenance, or when the Bible was published – all standard authentication evidence generally required for a family Bible to be deemed good evidence. In this case, the images of the Bible pages provide evidence of its authenticity.

Here’s what that family Bible adds to William Jr. and Jane’s family.

1 William Rankin Sr., will dated 1794, proved 1799, Fayette Co., PA.

2 James Rankin, left Fayette about 1800 and headed “west.”

2 Hugh Rankin, 1750 – 1826, died in Fayette Co., wife Esther MNU.

2 William Rankin Jr., married Jane MNU on 29 Apr 1785. He d. 13 Dec 1807; she d. 15 Dec 1835.

3 Thomas Rankin, b. 5 Mar 1786 d. 2 Jun 1841

3 Esther Rankin, b. 16 Apr 1788

3 James Rankin, b. 13 Oct 1789

3 Ann Rankin, b. 10 Oct 1791, m. Mr. McCormick, d. 25 Jan 1867?

3 Hugh Rankin, b. 7 May 1793

3 Samuel Rankin, b. 14 Jul 1795, d. 2 Apr 1870

3 Mary Rankin, b. 17 Jul 1797

3 James Rankin, b. 3 May 1799

3 William Rankin, b. 25 Sep 1800

3 John Rankin, 10 Oct 1802 – 18 Feb 1865.

3 Joseph Rankin, b. 17 Nov 1804

Many of these Rankins remained in Fayette County, mostly in Union Township or Uniontown, for generations. Fayette County cemeteries are swamped with Rankins and their progeny. Since William Jr. and Jane’s children were born around the turn of the century, the federal census, cemetery records, and Pennsylvania death certificates make it relatively easy to trace most of them. I will avoid piling on details.

However, if you want to see the best Ancestry.com family tree ever – and I don’t usually recommend online trees, which are mostly unsourced – check out the Jackson/Rankin family tree. That tree covers the Rankins who remained in Fayette County better than I could. You can find it at this link, provided you have a subscription to Ancestry.com. The photographs alone are worth their weight in gold if you are connected to this line. There are also images of pages from the family Bible quoted above, all thanks to F. T. Jackson (another Rankin researcher I’m glad I met).

Back to my dilemma, and I shall put his name in boldface: Thomas Rankin b. 5 Mar 1786 d. 2 Jun 1841.

Thomas last appeared in Pennsylvania a 1814 deed for land in Washington County in which he sold some land, reciting facts sufficient to establish that he had a brother and father named William and a mother Jane.[6] After that deed, he disappeared from the Fayette and Washington County records. Presumably, he also went “west.”

To wit: there is a tombstone in Londonderry Township, Guernsey County, Ohio for a Thomas Rankin which has a date of death of June 2, 1841.[7] The man buried there is either Thomas, son of William and Jane of Fayette County, or that name and date of death is a coincidence that defies probability. The tombstone and Bible birth dates don’t quite match up, however. The tombstone says that Thomas died “in the 50th year of his age,” which would put his date of birth at 1790-ish. Census records for 1820-40 agree. The Bible says that William and Jane’s son Thomas was born in 1786. You could call that quibbling.

Thomas Rankin married Elizabeth Stevens in Guernsey Co., OH in April 1818. After Thomas died, Elizabeth and her family were listed in the 1850 through 1870 censuses. From the census listings, one can infer three children with a fair amount of confidence: (1) a son John, b. abt. 1832-33, (2) a son George, b. abt. 1835-36, and (3) daughter Louisa, b. abt. 1839. Elizabeth was still alive in 1870, living adjacent to John Rankin. Her tombstone, also in the McCoy Cemetery in Londonderry Township, Guernsey Co., says that she died 22 Feb. 1878.

Here, at last, is my question: what is the proof, if any, of the identity of any of Thomas’s OTHER children? Inquiring minds want to know. Thomas left no will in Guernsey County. I’m hoping somebody has other evidence. Specifically, I’m looking for a son William. What is the evidence?

??????????????????

More on Pennsylvania Rankins later. I seem to run across them faster than I can write about them. See you on down the road.

RRW

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   

[1]Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book A1: 149, 1776 deed from George Dawson of Tyron Township, Westmoreland, to William Rankin, same, 29.24 acres adj Wm Rankin, George Dawson, John Hall.

[2]Fayette Co., PA Will Book 1: 46. See also Deed Book D: 192, deed dated 11 Jan 1800 from William Rankin Jr., son of William Rankin Sr., and wife Jane to Andrew Bryson reciting some terms of the will.

[3]Franklin Ellis, Ed., History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1882) at 672.

[4]See Fayette Co., PA Deed Book C3 at 1241 and 1387 for two remarkable deeds illustrating James’ financial irresponsibility.

[5]Id.

[6]Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1Y: 597.

[7]Findagrave link to Thomas’s tombstone image: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/47828906/thomas-rankin

The Heirs of Joshua Willis Sr. – Proved by Petitions, Patents, Depositions, and Deeds

John Willis bought land on Marshy Creek in 1717 in what became Caroline County, MD. One of his sons Joshua was born about 1720 and died in 1797. Joshua left a 1790 will that has not been located. However, several legal documents … petitions, patents, deeds, and depositions … combine to identify accurately Joshua’s children and provide other details about the family. These records emphasize the need in genealogy to “Follow The Land.”

Joshua acquired during his lifetime several hundred acres of land. He devised all the land he possessed at the time he made his will. Thankfully for us, Joshua did not amend the will to devise the tracts he acquired subsequent to 1790. The tracts not disposed of in the will fell to Joshua’s heirs at law under the law of intestate descent and distribution. This led to petitions, patents, deeds and depositions that identify those heirs. Since the will is lost, those other records relating to two specific tracts of land are the only evidence we have. Luckily, they are all we need.

Willis’s Landing

Joshua acquired land he called Willis’s Landing in two transactions in 1793. On 8 Jan 1793, John Nicolls assigned to Joshua 7½ acres of a 26-acre tract that Nicolls had acquired under a special warrant. Pursuant to a special warrant dated 20 Apr 1793, Joshua surveyed 69 ¾ adjacent acres, and named it Addition to Willis’s Landing. Petitions and subsequent land sales prove that Joshua’s will did not devise these parcels acquired after 1790. Further, his will clearly did not contain a “residuary clause” whereby property not specifically devised or bequeathed would fall to an identified beneficiary. In effect, Joshua’s estate was “intestate” as to this particular land.

Joshua Willis Jr. cited those facts in a petition seeking a patent for the land in the names of the heirs. He showed that his father properly acquired and paid for the tracts and that he died intestate as to those lands, leaving “Elizabeth Everngham, Joshua Willis (your petitioner), Frances Baker, Deborah Lucas, Charles Willis, Peter Willis, Thomas Willis, James Willis, John Willis, Annaretta Fleming, and Mary Willis his only children and heirs at law.” The filing stated that Charles Willis and Thomas Willis had died without issue and that Annaretta also died, leaving Mary Fleming and Robert Fleming her only children and heirs at law. Note that Joshua Sr.’s wife must have predeceased him, otherwise the petition would have named her as an heir.[1]

Joshua Jr. filed this petition on 14 May 1805, and an order issued the same day naming the living heirs. The order called for a patent to be issued to the ten named individuals, with the first eight (the living children of Joshua Sr.) each having an undivided one-ninth interest in the property and Mary Fleming and Robert Fleming to share the remaining ninth.[2]

An earlier deposition also names Joshua’s eleven children and notes that four of the five daughters had married, identifying their husbands:

  • Elizabeth married William Everngham
  • Frances married Charles Baker
  • Deborah married Joshua Lucas
  • Annaretta married Silas Fleming

That deposition also stated that Charles and Thomas Willis had died intestate and without issue, and that Annaretta and Silas Fleming had died leaving children Mary and Robert.[3]

A short aside … Annaretta’s husband made a will dated 1 Feb 1804 naming his brother-in-law Peter Willis executor. This will reveals that Annaretta predeceased Silas because she was not named, as well as the fact that the two Fleming children were minors.[4]

On 17 Jun 1805, the heirs sold Willis’ Landing and recorded the sale in Dorchester County (the tract fell partly in Caroline and partly in Dorchester). The signatories were William Everngham and his wife Elizabeth, Joshua Willis, Frances Baker, Joshua Lucas and his wife Deborah, Peter Willis, and John Willis.[5]

We are missing a few signatories in this list: Frances’ husband Charles Baker; James Willis; the two Fleming children; and Mary Willis. What does this tell us? Likely the following:

  • Frances’s husband Charles Baker must have died before this sale. A husband represented a wife’s interest in legal transactions. Frances would only represent herself if no longer married.
  • James Willis made up for his absence by filing in the Dorchester County Court acknowledging and recording the sale on 9 Dec 1805.[6]
  • Regarding the Fleming minors, we can assume that Peter Willis probably signed on their behalf. I have not found a record of an official guardianship, but the children lived in his household.
  • The mystery is Mary Willis. Where is her signature? I believe that Mary was still a minor at the date of this sale (therefore born after 1784). I find no official guardian appointed, but there is not one for the Fleming children either. The lost will of Joshua Sr. may have designated one of the siblings to be her guardian.

The record related to Willis’s Landing proves the children of Joshua Willis. However, we can learn a bit more by examining the documents surrounding a second tract called Willis’s Luck.

Willis’s Luck

Joshua Sr. acquired 229½ acres he named Willis’s Luck under a special warrant in 1763. He sold 100 acres shortly thereafter, simultaneously buying a small tract named Bank of Pleasure that provided access to Hunting Creek for the larger tract. A 1793 resurvey of his land defined 136½ acres that he called Addition to Willis’s Luck. The resurvey included 25 vacant acres, which turn out to be genealogically significant.

Joshua Sr.’s 1790 will devised Willis’s Luck, Addition to Willis’s Luck, and Bank of Pleasure to his son Charles. Sons Joshua and Peter were contingent beneficiaries and would share the land if Charles died without issue. Several records confirm this provision of the lost will.

  • On 28 Feb 1799, Joshua Jr. sold to Peter Willis 150 acres, part of Bank of Pleasure and part of Addition to Willis’s Luck. The record states this was half the land that fell to them at the death of their brother Charles.[7]
  • On 7 Aug 1804, Joshua Jr. sold to Peter Willis 150 acres, parts of Bank of Pleasure, Willis’s Luck, and Addition to Willis’s Luck. This record recites that the land fell to Joshua by the demise of his brother Charles.[8]

Charles clearly received this land through the will, and when he died without children, Joshua and Peter inherited under the terms of the will. Absent such a contingency provision, the death of Charles would have entitled all his heirs — his siblings — to a share of the land. An 1800 petition confirms those facts but with an interesting twist. The vacant land added through the 1793 resurvey was notcovered by Joshua Sr.’s prior ownership of the tracts. The will could not devise those added acres. Here we go with another petition, since these “intestate” acres descend to Joshua Sr.’s heirs at law.

In 1800, Joshua Willis and Peter Willis petitioned for a patent related to the vacant land. They cited their father’s acquisition and patent history of the tract. They specifically stated their father Joshua made his will in 1790. They stated that the land was devised to their brother Charles and fell to them divided equally should Charles die without issue. Finally, they noted that the vacant land added to the tract in 1793, subsequent to the date of the will, was not covered by the devise of land in that document. The estate was intestate as to that extra 25 acres. They therefore asked that a patent issue for that land in the name of the heirs at law. On 10 Dec 1800, the Chancellor of Maryland ordered the patent issued as requested, which happened on 20 Feb 1801.[9]

Nine years later the heirs sold that small acreage for $87. William Everngam and his wife Elizabeth, Deborah Lucas, Peter Willis, James Willis, John Willis, and Matthew Hardcastle and his wife Mary signed the 25 Jan 1810 deed of sale. The deeds and petition related to Willis’s Luck reveal some details about these people other than just their names:

  • Charles Willis obviously died before the first sale from Joshua Jr. to Peter in February 1799.
  • In the 1810 sale, only six of the nine shares appear to be represented. The three missing shares are as follows:
    • Joshua Willis did not participate in the 1810 sale. Joshua must have died before 1810 and left no issue, or he transferred his interest to one of the other heirs. There is no record of a conveyance from Joshua to an heir or anyone else. Since there is no such record, Joshua must be deceased.
    • Frances Willis Baker did not participate and was likely also dead.
    • The Fleming children did not sign. If alive, they must still be minors and therefore born after 1789. In that case, Peter still represented them.
  • Mary Willis was by then married to Matthew Hardcastle.[10]Her absence as a signatory on the 1805 sale of Willis’s Landing established she was born after 1784. She might have married Hardcastle as early as age 16, which would mean she was born by 1790, when her father wrote his will. I put her likely birth range at 1785-1789.

It would have been nice if Joshua Sr.’s 1790 will survived and had been updated over time to cover all his property. Had that occurred, however, we might not be privy to these additional details about this family. The lesson, as always, is “Follow The Land.

[1]Joshua outlived two wives, Susannah LNU, mother of his first three children, and Deborah Greenhawk whom he married 20 May 1774.

[2]Maryland State Archives Online, Dorchester County Circuit Court, Patented Certificates, MSA_S1196_3662

[3]This deposition by Captain William Haskins states the will was made in 1797. The petition seeking a patent in the name of Joshua’s heirs at law filed in 1800 gives the date as 1790. The earlier date is correct based on the subject matter of the petition, that is, to provide proper title to lands acquired in 1793. If the will were made in 1797, it likely would have devised those lands making the new patent unnecessary.

[4]Keddie, Leslie and Neil, Caroline County, Maryland, Register of Wills, 1800-1806, Liber JR Bi, Transcript& Liber LR C, i,(The Family Tree Bookshop, 2001), 48.

[5]Maryland State Archives online, Dorchester County Land Records, MSA_CE 46-48,(Liber HD No. 23: 181

[6]IdatHD 23:183

[7]Leonard, R. Bernice, Caroline County Maryland Land Records, Volume F, 1797-1799, (St. Michaels, MD: Helen E. Seymour), F:448.

[8]Leonard, Volume I, 1804-1809, I:090.

[9]Maryland State Archives Online, Caroline County Circuit Court, Patented Certificates, MSA_S1192_18.

[10]Marriage records indicate she married in Caroline County on 17 Sep 1806.

Adam Rankin d. 1747, Lancaster PA, & Mary Steele Rankin’s son William: “Follow the Land”

Every genealogist has used the “Follow The Land” approach to family history research, even if she/he doesn’t call it by that name. The idea is that an identifiable tract of land can prove family connections via deed, probate, and other records.[1] This post is a good example. FTL establishes the identity of a colonial Rankin’s wife and helps track a son’s family with evidence that qualifies as conclusive.

This post deals with some of the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins, rather than the North Carolina Rankin families often discussed in this blog.[2] You can read the Londonderry Siege Rankins’ interesting oral history here. It mentions two immigrants identified as brothers who came to Pennsylvania in the 1720s. Both men died in Lancaster Co., PA in the 1740s:

  • John Rankin died in 1749. His will named his wife Margaret, sons Richard and Thomas, six daughters, and 2 sons-in-law.[3] Here is a post about him, including a not-quite-successful attempt to reproduce images of the original.
  • Adam Rankin died in 1747. This post is about Adam’s line, particularly his son William.

Adam’s earliest appearance in the colonies was about 1722, when an Adam Rankin signed a petition to Lord Baltimore from landowners in the so-called “New Munster” tract. The petition said the signatories believed that they resided in Maryland rather than Pennsylvania.[4] One particular New Munster tract conclusively proves the identity of Adam’s wife. Here is the evidentiary trail …

  • The 1717 will of James Alexander of New Munster, Cecil Co., MD devised a 316-acre tract.[5] His will says he had bargained for the land, but hadn’t paid for it or obtained a deed. He instructed his executors to sell as much of his moveable estate as necessary to pay for the tract. James also instructed that three “honest men … of the neighborhood” divide the land into three equal parts for his family. James named as executors his wife Mary Alexander and his father-in-law John Steele, establishing that his wife was née Mary Steele.
  • Next, a Cecil County deed dated August 1718 completed the purchase of the tract as James had instructed. Thomas Stevenson conveyed 316 acres to Mary Alexander, “widow and relict of James Alexander of New Munster” and sons Joseph, John and Francis Alexander. Echoing James Alexander’s will, the deed recites that James had bargained with grantor for the land but didn’t pay for it before he died, but had left money to pay it, and instructed that it should be divided into three equal parts.[6]
  • Finally, the tract was divided into three parts by survey of September 29, 1724. The survey identifies the tract as 316 acres in New Munster and states that James Alexander’s widow Mary married Adam Rankin.[7]

Thank you, 316-acre tract … the will, deed and survey leave no reasonable doubt that Mary Steele, daughter of John Steele of New Castle Co., DE, married James Alexander first, and then Adam Rankin. Also, her marriage to Adam must have taken place between August 1718 (the conveyance from Thomas Stevenson) and September 1724 (the survey).

Adam’s will, dated 4 May 1747, was proved 21 Sep 1747 in Lancaster County, PA.[8] Here is an abstract:

To son James Rankin, £ 5 “pencelvaney currancy,” plus the “place he is now in possession of being fully given over to him.” Daughter Esther Rankin Dunwoody, £ 5. Wife (name omitted), two-thirds “of all my worldly substance.” To sons William and Jeremiah, the residue of my estate, including the plantation to be equally divided between them. Witnesses James Pettigrew, John McMath?

So far as I know, there is only one record concerning Adam’s land aside from the New Munster tract petition. Adam obtained a 1742 warrant (thank you, Floyd Owsley) to survey 100 acres “at Conegocheague.”[9 ] Conococheague Creek is near Greencastle, PA, less than 5 miles north of the current PA/MD line. I don’t know whether the warrant ripened into a grant. I haven’t seen anything in the PA Patent Book records for Adam. However, it seems to be the best evidence available about his location.

Three years after Adam died, that Conococheague acreage would fall in Cumberland County, created in 1750 from Lancaster. Beginning in 1784, it would be located in Antrim Township, Franklin County, created from Cumberland in 1784.[10]

Adam’s land warrant thus tells us exactly where to begin looking for his family after he died.

Adam and Mary’s sons James and William fairly leap out of the records of Antrim Township in Franklin County. Both men were listed on the Antrim tax lists (along with some of their sons) in 1785, 1786 and 1787. Beginning in 1789, Wiliam was taxed in Antrim Township; James was taxed in Montgomery Township.

So far as I have found, their brother Jeremiah never appeared in any county records other than his father’s will. There is no primary source (deeds, wills, or other county records) for the identity of his children. The best evidence I have found about Jeremiah’s family is contained in an old book by Rev. Robert Davidson titled The History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky. Rev. Davidson wrote about a Presbyterian minister named Adam Rankin of Lexington, KY. Adam was probably a son of Jeremiah and his wife Miss Craig, probably Rachel Craig. Here is an article about Rev. Adam and his mother’s identity. 

William and James were more cooperative than Jeremiah. Not only did they appear in the exact geographic location Adam’s 1742 grant led us to expect, they both left wills. The will of James Rankin Sr. of Montgomery Township, Franklin County, was dated 25 March 1788 and proved 20 October 1795. It names his wife Jean; sons William, Jeremiah, James (Jr.) and David; daughter Ruth Rankin Tool; son-in-law Samuel Smith; and granddaughter Mary Smith. James named his son Jeremiah Rankin and friend David Huston/Houston as executors.[11]

We will leave James Sr. for another day. We’re now on the track of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s son William because there are more contradictory views of that line than one can count. Some claims are relevant to “Lineage 2” of the Rankin DNA Project, which is near and dear to my heart — because that’s where my Rankin cousin’s YDNA places my Rankin family.

William’s wife was Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald Huston.[12] William’s will, dated 20 Oct 1792 and proved 28 Nov 1792, suggests he amassed a good bit of land.[13] William described himself as “of Antrim Township” in Franklin County and “advanced in age” in 1792.

Here are his devises and bequests:

  • Wife Mary received one-third of profits from “the mansion place.”
  • Son Adam Rankin inherited 200 acres on the waters of the Kiskimetatas River in Westmoreland Countyand an enslaved person.
  • Son Archibald Rankin received 200 acres off “the mansion place.”
  • Sons James and William inherited 990 acres in Penns Valley, Mifflin County, “150 acres of which is sold for taxes if it can be purchased nearly at what it was sold for,” purchase money to be equally “taken off” sons Archibald, James, William, David, John and Jeremiah. I take that to mean that a portion of the Penn’s Valley tract had been sold for taxes, but William wanted his estate to buy it back. There is a Mifflin County deed which may prove that repurchase, although I don’t have access to either film or an abstract of it.[14] Dang it. Need.To.Go.To.PA.
  • Daughter Betsy, £ 400 and an enslaved person. She was less than 21.
  • Son David, old mansion place, 300 acres.
  • Sons John and Jeremiah, 408 acres on Spring Creek in Penns Valley in Mifflin County, plus £ 400 from son David starting when they reach 21.
  • Sons Archibald Rankin, James Rankin, and William Rankin, executors. Witnesses William Beaty, John Woods, John McLanahan.

“Follow the land” is pretty straightforward for some of William and Mary’s children, thanks to that will. Here is a little bit about his sons. I don’t know who his daughter Betsy married, if she married at all.

Adam Rankin (b. ca 1760 – ?) was a doctor, probably born in the early 1760s. In 1792, he granted his brother Archibald a power of attorney for “as long as I am absent” to “transact all my business.” In 1796, Archibald sold Adam’s inherited Westmoreland tract pursuant to the power of attorney. The deed recites the date the tract was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim Township and that it was devised to Doctor Adam Rankin by his father’s 1792 will.[15] In 1798, Dr. Adam Rankin was listed on a Franklin County tax list in the “6thDivision, 4thAssessment Dist.” He was most likely the first physician in his family, which is positively awash with doctors in the next two generations. He turned up in Henderson, KY. Here is an article about his grandson, Confederate Brigadier Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson.

Archibald Rankin (1764 – 1845) inherited part of the “old mansion place” in Antrim Township, and he apparently stayed right there until he died. His first appearance in the records was on the 1785 Antrim tax list as a “freeman.”[16] He was a head of household in the federal census of Franklin County from 1790 through 1840 (I could not find him in 1830, although he was still alive).[17] I haven’t tried to trace his line, although he had a number of children. He belonged to the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague. Church records show that he married Agnes Long on 9 Mar 1790 and that their daughter Fanny died in 1827. Church records also say Archibald died 24 Jun 1845 at age 81, indicating he was born about 1764. He and Agnes are reportedly buried in the Church Hill Graveyard AKA White Church Cemetery in Mercersburg, Franklin County. Findagrave is losing its credibility with lots of unsourced stuff being posted on its sites, making it hard to know what to trust absent a tombstone photo.

David Rankin inherited the rest of the “old mansion place.” I must put off talking about David pending additional research. Both James d. 1795 and his brother William d. 1792 had sons named David. I cannot confidently distinguish between the two without further digging. At some point, you just stop and write what you know. This post is an example.

The remaining four sons are FTL exemplars. That is because William d. 1792 left land in Penn’s Valley, Mifflin County, some of it on Spring Creek, to his sons James, William, John and Jeremiah. The will suggests that John and Jeremiah would be located close to each other, since they shared a tract; likewise, James and William shared a tract, and should be located near each other.

An old book titled History of Centre and Clinton Counties by John Blair Linn (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883) has a section titled “Discovery of Penns Valley.” It also has a map of the original survey of Bellefonte, the county seat of Centre County, with “Spring Creek” running right through the middle of it. I have tried to post an image of that lovely map here, with no luck. Techno-idiocy. Sorry.

Centre County, by the way, was created in 1803 from Mifflin County, so the two tracts devised by William were located in Mifflin County when he wrote his will in 1792, and in Centre County after 1803.

Jackpot. There they are, all four of them in Centre County, paired off geographically just as one would expect. The 1810 census for Potter Township in Centre County has on one page James Rankin enumerated two households down from William Rankin. Another page has listings for Jeremiah Rankin and John Rankin. All four men are in the age 26 < 45 category, born during 1765 – 1784. We know that Jeremiah and John were underage in 1792 when their father wrote his will, so they would have been born after 1771. We know that Archibald, an elder brother, was born in 1764. Those birth ranges fit like a glove, with further confirmation in later census records.

These men are undoubtedly sons of William Rankin (Sr.) d. 1792, Franklin, and Mary Huston Rankin, and grandsons of Adam d. 1747 and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. A conventional descendant chart for the Centre County Rankins is under construction. It grows every time I search the census records. The number of physicians on this family’s tree is incredible. If you are descended from a Dr. Rankin who lived in Pennsylvania in the mid 1800’s, you might want to look at this line. If you are interested in joining the D.A.R., this is an admission ticket, because the D.A.R. has admitted at least two women based on the service of William Rankin d. 1792, Franklin Co. I will post the descendant chart soon, God willing and the creek don’t rise. It would help if the heat index here would drop below three digits (Houston, July 2018).

Meanwhile, here is a skeletal ancestor chart for William’s line:

1 Adam Rankin d. 1747 Lancaster Co., PA. Wife Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James.

2 Jeremiah Rankin, whose only known appearance in primary records was Adam’s 1747 will. Died in a mill accident about 1760 according to a son’s autobiography as excerpted in History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky. Wife was a Miss Craig, traditionally identified as Rachel. Jeremiah’s four sons went to Fayette and Woodford counties, KY.

2 James Rankin Sr., d. 1795, Franklin Co., PA, see will abstracted above. More on his line later.

2 William Rankin (Sr.), d. 1792, Franklin Co., PA, wife Mary Huston. See above will devising land in Penns Valley, Mifflin County, including a tract on Spring Creek.

3 William Rankin (Jr.), b. 1770 Cumberland Co, PA, d. 1847, Centre Co., PA. Two wives, Abigail McGinley and Susanna (reportedly Huston). See Centre County Will Book B: 254, naming eight children, including Adam, Archibald, James, John, and …

4 Dr. William McGinley Rankin (III) (1795-1872), who moved to Shippensburg in Cumberland Co.[18] He had 11 children, at least one of whom was a physician, and a Presbyterian minister …

5 Rev. William Alexander Rankin.[19]

On that note, I will close. If you want to get into a good knock-down, drag-out fight, go do some searches for family trees that include William Jackson Rankin and William Johnson Rankin. You will find S.A.R. charts in support. You will find a totally different line than that outlined above, except that both the S.A.R. version and my outline above have at least four William Rankins in a row. I hereby proffer my version.

*   *  *   *   *  *   *  

[1]For example, a series of deeds concerning land in Tishomingo Co, MS conclusively proved almost all of the children of Lyddal Bacon Estes and “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn,  see article here. Only two deeds in colonial Halifax Co., NC identified the common ancestor of several different family lines belonging to Lindsey/Lindsay DNA Group 3.

[2]For a brief primer on some of the NC Rankins, see this article.

[3]Lancaster Co. Will Book J: 208, image available at this post or online at Familysearch.org.

[4]Henry C. Peden, “Inhabitants of Cecil County, Maryland 1649-1774 (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1993) at 33. Actual hostilities (called “Cresap’s War”) broke out between Maryland and Pennsylvania during the 1730s over competing land claims by the two states; check out this link, which has a great map. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cresap%27s_War.

[5]Will of James Alexander of New Munster, Cecil Co., MD dated 12 Jul 1717, probate date unknown but before August 1718 when a deed recites some provisions of the will. It is recorded in New Castle Co., DE (where John Steele, an executor, resided), but no copy apparently remains in the Cecil County records. I don’t know whether the will is preserved in the PA Archives. Floyd Owsley, an administrator of the Alexander Family DNA Project, provided a transcription of the will to me.

[6]Cecil Co., MD Deed Book 3: 212.

[7]Cecil County Circuit Court Certificates, No. 514, survey of 316 acres for the heirs of James Alexander dated 28 Sep 1724. Floyd Owsley provided a copy of the original and a transcription. The copy is too poor to post online, although I will be happy to share it with anyone who wants to see it.

[8]Lancaster Co. Will Book J: 208. Image available online at FamilySearch.org.

[9]Floyd Owsley, a descendant of the New Munster tract Alexanders, emailed an image of the original document to me. It is labeled “No. 111” and is dated 11 Nov. 1742. It appears to be a warrant to survey 100 acres “situate at Conegocheage between the lands of Samuel Owen, James Swaffer, Samuel Brown, and the Blue Mountains.”

[10]Here is a link to an interactive county formation map for PA: https://www.mapofus.org/pennsylvania/

[11]Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345 (estate #354).

[12]Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania(Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1944), citing Pennsylvania Archives 5thSeries, Vol. 6, at 576 and 583. “WILLIAM RANKIN of Antrim Twp., appears as a private under Capt. James Poe, 1782, and [on] an undated roll. He married Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald, as shown by the will of Agnes Huston, widow of Archibald.”

[13]Franklin Co. Will Book A-B: 256.

[14]William Rankin’s execs from James Potters’ execs, 1797, Mifflin Co., PA Deed Book D: 15.

[15]Westmoreland Deed Book 7: 392. The deed recites that Archibald Rankin was of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., that the 274-acre tract in Westmoreland was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim on 27 July 1773; it was devised to Dr. Adam Rankin by his father’s will dated 20 October 1792. The deed also recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald Rankin power of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at DB 7: 392.

[16]That means Archibald was age 21 or over, not married, and not a landowner.

[17]1790 census, Franklin Co., Archybald Rankin, 1-0-2-1-0; 1800 census, Burough of Greencastle (Antrim Twp.), Archd Rankin, 20110-20010; 1810 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., Archibald Rankin, 01101-12110; 1820 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., Archibald Rankin, 000101-02300; 1840 census, Peters Township, Franklin Co,. Archibald Rankin, age 70 < 80, the sole member of the household.

[18]John Blair Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883), at 222. Identifies some of the children of William Jr., including a Dr. William Rankin who moved to Shippensburg in Cumberland Co. and died before the book was published.

[19] Even I will trust Findagrave when it cites to the Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/146523201/william-alexander-rankin

PA/TN Rankins: correction & additions, 1749 will of John Rankin

My most recent post (yesterday, July 18, 2018) contained a one-sentence summary of the 1749 will of John Rankin of Lancaster Co., PA. The original post had an error about the will, so I feel compelled to correct it … and add a bit to it. This post will contain images of John’s original will, an abstract, and a start of a chart for his family. As always, the facts are accompanied by opinion and commentary (or, as one relative described it, highly opinionated commentary).

Given that my reference to John Rankin’s will arose in the context of a post of the Mt. Horeb tablet in Jefferson Co, TN, we will focus on what we know about John’s son Thomas, rather than Thomas’s brother Richard or any of his eight sisters. Thomas was the patriarch of the Mt. Horeb/Jefferson Co., TN Rankins. A disclaimer: all of this is conventional wisdom, so this post doesn’t add one iota to the accumulated knowledge of this Rankin family. All it does is add a tiny bit of evidence here and there for those who like that kind of foolishness.

Here are images of John Rankin’s original will — in case you really love these old documents. These are screenshots from an online image of the original. That image is available at FamilySearch.org. at this link. You may need an account at the Family History Library to view it, but accounts are free and very worthwhile. The original will, dated 1 Jan 1749 and proved 25 Feb 1749/50, is recorded in Lancaster Co, PA Will Book J at page 211. It is the absolute dickens to find online, since the people who photographed these documents apparently didn’t give a whit about making sure page numbers were clearly photographed.

Here is image #1 of 3:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images #2 and #3 …

Here are the genealogically important parts of John Rankin’s will:

  • John named his wife Margaret. Conventional Rankin wisdom identifies John’s wife as Jane McElwee. I don’t know how the conventional wisdom reconciles the name Jane with the will. Some people claim her name was Margaret Jane McElwee, although that runs counter to the fact that virtually no one of that era had a middle name. That approach seems a real cop-out. I would call her Margaret, period. Anyone have any record evidence of her maiden name, I hope? They were reportedly married in Ireland, where I have done no research.
  • John named his two sons Richard and Thomas. Richard inherited his father’s clothes. Thomas inherited half of the plantation immediately and the other half at his mother’s death. Reading between the lines, Margaret was Thomas’s mother.
  • John identified six of his daughters as Elizabeth, Ann, Margaret, Catrin, Rebecca and Agness. He also named two sons-in-law — William White and John Waugh, although he didn’t mention the given names of their wives. Interestingly, one of John’s grandsons — John, a son of John and Margaret’s son Thomas Rankin — married a Waugh in Pennsylvania. Perhaps she was his cousin? More on him in another post.
  • Son Richard and wife Margaret were executors. Witnesses were James Crokett (sic, Crockett), Richard Rankin, and Jane Steel. First time I’ve ever seen a beneficiary witness a will. These days, and most days, that is/was a no-no.

I haven’t tracked any of John and Margaret’s daughters, although that’s on my Rankin to-do list. As for the sons, Richard (says the Mt. Horeb tablet, reproduced in yesterday’s post), went to Augusta Co., VA. So, apparently, did Thomas, at least for a time.

Here is some of the evidence concerning Thomas (other than the information contained in oral family history traditions) …

First, there is a deed dated 20 Nov 1779 (Cumberland Co., PA Deed Book E-1: 511), from Thomas and Isabel Rankin of Cumberland Co., PA to John Rankin of same … 100 acres in Fermanagh Township on the north side of the Juanita River. The deed is signed by Thomas Rankin and Isabel (her mark) Rankin. In light of multiple family oral history traditions that Thomas (son of John Rankin d. 1749) married Isabel Clendennon/Clendenin — plus recurring names in the line — there is little doubt that this was Thomas, son of John. Also, the grantee John Rankin was probably the John Rankin who remained in PA at least long enough to marry either Martha or Jane Waugh and have a couple of sons before moving to TN.

Thomas and Isabel moved to Augusta County, VA, where his brother Richard lived. I haven’t found them in the records in Augusta (have only looked in Chalkey’s), although their presence there is proved by the Revolutionary War pension application of Thomas and Isabel’s son William. It is an extraordinary application because it proves so much. Here is Virgil White’s pension application abstract:

William Rankin, wife Sarah, PA and VA line. Born 27 Jan 1759 “some 5 miles below Carlisle in Cumberland Co., PA” and 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 Moore 29 Aug 1787 in Greene Co., TN and 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.

Note that the Mt. Horeb tablet identifies Thomas and Isabel Clendennon Rankin’s son William as having married Sarah Moore. So … the pension application gives us a nice link between the Rankins of Cumberland and the Rankins of Greene/Jefferson.

OK, so let’s stop right here and draw a conventional chart containing what is supported by the evidence:

1  John Rankin b. unknown, d. 1749, Lancaster Co., PA. Wife Margaret.

2 Eight daughters. I apologize for giving them short shrift here.

2 Richard Rankin, to Augusta Co., VA.

2 Thomas Rankin, m. Isabel or Isabella Clendennon/Clendinnin, Cumberland Co, PA to Augusta Co., VA to East TN (Greene/Jefferson counties).

3 William Rankin, b. 27 Jan 1759, Carlisle, Cumberland Co., PA, to Augusta Co., VA in 1780, then to Greene Co, TN by 1787. Wife Sarah Moore.

This extraordinary family has a history that is, for the most part, very easy to trace. Some of it is inspiring, some heartbreaking, such as the descendant of John and Margaret Rankin whose family perished (or at least half of then did) in the 1918 flu epidemic.

Stay tuned. If you don’t wind up loving this East Tennessee family, I will not have done my job. And I’m not even descended from them (although we clearly share YDNA).

 

 

 

 

PA/TN Rankins: the most famous Rankin legend of all

My last post was about evidence and proof, a sidetrack from a series of Rankin family articles. Fortunately, there is a convenient segue to return us to a Rankin family history legend: I ended that post with the comment that all family histories contain important truths, and also – inevitably – some errors.

My irreverent husband adds that traditional family histories are usually also sacred cows. This may be true.

The fact is that oral family traditions are conclusive evidence of only one thing: what the family believes its history to be. As evidentiary sources, they don’t have as much weight or credibility as, say, county records, and they certainly don’t trump YDNA. However, family histories are nevertheless at least secondary evidence. I have learned a great deal from my own family history “legends,” as I’ve written a couple of times on this blog. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that an oral family history actually proves anything in the absence of confirming evidence in actual records.

We are about to take on the most famous Rankin family legend of all. I call the family identified in this legend the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins. Many of them spread across Pennsylvania from Chester County to the west. Many of them wound up in Jefferson, Greene, and Blount counties, Tennessee. Some wound up in Augusta County, VA. This family history tradition exists in at least three different sources I have found, and probably many more: (1) a metal tablet in the Mt. Horeb Cemetery, Jefferson County, TN; (2) the “Republican History of Ohio,” published in 1898; and (3) an alleged 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin of San Augustine, County, Texas, to a relative. The Londonderry Siege Rankin family history can probably be found in many other county books with titles such as “Heritage of ____ County, Tennessee,” not to mention a zillion cut-and-paste histories at Ancestry.com. Keep in mind, of course, that repetition isn’t proof.

The Londerry Siege story is a staple, a cast-in-concrete given, of Rankin family history. YDNA results, however, create a couple of interesting question marks.

Let’s go with the Mt. Horeb tablet, the only one of these family histories that is actually cast in a permanent metal. Just for the record, I am not presenting this as a correct factual statement of Rankin family history. I am presenting it as a correct statement of this particular Rankin family’s oral history. Here it is, verbatim:

THIS TABLET IS TO COMMEMORATE
THE MEMORY OF

RICHARD RANKIN 1756 – 1827         SAMUEL RANKIN 1758 – 1828

THOMAS RANKIN 1762 – 1827        JOHN BRADSHAW 1743 – 1818

FOUR PIONEER SETTLERS OF DUMPLIN VALLEY

GENEALOGY OF THE RANKIN FAMILY

GENERATION 1

ALEXANDER RANKIN, BORN IN SCOTLAND, HAD THREE SONS, TWO WERE MARTYRS TO THEIR RELIGION. OF THESE ONE WAS KILLED ON THE HIGHWAY, THE OTHER SUFFOCATED IN A SMOKEHOUSE WHERE HE HAD TAKEN REFUGE TO ESCAPE HIS PURSUERS. THE THIRD BROTHER, WILLIAM, TOGETHER WITH HIS FATHER AND FAMILY ESCAPED TO DERRY COUNTY, IRELAND IN 1688. WILLIAM AND HIS FATHER, ALEXANDER RANKIN, WERE PARTICIPANTS IN THE SIEGE OF LONDONDERRY, WHICH TOOK PLACE IN 1689.
 ALEXANDER RANKINS NAME IS SIGNED TO THE PETITION OF THANKS TO ALMIGHTY GOD, AND WILLIAM, KING OF ORANGE, FOR HIS TIMELY ASSISTANCE IN RAISING THE SIEGE IN AUGUST, 1689.

GENERATION 2

WILLIAM RANKIN HAD THREE SONS, ADAM, BORN IN SCOTLAND, 1699. JOHN AND HUGH BORN IN IRELAND.
 ADAM AND HUGH CAME TO AMERICA IN 1721, LANDING IN PHILADELPHIA. PA., AND SETTLED IN CHESTER COUNTY, HUGH WAS KILLED IN A MILL ACCIDENT. ADAM MARRIED MARY STEELE.

GENERATION 3

JOHN RANKIN MARRIED JANE McELWEE, IN IRELAND, CAME TO AMERICA IN 1727. HE HAD TWO SONS, THOMAS AND RICHARD, AND EIGHT DAUGHTERS. RICHARD MARRIED A MISS DOUGLASS AND SETTLED IN AUGUSTA COUNTY, VA.

GENERATION 4

THOMAS RANKIN, 1724 – 1828, MARRIED ISABEL CLENDENON OF PA. AND SETTLED IN THAT STATE. THEIR CHILDREN WERE:

JOHN 1754 – 1825 MARRIED MARTHA WAUGH

RICHARD 1756 – 1827 MARRIED JENNETT STEELE

SAMUEL 1758 – 1828 MARRIED – PETTY

WILLIAM 1760 – 1834 MARRIED SARAH MOORE

THOMAS 1762 – 1821 MARRIED JENNETT BRADSHAW

JAMES 1770 – 1839 MARRIED MARGARET MASSEY

JANE MARRIED WILLIAM GILLESPIE

MARGARET MARRIED SAMUEL HARRIS

ANN MARRIED LEMUEL LACY

ISABEL MARRIED ROBT. McQUISTON

NANCY MARRIED SAMUEL WHITE

MARY MARRIED JAMES BRADSHAW

THOMAS RANKIN OF GENERATION 4, WAS A CAPTAIN IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR. HIS FOUR ELDEST SONS WERE PRIVATES IN SAID WAR.

THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED IN 1930 BY
 CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON RANKIN
 COURTLAND THALES RANKIN, ATTY
 REV. JOHN GRANT NEWMAN, D.D.
 MRS. ALMYRA-RANKIN-McMURRAY
 MRS. ROZEE- RANKIN TAYLOR 
FRANK WALTER RANKIN
 HARRY JAY RANKIN 
SAM HULL RANKIN

End of transcription.

There is only one obvious error on the Mt. Horeb tablet: Adam Rankin, if born in 1699, couldn’t have been born in Scotland if, in fact, his family had escaped from the Killing Times in Scotland to be present for the Siege of Londonderry in 1689. Otherwise, the dates are credible. The “Killing Times” did include the year 1688, and many Presbyterian Scots were martyred in those times (they probably included some Rankins). Also, history confirms that many Presbyterian Scots did escape to the relatively safe haven of the Ulster Plantations of northern Ireland during the Killing Times (and this probably also included some Rankins). Finally, the Siege of Londonderry did occur in 1689, and there were undoubtedly Rankins there, at least one of whom was definitely named Alexander Rankin. I haven’t done any research overseas, so … if anyone out there has some actual evidence … please let me know!

The specific proof of the Alexander/William/ Adam.Hugh.John history is problematical, and I’m just not going to take on that issue. My friend Hazel Townsend, probably the premier Rankin researcher since Flossie Cloyd died, says this: she has not been able to prove to her own satisfaction that William was a son of Alexander or that William had sons Adam, John and Hugh.

Never mind all that – it’s a lovely legend, and I’m sure there is some truth to it. I just don’t know what. I would rather address what we can prove on this side of the ocean.

First, start with Adam and John Rankin, reportedly immigrants to Pennsylvania. For the record, these two men (assuming they were brothers, which may be an issue) both died in Lancaster County, PA:

– Adam Rankin died in 1747  and left a will naming three sons and one daughter. His proved wife was Mary Steele (widow of James Alexander). Let’s call him Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele.

– John Rankin died in 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA, also leaving a will naming two sons, six daughters and two sons-in-law. Call him John d. 1749, wife Margaret McElwee. John’s will identifies his wife as Margaret; family tradition gives her name as Jane McElwee.

Here’s the rub: YDNA presents something of a problem with the Mt. Horeb history. Different men who claim descent from Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele, are not a YDNA match. Somebody’s family history is in error, although both are perfectly credible (in the opinion of this researcher). Both rely heavily on family history, and who is to say which is wrong? This is a classic problem that YDNA is perfectly suited to resolve. Clearly, the Rankin DNA project needs to find more proved descendants of Adam to participate in a YDNA test.

Secondly, depending on which of the non-YDNA-matching descendants of Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele, actually descends from Adam, then the descendants of Adam d. 1747 may not be a YDNA match with descendants of John d. 1749.

This is GREAT STUFF FOR YDNA TESTING! If there are any Rankin researchers reading this, for gosh sake’s get out there, find a man named Rankin, throw him down, and swab his cheek! Seriously … Rankin history research needs some more descendants of Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 in Lancaster to test. If you FIND a likely candidate, please let me know!!!!! I will find someone to convince him to test, hopefully without wrestling him to the ground. <grin>

*   *   *   *  *   *   

Sources: (1) Joseph Patterson Smith, History of the Republican Party in Ohio Volume 1 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1898). (2) online transcription of 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin of San Augustine, TX, see complete letter here. I have seen only this transcription — not a copy of the original — and have no proof that it is genuine. It does contain many objectively verifiable facts. (3) Will of John Rankin dated 1 Jan 1749, proved 25 Feb 1749/1750, recorded in Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 211. Online image available at FamilyHistorySearch.org.

What is “proof” of family history?

I’m going to divert briefly from my research slog through various Rankin families of Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio long enough to address this issue: what constitutes genealogical proof and what does not.

I have a distant cousin (seventh cousins, maybe?) named Roberta Estes. We “met” online via Estes research some twenty years ago.  We finally met in person, spending a week together in Halifax County, VA doing nitty-gritty research among records in the basement of the Halifax courthouse. I knew I had found a kindred spirit when I learned she likes tax and deed records as much as I do.

Roberta writes an excellent blog called “DNA Explained.” A great many of her posts are about DNA “science.” When I have a question about DNA, the first place I go is to her blog and search her Archives.

Roberta’s post today is on a topic that will interest all family history researchers: what is, and what is NOT, genealogical proof. Here is a link to   her post.

What resonated most with me was her list of things that do NOT constitute “proof.” I have copied part of it below, with my comments and modifications in italics (the numbering has changed from her original list since I deleted a few items):

  1. Proof is not an oral history, no matter how much you want to believe it or who said it. Oral history is a good starting point, not an end point.
  2. Proof is notnot, 1000 times NOT someone else’s tree. A tree should be considered a hint, nothing more.
  3. Proof is not a book without corresponding evidence that can be independently corroborated. Being in print does not make it so. People make mistakes and new information surfaces. Unfortunately, there are also genealogical frauds – see, e.g., Gustave Anjou.
  4. Proof is not a man by the name of Jr. [taken to mean] that he is the son of a man by the same name with the suffix of Sr. “Sr.” often means older and “Jr.” means younger, but not necessarily related. In fact, the suffix can change over time for the SAME MAN: a Robert Rankin who initially showed up in Guilford, NC records as “Robert JUNIOR.” became “Robert SENIOR” after Robert the elder (his father) died.
  5. Proof of a father/son relationship is not just two men with the same name in the same location.
  6. Proof is not just a will or other document … without evidence that a person by the same name as the child named in the will is the RIGHT person.

The lawyer in me, retired though she might be, feels compelled to expand on Roberta’s discussion of “proof.” Namely, I want to draw a distinction between “proof” and “evidence,” and the amount of evidence that is needed to produce a certain standard of proof. 

The definition of “evidence” takes up a full page in Black’s Law Dictionary. Fortunately, the essence of the meaning of “evidence” as it relates to genealogical research is pretty easy to distill. Try this on for size: EVIDENCE is anything that is offered to prove the existence or nonexistence of a fact. In genealogy, evidence might be a deed, a will, tax records, church birth and death records, census records, tombstone inscriptions, and so on.

Notice that the word “prove” appears in that definition. Here is what Black’s has to say about that: PROOF is the effect of evidence.

Boiling both definitions down, evidence is what supports a belief that a fact is proved (or disproved).

If you have ever served on a jury, you already know there are different “standards of proof.” In a Texas criminal trial, the standard of proof requires a defendant’s guilt to be established “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a Texas civil case, the standard of proof is usually “preponderance of the evidence.”

Another standard of proof lying somewhere between those two is “great weight and preponderance of the evidence.” Law students, who like to boil things down to something understandable, may view it like this:

  • Beyond a reasonable doubt: at least 95% of the facts compel a certain conclusion.
  • Great weight and preponderance: about 65-85% of the evidence supports a conclusion.
  • Preponderance of the evidence: a conclusion is more likely than not – it has the weight of 51% of the evidence.

Naturally, there are parallels in family history research, or I wouldn’t be talking about this.

You frequently see the phrase “conclusively proved” in family history articles. This is roughly equivalent to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For example, my paternal grandmother’s identity – Emma Brodnax Rankin – is conclusively proved by my birth certificate, my father’s birth certificate, his mother’s will naming him as a son, census records naming him as a son, ad infinitum. Not to mention my recollection of all those awful holiday dinners in her grotesquely overheated house in Gibsland, Bienville Parish, Louisiana. A court would call my testimony about those dinners “direct evidence” based on personal knowledge. If I’m a credible witness, THAT case is closed.

When you see the phrase “conclusively proved,” it means there is really no reasonable argument to the contrary. That is how I use the phrase on this blog.

Use of the word “probably” in family history articles seems to equate with “preponderance of the evidence.” Namely, a conclusion is more likely than not.

Similarly, the phrases “most likely” or “almost certainly” are somewhere in between the other two. There may be a reasonable doubt, but the weight of the credible evidence strongly points one way.

We also need to talk about“circumstantial” evidence, because sometimes there is no other proof of a family relationship. That is particularly true in counties where records have been lost and documentary evidence is limited. “Circumstantial evidence” just means facts that lead to a reasonable inference.

For example, the fact that a 65-year old man named Jedediah Rankin is listed in the 1860 census in a household immediately adjacent to 40-year old Jacob Rankin constitutes circumstantial evidence of a relationship. You can reasonably infer some family connection between the two men because such an inference accords with common sense and experience. If Jacob and Jedediah witness each other’s deeds, that would provide additional circumstantial evidence of a family relationship. If Jacob named his eldest son Jedediah, and Jedediah Sr. was security on Jacob’s marriage bond, those facts would also be circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence can establish a compelling web of family connections which suggest that only one conclusion seems reasonable: Jacob was Jedediah’s son. It is a powerful tool in serious research.

One last red flag about “proof:” beware the passive voice, a grammatical form that frequently signals lack of evidence. Keep an eye out for these phrases, which appear in many compiled family histories: “it is thought that …” or “it is believed that.”  Hmmmmm…. who believes? And what is his or her evidence? Those phrases rightfully justify a jaundiced eye unless the writer provides evidence supporting the “belief.”

Now, back to Roberta’s list of “not proof,” item #2, someone else’s tree. It may be a fact that “many online trees” show Jedediah as Jacob’s father. That is not even evidence of a relationship between those two men. All it might prove is that many online trees are copies of other online family trees.

Finally, Roberta’s item #1, family oral history, is near and dear to my heart right now. Family legends/family oral traditions nearly always reveal important truths. They usually also contain errors. And we’ll begin my next post with what is probably the most well-known and firmly established oral tradition in Rankin family history.

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Revised – A Surprising Willis – Quaker Connection

Subsequent to the original posting of this article, significant new information came to my attention requiring a substantial rewrite. I have deleted the original and post this revised version in order to clear the record of incorrect information. 

During the 18thand 19thcenturies, several Willis families on the Eastern Shore of Maryland were Quakers. I have long believed that the John Willis family who lived on land called Wantage in Dorchester County was not one of them.[1]The evidence I had found to date supported that conclusion.

For example, Wantage John’s eldest son John, Jr. lived on Marshy Creek in what became Caroline County. Several Quaker Meetings and the Anglican St. Mary’s White Chapel Parish served the region. The Anglican records do not survive, so whether John Jr.’s family attended there is lost to history. On the other hand, numerous Quaker Meeting records of the period exist. John, Jr.’s family does not appear in any of them. Apparently, the family was not Quaker.

The record for Wantage John’s son Andrew is more straightforward. Andrew lived in Dorchester County. Three of his four sons appear in the records of Old Trinity Church near Church Creek at the baptism of several children between 1754 and 1775.[2]No Quaker record names any of these people. This family was clearly Anglican and not Quaker.

The elder John had two other sons, Thomas and William. Thomas lived adjacent John Jr. on Marshy Creek. William inherited Wantage from his father and lived there until moving close to his wife’s family on Hodson’s/Hudson’s Creek in the Neck Region of Dorchester County. Neither of these sons appears in any religious record, Anglican or otherwise. Therefore, no evidence suggests a connection to Quakerism for anyone in the Wantage John family for the first couple of generations. And, there is evidence that one family group was Anglican.

Beyond these first generations, descendants of John of Wantage and related families were prominent in Methodism. Barratt’s Chapel in neighboring Kent County, Delaware was the birthplace of Methodism in America.[3]Lydia Barratt, granddaughter of Philip Barratt who built the chapel in 1780 is the great grandmother of Henry Fisher Willis, a direct descendant of Wantage John. Henry was a significant supporter of the Bethesda Methodist Church in Preston, Caroline County, Maryland, with a stained glass window honoring his service in the late 1800s. Henry’s father Zachariah Willis was a trustee of the Methodist Church whose twin brother Foster gave land for a church in 1831.[4]

I concluded from this data it highly unlikely that any of Wantage John’s descendants belonged to the Society of Friends. In fact, I used membership in the Society as a screening tool to eliminate various Willis lineages as being related to John of Wantage. For example, there is a Quaker Willis line in eastern Dorchester County and in the Federalsburg region of Caroline County.[5]Another Willis line in Talbot and Caroline County attended the Tuckahoe Monthly Meeting. Indeed, many researchers have conflated a Richard Willis in that line, who married Margaret Cox, with a Richard Willis in Wantage John’s line. A third line of Willises who lived in Kent County, Maryland were also Quaker. None of these families are related to John Willis of Wantage at least on this side of the pond.

With a high level of confidence in the religious affiliation of the John Willis family, or at least its lack of affiliation with the Quakers, imagine my surprise when I came across the following entries reportedly from the birth records of the Wilmington Monthly Meeting, New Castle, Delaware.[6]Oops:

  • Richard Willis 24 of 1 mo 1794    Son of Richard Willis and Britanna his wife
  • Ann Willis 2 of 6 mo 1799      Daughter of Do & Do
  • Senah Willis 19 of 4 mo 1802    Son of Do & Do
  • Zachariah Willis and Foster Willis     27 of 12 mo 1804   Sons of Do & Do
  • Peter Willis 21 of 4 mo 1811    Son of Do & Do

The same document contains the following burial records:

  • Richard Willis 27 of 5 mo 1820    in 26thyear
  • Richard Willis 2 mo 14 1823        63rd
  • Britanna Willis 1 mo 2 1826          in the 59th

The listed parents Richard Willis and Britanna (Britannia Goutee) are well known to me, but I had no inkling they were Quakers. Richard, born 8 Aug 1759, is the son of Richard Willis, died 1764, and the great grandson of John of Wantage.  Richard and Britannia, born about 1765, married in Caroline County on 22 Jan 1788.[7]She is descended from John Gootee and Margaret Besson/Beeson, who came to the colony from France with Margaret’s father and became naturalized citizens in 1671.[8]So, have I been wrong all along about this Willis line and Quakerism?

Well, I don’t know. Certainly, I was wrong about Richard and Britannia, however, these seem to be the only Quaker records online for the family … no marriages, no grandchildren’s births, no deaths recorded after Britannia’s in 1826.

This particular record does reveal some other information. First, the record is handwritten … an Index plus a section of Births and one of Burials. However, the cover page is typewritten, stating that it is from the Wilmington Monthly Meeting.[9]An examination of the contents reveals, however, that the cover page is incorrect. The record is actually from the Northwest Fork Meeting in Federalsburg based on the following. For one thing, the record noted that two of the listed people were “Elders in the NW Fork Monthly Meeting.” Additionally, surnames in the record, such as, Charles, Dawson, Kelley, Leverton, Noble, and Wright, are of Quaker families known to have lived near the Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke River. Finally, the record indicates the residence of a few of the listed persons. The record mentions only three counties: Caroline and Dorchester, Maryland, and Sussex, Delaware. Federalsburg is located at the intersection of those counties. Clearly, the record is from that Meeting and not Wilmington.

The second thing apparent from this register is that it is a copy and not the original register. The handwriting is identical throughout, both in the index and the birth and death entries. Had the entries been made at the times the events occurred from 1790 to 1828, the person making the entries surely would have changed from time to time. Therefore, the handwriting would have varied. Furthermore, many entries relating to a single family are grouped together regardless of date. For example, all the Willis birth entries are on a single page.[10]The same is true of some other families. One would expect the original register to be in chronological order with the family names mixed together. Apparently, a clerk prepared a copy of the original register, reorganized and indexed it. Likely, this document was intended for the files of a Quarterly or Yearly Meeting to which the Northwest Fork Meeting was subordinate. That would have been the Southern Quarterly and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting during the years in question.[11]

One additional Quaker reference to this family is Kenneth Carroll’s Quakerism on the Eastern Shore.That source lists under the Northwest Fork Monthly Meeting the birth of Ann Willis, daughter of Richard and Britannia and the death of Ann Willis “daughter of Richard.”[12]If this is the same Ann, she died unmarried at age 35. Interestingly, Carroll’s work does not include the other data found in the mislabeled Northwest Fork record. Obviously, he did not have access to that register.

In conclusion, it is clear that Richard and Britannia Willis affiliated with the Quakers. Apparently, the Friend’s connection ended with Ann’s death. Possibly she was the motivating factor for the family’s involvement in the sect.

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[1]John Willis, died 1712, patented a 50-acre tract named Wantage in Dorchester County in 1702.

[2]Palmer, Katherine H., transcribed Baptism Record, Old Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church, Church Creek, MD, (Cambridge, MD), 19, baptisms of son Richard’s children Mary (1754), John (1755), Elizabeth (1758) and Richard (1761); son John’s child Jarvis (1758); son Andrew’s children Keziah (1770) and George (1775).

[3]See www.barrattschapel.org

[4]Caroline County, MD Land Records, Liber JR-R, Folio 115, 29 Oct 1831 deed for ½ acre from Foster Willis and Wife Ann to trustees of the Methodist Church, proved 31 Jan 1832.

[5]Actually, this family were Nicholites, or New Quakers, until that sect reunited with the Quakers in 1798. See Carroll, Kenneth Lane, Joseph Nichols and the Nicholites: A Look at the “New Quakers” of Maryland, Delaware, North and South Carolina (Easton, Maryland: The Easton Publishing Company, 1962), 78, Births of the children of Andrew and Sarah Willis: Andrew, 3 Nov 1774; Mary, 5 Dec 1770; Rhoda, 18 May 1766; Roger, 14 May 1768; and Shadrick, 15 May 1772. Births of children of Thomas and Sina Willis: Anne, 5 Dec 1770; Elic, 1 Feb 1785; Jesse, 15 Feb 1773; Joshua, 15 Dec 1774; Milby, & Aug 1768; Milley, 3 Feb 1784; Thomas, 28 Oct 1776; and William 20 Sep 1771.

[6]Ancestry.com, U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935: Births & Deaths, 1790-1828, Wilmington Monthly Meeting, New Castle, Delaware. Birth records are all at p. 19; Burial records at pp. 7, 8, and 10, respectively.

[7]Cranor, Henry Downes, Marriage Licenses of Caroline County, Maryland, 1744-1815(Philadelphia: Henry Downes Cranor, 1904), 18.

[8]Browne, William Hand, Archives of Maryland v.2, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, April 1666 – June 1676(Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1884), 270, Naturalization of John Gootee and Margarett Gootee his wife of Dorchester County and Stephen Besson of Dorchester County all born in the Kingdom of France. Act read as being passed by the Assembly at 19 Apr 1671 closing of the session on the General Assembly, which began 27 Mar 1671 in St. Mary’s County.

[9]The typewritten text on the cover page reads, “II Department of Friends’ Records, 302 Arch Street, Phila., PA, Wilmington Monthly Meeting, Del., Births and Deaths, 1790-1828, Births 22 pp.; Deaths 11 pp.; Index 32 pp.”

[10]This record, however, does not include the couple’s two eldest daughters, Rebecca, born 9 Nov 1788, and Dorcas, born between 1790 and 1793.

[11]Jacobsen, Phebe R., Quaker Records in Maryland(Annapolis: The Hall of Records Commission, State of Maryland, 1966), 78, In 1800, by permission of the Southern Quarterly, a Monthly Meeting was established at Northwest Fork, consisting of Marshy Creek [Note: later named Snow Hill and then Preston], Centre, and Northwest Fork Preparative Meetings … When the Separation occurred within the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1827, the Southern Quarterly Meeting was simply dissolved by the Orthodox.”

[12]  Carroll, Kenneth Lane, Quakerism on the Eastern Shore(Baltimore: The Maryland Historical Society, Garamond/Pridemark Press, 1970) 255, Ann Willis daughter of Richard and Britana [sic] born 19 Apr 1799; 260, Ann Willis daughter of Richard died 22 Sep 1834.

John Willis’s Parents … A New Look

Previous articles (see links  here  and here) about John Willis who died in 1712 in Dorchester County, Maryland proposed that he was born in Wantage, Berkshire, England. That theory rested on two essential facts. First, Maryland colonists often named property after their former home in Europe. In John’s case, he named his 50-acre tract Wantage. Second, the Berkshire Parish Registers for Wantage include several marriages that might be John’s parents. One of those couples was John Willis and Elizabeth Chapman, who married in Berkshire Parish on 11 Apr 1664.[1]

New Information

One earlier article estimated John’s birth year as 1667-68, although I rounded the year to 1660 in the discussion.[2]Now I have found more precise information on the issue. Specifically, birth and christening records for Berkshire Parish show that John and Elizabeth Willis baptized a son named John on 3 Jan 1668.[3]

That record does not prove that the child born and baptized in 1668 is the same person as John Willis who died in Maryland. Nevertheless, it is significant circumstantial evidence. Importantly, subsequent parish records do not show an adult John Willis in Wantage during the period he likely would have married and had children. That at least suggests that baby John may have left Wantage when grown … perhaps for the colonies. Therefore, as a working hypothesis pending further evidence, John Willis who died in Maryland is now in my tree with a birthdate of 3 Jan 1668 and with parents John Willis and Elizabeth Chapman of Wantage, England.[4]DNA testing provides additional support for this theory. My autosomal test shows several matches with people having the Chapman surname. At least one of these has some connection to English Chapman families.

As with any unproved hypothesis, there are problems with the theory that John, son of John and Elizabeth, is the same person as John of Dorchester County, Maryland. According to the register entry, baby John Willis was baptized on the same day he was born. Most entries in the list show either a date of birth or of christening, but not both on the same date. Immediately baptizing a newborn may indicate the child was ill and not expected to survive. That might have been the situation with baby John. On the other hand, no record exists showing his death.

Children of John Willis d. 1712

The will of John Willis presented for probate in Dorchester County on 24 November 1712 proved four children: sons William and John, and daughters Grace and Elizabeth.[5]Two sons not named in the will are Andrew, proved by probate records, and Thomas, supported by circumstantial evidence. The will does not name a spouse, so we can assume that she predeceased John. Were she alive, he likely would have named her in the will with a life estate in the land or otherwise provided for her care. Further, the will does not use a married surname for either daughter, so probably they were unmarried as of 1712.

The earlier article estimated the birth years of the various children to provide a theoretical picture of the family consistent with known facts. Those estimates now need revision to account for John’s hypothetical birthdate of 3 Jan 1668/69. As mentioned in Footnote 2, son Andrew was born in about 1690, and John Jr. was born at least by 1689. I have used those two dates here. William was born between 1694 and 1700 according to a deposition.[6]I used the earlier date, which would make William 18 years old at his father’s death. Grace was named before Elizabeth in the 1712 will, possibly indicating she was the elder of the two. Since neither was married at the time of John, Sr.’s death, I have estimated birth years that would make them 16 and 14, respectively. The relative ages of Thomas and William are uncertain, but I suspect William was the youngest. Revised birthdates and their ages at 1712 are as follows:

1689 – John            age 23                           1694 – William      age 18

1690 – Andrew     age 22                           1696 – Grace            age 16

1692 – Thomas     age 20                           1698 – Elizabeth    age 14

I welcome any questions or comments about this and other articles. Please contact me at redmarker181969@yahoo.com.

[1]W.P.W. Phillimore, editor, Berkshire Parish Registers, Marriages, Volume 1, (London:Phillimore & Co., 1908), p. 41, John Willis, Junr [?] and Elizabeth Chapman, 11 Apr 1664.

[2]A 1730 deposition established that Andrew, one of John’s sons, was born in 1690, and a 1746 deposition stated that son John, Jr. was the eldest, making him born by at least 1689 to be older than Andrew. If these sons were 22 and 23 years old at the time of John Sr.’s death, a reasonable minimum age for him would be 44 or 45 when he died. In that case, John Sr. would have been born by 1667-68.

[3]Walls, Mary, transcriber, “England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” FHL Films Number 88468, 88469, at Ancestry.com, 3 Jan 1668 (Birth and Bap), John Willis, parents John and Elizabeth Willis.

[4]Actually, the year is 1668/69. Until 1752 with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by England and its colonies, the year began on 25 Mar. Thus, the date of 3 Jan 1668 in the register would be 3 Jan 1669 in the modern calendar.

[5]Cotton and Henry, Calendar of Wills, IV:23. Note that the date given in this source for the submission to probate is 24 Nov 1714. This date conflicts with the date John Willis, Jr., filed a protest to the will (3 Dec 1712) and the dates of activity in the Perogative Court records. I conclude the correct date for submission to probate is 24 Nov 1712. Dorchester County Will Book 14:12.

[6]James A. McAllister, Jr., Abstracts from theLand Records of Dorchester County, Maryland,Volume 10 (Liber Old No. 14, folios 374-741), (Cambridge, MD, 1963), X:74. 14 Old 658, 11 Nov 1746 to 27 May 1752, Commission to perpetuate the bounds of John Harrington’s land called “Rosses Range” and “David Ropies”, and Return. Nine men and women give depositions regarding this land on Hobson’s Creek. Among them are William Willis, age about 52; Judah (Judith) Willis, age about 50; and Mary Seward, age 68.