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. 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 almost twenty 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.
2 James Rankin, who left Fayette circa 1800 and headed “west.” 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. 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. The 1790 and 1800 censuses for Union Township, Fayette Co., suggest James had a large family, including four possible sons.
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.” 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.
2 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. 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. 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.
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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.
Findagrave link to Thomas’s tombstone image: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/47828906/thomas-rankin