Rankin DNA Project: “flange it up!”

If you ever worked in the natural gas pipeline business, you might be familiar with the notion that something needed to be “flanged up.” That originally meant the need to get pieces bolted together to complete a job. Over time, it acquired a more general meaning for those who did not deal with actual steel: the need to improve something in some fashion.

The Rankin DNA project needs to be “flanged up” a bit. The project began in 2006 with just two YDNA test participants. It has come a long way, and has 176 members as of July 2019. About seventy members are YDNA test participants who are either men named Rankin or whose YDNA establishes them as genetic Rankins.[1] YDNA testing has been helpful to many project members when traditional “paper trails” were inadequate or disputed.

Progress notwithstanding, there are still ancestry and relationship issues to be addressed. There are also a number of test participants who don’t yet have a Rankin match in the project. Obviously, a key need is to get more Rankin YDNA test participants. Please note, this is not a criticism of Rankin project administrators … I AM one. We just need to have more YDNA participants. Easier said than done.

In the meantime, here is a summary of Rankin YDNA results to date. The project has three lineages having four or more YDNA participants in each one. They are (no surprise here) designated Lineages 1, 2, and 3. All three lineages also have sub-lineages – distinct Rankin families that are genetically related, even though a Rankin common ancestor has not been identified. The families in these lineages include some that I have written about on this website. If you have read some Rankin articles, many of these names will be familiar.

On that note, let’s jump in …

Rankin Lineage 1

Lineage 1 (“L1”) has two sub-lineages: Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford Co., North Carolina (L1A) and Joseph Rankin of New Castle County, Delaware (L1B). Robert is definitely the original immigrant in his line; Joseph probably is. No common ancestor for the two lines has been found. YDNA results establish a low probability that there is one on this side of the Atlantic. He probably exists around 1400, plus or minus a century, and almost certainly in Scotland.

Robert and Rebecca Rankin came to the colonies in 1750 from County Donegal, Ireland, according to an autobiography of one of their grandsons.[2] See some articles about their family here, here, and here.  There is no known evidence of the origin of Joseph of Delaware.[3] Both Robert and Joseph first appeared in county records in the area around the Philadelphia ports, where most Scots-Irish immigrants landed during the “Great Migration” from Ulster.

Joseph of Delaware arrived in the colonies first, roughly two decades earlier than Robert and Rebecca. He may be the Joseph Rankin who appeared as a “freeman” (unmarried and not a landowner) on a 1729 tax list in London Britain Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania. By 1731, he had acquired a tract on White Clay Creek in New Castle County, Delaware. Joseph had four sons proved by deeds (Joseph Jr., Thomas, William and John), two sons proved by circumstantial evidence (Robert and James), and a daughter Ann reportedly proved by a will. Joseph is buried at Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church in Newark, New Castle County. His 1764 tombstone still exists.

Based on known birth dates, Joseph’s children were born in Delaware. Two of his proved sons – John and William – moved to Guilford County, North Carolina. A descendant of each has YDNA tested and they are a good match.[4] Joseph’s wife was named Rebecca, although there is no known evidence of her maiden name. Nor is there any evidence of Joseph’s family of origin.

Robert and Rebecca’s family first appeared in the records in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Robert and George Rankin (either father/son or brothers) were on the 1753 tax list for West Nottingham Township in Chester. Robert and George received so-called “Nottingham Company” land grants in Guilford (then Rowan) County, North Carolina, near Greensboro. According to a grandson’s autobiography, they migrated to North Carolina in July 1755.

Robert and Rebecca’s children were almost certainly all adults when they arrived in Pennsylvania in 1750. Two sons, Robert and George, are proved. There is good circumstantial evidence in the Rowan and Guilford records for other children, including a son John and daughters Ann Rankin Denny (wife of William Sr.), Margaret Rankin Braly or Brawley (Thomas), and Rebecca Rankin Boyd (John).

David Rankin of Iredell County, North Carolina (died there in 1789) may also be a son of Robert and Rebecca. YDNA results establish that David and Robert were close genetic relatives, although there is apparently no conclusive paper proof of the family connection. David was probably either a son or nephew of Robert and Rebecca. Here is an article about David and Margaret’s son Robert.

Rankin Lineage 2

L2 is the largest group in the project. As of July 2019, there were 22 project participants whose YDNA places them in L2. The family lines represented in the lineage are diverse, although the YDNA results are not. The group members are fairly close matches, suggesting a common ancestor no earlier than 400-500 years ago, probably in Scotland. The immigrant ancestor of many of the L2 members first appeared in Pennsylvania or Virginia during the “Great Migration” of Scots-Irish from Ulster. From there, the L2 Rankins spread west into the Ohio Valley or south and southwest into Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

There are three Rankin lines in L2 which have at least four participants each. There are also a number of L2 participants who are “one of a kind,” meaning that each man’s last known Rankin ancestor is not (so far as is known) shared with another L2 member. Some members of L2 are “one of a kind” simply because they have provided no information about their Rankin family trees to project administrators, although they may well belong in one of the three known L2 families.

The L2 family lines are (1) John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Lineage 2A), (2) Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Lincoln County, North Carolina (Lineage 2B), and (3)  two families – both David and Jenette McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia and William Rankin of Fayette County, Pennsylvania (Lineage 2C). Here is a little bit about each one …

Lineage 2A, John Rankin of Lancaster Co., PA (see articles here and  here).

This is the Rankin family memorialized on the famous tablet in the Mt. Horeb Cemetery in Jefferson County, Tennessee – descendants of John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA. His wife is traditionally identified as Mary McElwee, although John’s widow was named Margaret. John’s will named Margaret, two sons (Thomas and Richard), six daughters, and two sons-in-law.[5] All of the L2A members are descended from John’s son Thomas. He briefly appeared in the records of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, moved to Augusta County, Virginia for a time, then migrated to east Tennessee. No member of the Rankin project self-identifies as a descendant of John’s son Richard, who moved from Pennsylvania to Augusta County and died there.

According to family tradition, the John who died in Lancaster in 1749 was a son of William Rankin and grandson of Alexander Rankin of the Scotland “Killing Times” and the 1689 Siege of Londonderry. Apparently, no one has found (or has publicly shared) any proof that John was a son of William, or that William was a son of Alexander. Records in Ireland are limited, however.

There are two project participants who are probable descendants of Adam Rankin of Lancaster County, whose wife was Mary Steele. Family oral traditions for both Adam and John (the common ancestor of the L2A participants) say that Adam and John were brothers. However, Adam’s probable descendants are not a YDNA match with John’s descendants, indicating that John and Adam were not genetically related through the male Rankin line. There are four or five articles about Adam’s line on this website, see, e.g., two articles here and here.

Lineage 2B: Samuel Rankin of Lincoln Co., NC

L2B is the line of Samuel and Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander Rankin of Rowan, Tryon, Mecklenburg, and Lincoln Counties, North Carolina. Several misconceptions  about Samuel and Eleanor persist online. One myth is that Samuel was a son of Robert and Rebecca Rankin of Guilford County (Lineage 1A). Another is that Samuel was a son of Joseph Rankin of Delaware (Lineage 1B). Both possibilities are disproved by YDNA. Some researchers also claim that Samuel and his wife were married in Pennsylvania, although Eleanor’s parents James and Ann Alexander  were in Anson/Rowan County by 1753 at the latest. Samuel and Eleanor were married about 1759, almost certainly in Rowan. There is no evidence of Samuel’s birthplace.

Samuel’s tombstone in the Goshen Presbyterian Cemetery in Belmont, NC no longer exists. A WPA cemetery survey taken in the 1930s transcribed his tombstone inscription to say that he was born in 1734 and died in 1816. His will was dated 1814, but wasn’t probated until 1826. His last appearance  in the Lincoln Co., NC records while he was still alive was in July 1816. He left most of his nine surviving children (his son Richard predeceased him) a token bequest, and devised the bulk of his estate to his son James.[6] Samuel and Eleanor’s children either remained in the Lincoln/Mecklenburg/Iredell area or moved to Arkansas, Tennessee, or Illinois. Here are articles about Samuel and Eleanor’s son Richard and their daughter Jean Rankin Hartgrove.

Lineage 2C

Based on descendant charts provided by participants, L2C has two family lines: (1) David Sr. and Jennett McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia and (2) William Rankin of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. There is no known common Rankin ancestor for the two lines.

David Sr.’s line is represented by three project participants. He left a Frederick County will naming his wife Jennett and children Hugh, William, David Jr. and Barbara.[7] Many online trees identify David Sr.’s wife as “Jennett Mildred,” although all of the Frederick County records identify Jennett without a middle name. Researchers asserting that Jennett had a middle name may have conflated David Sr.’s wife Jennett with an entirely different woman, a Mildred Rankin who was married to one of David Sr.’s grandsons — also named David.

David Jr. married Hannah Province or Provence, probably in Frederick County. They moved from Frederick to Washington County, Pennsylvania and then to Harrison County, Kentucky, where David Jr. died. His brother William and his wife Abigail also moved to Washington County. William died there in 1799. Both David Jr. and William left large families. Some of Hugh’s line probably moved to Kentucky and then to Ohio. Project administrators are looking for descendants of William and/or Hugh who might be willing to YDNA test.

The second family in L2C is the line of William Rankin of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Many of his grandchildren moved “west,” some to Ohio. Many stayed in Fayette County for several generations. There is no evidence of his origin prior to the time that he began appearing in Fayette.

Rankin Lineage 3

The common ancestor of the four L3 participants is David Rankin Sr. who died in Greene County, Tennessee in 1802. His will identified seven children but not his wife, who evidently predeceased him. David Sr. was reportedly among the “Overmountain Men” who left what was then Washington County, Tennessee to fight in the Battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina. That battle was a major defeat for the British in the Southern Campaign.

There is some disagreement among researchers about the identity of David Sr.’s wife or wives. His wife is usually identified as Margart Kerr, Anne Campbell, both, or neither, without a citation to any evidence. Another question is where David Sr. lived before coming to Greene County in 1783. It is possible that David Sr. of Greene is the same man as the David Rankin who received a 1771 land patent in Bedford County, Virginia, although that man was a Quaker. Other researchers believe that David Sr. was a son of the William Rankin who died in 1792 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania (wife Mary Huston). That possibility has been disproved by YDNA results.

Rankin researchers can take comfort in the fact that Flossie Cloyd, the premier Rankin researcher of the 20thcentury, was baffled by David Sr.’s ancestry. He may well be the immigrant ancestor in his line.

Whew! That’s more than enough for right now …

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] For example, the Rankin project includes men whose surname at birth was Rankin but were adopted by a stepfather after the Rankin parents divorced.

[2] Jonathan Jeffrey at  the Department of Library Special Collections at the University of Western Kentucky sent to me a 22-page transcription  of the autobiography of Rev. John Rankin, a grandson of Robert and Rebecca. For the most part, it is a recount of his faith history. It has very little helpful genealogy.

[3] One history says that Joseph came from “Clyde Scotland,” presumably somewhere near the River Clyde. It also claims that Joseph’s children were born in Scotland, which is demonstrably incorrect. See Bill and Martha Reamy, Genealogical Abstracts from Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware(Westminster, MD: Willow Bend Books, 2001). The Findagrave website claims that he was born in “Ulster Ireland,” which is undoubtedly a good guess but is unsubstantiated.

[4] Only one of Joseph’s proved descendants is a member of the Rankin DNA Project. He has provided information to project administrators about his YDNA match to another proved descendant of Joseph.

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

[6] Lincoln Co., NC Will Book 1: 37. Given the nature of Samuel’s will, there would have been no rush to submit it to probate.

[7] Frederick Co., VA Will Book 3: 443.

Do we exhume ancestors? A YDNA primer, with implications for the Mt. Horeb Rankins

My friend Tony Givens asked me how the heck I obtained the YDNA of my great-great-great-great grandfather Samuel Rankin, who I had identified as my ancestor via YDNA testing. Did we exhume his corpse, or what?

I was initially at a loss how to respond.

The short and almost correct answer is that I obtained Samuel’s YDNA by persuading my cousin Butch Rankin to take a YDNA test. However, I knew that wouldn’t suffice. Instead, I fell back on a standard cross-examination technique, asking leading questions to which I already knew the answer … hoping to answer Tony’s question without delivering an impenetrable lecture.

“So … tell me Tony, you know who your Givens grandfather is, don’t you?”

“Sure,” he said, “his name was David Givens.”

“OK,” said I, “you know the name of David’s father, right?”

“Yep! Harland Givens was my great-grandfather.”

“Well, Tony, if you swab your cheek today for a YDNA test, what would you have?”

Tony looked nonplussed. “A sample of my YDNA?”

“Yes, indeed. You would also have the YDNA of Harland Givens, give or take a few marker values.”

“Can’t be,” said Tony, “he’s been dead for a century.”

At that point, there was no alternative but to deliver a pseudo-scientific lecture about YDNA theory. A short summary follows. I am qualifying it as “pseudo”-scientific because I’m not a scientist and it’s easy to oversimplify these matters. Someone who actually knows something about this stuff may be compelled to post a corrective comment. Bobbi, I hope it will be you. Here goes …

I am female and don’t have a Y-chromosome. Instead, I have two X-chromosomes. Tony, a male, has one X-chromosome and one Y-chromosome. The X and Y are called the “sex chromosomes” because they determine gender.[1] Tony can only have inherited his Y-chromosome from his biological father, since his mother didn’t have one to pass on. Likewise, Tony’s father inherited his Y-chromosome from his father David, who inherited his Y-chromosome from his father Harland Givens, and so on, theoretically ad infinitum up the male Givens line. (This ignores a possible “non-paternal event,” see below).

Those inherited Givens Y-chromosomes could all be identical, in theory. Putting it another way, a male’s Y-chromosome is passed down unchanged from father to son for generation after generation — except for occasional random mutations. If there were no mutations, Tony’s Y-chromosome would be an exact copy of the Y-chromosome of all of his male Givens ancestors.

Thus, the almost correct answer to Tony’s original question was that I obtained my ancestor Samuel Rankin’s YDNA by getting my cousin Butch Rankin to YDNA test. That isn’t quite accurate because mutations have occurred in the intervening generations between Samuel and Butch. If there had been no mutations, then Butch’s Y-chromosome would exactly match his five-great-grandfather Samuel’s.

There is an occasional “oops” in this process, when a man’s Y-chromosome doesn’t match his apparent father’s. This is called a “non-paternal event,” and please don’t get me started on the weirdness of that label. For example, if a male child is adopted, the adopted son inherited his Y-chromosome from his biological father and wouldn’t match his adoptive father. Likewise, if Mrs. Givens were raped and bore a son as a result, the child’s Y-chromosome would be a copy of the rapist’s rather than Mr. Givens’. The same would be true if Mrs. Givens had a son as a result of an extramarital affair.

Except for such non-paternal events, the Y-chromosome follows the line of the male surname without change other than occasional random mutations. This simple fact has given rise to surname DNA projects, in which participants compare their YDNA to other men having the same surname. Women cannot YDNA test, since we have two X-chromosomes. Instead, we cajole our fathers, brothers, sons, uncles and male cousins into swabbing their cheeks for a YDNA test.

There is a potload more science about this, but I’m already in over my head. If you want to learn about STRs (“short tandem repeats”) or SNPs (“single nucleotide polymorphisms”), check out the FAQs at the Family Tree DNA website.  Better yet, go search Roberta Estes’s website, “DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy.” She does an excellent job of making the science comprehensible.

Let’s leave the science and turn to how YDNA testing can be helpful in family history research.

As one example, it can help an adopted son identify his birth father when all other avenues have failed. I have a friend with a remarkable story who has done exactly that.

For another example, let’s assume that six men having the surname Willis have done 67-marker YDNA tests and joined the Willis DNA project. They are all a very good genetic match, having only one mismatching marker out of 67 between any two of these six men.[2] FYI, the number of mismatched markers is referred to as “Genetic Distance,” so any two of them would be considered a “67-marker match, GD =1.”

Five of the men can trace their Willis ancestry with a high degree of confidence back to a John Willis who came to Maryland from the U.K. circa 1700. The sixth man cannot identify a Willis ancestor earlier than 1800. Fortunately, his extremely close genetic match to the other five men makes it a virtual certainty that they share a common ancestor fairly recently, three centuries being “fairly recent” in genetic time. He would be justified in concluding that he is also descended from John Willis of Maryland.

YDNA testing can also disprove relationships. That leads us to the famous Rankin legend inscribed on a bronze tablet in the Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Cemetery in Jefferson County, Tennessee. You can read the entire inscription concerning this interesting piece of family lore in this article.

The Mt. Horeb tablet says this, elided to focus on relevant information:

“William Rankin had … sons, Adam [and] John … Adam married Mary Steele …  John … had two sons, Thomas and Richard, and eight daughters.”

If you have read the Rankin articles on this blog, you know that an Adam Rankin of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania who died there in 1747 did, indeed, marry a Mary Steele. You also know that a John Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1749 left a will naming two sons, Thomas and Richard, and eight daughters.

In short, the Mt. Horeb tablet legend says that Adam Rankin (wife Mary Steele) and John Rankin (sons Richard and Thomas) of Lancaster were brothers.

Six descendants of the John Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1749 have YDNA tested and belong to the Rankin Family DNA Project. They are a close genetic match, and their ancestry “paper trails” are solid. All six are descended from John’s son Thomas.

The Rankin Project also has two participants who apparently descend from Adam Rankin and Mary Steele. They are a 67-marker match with a GD = 5, which is not a very close match. The odds are only slightly better than even that they share a common ancestor within the last eight generations. One man’s “paper trail” back to Adam and Mary Steele Rankin is good as gold. The other man’s chart has one weak link, although it is supported by convincing secondary and circumstantial evidence. It is possible (although unlikely, in my opinion) that these two men do not both descend from Adam and Mary, and, instead, their common ancestor is on the other side of the Atlantic.

In any event, the two men who probably do descend from Adam and Mary Steele Rankin are not a YDNA match to the six men who descend from John. A reasonable and perhaps inescapable conclusion, based solely on the available genetic evidence, is that John and Adam Rankin of Lancaster were not brothers. Perhaps, you may say, they had different mothers? It doesn’t matter from whom they inherited their X-chromosomes, though. We are dealing with Y-chromosomes here, and the YDNA of their descendants says that John and Adam did not have the same father.

This has implications further up the ancestral line. Both sets of descendants believe that Adam (or John) was a son of a William Rankin, and that William was a son of an Alexander Rankin. Based on the limited genetic evidence available, they cannot both be correct. Evidence in actual records about Adam or John’s parents would be wonderful, but I don’t know anyone who has found any.

Whatever is correct about William and Alexander, we need to find another descendant of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin to YDNA test and confirm the above conclusions. We also need to find a descendant of Richard, son of John, to confirm John’s line.

Is there anyone reading this who has a male Rankin relative who hasn’t tested? For heaven’s sake, woman, throw him down on the floor and swab his cheek! Even if he isn’t descended from Adam and Mary, or from John’s son Richard, the results of his test will almost certainly help him (and probably others) learn more about their Rankin family history.

Seriously. Whatever your surname may be, if you are interested in your family history, please  purchase a YDNA test (if you are a male) from Family Tree DNA. For the record, I’m not on the FTDNA payroll. It is the only firm offering YDNA tests. Start with a 37-marker test. If price isn’t a problem, do the 67-marker test. You can always upgrade to additional markers later without having to test again. If you have any reservations, contact me via a comment and let’s talk.

Meanwhile, I’ll be out there looking for another descendant of Adam and Mary … and a descendant of John’s son Richard …

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] There is a spectrum of gender identity from male to female that involves questions beyond both the scope of this article and my expertise. I’m using “male” and “female” as though those are the only options, which is an oversimplification.

[2] A “marker” is a Short Tandem Repeat. I think. They are what get measured or counted or something in a YDNA test.

A little history: Jeanette and Edna Rankin

Robin Rankin Willis, June 2019

If you are a history buff, the National Museum of American History might be your cup of tea. It is part of the complex of Smithsonian museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and it is a real treat to visit.

One of the wonderful exhibits currently on display there is titled  “American Stories.” It features an eclectic collection of artifacts from different eras in American history, beginning with the nation’s birth. Items on display include, e.g., a fragment of Plymouth Rock, Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch, a sample of penicillin mold donated by Alexander Fleming, Willie Mays’s hat, glove and shoes, and the trophy awarded to Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel. The exhibit has some humor: Sesame Street’s “Swedish Chef” muppet is one of the display items.

The exhibition also has roughly 200-250 copies of portraits, photos or drawings – perhaps 8”x 8” each? – of Americans displayed on the walls in chronological groupings. The people pictured include politicians, scientists, entertainers, soldiers, social activists, artists, athletes, and a sprinkling of ordinary folks. Some examples: Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Sojourner Truth, Albert Einstein, Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Jefferson, Andy Warhol, and an anonymous woman whose photograph became a powerful image of Depression-era Dust Bowl misery.

I was delighted to spot a photograph of a Rankin. A woman, no less: Jeanette Pickering Rankin, the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Some of you might recoil at her politics, but still admire her courage and principles. Jeanette’s younger sister Edna was also a remarkable and accomplished person. Here, briefly, are their stories.

Jeanette Pickering Rankin (1880, Montana, – 1973, California)

Rankin was born on a Montana farm in 1880, the eldest of seven children of John and Olive Pickering Rankin. She received a B.S. in Biology in 1902 from the University of Montana, where she was undoubtedly the lone female in her science classes. After graduation, she worked briefly as a schoolteacher, apprentice seamstress, and at a settlement house providing social services to poor immigrants. In 1908-09, she studied social work at the School of Philanthropy (now part of Columbia University) in New York City.

She finally found her calling in 1911, when she became a lobbyist for the National American Suffrage Association. She took a leading role in the women’s suffrage movement in Montana, making speeches and testifying before the legislature. She must have had an impact. In 1914, Montana became one of ten states extending voting rights to women, six years before the 19th amendment was ratified.

In 1916, she was elected to an at-large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Montana. She was a Republican. As a freshman representative, she cast one of the two votes for which she is now primarily known. A determined pacifist, she was one of only 50 members of the House of Representatives to vote against entry into World War I. The reaction back in Montana was brutal. One newspaper called her “a dagger in the hands of the German propagandists, a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl.”[1]

In 1917, Congresswoman Rankin proposed the formation of a Committee on Woman Suffrage. Naturally, she became chair. In 1918 (after the WWI vote), she addressed the House about the Committee report supporting a constitutional amendment on women’s right to vote. Here is what she said, in part:

“How shall we answer the challenge, gentlemen? How shall we explain … the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?”

The resolution supporting the report narrowly passed in the House but died in the Senate.

Here is another picture of her which I imagine to be during that time, although I actually have NO basis for dating the image. She looks younger to me than in the first photograph. Strong woman. Gorgeous, IMO …

Congresswoman Rankin didn’t limit herself to the cause of suffrage. She also introduced the first bill to grant women citizenship independent of their husbands. She introduced the first bill supporting health care for women during pregnancy. According to her 1919 passport application, she took an overseas trip to France, England, Italy, Norway, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland as a newspaper correspondent. I don’t know what subjects her reportage covered, but it is a safe bet that they included feminist issues.

She also supported striking copper miners, an unpopular stance in pro-mining Montana. The state legislature responded by eliminating the at-large voting system for House seats and putting her in a heavily Democratic district. Realizing she had little chance at reelection to the House, she ran for the Senate. She narrowly lost in the Republican primary, despite being vilified in the press.

She spent the 1920s and 1930s working as a lobbyist for various social welfare and antiwar organizations. In the federal census, she described her occupations as “orator” (1920), “lobbyist” (1930) and “secretary, social work” (1940). In 1940, she ran again for a Montana House seat. She won with the support of Fiorello La Guardia and other nationally known progressives. She probably also had the support of Montana women who remembered her work getting them the right to vote.

Then came the House vote for which she is infamous. On December 8, 1941, she was the only member of  Congress to vote against a declaration of war with Japan. The verbal hostility directed at her during the roll call vote was so fierce that she was given a police escort back to her office. Of course, a less principled and courageous person might have skipped the vote entirely, knowing it was a hopeless cause.

Discretion being the better part of valor, she did not run for re-election.

She never abandoned  either her pacifism or her social activism. In 1968, at the age of 87, she led some 5,000 women who called themselves the “Jeannette Rankin Brigade” on a march to the U.S. capitol building, where they presented an anti-Vietnam War petition to the Speaker of the House. She also wrote letters and gave speeches against the war.

One of the display cases in the “American Stories” exhibition contains a number of political buttons from the sixties and seventies. She would undoubtedly have approved of all of them. They include, for example, buttons saying “Vietnam Moratorium,” “I support the American Agricultural Strike,” “We Shall Overcome,” and “Don’t call me GIRL, I am a WOMAN.” Another  button contains the language of the Equal Rights Amendment: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” If a young Jeanette’s voice had been part of the national dialog about that amendment, who knows? The outcome may have been different.

Now, on to her sister …

Edna Rankin McKinnon (1893, Montana – 1978, California)

Jeanette’s sister Edna was the the youngest of the Rankin siblings. Sorry about the blurry photo – it was the best I could find. She went to college at Wellesley, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Montana, where she received her law degree in 1918. She became the first native-born Montana woman to be admitted to the Montana bar. Like her big sister, she supported equal rights for women, joining a suffrage parade down Pennsylvania Avenue when Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1918.

In 1919, she married John W. McKinnon. A 1974 article about her published in the Clovis News-Journal said this:

“Edna Rankin McKinnon really had few ambitions: she was a delicately pretty and somewhat frivolous girl who felt that with her marriage to a wealthy young Harvard man she had found her place in life.”

Uh-huh. Edna’s marriage lasted eleven years, then she needed to support herself and her children. Jeanette helped her find a job with the Legal Division of the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal agency created by FDR. Soon after that, she attended a public lecture on birth control, and her vocation was born.

“‘I was electrified,’ she said. ‘My questions tumbled out faster than the speaker could answer them. I had never before heard the subject discussed … And I thought that if my own confusion and ignorance were multiplied millions of times, then the needs of the women of the world were staggering.’ “

She went to work for Margaret Sanger, a pioneer in the field of family planning who went to prison eight times for attempting to open birth control clinics. Yes, some state laws made that a crime: see Griswold v. Connecticut,[2] a 1965 Supreme Court case concerning a Connecticut law that criminalized the encouragement or use of birth control.

Here is some of Ms. McKinnon’s employment history:

  • Executive Director of the National Committee for Federal Legislation on Birth Control, a division of the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau
  • Field Worker for the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau in Montana, 1937
  • Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Association, Chicago
  • Field Worker, Pathfinder Fund, which supported family planning in this country and abroad, later supported by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ms. McKinnon visited 32 states helping to establish family planning clinics. Between 1960 and 1966, she traveled to India, Africa, and the Middle East promoting family planning. After officially retiring in 1966, she took another round-the-world tour to continue crusading for family planning.[3]

Edna and Jeanette evidently spent their last years together. Both died in Carmel, Monterrey County, California. Both are buried in the Missoula Cemetery in Missoula County, Montana. You can see Jeanette’s tombstone  here and Edna’s tombstone here.

I have not attempted to trace their Rankin ancestry. The 1880 census says their father John was born in Canada and his parents were born in Scotland. There are no surviving Rankins descended from John, as his only son Wellington (yet another accomplished member of this family) died childless. If anyone in this country named Rankin is related to Jeanette and Edna, he or she must descend from an earlier branch of the Rankin family. One of these days, I will try to find a male descendant from that Scots-Canadian Rankin line who might be persuaded to Y-DNA test.

Meanwhile, other Rankins are tugging at my sleeve. See you on down the road.

Robin

Sources:

(1) https://www.history.com/news/7-things-you-may-not-know-about-jeannette-rankin

(2) Max Binheim and Charles A. Elvin, U.S. Women of the West (Los Angeles: Publishers Press, 1928), entry for Rankin, Jeannette.

(3) https://www.biography.com/political-figure/jeannette-rankin

(4) https://mtwomenlawyers.org/1910-1919/edna-rankin-mckinnon-18/

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[1] I have a hard time visualizing a crying schoolgirl who is a member of an army, but am not surprised that the sophomoric part of that invective was based on her gender.

[2] Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965). The Supreme Court in Griswold declared the Connecticut law an unconstitutional invasion of marital privacy. Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972), established the right of unmarried people to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples.

[3] Edna Rankin McKinnon was the subject of a biography by Wilma Dykeman titled “Too Many People, Too Little Love” (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974).

Coming attractions …

I told my husband today I must live at least another 20 years in order to complete my to-do list. A significant part of the list has to do with fun family history. Some of it, considerably less appealing, has to do with ridding our closets of a half-century of accumulated stuff. Since we are about to go on vacation – a time when to-do lists and closets are happily forgotten – I thought I might leave some promises in our wake. Perhaps someone will hold me to them.

So here is a list of coming attractions, i.e., posts I have already largely written in my head.

Burkes: it is high time for me to publish an article about Esom Logan Burke of Wilson County, Tennessee and his son William Logan Burke I, the McLennan County, Texas sheriff of the 1880s. William Logan Burke II, the Sheriff’s son, was a polo player, hunter, and well-known teller of tall tales like his great-grandfather John Burke, who died in 1842 in Jackson County, Tennessee. I also have articles about John Burke’s children which are already drafted but which are so boring I haven’t been able to convince myself to post them.

Rankins: in the “famous Rankins” category, an article about James Lee Rankin (1907 – 1996). He argued the amicus curiae brief as Assistant Attorney General in the so-called “segregation cases,” six cases consolidated before the Supreme Court in 1953. The Court rendered its decision in the familiar 1954 case styled Brown v. Board of Education. Atty. Gen. Rankin “argued forcefully for desegregation of the nation’s public schools.” He also represented the American Civil Liberties Union in advancing the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right of an indigent person accused of a crime to have legal counsel at public expense. He was a moderate Republican who managed the Eisenhower for President campaign in Nebraska. Wow. He descends from David and Jeanette (not Mildred) McCormick Rankin of Frederick Co., VA. There is one hinky spot in his lineage that I haven’t quite worked out, but there is no doubt of his immigrant ancestors. That family is Lineage 3 on the Rankin Family DNA Project. I really wish we were related.

… more famous Rankins: Jeanette Rankin and her sister Edna Rankin McKinnon. The Rankin sisters had a habit of being “first” at this and that, as well as being reformers in feminist causes such as suffrage and birth control. Jeanette was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Montana, in 1916 – before she was even eligible to vote for herself: women didn’t get the vote until 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified. Her sister Edna, an attorney, was the first native-born woman to be admitted to the Montana Bar, and was a birth control pioneer. Their Rankin grandfather was born in Scotland, and (so far as I know), no member of that Rankin family has Y-DNA tested and joined the Rankin DNA Project.

… Rev. John Rankin, the famous abolitionist of Ohio, who provided a major stop on the Underground Railroad. He belongs to what is called Rankin “Lineage 2A” in the Rankin family DNA project – namely, the Rankins of Jefferson County, Tennessee and the famous Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church Cemetery bronze tablet. I am happy to claim Rev. John as a genetic relative. I disclaim the unproved parts of his lineage, which is anyone prior to John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. <grin>

Charts: I am working on charts of several families. First, Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, wife Mary Steele Alexander. I have posted articles about that line here, and  here, and  here, and also here.

Second, a chart for the line of David and Jeanette McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia. I have posted two articles about them, but both are subject to correction so I will eschew links.

Third, a chart for John and Elizabeth Graves Burke of Jackson County, Tennessee. All of the three Burke articles I have posted have been about that family. First, here, then here, and then here.

And that’s enough from me for now. I must go find my Astros t-shirt, because one stop on vacation is Yankee Stadium on Saturday, June 22, when the dreaded Yankees will take on the Houston Astros.

See you on down the road.

Robin

My Disreputable Ancestors

Please note: my friend and distant cousin John Alexander authored this article, notwithstanding that WordPress automatically attributed it to me. John has written a book about his Alexander family, see a book review  here.

His  website has a wealth of information, including the entire book as an HTML file with operable links. Check it out. Enjoy!

Robin

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 My Disreputable Ancestors, by John Alexander (Jun 13, 2019)

If genealogical researchers are ever satisfied that they have done enough digging and get around to writing their family histories, they often present their ancestors as model citizens who never strayed from the strait and narrow or, alternatively, as stick figures without personality. Although my wife assigns me to the second category by accusing my characters of being present only so they can take part in the begetting of future generations, I want to introduce you to three Alexanders, two of them named James, first cousins through fathers and through mothers, and show that these men had foibles just as we do today. One of the men, my great-great-great grandfather James, seems to have always used James C. when referring to himself, probably to avoid confusion with his cousin. However, when I began my research, I found that, in spite of this precaution, many genealogists had mixed up the identity of the two, sometimes making them one person. This tale also involves James C.’s son William.

Although I have never found him mentioned in histories of the region, the man known only as James was among the very first European settlers in western Tennessee, the area lying between the Tennessee River and the Mississippi River. He can be found on the 1820 federal census[1] where he and his brother William are listed near Amos Milligan (sometimes Milliken) and Adam Row (sometimes (Rowe). Milligan and Row, who, along with James House,[2] arrived in 1819, are credited as leading the way in settling Henry County, Tennessee. James and William were soon joined by other family members, including their parents and their cousin James C., although most of them probably arrived after formation of the county in 1821.

Religious meetings in early Henry County likely took place in the homes of settlers, but, in December 1828, as stated in the minutes of Antioch Primitive Baptist Church, James and his wife Hester (sometimes Esther) Siddall/Siddle joined six other people to found one of the first churches in the region. Although he was one of the founders, James was excluded from the church only a few years later, in May 1834, and the minutes of the church report dismissal from the church due to “reports unfavorable to Christian character, excluded for making too free with ardent spirits.”[3] Not too long afterward, James, Hester, and their family left Henry County to settle in western Missouri, where he may have found a new place of worship. Perhaps, he, William, and cousin James C. got together too often in Henry County as might be inferred from James C.’s and William’s episode, just below.

When James C. arrived in Henry County in the 1820s with wife Judith Siddle, son William, son John Priestly (my great-great grandfather), and other children, he appears to have been a man of means since he purchased property and posted money as bondsman for relatives’ legal transactions. However, by the late 1840s, his money was gone, and he and William owed many of their kinfolk and neighbors. I have not found any mention in records of the cause of their decline in fortune, but James C. and William were forced to mortgage their real and personal property and eventually sell it at public auction to satisfy claims against them.[4] Although they were not unique in losing all their money and becoming indebted, the interesting aspect of their situation is the listing of assets that were mortgaged and put on sale. There were the common-place items of “two feather beds and bed clothing, steads, & furniture, one claybank mare, one sorrel studcolt, one cow, & side saddle,” “one small bay horse, three yoke of oxen, one ox wagon,” and “one tract of land lying in the 13thcivil district in Henry County containing by estimation about eighty eight acres,” but, in William’s listing, was also “one still, one cap & worm, & twelve still tubs.” Someone’s love for that still must have prompted separate listing of each component. With twelve tubs to provide raw material for the distillation process, there may have been enough product for William, his father, and his cousin-uncle James all to indulge too freely in ardent spirits. That I sometimes don’t remember whether the still and equipment belonged to William or to James C. can perhaps be explained by my overindulging each time I opened the books on their situation.

Lest one believes from this look into their lives that this trio were extremely different from their neighbors, the reader should know that historians tell us that men and women of that time living in the still-frontier area of western Tennessee and Kentucky did more than a bit of drinking and that speculating in land was not uncommon. James, James C., and William merely had the misfortune to have their failures spelled out in public records for all to see.

The subjects of our story survived their troubles without any record of permanent harm and prospered in their new homes, Webster County, Missouri, for James, and Fayette County and Shelby County in Tennessee for James C. and William. James and James C. – and William – have numerous Alexander descendants living today and very likely have surviving non-Alexander descendants, although I have not attempted to trace non-Alexanders after a couple of generations. These descendants include some rather prominent citizens, and I apologize if any descendants are embarrassed by these revelations. Remember, one was my ancestor also, and I am not ashamed that he was human.

[1] 1820 U S Census, Stewart Co., Tennessee, p. 233.

[2] I have never been able to find James House listed on any early Stewart County or Henry County census.

[3] “Minutes of the Antioch Primitive Baptist Church,” transcribed and annotated by Johnny Walker. A copy is in the Inman Genealogical Room, Henry County (TN) Library.

[4] Registration of Deeds, Grants, in Henry County, 1847; reprinted on-line at https://johnandval.org/genealogy/AlexFamHist.html, Appendix I (upper-case I not  1).

 

Welcome home, sir, and thank you for your service

They weren’t given a welcome back then. About 2.7 million Americans – almost 10% of their generation – served in Vietnam. Fifty-eight thousand names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

This isn’t a political rant, though. It’s just a story.

One of the American survivors, an Air Force pilot, left Vietnam on the so-called “Freedom Bird” on July 4, 1970. He landed in San Francisco and flew from there to Chicago’s O’Hare Field for a morning flight to Oklahoma City. Lacking cash for a hotel room, he stretched out on a bench at O’Hare. He slept soundly until a janitor working in the area dropped a metal bucket on the floor with a loud crash. The pilot was underneath the bench before he was fully awake.

Anyone living in a forward operating location was attuned to the sound of incoming mortar rounds. Those reflexes were basic survival skills.

This particular pilot was a forward air controller (“FAC”) in Vietnam, flying a plane designated 0-1E by the Air Force. It is a high-wing, tail-dragging airplane, less than 26’ long, able to take off and land in less than 600’. Crew: one person, protected by an armored plate under the pilot’s seat. Armament: eight smoke rockets, four under each wing. The sight for aiming the smoke rockets? A grease pencil mark on the cockpit windscreen to mark the horizon in level flight, installed by each pilot to his individual specifications – a function of the pilot’s height.

Here are a couple of pictures of the plane, one in the air and one on the Bien Hoa flight line at sunset.

These particular planes and the pilots who flew them, plus the supporting ground and radio crews, were part of the “Red Marker” unit. Red Marker FACs flew in close air support of the Vietnamese Airborne Division, elite Vietnamese paratroopers who went wherever in the country they were needed — the hot spots.

The O-1E FACs flew at about 1,500’, directing air strikes and occasionally ground artillery fire. That means the FAC would locate a target, call in a flight of fighter aircraft, make a low pass to fire a smoke rocket to mark the target, then clear each fighter to bomb with the characteristic radio call, “you’re cleared in hot … hit my smoke!”

The Vietnamese Airborne called the FACs “angels in the air.”

The ground living quarters for FACs at forward location bases were well-fortified. Here is an example.

The Song Be residents did not lack for a sense of humor …

And the Red Markers did not lack for pride.

The pilot who returned to U.S. soil on July 4, 1970 wrote a book about the Red Markers. His radio call sign was “Red Marker 18.” He only included a couple of his own stories in the book, because he didn’t want it to be “a personal memoir.” The following is a small supplement.

The propeller story

A so-called “tail-dragging” airplane (see above photos) has its third gear under the tail, as opposed to a tricycle gear plane, which has its third gear under its nose. Consequently, when a tail-dragger is on the ground, the pilot’s line of sight is slightly elevated – he cannot see the ground immediately in front of him.

If a pilot was in a hurry to refuel, reload rockets, and turn around for the next mission, and had been flying 2 or 3 flights a day for some time and was exhausted, he might take a short cut through a small ditch running alongside the runway. If there happened to be a metal runway marker between the runway and the ditch, he wouldn’t have been able to see it. This might be the result to the runway marker and the propeller …

 

The night landing story

The longest day Red Marker 18 had was 11 hours flight time on three separate missions. Long days were common, especially during the Cambodian incursion. One evening, he didn’t get back to his home field until after dark. Runway lights in forward operating locations weren’t standard domestic airport issue. Instead, “runway lights” were what you would call smudge pots — bulbous metal pots with sand in the bottom, filled with diesel fuel and then lit. The duty for lighting the pots rotated among crews. It wasn’t, apparently, popular duty: it may have interfered with beer call.

Red Marker 18 returned to Phouc Vinh one night, low on fuel. The pots weren’t lit, and he didn’t have enough fuel to land at an alternate field. His Red Marker radio control was unable to round up a crew to light the pots, so he took his jeep to the beginning of the runway and parked there with his headlights on. (Not a small heroic feat itself.)

When the 0-1E passed over the jeep and flared for landing, the pilot couldn’t see the runway ahead in the dark. So the jeep chased the plane all the way down the runway, illuminating it for the airplane with its headlights.

The mountain landing story

The 0-1E’s smoke rockets weren’t “armed,” i.e., live, while the airplane was on the ground, for obvious reasons. Before a flight, a crew chief loaded each rocket into a firing tube, four under each wing. Each tube had a safety pin at the rear which prevented an electrical connection needed to fire the rocket. Each pin had a red ribbon attached. Before the FAC took off, the crew chief pulled the pins and handed the ribbons to the pilot through the plane’s window, assuring the pilot that his rockets were ready to fire.

Unfortunately, Red Marker 18 and his crew chief each apparently had a bad day at the same time. About halfway to a pre-designated target area, he realized that his smoke rockets were not armed. The pins were still in, red streamers flying in the breeze. He had three choices. He could return to base to remove the pins, although he would then miss a scheduled rendezvous with a flight of fighters. That would effectively cancel the mission. Alternatively, he could mark the target for the fighters by throwing smoke grenades out of the airplane’s window. (I am not making this up). Of course, the fighter pilots would see the red ribbons, and he would never hear the end of jokes at his expense. His third alternative was to salvage the mission (and his reputation) by doing something which, in retrospect, was really, really ill-advised.

He landed on an abandoned air strip on a mountaintop. In the middle of the jungle in Vietnam. In the middle of the jungle in Vietnam. Alone, for heaven’s sake. He got out of his plane to pull the pins, but did not turn the engine off for fear that it might not restart — possibly the only sensible thing he did that day. This created a problem, because the brakes didn’t prevent the plane from creeping forward. Red Marker 18 had to hold on to the plane while removing the pins on each side of the aircraft.

When Red Marker 18 returned from that day’s mission, he handed the ribbons to the crew chief. No words were exchanged.

There are many more stories, of course. Every person who served in Vietnam, or any other war, has stories to tell.

If you by any chance meet a grizzled old Vietnam vet, please extend your hand and offer the appropriate greeting: welcome home, sir, and thank you for your service.

Here is a picture of Red Marker 18 with his airplane. I am grateful to have him home every day.

Happy 52nd anniversary, June 7, 2019.

See you on down the road.

Robin

In memoriam … Capt. Samuel L. James, USAFA 1967; Lt. Thomas L. Lubbers; Lt. Kennard F. Svanoe, USAFA 1967; Capt. Douglass T. Wheless, USMA 1968.

How many Jeremiah Rankins WERE there near Greencastle, PA in the late 1700s?

The answer depends on who you ask. American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania has one opinion.[1]  The Biographical Annals of Franklin County, Pennsylvania[2] and the History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania[3] share a second opinion. The latter two sources add an extra Jeremiah to the family tree of the Rankins of Lancaster, Cumberland, and Franklin Counties, Pennsylvania.

Let’s start with an inventory of the proved Jeremiah Rankins, then assemble them into a family chart for a bigger picture.

Jeremiah #1: the eldest of the lot. He was a son of the Adam Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1747 (“Adam d. 1747”) and his wife Mary Steele Alexander.[4] Jeremiah #1 died in 1760 near Greencastle, which was in Cumberland before Franklin County was created.[5] Jeremiah #1’s only appearance in county records that I have found was in his father Adam’s 1747 will.

Jeremiah #2: a son of Jeremiah #1 and a grandson of Adam d. 1747. He was born during 1756 through 1761.[6] He moved to Fayette County, Kentucky, where he died about 1804.[7]

Jeremiah #3: a proved son of James Sr. (who died in 1795 in Franklin) and Jean Rankin. James Sr. was a son of Adam d. 1747, so Jeremiah #3 was also Adam’s grandson.[8] Jeremiah #3 was probably born in the early 1750s, but definitely no later than 1755.[9] The identity of his children is the main issue in this article.

Jeremiah #4: a proved son of William (d. 1792, Franklin) and Mary Huston Rankin. Since William was a son of Adam d. 1747, Jeremiah #4 was also Adam’s grandson. Jeremiah #4 was born in 1783. He moved to Centre Co., PA, where he died in 1874 at age 90.[10]

Wildcard Jeremiah:  Annals and History add another Jeremiah, which place him as a son of Jeremiah #3. Annals and History also name three other sons of Jeremiah #3, although they disagree on one given name.

Here is an abbreviated outline family chart for the Lancaster, Cumberland, and Franklin County Rankins, including the above list of Jeremiahs.[11]

1 Adam Rankin, d. 1747, Lancaster Co., PA, wife Mary Steele Alexander, possibly wife #2.[12] Their four children (not in birth order):[13]

2 Esther Rankin m. Mr. Dunwoody.

Jeremiah #1 Rankin, d. near Greencastle, Cumberland Co., PA about 1760, wife Rhoda Craig.[14]

Jeremiah #2 Rankin, b. 1756-1761, Cumberland Co., PA, d. about 1804, Fayette Co., KY, wife Nancy.

3 Three other sons of Jeremiah #1 (Rev. Adam, Thomas, and William Rankin), all of whom went to Fayette or Woodford Co., KY.

2 James Rankin, d. 1795, Franklin Co., PA, wife Jean/Jane. Identified as a son in the will of Adam d. 1747.

Jeremiah #3 Rankin

4 Wildcard Jeremiah, added here by Annals and History.

4 Three other sons of Jeremiah #3. Annals identifies them as James, David and William; History identifies them as James, David and Archie.

3 Five other children of James and Jean. All six children are proved by James’ 1788 will.[15]

2 William Rankin d. 1792, Franklin Co., PA, wife Mary Huston. Identified as a son in the will of Adam d. 1747.

Jeremiah #4 Rankin, b. 1783, Franklin Co., PA, d. 1874, Centre Co., PA.

3 Seven other children of William and Mary, all proved by William’s 1792 will.[16]

OK, let’s see what Revolutionary Soldiers has to say about Jeremiah #3, son of James and Jean Rankin:[17]

 “Jeremiah Rankin, Ranger on the Frontier, served in 1778, under Capt. John McConnell and as Ensign, 1780-81, with Captain Wm Huston; a son of pioneer James Rankin of Montgomery Township. He mar. Mary, dau. of James Clark. His will was dated June 1803 and prob. August 1803, only son James Clark Rankin and three daus.: Nancy; Mariah; Esther. The widow Mary later married Charles Kilgore. James, Jeremiah, David and William Rankin were pewholders in the “Lower Conococheague” or Welsh Run Church.[18] Nancy Rankin mar. John Imbrie, Beaver Co., Penna., 10 children. Maria Rankin mar. Samuel Johnston, son of Thos. and Anne Houston Johnston. Esther Rankin mar. Alex. M. Johnston, son of Thos. and Anne Houston Johnston.”

The will of some Jeremiah Rankin was, in fact, dated and proved in 1803, and it did name his wife Mary and the four children listed above.[19] Both the Annals and History associate the 1803 will, wife Mary Clark, and those four children with Wildcard Jeremiah. Revolutionary Soldiers assigns that family to Jeremiah #3. Putting it another way, Revolutionary Soldiers concludes that the Jeremiah who died in 1803 was Jeremiah #3, a son of James d. 1795 and Jean. Annals and History claim that the Jeremiah who died in 1803 was Wildcard Jeremiah, a grandson of James and Jean.

Besides adding a new Jeremiah to the line, Annals throws in three other new Rankins, brothers of Wildcard Jeremiah and also allegedly sons of Jeremiah #3: David, James, and William. History does the same thing, but identifies the brothers of Wildcard Jeremiah as David, James and Archie.[20] History also adds this information: Jeremiah #3, son of James and Jean, “patented 800 acres … he divided his acreage into four farms, inherited by his four sons Jeremiah, David, James and Archie” (emphasis added).

The evidence relevant to this puzzle is not compelling on either side. I’m just going to throw it all out there and hope that someone will offer an opinion in a comment. Or, better yet, tell us about other evidence.

  • I cannot find an 800-acre patent by a Jeremiah Rankin in the Pennsylvania patent records. If one exists, it must have been in an area then considered part of Pennsylvania, perhaps West Virginia or Ohio. I cannot find such a patent in those places, either. I am clearly missing something: surely, History did not just imagine that patent. And the will of Jeremiah who died in 1803 did mention land in Ohio. Perhaps somebody can point me toward a good source …
  • History says the four sons of Jeremiah #3 inherited that 800-acre tract. I have found only one will and estate record for a Jeremiah Rankin in Franklin: the Jeremiah who died in 1803 and had only one son, James Clark Rankin. Thus, if four Rankin sons of a Jeremiah inherited 800 acres, it must have been through the law of intestate descent and distribution rather than a will. However, I can’t find any relevant estate records for a second Jeremiah, who would (according to Annals and History) be Jeremiah #3. If anyone knows anything about the estate of a Jeremiah who died intestate in Franklin, I’d love to hear about it.
  • I cannot find those four alleged sons of Jeremiah #3 in the Franklin records. There was only one Archibald (“Archie”) Rankin and he was easy to track. The sole man by that name in the county during the relevant time period was Archibald (1763-64 – 1845), a son of William and Mary Huston Rankin. If three brothers of Wildcard Jeremiah actually existed, they clearly got the heck out of Dodge early, without bothering to leave significant tracks in the records. All of the David, William, James, and Archibald Rankins who appear in the Franklin Co. records can reasonably be accounted for without any “extras” left over.
  • The family of James Sr. and Jean Rankin lived in the area that eventually became Montgomery Township, Franklin County. James Sr.’s sons William, James Jr. and Jeremiah started appearing on tax lists there in 1778. A wrinkle appeared in 1782, when a second Jeremiah showed up on the same tax list as James Sr. and family. The second Jeremiah is identified as a “freeman,” meaning he was 21 or over, not married, and owned no land. That freeman is obviously not Jeremiah #1 (who died about 1760), Jeremiah #3 (on the 1782 tax list as a landowner), or Jeremiah #4 (who wasn’t born until 1783). Perhaps Annals and History identified Jeremiah the freeman on the 1782 tax list as Wildcard Jeremiah, a son of Jeremiah #3?

That theory doesn’t work. Jeremiah the freeman was too old to have been a son of Jeremiah #3, who was almost certainly born in the early 1750s. Jeremiah, the freeman who first appeared on the 1782 tax list, was born by at least 1761, perhaps 1760.

It is possible that Jeremiah the freeman was Jeremiah #2, son of Jeremiah #1 and Rhoda Craig Rankin. The last appearance I can find in the Franklin records for Jeremiah the freeman is on the 1787 tax list. The first appearance I found for Jeremiah #2 in Fayette County, Kentucky was on the 1789 tax list (although I haven’t had access to Fayette deed records). In other words, the records leave open the possibility that freeman Jeremiah was the same man as Jeremiah #2.

  • The 1790 federal census for Franklin lists a Jeremy Rankin having three males who were 16 and over in his household. The 1800 census makes it clear that the head of household in the 1790 census must have been Jeremiah #3. In the 1800 census, the only Jeremiah was listed in the “over 45” age bracket, born by 1755. That must be Jeremiah #3, son of James and Jean, born during the early 1750s. The 1800 household also includes a male in the age 26 to 45 category, who might be a (highly speculative) Wildcard Jeremiah. The oldest female in the household was also 26 to 45, and there were two females less than 10. Those three females fit the profile for Nancy Rankin (widow of Jeremiah d. 1803) and her two eldest daughters, Nancy C. and Mariah, twins born in 1796. The household also includes a male less than ten who could be James Clark Rankin, whose hazy birth year was 1800 or 1801.

The short of it is that I just don’t rightly know which source is correct. I find myself agreeing with Revolutionary Soldiers for two reasons. First, it’s a pretty tight squeeze to add an extra generation of four sons between Jeremiah #3, who was born in the early 1750s and who was out soldiering on the frontier in 1780-1781, and the death of a Jeremiah with four children in 1803. It is certainly possible, although apparently requiring marriage at an earlier age than was typical of colonial men. Second, Revolutionary Soldiers, written by a woman in conjunction with the Chambersburg D.A.R., has more credible heft than either Annals or History, books churned out for profit for many counties in Pennsylvania, often by the same publishers.

If all else fails, go with a source you trust. I would delete Wildcard Jeremiah and his three alleged brothers from this Rankin family tree. That would make Jeremiah #3 the man who died in 1803, leaving a widow Nancy, three daughters, Nancy, Mariah and Esther, and a son, James Clark Rankin.

See you on down the road. Before I do, I hope one of you will uncover some evidence about those 800 acres. Also, the land located in Ohio when Jeremiah wrote his 1803 will.

Robin

[1] Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the D.A.R., 1969) (copyright 1944), 180.

[2] Biographical Annals of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Volume I (Chicago: The Genealogical Publishing Co., 1905), 126-28.

[3] S. P. Bates, History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: Warner, Beers & Company, 1887), 68.

[4] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankin of Lancaster dated and proved in 1747. The will names sons James, William, and Jeremiah and daughter Esther Rankin Dunwoody. For evidence establishing that Adam Rankin’s wife was Mary Steele Alexander, see the text accompanying the footnotes and the citations in notes 5, 6, and 7 of  this article.

[5] Rev. Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (New York: R. Carter, 1847), cited in this post this post about Rev. Adam Rankin, a son of Jeremiah #1 and Rhoda. Rev. Davidson’s book is available online as a pdf  at this link.

[6] Jeremiah #2 of Fayette Co., KY had an older brother, Rev. Adam Rankin, who was born in 1755. See link to article in Note 5. The father of Jeremiah #2 and Rev. Adam — Jeremiah #1 — died in 1760. Id. Jeremiah #2 must therefore have been born during 1756 through 1761, inclusive.

[7] Jeremiah #2’s last appearance on the Fayette Co., KY tax lists was in 1803. He had definitely died by 1808, when his son Samuel was identified as a ward in a guardian’s bond.

[8] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin dated 1788 and proved 1795. The will names his wife Jean, sons William, Jeremiah, James (Jr.), and David, and daughters Ruth Rankin Tool and Esther Rankin Smith.

[9] Jeremiah #3 was listed in the 1800 federal census for Franklin Co., PA in the over 45 age category, born by 1755.  Jeremiah’s elder brother William was probably born 1746-1750. On balance, a birth year of 1750-1755 is probably a reasonable estimate for Jeremiah #3.

[10] See Mary Belle Lontz, Tombstone Inscriptions of Centre County, Pennsylvania (1984) and Note 11 in  this article.

[11] This Rankin family all lived near Conococheague (or Conogocheague) Cr. in what is now Franklin Co. in southern Pennsylvania, near Greencastle. As nearly as I can tell from the land and tax records, the Rankins stayed in basically the same geographic location for several generations. The jurisdictions in which they resided just changed as new counties and townships were created.

[12] See Note 4.

[13] Adam’s 1747 will named three sons James, William, and Jeremiah Rankin,and a daughter, Esther Rankin Dunwoody. That is likely the correct birth order for the sons.  I don’t know about Esther. Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208.

[14] So far as I know, the only evidence regarding Jeremiah’s #1’s family is oral tradition contained in an 1854 letter and a book about Kentucky Presbyterians, see Note 5. The letter identifies the children of Jeremiah #1 and Rhoda Craig Rankin as (1) Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, Fayette Co., KY (the Psalmody fanatic, see Note 5), 1755 – 1827, wife Martha McPheeters, (2) William Rankin, b. 1757, d. 1797 or 1798, Woodford Co., KY, (3) Thomas Rankin, d. Woodford Co., 1808, wife Mary “Polly” Young, and (4) Jeremiah #2 Rankin, d. 1804, Fayette Co., KY. See a transcription of the letter  online here.

[15] See note 8.

[16] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, will of William Rankin, dated and proved in 1792. I wrote about William and Mary Huston Rankin’s family in this post. Their children were: (1) Dr. Adam Rankin, b. Cumberland, PA b. 1760- 63, d. 1820-30. Went to Henderson Co., KY and married three times. (2) Archibald Rankin, b. 1763-64, d. 1845, Franklin Co., wife Agnes Long. (3) James Rankin, b. 1767-68, d. after 1820. Went to Centre Co., PA. (4) William Rankin, 1770- 1847. Went to Centre Co., PA. Married #1 Abigail McGinley and #2 Susannah Huston. (5) Betsy Rankin, b. abt. 1773. (6) David Rankin, b. 1776-77, d. 1853, Des Moines Co. Wife Frances Campbell. (7) John Rankin, b. 1778-79, d. 1848. Went to Centre Co., PA, married Isabell Dundass. (8) Jeremiah Rankin, 1783 – 1874, moved to Centre Co. Wife Sarah Whitehill.

[17] See Note 1.

[18] The Welsh Run Church is about 4.2 miles southwest of Mercersburg in Montgomery Township, where the family of James and Jean Rankin lived and owned land. Conococheague Cr. crosses PA Highway 995 about a mile NE of Welsh Run. The pewholders named in Revolutionary Soldiers should all be from the line of James d. 1795 and his wife Jean, and are almost certainly their four proved sons. The Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague, attended by some of the family of William and Mary Huston Rankin, is located in Mercersburg.

[19] Franklin Co., PA Will Book B: 167, will of Jeremiah Rankin of Montgomery Twp. dated 13 Jun 1803 proved 1 Aug 1803. Wife Mary, four minor children, all less than 18: James Clark Rankin, only son; daughters Nancy Rankin, Mariah Rankin and Esther Rankin. Mentions land in Ohio. Executors wife, brother James Rankin, brother-in-law James Clark, brother-in-law David Humphreys.Witnesses John McFarland, David Rankin, John Rankin. Nancy and Mariah were twins, born in 1796. James Clark Rankin was b. 1800-01. Esther was b. 1802.

[20] See Note 3.

WILLIS or WILLEY – A Critical Misread

Occasionally, we each run into difficulty interpreting handwriting in old documents. It comes with the territory. Modern genealogists are not the only ones affected by the problem. Decades ago, clerks who hand copied original documents ran into the same issue. Worse, publishers then printed typeset versions of those recopied texts (or abstracts of them). Once a misinterpreted word gets into print, it becomes accepted wisdom and resistant to change.

The situation is particularly vexing when the misinterpreted word is a person’s name. Willis and Willey provide a good example. Families of each surname lived close to each other in early Dorchester County, Maryland. The handwritten name Willis in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often ended with a downward swooping tail on the “s,” which made it look like a “y.” [1]

The following illustrates the script anomaly. Parties to legal documents of the era often took an oath on the “Holy Evangels of Almighty God,” meaning the Christian Gospels. Here is the way that phrase appears in a Dorchester County Will Book:

 

There is no discernable difference in the “y” at the end of the words Holy and Almighty and what is supposed to be an “s” at the end of Evangels. The scribe who recopied this deed into a nicely readable volume misread a long-tailed “s” in the original, writing it as a “y.”

No harm done. We know there is no such word as “Evangely,” so we can just move on … maybe tsk, tsk-ing under our breath. But what of the poor Willis and Willey families? A similar misread could easily convert a Willis into a Willey, or vice versa. In fact, an authoritative source of marriages in early Maryland states that Francis Insley married Keziah Willey on 27 Oct 1785 in Dorchester County.[2] However, a land sale by that couple twenty years later provides evidence that the bride’s name was actually Keziah Willis, not Willey.

In 1805, the Insleys’s sold 60 acres of land called “Addition to Adventure.”[3] The Willis family had owned that parcel for four decades, dating back to Richard Willis’s purchase in 1764.[4] The 1805 Insley deed recites that Benedict Meekins and his wife Mary [nee Willis] had sold the land to Andrew Willis, who devised it to his son Andrew. The deed does not state how Francis Insley and his wife Keziah got title to the land from the younger Andrew, and there are no other deeds that explain their ownership.

Explaining the Insley’s ownership is simple, however, if Keziah’s maiden name were Willis rather than Willey. Keziah was one of four children of the elder Andrew Willis and his wife Sarah.[5] The elder Andrew willed the land to his son Andrew, Jr. The younger Andrew subsequently died without a will and without children some time after 1796. His estate therefore passed to his heirs as defined under the Maryland laws of intestate descent and distribution, i.e., his siblings and the children of any already deceased siblings.

Keziah Willis Insley and her husband possessed the land in 1805 because she was Andrew’s only surviving sibling, and her brother George and sister Mary had each died without surviving children. Dorchester records make no mention in the relevant time frame of either George or Mary — no marriage, deed, death, or migration information. Their absence from the record supports the theory that they both died young and without issue.

The circumstantial evidence is sufficient to conclude that 1) a transcriber erroneously interpreted Keziah’s last name in the marriage record, 2) that Francis Insley married Keziah Willis in 1785, and 3) she was a party to the sale of Willis family land twenty years later.

The critical misinterpretation of Keziah Willis’s name will never be corrected in most published sources, but some of us will know the truth.

 

[1]Lower case “i” and “e” are also hard to distinguish.

[2]Palmer, Katherine H., Dorchester County, Maryland: Marriage License Records, 1780-1855, 1960.

[3]McAllister, James A., Jr., Abstracts from the Land Records of Dorchester County, Maryland, Volume 42 (Liber HD No. 21), Cambridge, Maryland, 21 HD 569

[4]McAllister, Abstracts, Volume 15 (Liber Old No. 19), Cambridge, Maryland, 1964, 19 Old 163

[5]Old Trinity Church records show that the elder Andrew Willis and his wife Sarah baptized three children — Andrew, Keziah, and George — between 1768 and 1775. The couple also had a fourth child, Mary.

Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, KY (1755-1827), revised: Psalmody & other controversies

Rev. Adam Rankin of Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky is the source of some fun Rankin family history issues. He also caused considerable controversy in his denomination during his lifetime.  Genealogical issues aside, Rev. Adam’s life is a story unto itself.

Here are the major issues surrounding Rev. Adam:

  • What was Rev. Adam’s life all about? He is famous for stoking the flames of an uproar about an arcane theological issue. He was rabidly fanatic on the matter, and that may well be an understatement.
  • Who were Rev. Adam’s parents? I have found no evidence of Rev. Adam’s family of origin in traditional primary sources such as county records — deeds, wills, tax lists, marriage records, and the like. Instead, we have only secondary sources, usually deemed less reliable than primary evidence. In Rev. Adam’s case, however, the secondary sources are unusually credible.
  • What is the YDNA evidence about Rev. Adam’s line? Relevant testing is slim as of July 2019. Two descendants of Rev. Adam have tested and joined the Rankin DNA project. They are a match, although not a close one. As it stands, however, the DNA evidence casts doubt on a family oral tradition that is claimed by more than one Rankin line.

Rev. Adam’s theological mess

There is a wealth of evidence regarding Rev. Adam’s personality in history books. George W. Rankin’s 1872 History of Lexington describes Rev. Adam 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.[1]

Even more colorfully, Rev. Robert Davidson’s 1847 history of Kentucky Presbyterianism says 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.”[2]

An early twentieth-century Kentucky history 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.”[3]

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

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

The what controversy? I have a friend who is a retired Presbyterian minister, and he didn’t have a clue when I asked him about it.

An article titled “How Adam Rankin tried to stop Presbyterians from singing ‘Joy to the World’” describes the issue and its origins:

“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’ versions 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 Presbyterian 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’ hymns.[4]

You had to be a virtual lunatic on the issue to ride more than 600 miles from Lexington to Philadelphia, right? Assuming the Reverend’s horse was capable of 12-hour days at an average speed of four miles per hour, that’s a good 12-day trip each way.[5] And we must surely assume that Rev. Adam rested on the Sabbath.

The trip is even more extraordinary because Rev. Adam had no “commission” to attend the Assembly, meaning he was not an official attendee.[6] 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’ hymns to be used in churches. Rev. Adam 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?”[7]

The Assembly listened to him patiently. Then it urged (gently, it seems to me) Rev. Adam to behave in a similar fashion by exercising “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.”[8]

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.[9](Emphasis added).

“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.[10]

Rev. Adam didn’t mince words. He verbally abused his Psalmody opponents in ways that would make even some 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 Gingrich’s instruction to his House colleagues circa 1986 to call members of the opposing party “traitors” and the “enemy” seem almost collegial, 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. Rev. Adam simply withdrew from the Presbytery, taking with him a majority of his congregation.[11]

He then affiliated with the Associate Reformed Church, although that also ended badly. 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 ministry. He and his congregation simply declared themselves independent.

Rev. Adam wasn’t merely stubborn and pugnacious. He may also have been somewhat deluded. 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.”[12]

I find myself wishing he had made it to Jerusalem just to see what happened. Of course, there is no telling what additional trouble we might now have in the Middle East if he had done so.

Rev. Adam’s widow eventually 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.”[13] It was probably no picnic, being a planet in Rev. Adam’s solar system.

Moving on to the next issue …

Who were Rev. Adam’s parents?

As noted, there appears to be no primary evidence available on Rev. Adam’s family of origin. The family oral tradition is that he was a son of Jeremiah and Rhoda Craig Rankin of Cumberland Co., PA. Jeremiah, in turn, was one of the three proved sons of the Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and his wife Mary Steele Alexander Rankin.

Family tradition also says that Jeremiah died young in a mill accident. There are no probate records concerning his estate, so far as I have found. Likewise, I haven’t found any guardian’s records, although Jeremiah’s children were underage when he died. Nor did I have any luck looking for probate records on a Craig. In fact, the only reference I have found to Adam’s son Jeremiah in county records is Adam’s 1747 Lancaster County will.[14]  I may have missed something, and it wouldn’t be the first time.

Fortunately, there are at least two pieces of credible secondary evidence about this family: (1) Rev. Robert Davidson’s History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky and (2) personal family knowledge and oral tradition preserved in an 1854 letter written by one of Rev. Adam’s sons. Both provide evidence concerning Rev. Adam’s family of origin.

Here is what Rev. Davidson wrote about Adam (boldface and italics are mine):

“The Rev. Adam Rankin was born March 24, 1755, near Greencastle, Western Pennsylvania [sic, Greencastle is in south-central PA]. 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,[15] 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 [Rev. Adam’s father] 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 [Virginia].”[16]

The most important thing Rev. Davidson said about Rev. Adam was in a footnote: “[t]his 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.” Rev. Davidson obtained his information information straight from the horse’s  mouth, so to speak, establishing its credibility. Several facts stand out in Rev. Davidson’s sketch:

    • The death of Rev. Adam’s father in a mill accident confirms the family oral history. The date of death is established at about 1760, when Rev. Adam was five.[17]
    • Rev. Adam’s mother was, as the family history says, a Craig.
    • There was a Presbyterian martyr among Rev. Adam’s ancestors, although the murdered man was his mother’s ancestor, not his father’s.
    • Rev. Adam was born in Greencastle, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The county was created in 1750 from Lancaster, where Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin lived. Adam and Mary’s sons James and William began appearing in Cumberland in the 1750s. Rev. Adam’s birth in Greencastle is consequently good circumstantial evidence that he was a son of Jeremiah and grandson of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin.

The other significant piece of evidence regarding Rev. Adam’s family is an 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin, Rev. Adam’s youngest son. John Mason obviously wrote from personal knowledge of his father’s generation and their children, all of whom lived in Fayette and Woodford counties, Kentucky. He also had information from the family’s oral tradition regarding his earlier ancestry. Because I have been unable to find anyone who had ever seen that letter, I had serious reservations about its authenticity. Fortunately, Susan Faust, a Rankin researcher, located and communicated with one of the two Rankins having personal knowledge of the letter and other materials. The original of the letter is supposedly in the custody of a museum in San Augustine, Texas. I cannot find a museum there, so perhaps the reference is to a local library or genealogical society.

You can find a transcription of the 1854 letter  here. There are a couple of interesting things about the letter, in addition to the wealth of genealogical detail. There are also some minor and unsurprising errors.

First, John Mason identified the original immigrants in his Rankin family as the brothers Adam (his ancestor), John, and Hugh. This precisely echoes information contained on the famous bronze tablet in the Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Cemetery in Jefferson County, Tennessee. The tablet has a colorful story about the Rankin family in Scotland and Ireland that is worth reading. A transcription can be found  in this article.

The Mt. Horeb tablet also identifies the original Rankin immigrants as the brothers Adam, John and Hugh, and names Adam’s wife Mary Steele. That makes it certain that John Mason Rankin and the Mt. Horeb tablet were dealing with the same immigrant family. John Mason says he descends from Adam and Mary Steele Rankin. The Mt. Horeb Rankins descend from the John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster, Adam’s brother according to both family traditions.

The John Mason and Mt. Horeb tablet histories diverge prior to the Rankin immigrant brothers, however. John Mason’s letter does not include the colorful stories of Alexander and William Rankin in Scotland and Ireland. That part of the Mt. Horeb legend was apparently also omitted from Rev. Adam’s autobiography, or Rev. Davidson would surely have mentioned it. This raises an inference that the Mt. Horeb stories about the Killing Times in Scotland and the Siege of Londonderry in Ireland may not have been a part of Rev. Adam’s family’s oral history.

In the interest of full disclosure, here are some of the minor errors or discrepancies in John Mason’s 1854 letter:

  • Adam Rankin (wife Mary Steele Alexander) died in 1747, not 1750.
  • John Mason identified the father of the three Rankin immigrant brothers (John, Adam and Hugh) as Adam. The Mt. Horeb tablet identifies their father as William Rankin. So far as I know, there is no evidence regarding the identity of the immigrant Rankins’ father.
  • What John Mason called “Cannegogy Creek” usually appears in the colonial records as “Conogocheague” Creek. In later records, it is spelled “Conococheague.” In any event, John Mason was clearly talking about the creek where Jeremiah’s mill was located. Two Presbyterian churches on or near that creek are the churches attended b y Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s sons William and James. That puts the three proved sons of Adam – James, William and Jeremiah – in close geographic proximity, a nice piece of circumstantial evidence of their family relationship.
  • Jeremiah Rankin, Rev. Adam’s brother, had four sons, not three: Adam, Joseph, Andrew and Samuel.

And that brings us to the last issue …

YDNA evidence concerning Rev. Adam’s line

A proved male descendant of Rev. Adam Rankin – who was almost certainly a son of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s son Jeremiah – has YDNA tested is a participant in the Rankin project. He has a 67-marker match with a genetic distance of 5 to a man who is a proved descendant of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s son William. That isn’t a particularly close YDNA match. However, their paper trails indicate with reasonable confidence that Adam is their common Rankin ancestor.

Six proved descendants of the John Rankin who died in 1749 in Lancaster have also YDNA tested and participate in the Rankin DNA project. They are a close genetic match to each other, and their paper trails are solid.

Here’s the problem. The descendants of John are not a genetic match to the descendants of Adam. Unless some other explanation can be found, the mismatch means that John and Adam were not genetic brothers. Let’s hope that more research and/or YDNA testing will shed further light on that issue.

See you on down the road.

Robin

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

[2] Rev. Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (New York: R. Carter, 1847), 95. For “The Rankin Schism,” see p. 88 et seq. The book is available online as a pdf at this link.

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

[4] Staff of the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, March 20, 2015, “How Adam Rankin Tried to Stop Presbyterians From Singing ‘Joy to the World,’” published online by the Aquila Report here.

[5] Average horse speed stats here.. Distance at Google maps.

[6] Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church, 82.

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

[8] Id. at 218-219.

[9] Id.

[10] I was baptized and confirmed in, and currently belong to, a Presbyterian church. I am, after all, a Scots-Irish Rankin. A frequent message at my church, including on its LED marquee, is “ALL ARE WELCOME.” That phrase has several layers of meaning in this era of immigrant hatred, but its most fundamental meaning is that everyone is invited to participate in communion.

[11] Rankin, History of Lexington, Kentucky, 108-110.

[12] Townsends, Kentucky in American Letters,17.

[13] Fred Lee Hawkins, Jr., Maury County, Tennessee Cemeteries with Genealogical and Historical Notes, Vol. 1and Vol. 2(1989).

[14] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankin dated 4 May 1747 proved 21 Sep 1747. 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 alias Dunwoody, £ 5. Wife (name omitted), 2/3rd “of all my worldly substance.” Sons William and Jeremiah the remainder, including the plantation to be equally divided betweenthem.

[15] Interestingly, it isn’t clear whether Alexander was her ancestor’s given name or surname. Both occur frequently among the Scots-Irish..

[16] Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church,95.

[17] I only say “about” 1760 because of the difficulty a small child might have in pinpointing his exact age when his father died.

Where are you from? Here’s a great source for Anglo names …

A couple of decades ago, my first cousin Butch Rankin[1] posed this question to me: “where are we from, anyway?” He didn’t specify which of our many shared ancestral lines he meant, but he was clearly asking about Rankins.

Hmmmm… there were some Rankins who came to the colonies from England, often Quakers. For example, there was a James Rankin in York Co., Pennsylvania in the 1770s, a Tory, whose estate was confiscated and who fled back to England.[2] But the vast majority of Rankin immigrants to the colonies during the 18th century came from Ireland. They were overwhelmingly Scots-Irish, Presbyterian, and Patriots.

Sometimes, names, locations and religion can reveal a great deal, and this is a good example. Butch’s and my earliest known Rankin ancestor first appeared in colonial records in Rowan County, North Carolina, smack dab in the middle of the Scots-Irish settlements of the Piedmont Plateau. Moreover, our ancestor Samuel Rankin – known as  Old One-Eyed Sam  – married  Eleanor (“Ellen”) Alexander. As nearly as I can tell, “Alexander” is the Scots-Irish equivalent of “Smith.” Samuel and Eleanor are buried in the Old Goshen Grove Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Belmont, NC. There was once a marker on the wall of Goshen Cemetery “in memory of the following Revolutionary soldiers,” including Robert Alexander (Eleanor Alexander Rankin’s brother), William Rankin (eldest son of Samuel and Eleanor), and Samuel Rankin  – Old One-Eyed Sam himself, who was too old to fight, but who was deemed a “patriot” by the DAR because he contributed supplies.[3]

OK, Scots-Irish, Presbyterian, and patriot: check, check, check. The correct answer to Butch’s question is that we came to the colonies from the province of Ulster in northernmost Ireland. And before our Rankin ancestors migrated to Ulster, they lived in Scotland.

But where in Scotland? I’ve done no research there because I hadn’t a clue where to start. Many Rankin researchers claim the highlands of northwest Scotland, reciting a frequently reported connection between the Rankins and the Maclean Clan of Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull. It is a popular story, although I’ve never seen a reference to evidence in any records. However, I never found a credible alternative opinion on the issue.

Until this week. There is a book at Clayton Genealogical Library that is new to me: The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland, published by the Oxford University Press.[4] If you have Anglo ancestors, you might want to check this source, because it has some interesting information. Also, Oxford University has a certain aura of credibility.

This is what the Dictionary says about Rankin, in part (emphasis added):

“Rankin. Variants: Rankine, Ranken, Ranking

Current frequencies: GB 6341, Ireland 1281. GB frequency 1881: 4297

Main GB location 1881: widespread in Scotland and England, chiefly SW Scotland; Lancs; Northumb

Main Irish location 1847-64: Ulster: esp.Derry, Donegal, and Antrim    

Scottish, English: relationship name from Middle English Ran(d)kin, a diminutive of Ran(d), a pet form of the personal name Ran(d)ulf. See Rand, Randolph, Randall.

Further information: this name was brought to Northern Ireland (Derry) from Scotland in the 17thcentury.

Early bearers: given names: Rankin de Fowlartoun, 1429 in Ayr Charters (Ayr, Ayrs).”

I’m a bit foggy about what “Ayr Charters” are, although this article is helpful.  But I am quite clear about the counties Derry, Donegal and Antrim in the province of Ulster, Ireland, to which many Scots migrated during the 1610-1690 period. (See a map of Irish provinces and counties comprising them  here). Google Maps is also unambiguous about Ayr, a city on the Firth of Clyde in the province of Ayrshire in southwest Scotland. As the crow flies, Ayr to Londonderry (or Derry, depending on your politics)  in Northern Ireland is about 120 miles. Just for fun, there is a Rankintown about 12 miles southeast of Ayr.

Based on just the numbers, there is a decent chance that your Scots-Irish Rankin ancestor lived in Ayrshire, Scotland before migrating to Derry, Donegal or Antrim county in the province of Ulster  – and then arriving in the Colonies during the “Great Migration” of the 18th century. I like the odds.

To check the Dictionary’s source for identifying “Rankin de Fowlartoun” as a resident of Ayr in 1429, just Google “Ayr Charters.” You will find a mind-boggling text in both Latin and English. The document says it is the full text of “Charters of the royal burgh of Ayr.”

The relevant text in Latin is described in the heading as a “Notarial Instrument concerning the Rendering of Accounts by the Bailies of Ayr,” dated 17 November 1429. It’s been more than half a century since I wrestled with Virgil’s Aeneid, so the only things I recognize are dates and names. The latter includes “Johannes de Bathcate” and “Thomas de Carrie,” who were the “bailies” (Bailiffs? Sheriffs? Tax collectors?) of the Burgh of Ayr.

The other Latinized names in the text include Henrico Forrestar (Henry Forrest or Forrester, the Chamberlain’s deputy), Rankino de Fowlartoun, Alexandro de Cragy, Thoma[s] Crotteche, David Glassynwricht, Macolmo de Qulchone, Johanne Litster, Johanne Gray, Johanne Bannezour, Gilberto Askirk, and Thomas Hakete, the notary.

Fortunately, there is an abstract of the Latin text at the same link, although it omits all names except for the two bailies and the Chamberlain’s deputy. Here is what it says, in part:[5]

“Notarial Instrument narrating that John of Bathgate and Thomas of Carrick, bailies of Ayr, being charged to render their account for the past year by Henry Forestar, depute of the chamberlain, in the manner and form contained in a certain instrument accepted by the said depute;

They having advised with the best men of the burgh of Ayr declared that they were never before the past year charged or required to make such account … Done in the Tolbooth of Ayr, about eleven o’clock on 17th November 1429.”

Taking into account both the Latin text and the abstract, it appears that “Rankine of Fowlartoun” was among the “best men of the Burgh of Ayr” with whom the bailies consulted about how and when to render accounts in 1429. Nice – perhaps an offsetting balance to my Rankin ancestor who was a Civil War deserter.

Now I will run, because I must call Butch and tell him that our Rankins most likely came originally from Ayrshire Province in Southwest Scotland before they wound up in Ulster. Then I will head back to the library to look up Brodnax, Lindsey, Winn, Estes, Bacon, Lyddal, Harkins, Hubbard, Stubbs, Odom, Rivers, Whittaker, et. al.…

Hope you also find interesting information in the Dictionary.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] “Butch” is not his actual given name, of course – it was his nickname as a kid. Now he is stuck with it, so far as the Rankin cousins are concerned. I still wonder briefly who the hell his wife is talking about when I hear her call him by his “real” name. I am quite fond of Butch, with whom I talk on the phone often.

[2] Franklin Ellis and Samuel Evans, History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Evets & Peck, 1883), 752-53: “Rankin’s Ferry was established a few years prior to the Revolution by James Rankin, who resided in York County. The Rankins were Tories. James Rankin was a Quaker, and was appointed a justice of the peace for York County prior to the Revolution. He was one of the most prominent men in the country.  … Being suspected of secret machinations against the patriots he suddenly went over to the British when Howe had possession of Philadelphia, and thence to England … several farms were confiscated … in 1790, James Rankin and Dr. Robert Harris owned the ferry and the land at the eastern end. It became the subject of litigation, which very likely grew out of the confiscation of Rankin’s estate.”

[3] Family History Library Film # 0,882,938, item 2, “Pre-1914 Cemetery Inscription Survey, Gaston Co., prepared by the Historical Records Survey Service Division, Works Progress Administration.”

[4] Patrick Hanks, Richard Coates, and Peter McClure, The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017), 2214.

[5] For the record, the bailies were arguing about the form of and timing to submit the accounts, and not the need to render them.