Adam Rankin who died 1747 in Lancaster Co., PA – AGAIN!


A number of issues have conspired to make me doggedly pursue Adam’s line like Deputy U. S. Marshall Samuel Gerard on the trail of Dr. Richard Kimble. I have searched every residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in Pennsylvania for evidence of Adam’s family.

Here is the context. I am writing a book about Rankins. More accurately, I am assembling Rankin material for a self-published (and free) book. Among other things, it includes articles from this blog.[1] It turns out that I have written more articles on the line of Adam Rankin than on my own Rankin ancestors. Why have I been on Adam’s trail?

First, I have tracked Adam because more people erroneously claim descent from him than any other colonial Rankin I’ve run across. Even my Rankin first cousin’s closest YDNA match believes he descends from Adam, although there is conclusive documentary evidence to the contrary. I have been contacted by Rankin researchers or Rankin DNA Project members whose claimed descent from Adam has been disproved by paper records and/or YDNA. One must have one’s ducks in a row for those kinds of discussions. Understandably, people do not like hearing that their ancestry is incorrect, even though DNA doesn’t lie.

It isn’t clear why Adam is such a popular ancestor. Perhaps it is because his line claims descent from what I call the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins. According to oral family history, this family had two martyred Presbyterian brothers in the Scottish “Killing Times” in the 1680s. Surviving family members escaped to Ulster just in time for the Siege of Londonderry in 1689.  It’s a great story, and who wouldn’t like to have that exciting heritage?[2] On the other hand, the line of John Rankin who died in Lancaster in 1749 also claims descent from the Londonderry Siege Rankins – but I haven’t run into any Rankin DNA Project members who erroneously claim descent from John.

It is also possible that Adam’s line is prone to error because it produced a plethora of William Rankins born in the mid to late 1700s.[3] Perhaps researchers hitting a colonial Pennsylvania brick wall ancestor named William Rankin have found a host of seemingly reasonable possibilities to place him in Adam’s family.[4] John’s line, on the other hand, is so well-researched and documented that there aren’t many opportunities to insert someone incorrectly. Whatever the reason, Adam is frequently a fictitious ancestor.

Second, I tracked Adam’s line because I have a dog in that hunt. Due to my Rankin cousin’s close YDNA match (37 markers, GD = 0) to a claimed descendant of Adam, I had to figure out whether my own Rankin family is connected to Adam’s line. Both the paper trail and YDNA say we are not.

Finally, I pursued Adam’s family in an effort to determine whether some conventional Rankin wisdom about his line is correct. The legend of the Londonderry Siege Rankins asserts that Adam (died 1747 in Lancaster) and John (died 1749 in Lancaster) were brothers. For several reasons, I think that is wrong. Having apparently exhausted the documentary evidence, YDNA is the only way to attack the issue.

Fortunately, a half-dozen descendants of John d. 1749 have YDNA tested and belong to the Rankin DNA Project. All  that is needed is to find descendants of Adam to test, right? And compare the YDNA results to John’s line? Ha! Much easier said than done. Another Rankin researcher and I recruited four different Rankin men from Adam’s line to YNDA test. These were not Rankins we found on trees at Ancestry. These were Adam’s descendants whom I identified by research in county and other records.

The first recruit had no YDNA matches to anyone in the FTDNA database. The second and third had no Rankin matches. None of those three were genetic Rankins, much less Adam’s descendants. NPEs abounded, evidently.

The fourth recruit is a genetic Rankin. His line back to Adam is solid as a rock. He does not match John’s line, which supports a conclusion that Adam and John were not brothers. Further, he is a YDNA match to one of the several men in the Rankin DNA Project who claim descent from Adam. It is a distant match, though: a genetic distance of five on 67 markers. The Rankin DNA Project really needs to test other Adam descendants to have confidence in a YDNA profile for that important line and to confirm whether Adam and John were brothers.

I am therefore pleading for help and continuing to research Adam’s line. From time to time, someone or something informative or interesting turns up. E.g., Confederate Brigadier General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson was a legend in the Civil War whose descendants include two professional baseball players. He was Adam’s great-great grandson. There is also a Rankin Presbyterian minister  whose life was consumed by his fanaticism about an obscure theological issue. Have you ever heard of the “Psalmody” controversy? Neither had I, and neither had a friend of mine who is a retired Presbyterian minister.  The fanatic minister was almost certainly Adam’s grandson. Adam had another grandson whose migration west, and eight of his nine children, were proved by only three deeds.  When I run across something fun like that, I am compelled to write a blog article.

There are also a number of tangled branches in Adam’s immediate family tree. As noted, the family had a plethora of Williams who led people astray, causing me to write both this article  and this one. One of the Williams, a great-grandson of Adam, has been conflated with other William Rankins several times to my knowledge.[5] That is a fine example of the “same name confusion” error, which is easy to do. There were also a passel of  Jeremiah Rankins  in Franklin County, Pennsylvania who made Adam’s line difficult to track. One David Rankin from Adam’s line is the subject of an error in the conventional Rankin wisdom, which conflates him with an unrelated David Rankin of Greene County, Tennessee. Some of the  James Rankins  are also confusing.

Not surprisingly, the most frequently read Rankin articles on this blog are about Adam’s line. If the genealogical gods have even a shred of kindness, one of Adam’s descendants will read this, decide to YDNA test, and join the Rankin DNA Project. I can only hope.

See you on down the road.


[1] In addition to Rankin articles from the blog, the book will include outline descendant charts for a number of Rankin lines, plus all of my original Rankin research in more than 50 counties in 13 states. I might  be able to finish it if I remain compos mentis for another couple of decades.

[2] Unfortunately, there seems to be no evidence for the story other than oral family history. I am not even sure where the legend originated. If you have any ideas, please contact me!

[3] Adam’s will named a son William. Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J-1, will of Adam Rankin dated 4 May 1747 and proved 21 Sep 1747, naming sons James, William, and Jeremiah and daughter Esther. Adam’s sons William and James each had a son named William. Will of William Rankin dated 20 Oct 1792, proved 28 Nov 1792, Franklin Co., PA will book A: 256, naming inter alia sons Adam, Archibald, James, William, David, John, and Jeremiah.  Will of James Rankin (Sr.) dated 25 Mar 1788, proved 20 Oct 1795, Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, naming inter alia sons William, Jeremiah, James, and David. And so on.

[4] There are at least three who claim descent from Adam’s great-grandson son Dr. William Rankin, although there is conclusive contrary proof regarding where Dr. William went, who he married, and the identity of his children.

[5] The great-grandson of Adam who has been conflated with other men named William Rankin fits in Adam’s line thusly: Gen 1, Adam d. 1747 in Lancaster; Gen 2, William d. 1792 in Franklin; Gen 3, William who moved to Centre County and died there. The third William left a will dated 11 Jun 1845 and  proved 2 Feb 1848, Centre Co., PA WB B: 254, naming inter alia sons William, James, Archibald, Alexander, John and Adam. Son William Rankin, great-grandson of Adam, was a doctor, lived in Shippensburg, and married Caroline Nevin. See 1850 census, Shippensburg, household of Dr. William Rankin, 52, Caroline Rankin, 37, Rev. William Rankin, 20, Mary A. Rankin, 18, David Rankin, 16, Abigail Rankin, 13, Alfred Rankin, 11, James Rankin, 9, Elizabeth Rankin, 7, Joseph Rankin, 5, and Caroline Rankin, 4.