Would you believe me if I told you that three deeds – just three deeds – could conclusively prove the names of eight of a couple’s nine children, the family’s migration history, the surnames of married daughters, and the given names of two sons-in-law? No? Oh, ye of little faith! Please keep reading.
This is another paean to deeds as a family history research tool. It is also a tip of the hat to Jessica Guyer. She abstracted deeds in several Pennsylvania counties in an effort to break through her Rankin brick wall. Three deeds she found in Westmoreland County are the genealogical gold mine described above. The deeds concern the family of David and Frances (“Fanny”) Campbell Rankin, originally of Franklin County, Pennsylvania.
The story in short
Ferreting out David and Fanny’s story requires slogging through deeds concerning tracts of land in two Pennsylvania counties. The deeds mention bequests in a will, inheritance via intestacy, two trusts, judgments, and a court-ordered confirmation deed. All in the arcane language of 19th-century deeds written in tiny, cramped, handwriting.
For those of us whose brains are addled by cabin fever during the coronavirus nightmare, here is the CliffsNotes version of their story. It is easier on one’s eyesight and sanity than the original deeds. Connoisseurs of evidence and other gluttons for punishment can find citations to deeds in the footnotes.
David and Fanny originally lived in Antrim, Peters, and Montgomery Townships in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. David, born in 1777, was a son of William and Mary Huston Rankin of Antrim Township in Franklin (formerly Cumberland) County. Fanny was a daughter of Dugal/Dougal Campbell. The 200-acre Franklin tract Fanny inherited from her father became security for her family’s financial future, along with legacies David’s mother Mary left to their children.
By the 1820s, David was deeply in debt to Archibald Bard, a Franklin County justice. To secure judgments “and other monies owed,” David pledged both the tract Fanny inherited from her father and his children’s legacies from his mother. Bard was entitled to sell the land and retain the proceeds, as well as the legacies from Mary Rankin, to apply to David’s debt. Bard was to use any surplus to purchase “lands to the west.” Bard was to hold the land in trust for the maintenance of Fanny and her children. Bard purchased a tract in Rostraver Township, Westmoreland County, called the “Dailey Farm.” For reasons unknown, David’s debts to Bard weren’t repaid until the Dailey Farm was sold.
By at least 1830, the family had moved to Westmoreland. David’s financial troubles must not have tarnished his reputation, because he was a justice there. From Westmoreland, the Rankins moved to Allen County, Indiana. Finally, the family relocated to Des Moines County, Iowa Territory about 1838. In 1844, the Rankins executed a deed from Iowa confirming the prior sale of the Dailey Farm to Gilbert Beck. The entire family (including two living sons-in-law) acknowledged the deed in Burlington, Iowa. Only Fanny, who apparently died before 1840, and Adam John Rankin, who died in 1842, were not parties to the 1844 deed.
Voilà! Only three deeds identified this entire family and unlocked its path westward. If you’re interested in this Rankin family, please thank Jessica Guyer.
Finally, here are David and Fanny’s nine children. I drilled down in the records just far enough to help anyone who is interested to track this family. Except for Betsey’s interesting will, I didn’t find any good stories, so these are just a few bare facts.
William Rankin, b. 5 Jan 1807, Franklin Co., PA, d. 2 Jan 1873 Des Moines Co., IA. He was listed in two federal censuses in Huron Township, Des Moines with his wife Martha Jane Gray and their children Frances Elizabeth (“Libby”) Rankin, Samuel Bruce Rankin, and Areta Catherine Rankin Tewksbury.William’s sister Betsey’s will (see below) named all three children and helped flesh out their full names.
Elizabeth “Betsey” Rankin was born 3 Feb 1803 in Franklin Co., PA, and died 5 July 1888 in Des Moines Co. Betsey left a remarkable will identifying two of her three sisters, four of her five brothers, a host of nieces and nephews, and some of her siblings’ grandchildren. Betsey left cash legacies to all of them. Unfortunately, her estate assets consisted entirely of notes, primarily on family members. Most of the notes were barred by the statute of limitations because they were long since overdue. Some were uncollectable. As a result, the administration of Betsey’s estate consisted primarily of (1) collecting on the few good notes, (2) paying $500 to her brother Archibald for taking care of her during the last five years of her long life, (3) payment to the administrator for his work, (4) obtaining releases from beneficiaries who agreed to waive payment of their legacies in exchange for forgiveness of their notes, and (5) paying one or two small legacies. Betsey and her administrator went to a lot of trouble for virtually no financial benefit to her family. Her big probate file, however, is a wonderful legacy for Rankin researchers. Question: where did she get the money to loan to her relatives?
Martha C. Rankin, b. Franklin Co., PA on 22 Nov 1805. She married a Mr. Sweeny/Swenny/Sweeney, given name unknown. She may have married in Indiana because her one child was born there. Martha was living with her father David in 1850 in Des Moines, and with her daughter and sister Betsey in 1856. Her only known child was Frances C. Sweeny, born in Indiana about 1836. A solid bet is that Frances’s middle name was Campbell.
Mary H. Rankin, b. Franklin Co., PA on 6 Feb 1809, d. Iowa 12 Nov 1885. Her husband was James Bruce. Taken together, the census records from 1850 through 1870 suggest their children were (1) Martha (“Mattie”) Bruce, b. 1842, (2) Lawrence H. C. Bruce, b. 1844, (3) David R. (Rankin) Bruce, b. 1846, (4) Sarah Bruce, b. 1849, and (5) Margaret Bruce, b. 1851. Mary’s sister Betsey’s will named all of them except Lawrence, who probably predeceased her. Betsey identified Mary Bruce’s married daughters as M. B. Bruce Cartwright (Martha), S. J. (Sarah Jane) Bruce Yost, and M. B. (Margaret) Crowder. Online trees name a dizzying array of additional children for James and Mary, most of which are error.
Dougal/Dugal Campbell Rankin, b. Franklin Co. on 10 Apr 1811, d. Yellow Springs Township, Des Moines Co., IA, 21 Feb 1885. His wife was Mary Johnson. He is buried in the Round Prairie Presbyterian Cemetery in Des Moines Co. Census records from 1860 through 1880 suggest their children were (1) David C. Rankin, b. abt. 1853, (2) Hezekiah Johnson Rankin, b. abt. 1855, (3) Sarah F. Rankin, b. abt. 1858, and (4) John William Rankin, b. abt. 1860. Dougal was still alive when his sister Betsey wrote her will, so she named Dougal rather than his children as her beneficiary.
Frances Rankin (Jr.) was born 1 Jan 1814 and baptized 9 May 1814 in the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague (the “Upper West Church”) near Mercersburg, Franklin Co., PA. Frances married James Waddle. The only record I have for this couple is the 1856 Iowa State Census in Yellow Springs Township, Des Moines County. He was a merchant. The couple had no children, so far as I know. Her sister Betsey Rankin’s will didn’t mention either Frances or any children.
David Huston Rankin was born 14 Mar 1817 and baptized 28 Apr 1817 in the Upper West Church. He married Mary A. Oliver on 5 Jun 1844 in Des Moines. The couple is listed in the federal census for Des Moines Co. in 1850 and 1860. They moved to Garnett, Anderson Co., KS by 1870, where David was an innkeeper. The 1870 federal census and his sister Betsey’s will suggest that David and Mary had two daughters: Martha (“Mattie”) C. Rankin Osborne and Fannie Rankin Rice. Fannie married James Wesley Rice, the Garnett postmaster, and had a son named Rankin Rice. David died on 19 Jan 1874 and is buried in the Garnett Cemetery in Anderson Co. There was apparently an obituary for him, although I have not found it.
Archibald Rankin was b. 1 Aug 1819, Franklin Co., PA and baptized 10 Oct 1819 in the Upper West Church. He died 4 Mar 1889 in Kossuth, Des Moines Co., IA. His wife was Lydia Blair. They had three daughters: Elizabeth J. Rankin, b. abt 1854 (married William B. Reed), Frances Margaret or Margaret Frances Rankin, b. abt 1858, and Martha Catharine Rankin, baptized on 7 Apr 1866 in the Round Prairie Presbyterian Church. Archibald is buried in the Kossuth Cemetery in Mediapolis, Des Moines Co.
Adam John Rankin, b. 29 Dec 1821, Franklin Co., baptized 13 Feb 1822 in the Upper West Church, d. 8 Jul 1842. Apparently never married. Buried in the Round Prairie Presbyterian Cemetery in Des Moines, County.
And that may be more than I know about David and Frances Campbell Rankin’s family. See you on down the road.
 See another article about the “follow the land” theory of genealogical research in the article titled “Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin’s Son William: “Follow the Land” at this link. There is a similar article about the value of deeds in family history research about the children of Lyddal Bacon Estes and “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn here.
 1810 federal census, Antrim Twp., Franklin Co., PA, listing for David Rankin, 10020-31111; 1820 federal census, Peters Twp., Franklin Co., PA, David Rankin, 310010-12022; Franklin Deed Book 14: 266, deed dated 28 Aug 1827 from David and wife Frances Rankin of Montgomery Twp.
 The Pennsylvania Archives confused William and Mary Huston Rankin’s son David (married to Frances Campbell) with his cousin David. The latter David was a son of James Sr. and Jean Rankin, also of Franklin Co. See the 1792 will of William Rankin of Antrim Township naming inter alia his wife Mary and his son David, Franklin Will Book A: 256, and the 1788 will of James Rankin Sr. of Montgomery Township naming inter alia his wife Jean and son David, Franklin Will Book A: 345. David’s birth year is established by the family Bible, as well as the 1850 federal census and his tombstone. An article addressing the Archives error can be found in the article titled “Will the “Correct” David Rankin of Franklin County Please Stand Up?” here.
 The identity of Fanny’s father is established by a deed. Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 14:245, quitclaim deed dated 5 Dec 1827 from the children of John Beatty to David and Frances Rankin and Archibald Bard. The deed recites that Dongal [sic, Dugal or Dougal] Campbell died intestate owning 400 acres. The tract descended “in coparcenary” to his daughters Frances Campbell Rankin (wife of David Rankin) and Elizabeth Campbell Beatty (wife of John Beatty). Each sister’s share was called a “purpart.” If you know what those terms mean, you need to get a life! “Coparcenary” describes the ownership of land that two sisters inherited from their father who died intestate with no male heirs. “Purpart” means each sister’s share. Fanny’s share of the coparcenary tract was held in trust by Bard (see Note 7) to secure debts David owed. The Beatty children promised in the quitclaim deed not to make any claim to Fanny’s purpart.
 Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 14: 97, deed of trust (“DOT”) dated Dec 1826 from David Rankin and wife Frances of Montgomery Twp. to Archibald Bard, Esq. The DOT secured David’s debts to Bard with the coparcenary tract and legacies bequeathed by Mary Rankin to some of David and Frances’s children. I have not been able to find Mary (Huston) Rankin’s will
 Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 29: 470, reciting that Bard had judgments aga.inst David of $1,602.91, plus “other moneys owing and due.”
 Id., deed dated 27 Mar 1832 from David Rankin and his wife Frances of Rostraver Township in Westmoreland Co. and Archibald Bard of Franklin Co., grantors, to William Rankin and Dugell (sic) Rankin, sons of David. The deed recites the terms of the Franklin Co. deed of trust (Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 14: 97), stating that Bard could satisfy David’s debts with proceeds from the sale of the coparcenary tract and the legacies Mary Rankin left to David’s children. Money left over was to be invested by Bard in “lands to the west to be conveyed to and vested in Bard” for the support of Frances and her children. Apparently, the debts were not repaid from the sale of the coparcenary tract. Instead, Bard contracted with a Philadelphia bank to purchase a tract in Westmoreland Co. The deed provided that (1) the Dailey Farm would be sold to Gilbert Beck, (2) Archibald Bard would be repaid from the proceeds and released of his trustee duties, (3) Gilbert Beck would pay to William and Dougal Rankin the legacies from Mary Rankin, and (4) the residue from the sale would be used to buy “lands to the west.” Newly purchased land was to be conveyed to William and Dougal in trust for the use of Frances Rankin and her children and heirs. There is a lot going on in that deed. I recommend you read the original if you are interested in this family.
 Id. Grantors David and Frances Rankin were “of” Rostraver Township, Westmoreland Co. in 1832. See also the 1830 census, Westmoreland Co., PA, Rostraver Twp., listing for David Rankin, Esqr., 01211001-00022001.
 See 1830 federal census, Note 8. Usually, the honorific “Esquire” was reserved for judges. I have not confirmed in Westmoreland court records that David was a justice.
 Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 29: 470-71, deed dated 26 Mar 1834 from “Sundry Rankins,” as the deed book calls them: David, Frances (Sr.), William, Betsey, Martha, Mary, Frances (Jr.), David H. (Huston), and Dougel C. (Campbell) Rankin of Indiana, grantors, to Gilbert Beck, the Dailey Farm. The Rankins acknowledged the deed in Allen Co., Indiana.
 1856 Iowa State Census, listing #198 for James Waddle, 45, merchant, b. OH, and Frances (Rankin) Waddle, 43, b. PA; both have resided in Iowa for 18 years. Also listing #199, Elizabeth Rankin, 50, b. PA, and Martha C. (Rankin) Sweeny, 48, b. PA, both have resided in Iowa 18 years, with Frances C. Sweeny, 20 (Martha’s daughter), b. Indiana abt. 1836.
 Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 29: 471-72, deed dated 24 Feb 1844 from David Rankin, Betsey Rankin, Martha Sweney (whose husband must have been deceased, since he was not a party), William Rankin, James Bruce and wife Mary (Rankin) Bruce, Dugal Campbell Rankin, James Waddle and wife Francis (Rankin) Waddle, David Huston Rankin, and Archibald Rankin, all of Des Moines County, Iowa Territory, to Gilbert Beck. This deed simply confirms the sale of the Dailey Farm to Beck, who complained that he had never received a deed. The entire Rankin family signed the deed except for Frances (Sr.), who probably died in Indiana, and the Rankins’ youngest son John Adam Rankin, who died in 1842.
 1860 federal census, Huron Twp., Des Moines, IA, dwelling #91, William Rankin, 53, $5,700/$700, b. PA, Martha Rankin 27, b. Illinois, Frances Rankin, 5, b. IA, and Samuel Rankin, 4, b. IA; 1870 federal census, Huron Twp., dwelling 72, William Rankin, 63, farmer, b. PA, $8800/$1825, Martha Jane Rankin, 34, b. Illinois, Elizabeth Rankin, 15, b. IA, Samuel B. Rankin, 14, farm hand, b. IA, and Areta Rankin, 3?, female, b. IA.
 Betsey’s birth year in the census vary between 1802 and 1807. In the 1856 Iowa state census, she was age 50 (born about 1806); 1860 Des Moines census, age 57 (born about 1803); 1870 Des Moines Co. census, age 67 (born about 1807); 1880 Des Moines census, age 78 (about 1802); 1885 Iowa State census, age 83 (1802). Find-a-Grave doesn’t have an image of Betsy’s tombstone, but claims her death is recorded in the register of Round Prairie Cemetery in Des Moines, Co. and that Betsey was born in Feb. 1803.
 Images of original records available online at FamilySearch.org, Des Moines Co., IA Probate records, Film #007594729, image #315 et seq. Will of Betsy Rankin of Des Moines Co. dated 29 Nov 1881, proved 17 Sep 1888, recorded in Will Book D: 111. Beneficiaries: sister Mary Bruce; brothers D. C. Rankin (Dougal Campbell) and Archibald Rankin; children of William Rankin, dec’d (S. Bruce Rankin, Libbie Rankin, and Areta Rankin); Martha C. Osborne, daughter of David H. Rankin, dec’d, and Rankin Rice, grandson of David H. Rankin; John W. Rhea, grandson of sister Martha C. Sweeney, dec’d. James Bruce, brother-in-law, executor. By the time the will was probated, James Bruce had died, so the court appointed William Harper administrator with the will annexed. Administrator’s bond named her heirs as (1) brother A. Rankin, (2) deceased brother William Rankin’s children (Frances E. Rankin, Samuel B. Rankin, and A. C. Tewksbury); (3) children of deceased sister M. H. Bruce (D. B. Bruce, M. B. Cartwright, S. J. Yost? and M. B. Crowder); (4) children of deceased brother D. C. (Dougal Campbell) Rankin (D. C. Rankin, H. J. Rankin, Sarah F. Rankin, and J. W. Rankin); (5) Martha C. Osborne, daughter of deceased brother D. H. (David Huston) Rankin, and Rankin Rice, grandson of D. H. Rankin; and (6) John W. Rhea, grandson of deceased sister Martha C. Sweeney.
 1850 federal census, Huron Twp, Des Moines Co., IA, dwelling #496, listing for David Rankin, 73, farmer, b. PA (abt 1777), $2800, with Martha Rankin, 35, PA, Dugald Camel (sic, Campbell), 30, PA, and Frances Camel (sic), 14, Indiana. I believe that Dugald is actually a Rankin – Dougal Campbell Rankin, son of David. Martha Rankin is probably David’s daughter Martha Rankin Sweeney. Frances Campbell is probably Martha’s daughter Frances C. Sweeney. Considering other information, that seems the most sensible way to interpret that otherwise baffling census listing.
 1856 Iowa State Census, listing #199: Elizabeth Rankin, 50, PA, b. abt 1806. Has resided in Iowa 18 years. Martha C. (Rankin) Sweeny, 48, PA, b. abt 1808. Also resided in Iowa 18 years. Frances C. Sweeny, 20, b. Indiana about 1836.
 See 1850 federal census, Yellow Springs Township, Des Moines Co., IA, household of James Bruce, 30, farmer, $2,000, b. OH, Mary (Rankin) Bruce, 30 (wrong age), Martha Bruce, 8, Lawrence Bruce, 6, David Bruce, 4, and Sarah Bruce, 1, all children b. IA; 1856 Iowa State Census, Yellow Springs Twp., James Bruce, 42, b. VA, Mary Bruce, 45, b. PA, Martha E. Bruce, 14, L.H.C. (Lawrence) Bruce, 12, David R. Bruce, 10, Sarah J. Bruce, 7, and Margaret Bruce; 1860 federal census, Des Moines, Yellow Springs Twp., dwl 249, James Bruce, 46, farmer, b. VA, Mary Bruce, 50, PA, Martha Bruce, 17, Florence (sic, Lawrence) Bruce, 16, David Bruce, 14, Sarah Bruce, 11, and Margaret Bruce, 9, all children b. Iowa; 1870 federal census, Yellow Springs Twp., dwl 252, James Bruce, 56, $6525/2010, Mary H. Bruce, 60, PA, Mattie Bruce, 28, IA, and Margarite Bruce, 19, IA (adjacent the household of David R. Bruce, 25, and Ellen Bruce, 25).
 FHL Film #956344, Iowa Deaths and Burials, 1850 – 1990.
 1860 federal census, Kossuth PO, Yellow Springs Township, Des Moines, household of Dugald Rankin, 43, farmer, b. PA, Mary Rankin, 36, b. PA, David Rankin, 7, b. IA, Johnson Rankin, 5, IA, Sarah Rankin, 2, IA, and William Rankin, 10 months, IA. 1870 federal census, Yellow Springs, household of D. C. Rankin, 58, $4,860/$1500, b. PA, David C. Rankin, 17, Hezekiah J. Rankin, 15, Sarah F. Rankin, 12, John W. Rankin, 10, all children b. IA. 1880 census, Yellow Springs, household of D. C. Rankin, 69, widowed, b. PA, parents b. PA, son David C. Rankin, 27, farmer, and son Hezekiah J. Rankin, 25, teacher.
 The source for the baptism records is the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records, database available online at Ancestry.com titled “Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church and Town Records, 1669-2013.” Frances Rankin, David Huston Rankin, Archibald Rankin, and Adam John Rankin are listed as children of David Rankin, along with their baptism dates, in the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague.
 Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 29: 471-472, the 1844 deed from “Sundry Rankins” to Gilbert Beck signed inter alia by James Waddle and wife Frances (Rankin) Waddle.
 1856 Iowa State Census, Yellow Springs Twp., Des Moines Co., listing for James Waddle, 45, merchant, b. OH. Has resided in Iowa 18 years. Frances (Rankin) Waddle, 43, b. PA, has also resided in Iowa for 18 years.
 Compiled Iowa Marriages, available online at Ancestry.com.
 1850 federal census, Yellow Springs Twp., Des Moines, IA, David H. Rankin, 33, farmer, $1000, b. PA, dwl #393, Mary Ann Rankin, 32, NJ?, Margret Rankin, 4, IA, Martha Rankin, 2, IA, Samuel Dickey, 40, PA, Rebecca Dickie, 36, PA, and William Dickie, 14, Indiana; 1860 federal census, Huron Twp, Des Moines Co., IA, dwelling #122 (adjacent Archibald Rankin): David Rankin, 43, farmer, b. PA, Mary Rankin, 40, b. NJ, Margaret Rankin, 14, IA, and Martha Rankin, 12, IA.
 1870 federal census, Garnett, Anderson Co., KS, David H.? Rankin, 53, b. PA, hotel keeper, $6800/1200, listed with (among others) May A. Rankin, 52, b. NJ, Mattie C. Rankin, 21, IA, James W. Rice, 33, postmaster, and Fannie? Rice, 24, b. IA. Betsey Rankin’s will named David’s daughter Martha C. Osborne and David’s grandson Rankin Rice.
 1860 federal census, Huron Twp, Des Moines Co., IA, dwelling #123, household of Archibald Rankin, 41, $2,500/$805, b. PA, Lydia Rankin, 35?, b. IL, Elizabeth Rankin, 4, IA, and Frances M. Rankin, 2, IA. 1870 federal census, Huron Twp., Archibald Rankin, 50, $500/$2100, b. PA. dwl 107, Lydia Rankin, 48, b. IL, Elizabeth J. Rankin, 14, IA, Frances M. Rankin, 12, IA, and Martha C. Rankin, 4, IA. 1880 federal census, Huron Twp., Des Moines Co., IA, Archibald Rankin, 61, b. PA, parents b. PA, farmer, Lydia Rankin, wife, 58, daughters Elizabeth J. Rankin, 24, Frances M. Rankin, 21, and Martha C. Rankin, 14.
 Here is an image of Archibald’s tombstone.. I have no idea where anyone came up with the middle name “August” (some online trees show it as “Augustus”). Arch was baptized in the Upper West Conococheague church along with two brothers whose baptism records expressly list their middle names (David Huston Rankin and Adam John Rankin). If Archibald ever had a middle name, it would surely have shown up in those church records. Give us all a break.