My last post was about evidence and proof, a sidetrack from a series of Rankin family articles. Fortunately, there is a convenient segue to return us to a Rankin family history legend: I ended that post with the comment that all family histories contain important truths, and also – inevitably – some errors.
My irreverent husband adds that traditional family histories are usually also sacred cows. This may be true.
The fact is that oral family traditions are conclusive evidence of only one thing: what the family believes its history to be. As evidentiary sources, they don’t have as much weight or credibility as, say, county records, and they certainly don’t trump YDNA. However, family histories are nevertheless at least secondary evidence. I have learned a great deal from my own family history “legends,” as I’ve written a couple of times on this blog. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that an oral family history actually proves anything in the absence of confirming evidence in actual records.
We are about to take on the most famous Rankin family legend of all. I call the family identified in this legend the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins. Many of them spread across Pennsylvania from Chester County to the west. Many of them wound up in Jefferson, Greene, and Blount counties, Tennessee. Some wound up in Augusta County, VA. This family history tradition exists in at least three different sources I have found, and probably many more: (1) a metal tablet in the Mt. Horeb Cemetery, Jefferson County, TN; (2) the “Republican History of Ohio,” published in 1898; and (3) an alleged 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin of San Augustine, County, Texas, to a relative. The Londonderry Siege Rankin family history can probably be found in many other county books with titles such as “Heritage of ____ County, Tennessee,” not to mention a zillion cut-and-paste histories at Ancestry.com. Keep in mind, of course, that repetition isn’t proof.
The Londerry Siege story is a staple, a cast-in-concrete given, of Rankin family history. YDNA results, however, create a couple of interesting question marks.
Let’s go with the Mt. Horeb tablet, the only one of these family histories that is actually cast in a permanent metal. Just for the record, I am not presenting this as a correct factual statement of Rankin family history. I am presenting it as a correct statement of this particular Rankin family’s oral history. Here it is, verbatim:
THIS TABLET IS TO COMMEMORATE THE MEMORY OF
RICHARD RANKIN 1756 – 1827 SAMUEL RANKIN 1758 – 1828
THOMAS RANKIN 1762 – 1827 JOHN BRADSHAW 1743 – 1818
FOUR PIONEER SETTLERS OF DUMPLIN VALLEY
GENEALOGY OF THE RANKIN FAMILY
ALEXANDER RANKIN, BORN IN SCOTLAND, HAD THREE SONS, TWO WERE MARTYRS TO THEIR RELIGION. OF THESE ONE WAS KILLED ON THE HIGHWAY, THE OTHER SUFFOCATED IN A SMOKEHOUSE WHERE HE HAD TAKEN REFUGE TO ESCAPE HIS PURSUERS. THE THIRD BROTHER, WILLIAM, TOGETHER WITH HIS FATHER AND FAMILY ESCAPED TO DERRY COUNTY, IRELAND IN 1688. WILLIAM AND HIS FATHER, ALEXANDER RANKIN, WERE PARTICIPANTS IN THE SIEGE OF LONDONDERRY, WHICH TOOK PLACE IN 1689. ALEXANDER RANKINS NAME IS SIGNED TO THE PETITION OF THANKS TO ALMIGHTY GOD, AND WILLIAM, KING OF ORANGE, FOR HIS TIMELY ASSISTANCE IN RAISING THE SIEGE IN AUGUST, 1689.
WILLIAM RANKIN HAD THREE SONS, ADAM, BORN IN SCOTLAND, 1699. JOHN AND HUGH BORN IN IRELAND. ADAM AND HUGH CAME TO AMERICA IN 1721, LANDING IN PHILADELPHIA. PA., AND SETTLED IN CHESTER COUNTY, HUGH WAS KILLED IN A MILL ACCIDENT. ADAM MARRIED MARY STEELE.
JOHN RANKIN MARRIED JANE McELWEE, IN IRELAND, CAME TO AMERICA IN 1727. HE HAD TWO SONS, THOMAS AND RICHARD, AND EIGHT DAUGHTERS. RICHARD MARRIED A MISS DOUGLASS AND SETTLED IN AUGUSTA COUNTY, VA.
THOMAS RANKIN, 1724 – 1828, MARRIED ISABEL CLENDENON OF PA. AND SETTLED IN THAT STATE. THEIR CHILDREN WERE:
JOHN 1754 – 1825 MARRIED MARTHA WAUGH
RICHARD 1756 – 1827 MARRIED JENNETT STEELE
SAMUEL 1758 – 1828 MARRIED – PETTY
WILLIAM 1760 – 1834 MARRIED SARAH MOORE
THOMAS 1762 – 1821 MARRIED JENNETT BRADSHAW
JAMES 1770 – 1839 MARRIED MARGARET MASSEY
JANE MARRIED WILLIAM GILLESPIE
MARGARET MARRIED SAMUEL HARRIS
ANN MARRIED LEMUEL LACY
ISABEL MARRIED ROBT. McQUISTON
NANCY MARRIED SAMUEL WHITE
MARY MARRIED JAMES BRADSHAW
THOMAS RANKIN OF GENERATION 4, WAS A CAPTAIN IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR. HIS FOUR ELDEST SONS WERE PRIVATES IN SAID WAR.
THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED IN 1930 BY CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON RANKIN COURTLAND THALES RANKIN, ATTY REV. JOHN GRANT NEWMAN, D.D. MRS. ALMYRA-RANKIN-McMURRAY MRS. ROZEE- RANKIN TAYLOR FRANK WALTER RANKIN HARRY JAY RANKIN SAM HULL RANKIN
End of transcription.
There is only one obvious error on the Mt. Horeb tablet: Adam Rankin, if born in 1699, couldn’t have been born in Scotland if, in fact, his family had escaped from the Killing Times in Scotland to be present for the Siege of Londonderry in 1689. Otherwise, the dates are credible. The “Killing Times” did include the year 1688, and many Presbyterian Scots were martyred in those times (they probably included some Rankins). Also, history confirms that many Presbyterian Scots did escape to the relatively safe haven of the Ulster Plantations of northern Ireland during the Killing Times (and this probably also included some Rankins). Finally, the Siege of Londonderry did occur in 1689, and there were undoubtedly Rankins there, at least one of whom was definitely named Alexander Rankin. I haven’t done any research overseas, so … if anyone out there has some actual evidence … please let me know!
The specific proof of the Alexander/William/ Adam.Hugh.John history is problematical, and I’m just not going to take on that issue. My friend Hazel Townsend, probably the premier Rankin researcher since Flossie Cloyd died, says this: she has not been able to prove to her own satisfaction that William was a son of Alexander or that William had sons Adam, John and Hugh.
Never mind all that – it’s a lovely legend, and I’m sure there is some truth to it. I just don’t know what. I would rather address what we can prove on this side of the ocean.
First, start with Adam and John Rankin, reportedly immigrants to Pennsylvania. For the record, these two men (assuming they were brothers, which may be an issue) both died in Lancaster County, PA:
– Adam Rankin died in 1747 and left a will naming three sons and one daughter. His proved wife was Mary Steele (widow of James Alexander). Let’s call him Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele.
– John Rankin died in 1749 in Lancaster Co., PA, also leaving a will naming two sons, six daughters and two sons-in-law. Call him John d. 1749, wife Margaret McElwee. John’s will identifies his wife as Margaret; family tradition gives her name as Jane McElwee.
Here’s the rub: YDNA presents something of a problem with the Mt. Horeb history. Different men who claim descent from Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele, are not a YDNA match. Somebody’s family history is in error, although both are perfectly credible (in the opinion of this researcher). Both rely heavily on family history, and who is to say which is wrong? This is a classic problem that YDNA is perfectly suited to resolve. Clearly, the Rankin DNA project needs to find more proved descendants of Adam to participate in a YDNA test.
Secondly, depending on which of the non-YDNA-matching descendants of Adam d. 1747, wife Mary Steele, actually descends from Adam, then the descendants of Adam d. 1747 may not be a YDNA match with descendants of John d. 1749.
This is GREAT STUFF FOR YDNA TESTING! If there are any Rankin researchers reading this, for gosh sake’s get out there, find a man named Rankin, throw him down, and swab his cheek! Seriously … Rankin history research needs some more descendants of Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 in Lancaster to test. If you FIND a likely candidate, please let me know!!!!! I will find someone to convince him to test, hopefully without wrestling him to the ground. <grin>
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Sources: (1) Joseph Patterson Smith, History of the Republican Party in Ohio Volume 1 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1898). (2) online transcription of 1854 letter written by John Mason Rankin of San Augustine, TX, see complete letter here. I have seen only this transcription — not a copy of the original — and have no proof that it is genuine. It does contain many objectively verifiable facts. (3) Will of John Rankin dated 1 Jan 1749, proved 25 Feb 1749/1750, recorded in Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 211. Online image available at FamilyHistorySearch.org.