Rankins of Fayette Co., PA: Help Wanted

I’ve been exchanging emails with a charming family history researcher who said she frequently feels she is going in circles. She said the circles are “usually good, weird or funny coincidence sort of things.” Specifically, she had read Roberta Estes’s blog about genealogical proof, which contained a link to my article on the same subject at this website, where she read some of my Rankin posts, which led her to the  Rankin Family DNA Project, where she emailed project administrators with questions about the project website, which led her back to me because I responded to her questions. Completing the circle, I recommended Roberta Estes’s blog as one source of information for her. Voila!

My own version of going in circles feels more like chasing my own tail, because it usually goes nowhere.

I’ve been working on various Pennsylvania Rankins and going nowhere on one puzzling part of the Rankin family of Fayette County. I need help, and someone out there undoubtedly has answers.

A Rankin family started appearing in Westmoreland (a predecessor to Fayette County) in the 1770s.[1] There seems to be no evidence in the records where they lived immediately prior to Westmoreland/Fayette. The Rankin family patriarch, William Sr., may have been the original immigrant in his line. Alternatively, he may be related to one of the other Rankin families multiplying like rabbits across Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century during the Great Migration of Scots-Irish that began in 1717. YDNA testing doesn’t provide a definitive answer. YDNA of a descendant of the Fayette County Rankins puts him in Lineage 2 of the Rankin Family DNA Project — along with fourteen other participants from a number of Rankin families whose common ancestor has not yet been identified.

I need help on one particular branch of the Fayette County line. Deed records, cemetery tombstones, and an old county history establish a good start for a conventional outline descendant chart for the Fayette Rankins. As usual, I will omit material available on countless online family trees for which I have not yet found proof, and stick to facts for which I can provide actual evidence. In the interest of brevity, I will omit detail about these families.

1 William Rankin Sr.,whose will was dated 1794,  proved 1799, in Fayette Co. The children listed below are not necessarily in birth order.[2]

2 James Rankin, who left Fayette circa 1800 and headed “west.”[3] The deed records make it clear that he was well over his head in debt to a number of people in Pennsylvania and Virginia, including quite a few members of his own family.[4] He was probably born in the late 1740s or early 1750s. I have no idea where James went, but would be interested to hear from anyone who has tracked him.

2 Hugh Rankin, 1750 – 1826, died in Fayette Co., wife Esther MNU. They had four children born between 1790 and 1810. Three of the children reportedly also “went west.”[5] The only child who remained in Fayette County, a son Thomas born about 1802, had quite a few children. I tracked his line looking for a male descendant who might be willing to YDNA test, but found none. In the memorable phrase of my most longstanding Rankin researcher friend, the line may have “daughtered out.” Or I may have made a research error, which would not be a first.

Elizabeth Rankin m. William Gillespie.

2 William Rankin Jr., died intestate in Fayette in 1807, wife Jane. This is the line of interest in this post.

At this point, I had to leave the deed and probate records to find William Jr.’s family because I have limited local access to Fayette records. The best evidence I have found so far for William Jr.’s family is a family Bible posted online.  Nobody seems to know (or say) who currently owns the Bible, or its provenance, or when the Bible was published – all standard authentication evidence generally required for a family Bible to be deemed good evidence. In this case, the images of the Bible pages provide evidence of its authenticity.

Here’s what that family Bible adds to William Jr. and Jane’s family.

1 William Rankin Sr., will dated 1794, proved 1799, Fayette Co., PA.

2 James Rankin, left Fayette about 1800 and headed “west.”

2 Hugh Rankin, 1750 – 1826, died in Fayette Co., wife Esther MNU.

2 William Rankin Jr., married Jane MNU on 29 Apr 1785. He d. 13 Dec 1807; she d. 15 Dec 1835.

3 Thomas Rankin, b. 5 Mar 1786 d. 2 Jun 1841

3 Esther Rankin, b. 16 Apr 1788

3 James Rankin, b. 13 Oct 1789

3 Ann Rankin, b. 10 Oct 1791, m. Mr. McCormick, d. 25 Jan 1867?

3 Hugh Rankin, b. 7 May 1793

3 Samuel Rankin, b. 14 Jul 1795, d. 2 Apr 1870

3 Mary Rankin, b. 17 Jul 1797

3 James Rankin, b. 3 May 1799

3 William Rankin, b. 25 Sep 1800

3 John Rankin, 10 Oct 1802 – 18 Feb 1865.

3 Joseph Rankin, b. 17 Nov 1804

Many of these Rankins remained in Fayette County, mostly in Union Township or Uniontown, for generations. Fayette County cemeteries are swamped with Rankins and their progeny. Since William Jr. and Jane’s children were born around the turn of the century, the federal census, cemetery records, and Pennsylvania death certificates make it relatively easy to trace most of them. I will avoid piling on details.

However, if you want to see the best Ancestry.com family tree ever – and I don’t usually recommend online trees, which are mostly unsourced – check out the Jackson/Rankin family tree. That tree covers the Rankins who remained in Fayette County better than I could. You can find it at this link, provided you have a subscription to Ancestry.com. The photographs alone are worth their weight in gold if you are connected to this line. There are also images of pages from the family Bible quoted above, all thanks to F. T. Jackson (another Rankin researcher I’m glad I met).

Back to my dilemma, and I shall put his name in boldface: Thomas Rankin b. 5 Mar 1786 d. 2 Jun 1841.

Thomas last appeared in Pennsylvania a 1814 deed for land in Washington County in which he sold some land, reciting facts sufficient to establish that he had a brother and father named William and a mother Jane.[6] After that deed, he disappeared from the Fayette and Washington County records. Presumably, he also went “west.”

To wit: there is a tombstone in Londonderry Township, Guernsey County, Ohio for a Thomas Rankin which has a date of death of June 2, 1841.[7] The man buried there is either Thomas, son of William and Jane of Fayette County, or that name and date of death is a coincidence that defies probability. The tombstone and Bible birth dates don’t quite match up, however. The tombstone says that Thomas died “in the 50th year of his age,” which would put his date of birth at 1790-ish. Census records for 1820-40 agree. The Bible says that William and Jane’s son Thomas was born in 1786. You could call that quibbling.

Thomas Rankin married Elizabeth Stevens in Guernsey Co., OH in April 1818. After Thomas died, Elizabeth and her family were listed in the 1850 through 1870 censuses. From the census listings, one can infer three children with a fair amount of confidence: (1) a son John, b. abt. 1832-33, (2) a son George, b. abt. 1835-36, and (3) daughter Louisa, b. abt. 1839. Elizabeth was still alive in 1870, living adjacent to John Rankin. Her tombstone, also in the McCoy Cemetery in Londonderry Township, Guernsey Co., says that she died 22 Feb. 1878.

Here, at last, is my question: what is the proof, if any, of the identity of any of Thomas’s OTHER children? Inquiring minds want to know. Thomas left no will in Guernsey County. I’m hoping somebody has other evidence. Specifically, I’m looking for a son William. What is the evidence?

??????????????????

More on Pennsylvania Rankins later. I seem to run across them faster than I can write about them. See you on down the road.

RRW

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[1]Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book A1: 149, 1776 deed from George Dawson of Tyron Township, Westmoreland, to William Rankin, same, 29.24 acres adj Wm Rankin, George Dawson, John Hall.

[2]Fayette Co., PA Will Book 1: 46. See also Deed Book D: 192, deed dated 11 Jan 1800 from William Rankin Jr., son of William Rankin Sr., and wife Jane to Andrew Bryson reciting some terms of the will.

[3]Franklin Ellis, Ed., History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1882) at 672.

[4]See Fayette Co., PA Deed Book C3 at 1241 and 1387 for two remarkable deeds illustrating James’ financial irresponsibility.

[5]Id.

[6]Washington Co., PA Deed Book 1Y: 597.

[7]Findagrave link to Thomas’s tombstone image: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/47828906/thomas-rankin

Part 1: Some Rankin Families of Virginia and Pennsylvania

Yes! Getting back to researching and writing about Rankin families feels like coming home. Even better, it turns out there are several Rankin lines in the counties where I’ve been poking around: Frederick Co., VA, Washington Co., PA and Fayette Co., PA.

Here are the Rankin families we’ll talk about, as well as one I will leave for another day …

Not part of this researchthe line of Robert Rankin of Northumberland County, VA and King George County, VA. This line apparently began to scatter after they left King George. Some of them may have appeared in Frederick Co., VA. One record reportedly involving several of them is a Frederick Co. lease dated August 13, 1792 to Benjamin Rankin of Loudon County, VA. The term of the lease was for the life of Benjamin’s brothers Moses and Robert Rankin.[1]

I know nothing about this Rankin family. The early line is covered at this website. The site is unusual because it provides citations to source records, inspiring confidence. If this is your line, and you are a Rankin male, please take a Y-DNA test and join the Rankin family DNA project! So far as I can tell, no member of the Rankin project from this line has tested.

Is part of this researchthe line of David and Jennet McCormick Rankin of Frederick County, VA. Two of their four proved children moved to Washington County, PA. We will follow the David/Jennet line from Frederick to Pennsylvania and wherever the evidence points thereafter.

Also part of this research – the line of Thomas and Eleanor Rankin of Washington County, PA.

Finally, we will also cover the Rankin family of Fayette County, PA. Some researchers think this family is from the line of David and Jennet. I am not so sure.

It looks like this will be a multi-part series.

David and Jennet Rankin of Frederick County, Virginia

Let’s dive right into the Frederick County Rankins. The patriarch of the family was a David Rankin Sr. who had at least four children: Hugh, Barbara, David Jr., and William Rankin. All four are proved by David’s will.[2] County court records establish they were born no later than the 1720s.[3] David’s Sr. wife was Jennet (or Jennett) Rankin, whose given name is also proved by his will.

That brings us to the first two issues in this line, both concerning David Sr.’s wife.

First, Rankin researchers usually identify her as Jennett McCormick. That seems highly likely because of the connections between David Sr. and several McCormicks (or McCormacks, as the name is spelled in David Sr.’s will). David named a McCormick as one of his executors, and two McCormicks were witnesses. Also, David appointed a McCormick to divide land between his sons William and David Jr. and to set off his widow’s dower.[4] All of that is strong evidence that the McCormicks were related to the Rankins.

I haven’t found a marriage record for David Sr. and Jennet, but I haven’t done any research in Ireland or Scotland. Given their ages and location, David Sr. and Jennet may have been the original immigrants to the Colonies in this line of Rankins. Like most Rankins in that general time and place, they were probably Scots Irish from the Ulster Plantations in the northern part of Ireland.

Second, many family trees give Jennet’s name as “Jennet Mildred.” There is no evidence for the middle name in the Frederick records. The only proof of her given name is David Sr.’s will and a deed, both of which called her simply Jennet.[5] However, confusion about her name is understandable because another David Rankin in Frederick County had a wife named Mildred. Fortunately, the records are clear that Jennet and Mildred were married to different David Rankins. David Sr. died before August 2, 1768, when his will (naming his wife Jennett) was proved. In March 1769, a David Rankin of Frederick County executed a lease for the term of his own life, his wife Mildred, and his brother Smith Rankin.[6] David Sr. and Jennet Rankin were clearly a different couple than David and Mildred Rankin. So … who were David, Mildred and Smith Rankin?

Hugh Rankin and wife Jane

That conveniently leads us to the next question: what do we know about David Sr. and Jennett’s son Hugh Rankin? He may have been their eldest child, although I found no evidence for a precise birth year. Hugh was the first of David Sr. and Jennet’s children to appear in the Frederick court records.[7] He was born no later than 1723, possibly earlier.[8] He left no will in Frederick, although he was a landowner. That suggests he probably didn’t die there.

The last record I found for him in Frederick was a November 1767 lease and release from him to William Rankin. The release was signed by Hugh and Jane Rankin and witnessed by David and Solomon Rankin.[9] Rankin researchers give his wife’s maiden name as Smith, probably because Hugh’s 412-acre tract was adjacent to a Smith family and there were several county records involving both Smiths and Rankins.[10] Smith as Jane’s surname sure makes sense in light of the Smith Rankin who witnessed the 1769 lease from David and Mildred Rankin.

Based solely on the 1767 and 1769 deeds, one might reasonably infer (at least as a starting point) that Hugh and Jane Rankin had sons named David, Solomon, and Smith. I haven’t found evidence of any other children, or proof regarding where Hugh’s family moved after Frederick County. The conventional wisdom is that Hugh went to Fayette County, Pennsylvania. I don’t think so, although we will get to that later in this series.

Here is a chart of what we have so far about this Frederick County Rankin family:

1 David Rankin Sr., d. Frederick Co., VA before Aug. 1768, wife Jennet (probably McCormick)

2 Hugh Rankin, b. by 1723, wife Jane (probably Smith)

3 Probably David Rankin, b. by 1748, wife Mildred MNU

3 Probably Smith Rankin, b. by 1748

3 Probably Solomon Rankin, b. by 1748

2 Barbara Rankin

2 William Rankin, more on him later.

2 David Rankin, ditto.

And that’s enough for this installment. See you on down the road!

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[1] Family History Library Microfilm No. 31, 379, Frederick Co., VA Deed Book 22: 303.

[2] Family History Library VGS No. 7,644,624, Frederick Co., VA Will Book 3: 443, will of David Rankin “the elder” of Frederick County dated 5 Nov 1757, proved 2 Aug 1768. Wife Jennett Rankin, life estate in 1/3rd of 775 acres. Sons David Rankin and William Rankin, 2/3rds of real property in fee simple, plus remainder of wife’s life estate, all to be divided equally. Sons’ land to be divided by Dr. John McCormack and Thomas Provence of Frederick, who are also to set aside wife’s life estate. Son Hugh Rankin and daughter Barbara, 10 shillings each. Grandson David Rankin, son of William, a calf. Executors wife and James McCormack. Witnesses Edward McGuire, John McCormack, Fr. McCormack, and Thomas Provence.

[3] John David Davis, Frederick County Virginia Minutes of Court Records 1743-1745 (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2001). Abstract of July 1744 court record, p. 139, mentioning a suit against Hugh Rankin, who must have been of legal age to appear as a lawsuit party in his own behalf; Sept 1744 court record, p. 196, Barbara Rankins testified as a witness for Leonard Harper; March 1744/45 court record, p. 328, William Rankin served on a jury; Frederick County Deed Book 2: 48, David Rankin Jr. witnessed a deed in Nov. 1749 along with his brothers Hugh and William.

[4] See Note 2.

[5] Amelia C. Gilreath, Frederick County, Virginia Deed Books 5, 6, 7, 8 1757-1763 (Nokesville, VA: 1990), abstract of Deed Book 5: 398, deed of lease and release dated 2 Mar 1760 from David Rankin Sr. (wife Jannet (sic)) and William Rankin (wife Abigail) to David Rankin Jr., 463 acres of a branch of Opeckon Cr., part of 778 patent of 30 Oct 1756 from Lord Fairfax to David and William Rankin; see also Note 2.

[6] Amelia C. Gilreath, Frederick County, Virginia Deed Books 12, 13, 14 1767-1771 (Nokesville, VA: 1991), abstract of Deed Book 13: 8.

[7] See Note 3.

[8] Id.

[9] Gilreath, abstract of Deed Book 12: 46-48.

[10] See, e.g., Gilreath, abstract of Frederick Co. Deed Book 5: 343, lease and release dated 3-4 Sept. 1759 from William Ranken of Frederick to John Smith, same, 15A, part of a tract of 778 from Lord Fairfax to William and David Rankin dated 30 Oct 1756 on a branch of Opeckon Creek called Turkey Spring. Release signed by Wm Rankin and Abigel Rankin.