Findagrave.com information — fact or fiction? (e.g., Dr. John M. Rankin, 1833-1909)

Quickly, tell me the birth years of your parents …

Did you immediately know the answer? Did you have to consult a record to confirm your memory? Granted, if you are reading this article, you are surely a family history researcher. If so, those dates will roll off your tongue. Could your children handle the same question as easily, though? I’m not sure our sons could accurately recall our birth years right off the bat. Our grandchildren wouldn’t have a clue.

That little quiz, strangely enough, has to do with the reliability of information on Findagrave.com. I’ve run into several errors on its website lately, and have considered posting on the topic. I asked my husband for thoughts, trying not to telegraph my own opinion.

Me: do you ever use Findagrave.com?

Gary: yes.

(OK, I said to myself, he is a good witness who answers the question asked and only the question asked. Go for open-ended questions.)

Me: what do you think of it?

Gary: I like the tombstone pictures. Surely the date of death is accurate! But I’ve sometimes found problems with a birth year when I compare the tombstone to information provided by the deceased — a U.S. draft registration form, maybe. The deceased is not around to dispute his birthdate with his survivors! And some people have been known to shave a few years off their age …

(Well, that takes care of the “birthdate of your parents” issue, thought I).

Me: what else?

Gary: I think anything other than information from the tombstone image falls in the same category as online family trees. It doesn’t qualify as evidence, much less proof. It’s just a clue. My understanding is that anyone can put anything they want on Findagrave if they have an account. I never take information that is not on the tombstone as proved unless I can confirm it in actual records.

Me: silence …

Gary: well, except that Findagrave sometimes includes the text of an obituary. Those are often priceless. Also, other burials in the same cemetery can provide great clues.

*  *   *   *  *   *   *

Thanks to Gary’s talent for cutting through the BS and getting straight to the heart of the matter (with only minor edits), that pretty much exhausts everything I could say about Findagrave.com.

Happily, that allows me to move on to a Findagrave error I recently ran across. It concerns Dr. John M. Rankin, a Union Army Assistant Surgeon from Pennsylvania who wound up in Kalamazoo County, Michigan. Ah, those multiplying, migrating and confounding Pennsylvania Rankins! The Findagrave mistake is the identity of Dr. John’s parents. And the fun just begins there. A more intriguing question is the identity of his earlier Rankin ancestors.

First things first: the Findagrave entry for Dr. John M. Rankin starts out OK. It identifies him as having been born in 1833 and died in March 1909, and notes his service in the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry – all from his grave markers and confirmed by other sources. Information added by a Findagrave poster, however, identifies his parents as James (no middle initial, or “NMI”) and Margaret Hull Rankin of Armstrong and Clarion Counties, PA.

Actually, Dr. John M. Rankin’s parents were James Huston and Margaret McCurdy Rankin of Franklin, Armstrong and Clarion Counties, PA.[1]

The mistake is understandable. There were two James Rankins who had a wife named Margaret in Clarion County. There were also two John M. Rankins in Clarion county – both doctors. Fortunately, the two James and the two Johns can be distinguished.

    • First, Dr. John M. Rankin of the Pennsylvania Infantry left Clarion Co. as a young man. He was enumerated in Arcola, Douglas Co., IL in the 1860 and 1870 census, and in Kalamazoo Co., MI in 1880 and 1900. The other John M. Rankin stayed in Clarion County and was listed there in the 1850 and 1860 census.
    • Dr. John M. Rankin’s Piney Township, Clarion County will was dated 1863 and proved in 1869.[2] Further, the 1850 census for Piney Township, Clarion, lists him as age 58, born about 1792. However, Dr. John M. Rankin of Kalamazoo was born in 1833 and died in 1909.

Dr. John M. Rankin of Kalamazoo, MI was definitely not the same man as Dr. John M. Rankin of Clarion County, PA. That still doesn’t prove, though, that Dr. John of Kalamazoo was a son of James Huston and Margaret McCurdy Rankin.

Fortunately, there are Clarion County wills for BOTH James (NMI) and James Huston Rankin.

    • The will of James NMI Rankin of Toby Township, Clarion Co., was dated 1862 and proved in 1863.[3] It named his wife Margaret, sons James Johnston Rankin and Joseph Rankin, and Mary Jane Summerville. The will does not name a son John M. The 1850 and 1860 census for James NMI and Margaret both list James, Joseph, and Mary in the household … but no John.
    • The will of James Huston Rankin of Clarion Township, Clarion Co., was dated 1859 and proved 1872, suggesting he was either good at planning ahead or had a dim view of his prospects for a long life.[4] He named his wife Margaret. The will recites that he had four sons and four daughters, as does the biography of Dr. John in a history of Kalamazoo County.[5] He identified his children as follows:
    1. Eldest son James McCurdy Rankin.
    2. Second son Calvin A. Rankin.
    3. Third son John McGinley Rankin.
    4. Four daughters Sara Ann, Margaretta, Elizabeth, and Narcessa Jane Rankin.
    5. Fourth son Albert Brown Rankin.[6]

The history of Kalamazoo County[7] fleshes out Dr. John M. Rankin’s life a bit and provides information confirming that he was a son of James Huston and Margaret McCurdy Rankin. Here is what it says, with my comments in italics.

    • He was born 12 Feb 1833 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania.[8] So far as I have found, the line of James (NMI) and Margaret Hull Rankin never lived in Franklin County. Instead, they first appeared in Pennsylvania in Armstrong County, then in Toby Township, Clarion Co.[9]
    • History says that Dr. John’s parents James H. and Margaret McCurdy Rankin had 4 sons and 4 daughters, as recited in James Huston Rankin’s will.
    • John married three times. First, to Harriet Sharp in 1858.[10] She died in 1871.[11] John and Harriet had three sons: Edmund (or Edmond),[12] Charles,[13] and James Rankin.[14] Second, he married Miss Susan Rankin in 1873 (Rankin family connection, if any, unknown). He and Susan had one son, John M. Rankin.[15] She died in 1879.  In 1881, he married his third wife, Martha A. McClelland.[16]
    • He graduated from Rush Medical College in Chicago in 1863.
    • Dr. Rankin enlisted in the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry in February 1865. He was at the battles of Hatcher’s Run and Five Forks and the surrender at Appomattox. He was discharged in July 1865.
    • He was a Presbyterian. We would have been surprised if he were anything but.

*  *   *   *  *   *   *

Let’s turn now to the identity of Dr. John’s grandparents, i.e., James Huston Rankin’s parents.

To begin with, History tells us that Dr. John M. Rankin, son of James Houston Rankin, was born in Franklin Co., PA. Further, the obituaries and/or death certificates for two of Dr. John’s brothers (Calvin Alexander Rankin and Albert Brown Rankin) state that they were also sons of James Huston and Margaret McCurdy Rankin and were born in Franklin Co.

On those facts, the safest bet in genealogy is that James Huston Rankin was from the line of Adam Rankin who died in 1747 in Lancaster County and his wife Mary Steele Alexander.[17] Adam and Mary had two sons – James and William– who lived in a part of Cumberland County that became Franklin County in 1784.[18] Virtually all of the late 18th and early 19th century Rankins in Franklin County descend from James or William.

Here’s the evidentiary trail. There is one obvious weak link.

First, Adam and Mary’s son James Sr. named a son James Jr. in his 1788 Franklin Co. will.[19] James Jr. inherited the land where he was living, so James Jr. was a grown man and probably married by 1788. James Huston Rankin was born about 1794 – the right age to have been a son of James Jr.. The tract James Jr. inherited was adjacent to a James Huston. Based on the process of elimination among the Franklin County Rankins, I suspected James Jr. was the father of James Huston. I set about tracking James Jr.

There is little information about James Jr., who didn’t appear in the Franklin Co. records often. In 1803, he was named executor of his brother Jeremiah’s will.[20] In 1818, James Jr. and his wife Mary conveyed the tract James Jr. inherited from his father James Sr.[21]

James Jr. appeared consistently in the census for Montgomery Township, Franklin County every decade from 1790 through 1820.[22] Taken together, the census entries suggest six possible children. Both the 1800 and 1810 census listings have a male the right age to be James Huston Rankin.

I cannot find James Jr. in the 1820 census, although an 1821 conveyance recites that he was still living in Montgomery Township.[23] After 1821, James Jr. disappeared from the Franklin records. He left no trace in Franklin probate records. That raises the possibility that he moved away.

With that in mind, a man who may be James Jr. surfaced in 1830 in Clarion Township, Armstrong County. James and the elder female in his household were both enumerated in the 60 < 70 age bracket, born during 1760-1770 – the right generation to be James Jr., who was an adult living on his own tract in 1788 if he were born in the early part of that period. In that same census, James Huston Rankin was still living in Franklin County, enumerated in Metal Township immediately adjacent the entry for Mary McCurdy, likely his mother-in-law.

So … what is the evidence of a connection between James of Clarion Township, Armstrong, and James Huston of Franklin?

Land records to the rescue, as usual. Viola! A deed provides a link between the two men.[24] It concerns a tract in Clarion Township, Armstrong County which James Rankin owned. In February 1839, James promised (apparently in writing) to convey the tract to James Huston Rankin, whose middle name is spelled out several times in the deed. The consideration was that James Huston Rankin would “keep and maintain the said James Rankin and his wife” for the remainder of their lives. James failed to make a deed for the tract during his lifetime, so James Huston petitioned the court for specific performance in order to obtain a deed from the administrator of James’s estate. James died intestate, so all of his heirs were summoned to answer the petition. The heirs agreed that the promise to convey the tract had been and that James Huston had performed. The administrator made the requisite deed.

All of that is recited in the deed from the administrator to James Huston Rankin. You would think (hope!) it would also recite the relationship between James and James Huston Rankin. No such luck. Nonetheless, the deed is clear and convincing (if just short of conclusive) proof that James Huston Rankin was a son of James Rankin of Clarion Township, Armstrong County.

There is one obvious leap of faith required in my reconstruction of this family. Namely, one must conclude that James Rankin, father of James Huston Rankin, was the same man as James Jr., son of James Sr. who died in 1795 in Franklin. With that in mind, James Huston Rankin’s ancestry must be qualified as unproved … despite my gut hunch that it is correct.

Here is my view of Dr. John McGinley Rankin’s line in outline descendant chart format.

1 Adam Rankin d. 1747, Lancaster Co., PA, and wife Mary Steele Alexander.

2 James Rankin Sr., b. circa 1720, Cecil Co., MD or Lancaster Co., PA. Died 1795, Franklin Co., PA. Wife Jean.

3 James Rankin Jr., b. abt 1760, Cumberland Co., PA, d. before 1850, Clarion Township, Armstrong or Clarion Co., PA. Wife Mary MNU. It is unproved that this James Rankin of Clarion Township is the same man as James Jr., son of James Sr.

4 James Huston Rankin, b. 1794, Montgomery Township, Franklin Co., PA, d. 1872, Clarion Township, Clarion Co., PA. Wife Margaret McCurdy.

5 Dr. John M. Rankin, b. 1833, Franklin Co., PA, d. 1909, Kalamazoo. MI.

And that’s it from me on Dr. John M. Rankin and James Huston Rankin.

See you on down the road.

Robin

[1] Dr. John M. Rankin’s death certificate (image available at Ancestry) identifies his mother as Margaret McCurdy.  A History of Kalamazoo County says Dr. John’s father was James H. Rankin and his mother was Margaret McCurdy. David Fisher and Frank Little, Compendium of History and Biography of Kalamazoo County, Michigan (Chicago: A. W. Bowen & Co., 1906), 323 (hereafter, “History”). James Huston Rankin’s will identifies his third son as John McGinley Rankin. Clarion Co., PA Will Book B: 216. The will also recites that he had four sons and four daughters, which is precisely what History says about Dr. John’s family of origin. John M. was listed with James H. and Margaret Rankin in the 1850 Clarion Co. census, age 17 (born 1833), along with a presumed sister Sarah Rankin (who was enumerated in 1860 and 1870 as “Sarah A. Rankin”). In the 1880 census, Sarah A. Rankin was living with Dr. John and identified as his sister. If you aren’t convinced yet, please keep reading and let me know.

[2] Clarion Will Book B: 126. The Clarion County probate index identifies him as Dr. John M. Rankin, although the will itself does not.  Likewise, the 1850 census for Piney Township showed his profession as “Dr. of [unreadable].

[3] Clarion Co., PA Will Book A: 381.

[4] Clarion Co., PA Will Book B: 216.

[5] Fisher and Little, History and Biography of Kalamazoo County, see Note 1 for full citation.

[6] Compare the names in the will with the 1850 census for Clarion, which omits Calvin Alexander Rankin. The household enumerates James H. Rankin with Margaret Rankin and seven children: James, Sarah,J. M. (male, John McGinley), A. B. (male, Albert Brown), Margretta, Mary (Arcessa in the 1860 census), and two females named M. E. The 1850 census taker or transcriber may have been getting careless about the younger children, but he nailed the names of first five.

[7] Fisher and Little, History and Biography of Kalamazoo County, 323. See link here.

[8] 1900 census, Richland, Kalamazoo Co., MI, John M. Rankin, physician, b. Feb 1833,age 67. Evidence that he was born in Franklin Co. is the biography in History and the death certificate and/or obituaries for his brothers Calvin Alexander and Albert Brown. They establish that Calvin (older than Dr. John) and Albert (younger than Dr. John) were also born in Franklin and were sons of James Huston and Margaret McCurdy Rankin.

[9] For what it’s worth, that’s what Findagrave.com says about James and Margaret Hull Rankin’s line.

[10] John M. Rankin married Hattie S. Sharp on 29 Jun 1858, in Coles Co., IL. “History” incorrectly says they were married in PA.

[11] Harriet S. Rankin’s tombstone in the Hillside Cemetery in Plainwell, Allegan Co., MI is inscribed “died 11 Jul 1871.”

[12] A biography  of Edmond Rankin says he was born about 1856 in Pennsylvania. That conflicts with the 1870 and 1880 censuses, both of which say he was born in Illinois. The bio identifies him as a son of Dr. John Rankin. It also says that he was a dry goods merchant, engaged in the insurance business, and was mayor of Kalamazoo in 1902. He died in 1924 and is buried in the Mountain Home Cemetery in the city of Kalamazoo.

[13] Death certificate for Dr. Charles E. (Everett) Rankin, Grand Rapids, Kent Co., MI. The certificate says he was born 2 Jul 1863, Arcola, IL, d. 24 Feb 1937, and that he was a son of Dr. John M. Rankin and Harriet Sharp. Buried in the Oakhill Cemetery, Grand Rapids, MI.

[14] 1880 census, Richland, Kalamazoo Co., MI, John M. Rankin, 47, physician, b. PA, Susan C. Rankin, 47, PA (had cancer), with son Charles E. Rankin, 16, b. IL, son James S. Rankin, 9, b. MI, son John Rankin, 6, b. MI (Susan’s only child), and Sarah A. Rankin, sister, age 52, b PA. James S. (possibly Sharp) may be the James S. Rankin, M.D., buried in the Fairview Cemetery, DeKalb, Dekalb Co., IL, whose tombstone gives birth and death dates as 1870 – 1950.

[15] Michigan death certificate for John M. Rankin, d. 22 May 1898, age 24. Born in Michigan; son of John M. Rankin (b. PA) and Susan C. Rankin (b. PA). Certificate signed by his father Dr. John M. Rankin (Sr.) Buried in the Hillside Cemetery, Plainwell, Allegan Co., MI.

[16] Her tombstone identifies her as “Martha Ann McClellan, wife of John M. Rankin.” I haven’t found marriage date information other than the date provided by History and the 1900 census, which says they had been married 18 years (census taken June 1900).

[17] I’ve written several articles on this blog about the line of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. See articles at these links:  here,   here, here,   here, and (finally!) here.

[18] Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin also had a son Jeremiah, see Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J1: 208, will of Adam Rankin dated and proved in 1747. Jeremiah died in Cumberland in 1760, and all of his probable children moved to Kentucky. Thus, only Adam and Mary’s sons James and William are likely candidates to be James Huston Rankin’s ancestor.

[19] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin Sr. dated 1788, proved 1795.

[20] Franklin Col., PA Will Book B: 167, will of Jeremiah Rankin of Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., PA dated 13 Jun 1803, proved 1 Aug 1803.

[21] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 12:28, deed dated 27 Mar 1818 from James Rankin (Jr.) and wife Mary to Jacob Klein. 107 acres of the conveyance was part of a tract surveyed in 1742 to Adam Rankin which was devised to James Jr. by James Sr. by his will dated 25 Mar 1788, see Note 19. James J. Huston was a witness.

[22] 1790 census, Montgomery Township, Franklin Co., James Rankin Jr., 12300; 1800 census, Montgomery Township, James Rankin, 11110-11110; 1810 census, James Rankin, Franklin Co., 00211-01201.

[23] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 12: 710, deed dated 8 May 1821 from James Rankin Sr. to David Donwoody or Dunwoody, both of Montgomery Township, Franklin Co. James Sr. became known as James Sr. after his father died in 1795.

[24] Family History Library DGS Film #8088009, images 284-85, Clarion Co., PA Deed Book 6: 371-72.

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.

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

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.

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.