Will the “correct” David Rankin of Franklin Co., PA please stand up?

I told my husband at breakfast several days ago that I was working on an article to correct bad information about some Rankins in the Pennsylvania Archives 5th Series.

He put down his fork, arching his eyebrows. “Are you kidding me? You’re taking on the Archives? That’s practically sacred scripture among Pennsylvania family history researchers.”

“Well,” I said (yeah, I realize this sounds prissy), “the Archives has confused two men named David Rankin who were contemporaries in the late 1700s – early 1800s.”

“So,” said Gary, “who would care, anyway?” 

“Hmmmm,” I temporized, “perhaps descendants of either of the two men? Or someone who is trying to track early Rankin families around, as I am doing? Perhaps people with D.A.R. or S.A.R. aspirations? One of these two men was a soldier in 1780, but the other was too young.”

“You realize you will receive a dozen comments from people saying there are ‘many online trees’ showing you are wrong?”

At this point, I dug in. I’m not a Scots-Irish Rankin for nothing. “You’re undoubtedly right,” I responded, “but I’m writing the article anyway.”

Here ‘tis. It includes (1) a very brief chart, (2) the Archives’ misinformation, (3) the bottom line, (4) the argument supporting the bottom line, and (5) an Epilogue about where one of the men migrated. 

(1) A brief Rankin family chart 

Let’s start by putting the two men in their Rankin family context.

Adam Rankin was the immigrant ancestor in this Rankin line and was the grandfather of both Davids. He died in 1747 in Lancaster Co., PA. His wife was Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James Alexander.[1] Adam’s 1747 will named his sons James, William, and Jeremiah, and a daughter, Esther Rankin Dunwoody.[2] We’re only concerned with James and William in this article. I’ve written about Adam’s family on this blog before, see this link: http://digupdeadrelatives.com/2018/07/27/adam-d-1747-lancaster-mary-steele-rankins-son-william-follow-land/

James Rankin, son of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin, died in 1795 in Montgomery Township, Franklin Co., PA. James’ wife was Jean, whose maiden name is unproved so far as I know. His will named sons William, Jeremiah, James and David #1, and two daughters, Esther Rankin Smith and Ruth Rankin Tool.[3]

William Rankin, son of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin, died in 1792 in Antrim Township, Franklin Co.[4] His wife was Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald and Agnes Houston.[5] His will named seven sons and one daughter: Adam, Archibald, James, William, Betsy, David #2, John, and Jeremiah.[6] (A quick aside on a case of “same name confusion” in this line: William Rankin, son of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin, was most emphatically not the same man as the William Rankin who married Victoria Alcorn or Alcoran. That  William migrated to Orange Co., NC by 1765.[7] “Many online trees” incorrectly identify Victoria as the wife of William who died 1792.)

I will continue to distinguish these two David Rankins by number simply because it helps me to keep them straight.

(2) What the Pennsylvania Archives got wrong

Here’s what the Archives says about one of these two Davids:

 “David Rankin is shown in 1780, as a private under Captain William Smith. The will of David Rankin of Montgomery Twp., was dated 1829 and prob. 1833. He names wife Molly and two children, James and Betsy. To Mary Elizabeth Sellers, only child of daughter Molly, who had married Alexander Sellars, Oct, 7th 1824.  Miss Molly L. McFarland of Mercersburg stated the above David was the son of William Rankin of Antrim Township who died 1792.[8]

(3) The bottom line

With all due respect to Miss Molly L. McFarland of Mercersberg, the man the Archives describes was David #1, son of James and Jean, not David #2, son of William and Mary Huston Rankin of Antrim Township. 

Here are the key factors for telling the two men apart: age, wife’s identity, and – the pièce de résistance – location. As epilogue, we’ll see where David #2 went when he left Franklin County.

(4) The argument

Age. Although the law or custom varied from time to time, men were typically required to serve in the militia beginning at age sixteen (although sometimes boys served as early as 13).[9] Thus, the David Rankin who was a private in 1780 must have been born by 1764, and certainly no later than 1767. According to county tax lists, David #1, son of James and Jean Rankin, was born no later than 1767-68.[10] On the other hand, David #2 was most likely born about 1776-1777, and definitely in the 1770s. Estimating his birth year was tedious, as this supporting footnote illustrates.[11] In short, David #2 was too young to have been a member of a militia in 1780. Strike 1, Archives.

Wife’s identity. We know the wife of the David Rankin who died in 1833 was named Molly, maiden name unproved. We don’t know how long they were married, although it was apparently long enough to have three children including a daughter, also named Molly. I have found no deeds or other records identifying the wife of David #1. We have better luck with David #2, because deeds conclusively establish that he was married to Frances (“Fanny”) Campbell, daughter of Dongal Campbell.[12] Frances and David #2 were grantors in a deed dated August 1827, not long before the David who died in 1833 wrote his June 1829 will.[13] In short, the evidence strongly suggests that Molly’s husband was David #1. Strike 2, Archives.

Location. Here is the pièce de résistance: a deed dated 27 May 1818 from James Rankin (brother of David #1) to Jacob Kline conveying a tract in Montgomery Township. Part of the tract was surveyed per a warrant to Adam Rankin dated 11 Nov 1742 and devised by James Rankin, dec’d, to grantor 25 March 1788.[14] The tract clearly passed from Adam Rankin to his son James Rankin Sr. (whose will was dated 25 March 1788), then by will to James Sr.’s son James Jr., the grantor in this 1818 deed. The conveyed tract was adjacent to David Rankin, inter alia. That would be David #1, who inherited the Montgomery Township tract where his father James Sr. lived.

The deed proves that David #1 owned a tract adjacent to Jacob Kline (the grantee in the above deed) in Montgomery Township at some point in time. There are two other relevant facts:

  • In the 1830 federal census for Montgomery Township (three years before David #1 died), David Rankin was listed adjacent Jacob Kline, grantee in the above deed.[15] He was the only David Rankin in Montgomery.
  • David Rankin’s 1829 will, proved in 1833, referenced his Montgomery tract adjacent Jacob Kline.

Plaintiff rests. The David Rankin who died in 1833 was David #1, son of James Sr. and Jean Rankin, and not David #2, son of William and Mary Huston Rankin.

(5) Epilogue

This is a long post, so I will cut to the chase. Some genealogists (the ones who didn’t believe the Pennsylvania Archives about which David died in 1833) believe that David #2 went to Greene Co., TN.[16] He didn’t. He went to Des Moines Co., Iowa with at least three of his children.

Here’s the thing. While he lived in Franklin, David #2 almost certainly attended the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague,”[17] as did his brother Archibald.[18] On the other hand, David #1 and his brothers were pew holders in the Welsh Run Presbyterian Church, also known as the “Lower Conococheague” Church.[19] Ironically, I am relying on the Pennsylvania Archives for that fact. 

The Upper West church kept baptism records, although they are plainly not complete.[20] Four children of a David Rankin who is almost certainly David #2 are listed: Frances Rankin (baptized 9 May 1814), David Huston Rankin (28 Apr 1817), Archibald Rankin (10 Oct 1819), and Adam John Rankin (13 Feb 1822). The family names are compelling, aren’t they? In light of David Rankin’s entry in the 1820 Franklin census (seven children in the household), you would expect other children.[21] 

The family left Franklin between 1827 and 1830. I didn’t find David again until the 1840 census in Iowa Territory.[22] The 1850 census in Des Moines County lists him as age 73, born in Pennsylvania about 1777.[23]  Here is a link to an image of his tombstone in the Round Prairie Cemetery in Des Moines County. It says he died 14 Mar 1853, age 77, making him born about 1776.

Also buried in the Round Prairie cemetery: Adam J. Rankin, born 29 Dec. 1821. I will bet my right arm that his full name was Adam John Rankin, and that he was baptized in the Upper West church on 13 Feb 1822 at age six weeks or so. See tombstone image here.

Here is another tombstone in Round Prairie cemetery: D. C. Rankin, 1812 – 1885. Iowa death and burial records identify him as Dugal Campbell Rankin, a male, born 1812 in Franklin Co., PA.[24]  Can there be any doubt that he was a son of David #2 and Frances Campbell Rankin, daughter of Dongal (or Dugal) Campbell? 

Finally, the Kossuth Cemetery in Des Moines County has a tombstone for Archibald Rankin, born  1 Aug. 1819. I’m betting that Arch was baptized in the Upper West church on 10 Oct 1819 at about two months of age. See tombstone here.

Quit drilling, Robin. You’ve struck oil.

See you on down the road.


[1] For evidence establishing that Adam Rankin’s wife was Mary Steele Alexander, see the text accompanying the footnotes and the source citations in notes 5, 6, and 7 of this article.

[2] Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J, Vol. 1: 208, will of Adam Rankin dated 4 May 1747 proved 21 Sep 1747.

[3] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345, will of James Rankin of Montgomery Township dated 25 Mar 1788, proved 20 Oct 1795.

[4] Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, will of William Rankin of Antrim Township dated 20 Oct 1792, proved 28 Nov 1792.

[5] Franklin Co. WB A: 110, will of Agnes Huston, widow of Archibald Houston, dated 15 Nov 1776, proved 14 Mar 1787. Her will names William Rankin, husband of daughter Mary, as an executor.

[6] See Note 4.

[7] The William Rankin who m. Victoria lived in Hamilton Township, Franklin Co. and is fairly easy to distinguish from William, son of Adam, who lived in Antrim Township. See Pennsylvania land grant to William Rankin dated 8 May 1751, 100 acres in Hamilton Township, Cumberland Co., adjacent Thomas Armstrong (image available online at Ancestry.com); Cumberland Co., PA Will Book A: 79, will of Joseph Armstrong of Hamilton Township dated 1760 proved 1761 devising “land between Robert Elliot’s and Willm Rankins,” establishing that a William Rankin lived in Hamilton Township; Cumberland Will Book A: 88, will of James Alcoran naming daughter Victoria and husband William Rankin; and Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 6: 124, deed dated 30 Oct 1765 from William Rankin of Orange Co, NC, farmer, to James McFarlan of Cumberland, 2 warrants by Rankin for a total of 250A in Hamilton Twp., Cumberland, adjacent Thomas Armstronget al.

[8] Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Volume 6: 275. Betsy was a nickname for Elizabeth Rankin, see Franklin Co. Deed Book 16: 507.

[9]  There are several online articles about militia here and  here and here.

[10]David #1 was listed on the Montgomery Township tax list for 1789 along with his father James (Sr.) and brothers William, Jeremiah, and James Rankin. David was a “freeman,” meaning that he was age 21 or older and not married.

[11] BIRTH YEARS OF THE CHILDREN OF WILLIAM AND MARY HUSTON RANKIN. I’ve listed William’s children in the order he named them in his 1792 will, which is almost certainly their birth order.

  1. Adam was born 1760 – 1763. Adam first appeared on the 1785 Franklin Co. tax list as Dr. Adam Rankin. At minimum, he was of age by 1785 and born by 1764. He was definitely born before 1763-64, when his younger brother Archibald was born. Dr. Adam went to Henderson Co., KY and married Elizabeth Speed in Danville, KY on 1 Nov 1792. In the 1810 Henderson Co. census, he is listed as > 45, and therefore b. by 1765. My age range for Dr. Adam is just a reasonable guess, since children seem to have born quite regularly in this family.
  2. Archibald was born 1763 – 1764. Records from the Upper West Conococheague Presbyterian Church (images available online at Ancestry.com) establish that Archibald died 24 Jun 1845 at age 81.
  3. James was born about 1767 – 68. James is listed in the 26 < 45 age category in the 1810 Centre Co., PA census, and was thus born 1765 – 1784. That’s no help. Based on his birth between Archibald and William, whose birth years are known, 1767-68 seems a reasonable estimate for James.
  4. William was born 5 Nov 1770. Commemorative Biographical Record of Central Pennsylvania: Including the Counties of Centre, Clearfield, Jefferson and Clarion (Chicago: J. H. Beers, 1898) at 100-101.
  5. Betsy was born about 1773. She was less than 21 when her father William’s will was executed on 20 Oct 1792, so she was born after Oct 1771. I’ve estimated Betsy’s and David’s birth years by spacing them out more or less evenly between their siblings William and John, whose birth dates are established by credible evidence.
  6. David #2 was born about 1776-77. It is certain that David was born sometime between 1775 (see the 1790 Franklin Co. census, when he was included in his father’s household and was < 16) and early 1778, a year prior to the birth of his younger brother John.
  7. John was born 1 May 1778 or 1779. See his tombstone in the Bellefonte Cemetery: John Rankin, 8 May 1778 – 22 Apr 1848, 69Y 11M 4D. Another source, John Blair Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania (Louis H. Everts, 1883, reprinted Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1975) at 222-223 says that John Rankin was born 1 May 1779.
  8. Jeremiah was born November 1783 according to his Centre Co., PA tombstone.

[12] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 9: 288, deed dated 8 May 1807 from David Rankin of Franklin and wife Fanny conveying land devised to David by the will of William Rankin dated 20 Oct 1792. Frances/Fanny’s father is also conclusively proved by a deed, see Franklin DB 14: 245.

[13] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 14: 266, deed dated 28 Aug 1827 from David Rankin and wife Frances of Montgomery Township, 54 acres in Peters Township, deed witnessed by Archibald Bald.   

[14] Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 12: 28.

[15] 1830 federal census, Montgomery Township, Franklin Co., household of David Rankin, 0000101-000010001 adjacent Jacob Kline. There are two people age 20 < 30 in David’s household, as one would expect: his daughter Molly was already married when David #1 wrote his will in 1829. The age category for the eldest male is clearly erroneous. He should be in the same age category as the eldest female, age 60 < 70 (born in the 1760s).

[16] See, e.g.,  an example here.. Please be advised that the application for historic site designation at that link contains Rankin history errors and unproved assertions.

[17] The archaic spelling was Conogogheaue with, as you would expect, several variants.

[18] The Upper West church records show Archibald’s marriage to Agnes Long, as well as his death date. Recall that David and Archibald each inherited a part of their father William’s “Mansion Place,” so they originally lived next to each other. You would expect they would both choose the nearest Presbyterian church.

[19] Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series, Vol. 6, p. 262, 269, 274, 282, 374. “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, [named] 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.”

[20] Some records of the Upper West Conococheague church are available online at Ancestry.com. They name only one child of Archibald and Agnes Long Rankin, a daughter Franny who died the same day as Agnes. The Franklin census records suggest that Archibald had five or six children.

[21] David #2 was then living in Peters Township and is listed as age 26 < 45 (born 1775 – 1794). There were seven children in his household, including 1 male and 2 females age 10 < 16 (born 1804 – 1810), plus 3 males and one female under age 10 (born 1810 – 1820).

[22] 1840 federal census for Iowa Territory, Des Moines Co., David Rankin, age 60 < 70 (born 1770 – 1780).

[23] The 1850 census for DesMoines Co. for David Rankin’s household includes Dugald Camel, 30, b. PA, and Frances Camel, 14, b. Indiana. Given the spelling perversions one finds in the census, I read “Dugald Camel” as Dugal Campbell. Not quite Dongal Campbell (the name of Frances Campbell Rankin’s father, see Franklin Deed Book 14: 245), but it’s close.

[24] Ancestry.com. Iowa, Deaths and Burials, 1850-1990 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.