Every genealogist has used the “follow the land” approach to family history research, even if she didn’t call it by that name. The idea is that an identifiable tract of land can prove family connections via deed, probate, and other records. This post is an example: FTL establishes the identity of a colonial Rankin’s wife and allows tracking a son’s family with confidence.
This post concerns some of the “Londonderry Siege” Rankins of Pennsylvania, rather than the North Carolina Rankin families often discussed on our blog. You can read the Londonderry Siege Rankins’ interesting oral family history in this article. That legend includes two immigrants identified as brothers who came to Pennsylvania in the 1720s. Both men died in Lancaster Co., PA in the 1740s:
- Adam Rankin died in 1747. This article is about Adam’s line, particularly his son William.
Adam’s earliest appearance in the colonies was about 1722, when an Adam Rankin signed a petition to Lord Baltimore from landowners in the so-called “New Munster” tract of Cecil County, Maryland. The petition said the signatories believed that they resided in Maryland rather than Pennsylvania. One particular New Munster tract conclusively proves the identity of Adam’s wife. Here is the evidentiary trail …
- The 1717 will of James Alexander of New Munster devised a 316-acre tract. The will says he had bargained for the land, but hadn’t paid for it or obtained a deed. He instructed his executors to sell as much of his moveable estate as necessary to pay for the tract. James also instructed that three “honest men … of the neighborhood” divide the land into three equal parts for his family. James named as executors his wife Mary Alexander and his father-in-law John Steele, establishing that his wife was née Mary Steele.
- Next, a Cecil County deed dated August 1718 completed the purchase of the tract as James had instructed. Thomas Stevenson conveyed 316 acres to Mary Alexander, “widow and relict of James Alexander of New Munster,” and sons Joseph, John and Francis Alexander. Echoing James Alexander’s will, the deed recites that James had bargained with grantor for the land but didn’t pay for it before he died, but had left money to pay it, and instructed that it should be divided into three equal parts.
- Finally, the tract was divided into three parts by survey of September 29, 1724. The survey identifies the tract as 316 acres in New Munster and says that James Alexander’s widow Mary married Adam Rankin.
Thank you, 316-acre tract … the will, deed and survey leave no reasonable doubt that Mary Steele, daughter of John Steele of New Castle County, Delaware, married James Alexander and then Adam Rankin. Also, Mary’s marriage to Adam must have taken place between August 1718 (the conveyance from Thomas Stevenson to Mary Alexander) and September 1724 (the survey).
Adam left a will dated and proved in 1747 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Here is an abstract:
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 Dunwoody, £ 5. Wife (name not stated), two-thirds “of all my worldly substance.” To sons William and Jeremiah, the residue of my estate, including the plantation to be equally divided between them. Witnesses James Pettigrew, John McMath?
Unfortunately, Adam didn’t identify where his land was located, the names of adjacent landowners, or any other identifying features that would help track it. Fortunately, we know Adam obtained a warrant dated November 11, 1742 to survey 100 acres “at Conegocheague.” Conococheague Creek runs near Greencastle, Pennsylvania, less than 5 miles north of the current PA/MD line, in Franklin County.
A Franklin County deed provides confirmation. An 1818 deed conveying land in Montgomery Township recites that the 107 acres sold was part of 188 acres surveyed per a “warrant to Adam Rankin dated 11 November 1742.” The deed establishes that the 107-acre tract descended from Adam to his son James and then to his son James Jr. by James Sr.’s 1788 will.
Adam’s sons James and William fairly leap out of the records of both Montgomery and Antrim Townships in Franklin County. Both men were listed on the Antrim tax lists along with some of their sons in 1785, 1786 and 1787. Beginning in 1789, William was taxed in Antrim Township; James (Senior, father of the grantor in the 1818 deed) was taxed in Montgomery Township. So far as I have found, James’ and William’s brother Jeremiah never appeared in any county records other than his father’s will.
William and James were more cooperative than Jeremiah. Not only did they appear where Adam’s 1742 grant led us to expect, they both left wills. The will of James Rankin Sr. of Montgomery Township, Franklin County, was dated 25 March 1788 and proved 20 October 1795. It names his wife Jean; sons William, Jeremiah, James (Jr.) and David; daughter Ruth Rankin Tool; son-in-law Samuel Smith; and granddaughter Mary Smith.James named his son Jeremiah Rankin and friend David Huston/Houston as executors.
We will leave James Sr. for another day. We’re now on the track of Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s son William. William’s wife was Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald Huston. William’s will, dated 20 Oct 1792 and proved 28 Nov 1792, suggests he amassed a good bit of land. William described himself as “of Antrim Township” in Franklin County and “advanced in age in 1792.”
Here are his devises and bequests:
- Wife Mary received one-third of profits from “the mansion place.”
- Son Adam Rankin inherited 200 acres on the waters of the Kiskimetatas River in Westmoreland County and an enslaved person.
- Son Archibald Rankin received 200 acres off “the mansion place.”
- Sons James and William inherited 990 acres in Penns Valley, Mifflin County.
- Daughter Betsy, £ 400 and an enslaved person. She was less than 21.
- Son David, “old mansion place,” 300 acres.
- Sons John and Jeremiah, 408 acres on Spring Creek in Penns Valley in Mifflin County, plus £ 400 from son David starting when they reach 21. The will details a schedule of payments.
- Sons Archibald Rankin, James Rankin, and William Rankin, executors. Witnesses William Beaty, John Woods, John McLanahan.
“Follow the land” is pretty straightforward for some of William and Mary’s children, thanks to that will. Here is a little bit about his sons. I don’t know who his daughter Betsy married, if she married at all.
Adam Rankin (b. 1760-64, d. 1810-20) was a doctor, probably the first in his family. He moved to Henderson County, Kentucky, where he married three times and produced a large family. Among his descendants: Confederate Brigadier General Adam “Stovepipe” Rankin Johnson (a grandson) and prominent members of the Louisville, Kentucky horse racing community.
Archibald Rankin (1764 – 1845) inherited part of the “old mansion place” in Antrim Township, and he apparently stayed in Franklin County until he died. His first appearance in the records was on the 1785 Antrim tax list as a “freeman.” He was a head of household in the federal census of Franklin County from 1790 through 1840. I could not find him in 1830, although he was still alive. I haven’t tried to trace his line, although he evidently had a number of children. He belonged to the Presbyterian Church of the Upper West Conococheague. Church records show that he married Agnes Long on 9 Mar 1790 and that a daughter Fanny died in 1827. Church records also say Archibald died 24 Jun 1845 at age 81, indicating he was born about 1764.
David Rankin (b. 1776-1777, d. 1853) inherited part of the “old mansion place” along with his brother Archibald. His wife was Frances (“Fanny”) Campbell, daughter of Dugald (Dugal/Dongal) Campbell. David left Franklin County between 1820 and 1830 and wound up in Des Moines County, Iowa, where he died. Here is a link to an article about David, son of William and Mary Huston Rankin, and his cousin David, son of James and Jean Rankin.
The remaining four sons of William and Mary Huston Rankin are FTL exemplars. That is because William’s 1792 will devised land in Penn’s Valley, Mifflin County, some of it on Spring Creek, to his sons James, William, John and Jeremiah. The will establishes that John and Jeremiah should be located close to each other, since they shared a tract; likewise, James and William should also be located near each other for the same reason.
An old book titled History of Centre and Clinton Counties by John Blair Linn (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883) has a section titled “Discovery of Penns Valley.” It also has a map of the original survey of Bellefonte, the county seat of Centre County, with “Spring Creek” running right through the middle of it. Here it is:
Centre County was created in 1803 from Mifflin County, so the two tracts devised by William were located in Mifflin County when he wrote his will in 1792.
Jackpot. There they are, all four of them in Centre County, paired off geographically just as one would expect. One page of the 1810 census for Potter Township in Centre County has James Rankin listed two households down from William Rankin. Another page has listings for Jeremiah Rankin and John Rankin. All four men are in the age 26 < 45 category, born during 1765 – 1784. We know that Jeremiah and John were underage in 1792 when their father wrote his will, so they were born after 1771. We know that Archibald, an elder brother, was born in 1764. So those birth ranges fit like a glove, with confirmation in other records.
There is no reasonable doubt that these four men were sons of William Rankin (Sr.) d. 1792, Franklin, and Mary Huston Rankin, and grandsons of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. A conventional descendant chart for the Centre County Rankins is under construction. It grows every time I search the census records, and the number of physicians on this family’s tree is incredible. If you are descended from a Dr. Rankin who lived in Pennsylvania in the mid 1800’s, you might want to look at this line. If you are interested in joining the D.A.R., this family is an admission ticket, because the D.A.R. has admitted at least two women based on the service of the William Rankin who died in Franklin County in 1792. I will post the descendant chart eventually, God willing and the bayou don’t rise.
Meanwhile, here is a skeletal ancestor chart that is the subject of some dispute:
1 Adam Rankin d. 1747 Lancaster Co., PA. Wife Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James.
2 Jeremiah Rankin, whose only known appearance in primary records was Adam’s 1747 will. Died 1760 in Cumberland Co., PA. Wife Rhoda Craig. Four sons went to Fayette/Woodford Counties, Kentucky.
2 James Rankin Sr., d. 1795, Franklin Co., PA, see will abstracted above.
2 William Rankin (Sr.), d. 1792, Franklin Co., PA, wife Mary Huston. See above will devising land in Penns Valley, Mifflin County, including a tract on Spring Creek.
3 William Rankin (Jr.), b. 1770 Cumberland Co, PA, d. 1847, Centre Co., PA. Two wives, Abigail McGinley and Susanna (reportedly Huston). Proof that he was a son of William and Mary Huston Rankin per the FTL theory. Children are established, see Centre County Will Book B: 254, naming eight children, including Adam, Archibald, James, John, and …
4 Dr. William McGinley Rankin (1795-1872) moved to Shippensburg in Cumberland Co. Had 11 children, at least one of whom was a physician, and a Presbyterian minister:
5 Rev. William Alexander Rankin.
On that note, I will close. If you want to get into a good knock-down, drag-out fight, go search for family trees that include William Jackson Rankin and William Johnson Rankin. You will find S.A.R. applications in support. You will find a totally different line than that outlined above, although it will also go back to Adam and Mary Steele Rankin’s son William. It will also have four William Rankins in a row. I hereby proffer my version, above.
See you on down the road.
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 For example, a series of deeds concerning land in Tishomingo Co, MS conclusively proved almost all of the children of Lyddal Bacon Estes and “Nancy” Ann Allen Winn. See an article about that here. .
 Henry C. Peden, “Inhabitants of Cecil County, Maryland 1649-1774 (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1993), 33. Actual hostilities (called “Cresap’s War”) broke out between Maryland and Pennsylvania during the 1730s over competing land claims by the two states. Check out this link, which has a great map.
 Will of James Alexander of New Munster, Cecil Co., MD dated 12 Jul 1717, probate date unknown, but before August 1718 when a deed recited some provisions of the will. The will is recorded in New Castle Co., DE, where John Steele, an executor, resided. There is evidently no copy in the Cecil Co. records. I don’t know whether the will is preserved in the PA Archives. Floyd Owsley, an administrator of the Alexander Family DNA Project, provided a transcription of the will.
 Cecil Co., MD Deed Book 3: 212.
 Cecil County Circuit Court Certificates, No. 514, survey of 316 acres for the heirs of James Alexander dated 28 Sep 1724. Floyd Owlsley provided a copy of the original and a transcription.
 Lancaster Co. Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankin dated and proved in 1747.
 Floyd Owlsley, a descendant of the New Munster tract Alexanders, kindly emailed an image of the original document to me. It is labeled “No. 111” and appears to be a warrant to survey 100 acres “situate at Conegocheage between the lands of Samuel Owen, James Swaffer, Samuel Brown, and the Blue Mountains.”
 Franklin Deed Book 12: 28.
 Some speculate that James was the son of Adam’s wife prior to Mary Steele Alexander. Family oral history says that Adam was married first to an Elizabeth May, although I am not aware of any evidence in either colonial or Irish records. Adam and Mary Steele were married after 1718 but before 1724; Adam was in the colonies by no later than 1722. There is no indication in Adam’s 1747 will that any of his sons were minors, so the three of them were probably all born by 1726. One can infer from the will that James was already living on the tract he inherited and that William and Jeremiah were still at home. Perhaps the fact that James appears to be the eldest is the rationale for thinking he was the product of an earlier marriage.
 Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 345 (estate #354).
 Virginia Shannon Fendrick, American Revolutionary Soldiers of Franklin County, Pennsylvania(Chambersburg, PA: Historical Works Committee of the Franklin County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1944), citing Pennsylvania Archives 5thSeries, Vol. 6, at 576 and 583. “WILLIAM RANKIN of Antrim Twp., appears as a private under Capt. James Poe, 1782, and [on] an undated roll. He married Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald, as shown by the will of Agnes Huston, widow of Archibald.”
 Franklin Co. Will Book A-B: 256.
 Mifflin Co., PA Deed Book D: 15, William Rankin’s execs from James Potters’ execs, 1797. I haven’t seen this deed (no online access), but believe it concerns one of the Penn’s Valley tracts in Mifflin.
 Westmoreland Co., PA Deed Book 7: 392. The deed recites that Archibald Rankin was of Antrim Township, Franklin Co., that the 274-acre tract in Westmoreland was originally granted to William Rankin of Antrim on 27 July 1773, and that it was devised to Dr. Adam Rankin by his father’s will dated 20 October 1792. The deed also recites that Dr. Adam Rankin granted his brother Archibald Rankinpower of attorney dated 29 Jun 1792. The POA is also recorded at Deed Book 7: 392.
 That means Archibald was age 21 or over, not married, and not a landowner.
 1790 census, Franklin Co., Archybald Rankin, 1-0-2-1-0; 1800 census, Burough of Greencastle (Antrim Twp.), Archd Rankin, 20110-20010; 1810 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., Archibald Rankin, 01101-12110; 1820 census, Montgomery Twp., Franklin Co., Archibald Rankin, 000101-02300; 1840 census, Peters Township, Franklin Co., Archibald Rankin, age 70 < 80, the sole member of the household.
 John Blair Linn, History of Centre and Clinton Counties (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883), at 222. Identifies some of the children of William Jr., including a Dr. William Rankin who moved to Shippensburg in Cumberland Co. and died before the book was published.