Rankin DNA Project: “flange it up!”

Please note: I updated this post in August 2021, so this is outdated. Please see the new post at this link.

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, website, 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 proved by a brother’s 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 dated 1757 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, who died in 1797. His son, William Jr., died in Fayette in 1807. Many from this line stayed in Fayette County for several generations. Some moved “west,” including to Ohio. There is no evidence of William Sr.’s  origin prior to the time that he began appearing in Westmoreland and 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.


[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.

17 thoughts on “Rankin DNA Project: “flange it up!””

  1. Sitting in an airport about to board, so no time to read this. It looks like this may be ever so helpful information. My son has had his DNA done. I’m hoping to connect hm to the project, but he hasn’t built much of a tree. Alexander Rankin, immigrant is my 8th ggfather, if my info is correct. Looking forward to reading your post. Thanks for your persistence.

  2. That is an excellent breakdown, thanks!

    I still have some more questions, though.

    Question #1: Do you have an estimate for how far back the three sub-lines of Lineage 2 (2A, 2B, and 2C) diverged? Is it likely back in Scotland/Ireland, or likely in the US?

    Question #2: My area of greatest interest, of course, is the two men who share my husband’s ancestors Adam Rankin and Mary Steele. Can you tell me how far back they go before they meet up? I mean, are they both descended from the Rev. Adam Rankin of Fayette KY, for instance, or from further back? What I am getting at is if there was a non-paternity event that split them off from Lineage 2A, how far back do we have to think it was?

    (I think I mentioned to you that my husband’s GGG grandmother Mary Jane Rankin had two brothers. One, John Y. Rankin, has “daughtered out” but the other one, Henry L. Rankin, has living straight-line male descendants. I have not tried to approach any of them for a Y-DNA sample, and I am wondering how hard I should try, based on what we could hope to learn from that, which depends on which lines have already been tested. Does that make sense?).

    Question #3: I think you once indicated to me that you thought the divergence of Adam’s & Mary’s descendants from John (2A)’s descendants was NOT because of a non-paternity event because both of them matched other Rankins. I can see from the above that that is definitely true of John 2A’s descendants, but is it also true of Adam’s & Mary’s two descendants?

    Thanks so much for all you do!

    Susan Faust

    1. Oh, duh, I see you answered my question #1 in the original post. So much for my careful reading! So there’s no reason to think that they diverged after they came to America. Got it.

      Or… maybe not. Do any of the three lineages seem more closely related to each other than the third one, or to the stray members of the lineage. In other words, are there any obvious sub-clusters (purely by DNA) within Lineage 2?

      1. Susan, I’m going to reply via email because … I’m not REALLY sure I know what I’m talking about in the realm of DNA. Hahaha … I WILL tell you that L2 drives me nuts. You can group them 12 ways from christmas and probably be reasonable. Really have to fall back on paper trails.
        Thanks for your good questions!

  3. Hello! I’ve just joined Family Tree DNA and transferred my autosomal DNA from 23 and Me. I believe I belong to Lineage 2B: Samuel Rankin – Elinor Alexander. Many of my ancestors, Rankins included, came from PA and settled in the Mecklinburg/Lincoln area of NC. I look forward to trying to piece together who is who, and will be happy to help however I can. I will need substantial guidance in understanding how this genetic research works, though. I have a Family Tree Maker tree that contains information gotten mainly from what is available online, which I can share. Let me know if I can help.

    1. Hello, cousin! I’m tickled pink to meet you. I’m also descended from Samuel and Eleanor through their son Richard.When you say that you have joined Family Tree DNA, does that mean you have also joined the Rankin family DNA project? I hope so!

      I look forward to talking to you and finding out which of Sam and Eleanor’s sons is your ancestor. I’ll send you a private email so we can chat about our trees and about genetic research (I’m still getting up that learning curve myself). In the meantime, please check out the article at this link, which will get you started on the theory of YDNA: https://digupdeadrelatives.com/2019/07/02/ydna-testing-primer-sorts-implications-mt-horeb-rankin-legend/


  4. Thanks to someone posting a link to a thread on the ancestry message boards of a Rankin article you wrote, I found found your site – Yay! I love your writing style and explanations. Very easy to follow and thank goodness someone who finally uses and shows proof to the explanations! I have a rather long question to ask you, but maybe I’ll write the short question here and maybe we can email about it? My line of Rankins comes from Bedford & Somerset Counties in Pennsylvania. I am very STUCK at my 5th great grandfather, Chambers Rankin (1803-1835) who is buried in Bedford County. If it weren’t for that gravestone, I’d almost believe he didn’t exist because he is on virtually no legal documents. All the trees that mention him on ancestry are dead wrong about his parents. (Unless someone has proof otherwise, in which case I’ll gladly eat crow). I descend from his only known child, Franklin R. Rankin who was just 9 months old when his father Chambers died. Being stuck at Chambers is SO FRUSTRATING because there is so much information on the Rankins in adjoining counties. At any rate, the only other thing we know about Chambers is that he had 2 siblings (brother John C. Rankin, 1805-1897, and sister Martha,… married to a Bisel, 1818-1876). Both siblings ended up in Harrison City, Westmoreland Co. PA. John is said to be a founder of Harrison City. He must have been financially well-off because he bought both siblings (Martha and Chambers) their gravestones. (The gravestone for Chambers in Bedford Co. is not the original stone. The original was damaged and broken, so John purchased a new one. I do have a photo of the top half of the original stone). I’ve searched for obituaries of both of these siblings and neither mention any parents’ names. So again, this is long, but of course there’s more to share about what I’ve eliminated as possibilities. I would truly appreciate getting to bend your ear via email about this! 🙂

    1. Jessica, I tried to reply to you privately via email … didn’t work. Problem is at my end, not yours. Chambers sounds really frustrating! And there are so many Rankins in PA you can get dizzy. From my point of view, it sounds like a fun puzzle! I’m currently embroiled in the Rankins of Virginia’s northern neck, who make me want to go back to Pennsylvania.

      I’m going to take a look at Chambers and siblings when I get a chance, hopefully soon. My only immediate thought, which you have probably already investigated to a fare-thee-well, is that Chambers is surely a surname … perhaps his mother’s maiden name. Or either a maternal or paternal grandmother. I’m betting you have already scanned the area for Chambers and that’s one of the possibilities you have eliminated? I haven’t run across any Chambers in PA that I can remember, but I will check.

      Will get back to you when I finish wading through the morass in the Northern Neck. If you don’t hear from me in a month or so, will you please post another reply as a reminder? I will definitely want to know what all you’ve eliminated. And thanks for the kind words. I would love to see what someone posted (and who it was) on a message board about a Rankin article I posted. I am ALWAYS trying to track down Rankin males who might be willing to YDNA test!


      1. Thank you & yes I’ll definitely check back in around a month from now. I thought the same thing since Chambers is an unusual name. I’ve also looked at the middle name of his brother (Culbertson) and there were Culbertson’s in Franklin County at that time I believe. I also have considered that perhaps the father disowned Chambers (because he had a child with a Native American) in which case I’ll probably never know the truth of who is father is. If I run across that message again on the ancestry boards that linked me to your blog, I’ll screenshot it for you. The only male Rankin relative that we know that is still alive probably wouldn’t be into a DNA test (“the government will know me then” type of mindset), but I can definitely ask!

        1. Can’t hurt to ask him! FTDNA has a strict privacy policy, so his test would be confidential. So far as I know, “the government” has only used autosomal tests (not YDNA tests) to identify criminals. He can also use a phony name on his kit, which is what I did with a male cousin who had the same sort of mindset. “The government” can search the world over for Paris Ida Clements and will never find him … LOL …

          1. Great news! He said he’d be happy to do the DNA test! Yay! A male Rankin! Would he be able to do it through ancestry like my mom & I did? Or would he have to do it somewhere else in order for it to work for your Rankin DNA project?

      2. Robin
        I have just found your blog and some more information about the Rankin’s. I have read a little about the Northern neck Rankins. I have two DNA test, one from Ancestry.com and 23andMe. I would love to join your group. I recognize one name in your group, Hazel, and she invited me years ago and I did fill out some information on my family tree but I had not taken the test at that time. I don’t know if I am still registered with your group. I am a descendent of the famous Lt. Robert Rankin
        Michael B. Rankin

        1. Michael, I’m so glad you found the blog! I will reply to you via email and give you some information you need. We NEED a descendent of the famous Lt. Robert!

  5. Good afternoon,
    3 questions….

    1. Which lineage stated above does Lt Robert Rankin come from?

    2. I am researching on behalf of my wife who has Rankin lineage I can trace to the orphan William Rankin who settled Texas in 1830 from Alabama. Any idea how to determine if William is the son of Joseph vs Thomas Berry who both died at Mims?

    3. How do I get involved in the Rankin DNA project. It was my wife’s dad who submitted a DNA test thru ancestry.


    You can respond to my email address david.a.beltran2.mil@mail.mil

    1. David, is that ever a good question … and a timely one!

      Lt. Robert doesn’t come from any of the lineages mentioned in the “Flange it Up!” post to which you replied. The Rankin Project JUST had results from a new participant. Lt. Robert’s lineage is either L5 or L6 (I’m going from memory here, but will supplement my answer tomorrow).

      As for the orphan William Rankin, so far as I know, there seems to be no way to determine whether one of the two known orphans was the son of Joseph or Thomas. I lean toward Thomas, simply because he was older, but there is no paper evidence SFAIK.

      There is a really, REALLY good Rankin researcher who is also descended from one of the two known orphans. I will put the two of two in touch tomorrow and answer the L5/L6 question I left hanging, above … I’m ready to crash after an early morning.

      To get involved to the Rankin project, just go to the project website (google Rankin DNA project) and click “join.” If that doesn’t work, we can talk via email, tomorrow.

      Tickled to hear from you. Mañana!

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