If you have children and/or grandchildren, or were a child yourself by the 1950s, you are almost certainly familiar with The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. It features two characters named “Thing 1” and “Thing 2.” My friend Jess “Gams” Guyer, a talented Rankin researcher, suggested those would be appropriate names for any of the vast number of William Rankins who lived in southern Pennsylvania in the mid- to late 1700s. The only problem is that two “Things” aren’t enough.
With a large population of Williams to choose from, it was inevitable that some of the Things would be conflated with some of the other Things. “Same name confusion” is the easiest family history mistake in the world. Anyone who hasn’t made it yet just hasn’t been at this hobby long enough.
The clear winner in the “Thing Confusion Contest” is the William Rankin who married Mary Huston and died in Franklin County in 1792. William d. 1792 was a son of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Adam and Mary are the first proved generation of a famous Rankin line from which numerous people aspire to descend, many erroneously. That may be attributable to a fabulous legend associated with Adam’s and Mary’s line. Also, William d. 1792 was a Revolutionary War soldier, which often attracts hopeful descendants.
So far as I know, at least three Williams have been mistakenly identified as either William d. 1792 or his son William of Centre County, Pennsylvania. Let’s call them Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3. There are undoubtedly others.
Thing 1: the William Rankin who married Victory Alcorn and moved from Franklin County, Pennsylvania to Orange County, North Carolina.
Thing 2: the William Rankin who married Mary (probably née Stewart) in Franklin County and moved to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
Thing 3: the William Rankin with wife Jane who died in Armstrong Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania.
Despite giving it the old college try, I have not made a dent in slowing proliferation of the above errors. These Things are a great case of “Whack-a-Mole.” Wictionary gives the example of spam e-mails: as soon as you delete one, another appears. More like ten more. This article is therefore an attempt to whack some of the moles — AKA Things — into submission.
Thing 1: William Rankin m. Victory Alcorn
Thing 1 William is easy to distinguish from William d. 1792 thanks to their different locations, another example of the “follow the land” theory. The William who married Victory lived in Hamilton Township, Cumberland (later Franklin) County. William d. 1792, on the other hand, lived and died in the same county but in Antrim Township, appearing there in tax, court, and deed records consistently from mid-century until he died.
Here are records locating William m. Victory in Hamilton Township, Cumberland/Franklin, Pennsylvania …
- In May 1751, William Rankin obtained two surveys on Conococheague Creek in Hamilton Township when it was still in Cumberland County. Adjacent landowners were George Galloway and Thomas Armstrong, who help us track him with confidence. Samuel Moorhead, who also helps ID him, filed a caveat against one survey, claiming prior entitlement.
- In 1752, William Rankin appeared on the tax list for Hamilton Township. He was the only Rankin on the list for that township.
- In 1760, the will of Joseph Armstrong of Hamilton Township devised to his son Thomas Armstrong “land between Robert Elliot’s and Willm Rankins.”
- By 1761, William was married to Victory Alcorn, daughter of James Alcorn. The Alcorns owned land in the Conococheague “settlements” adjacent to Samuel Moorehead, the man who caveated William Rankin’s survey in Hamilton Township.
- In October 1765, William Rankin executed a deed conveying warrants for 150 acres in Cumberland County. It said, “William Rankin of Orange Co., North Carolina, farmer, to James McFarlan of Cumberland Co., Pennsylvania, blacksmith, 2 warrants by Rankin for a total of 150 acres in Hamilton Twp., Cumberland, adjacent James Dickson, George Gallaway, Thomas Armstrong.”
The last deed proves that William and Victory moved to Orange County, North Carolina by at least 1765. William died in Caswell County, a successor county to Orange. William’s 1788 estate distribution in Caswell establishes that his widow was named Victory, his only son was named James (the name of Victory’s father), and they had a daughter named Victory.There seems to be no reasonable doubt that the William Rankin whose estate was probated in Caswell County was the same man as Thing 1, William who married Victory Alcorn of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.
William and Victory’s son James married as his first wife Elizabeth Fuller in Caswell County. He later moved to Logan County, Kentucky, where he married Hannah Forbush. He ultimately migrated to Sumner County, Tennessee, where his estate was probated.
The good news for Whack-a-Thing is that a male Rankin descendant of William and Victory has Y-DNA tested. He is not a match to descendants of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. Thus, William m. Victory — Thing 1 — cannot possibly be the same man as William d. 1792, a son of Adam and Mary.
This article is already overlong. I will try to make short shrift of Thing 2 and say even less about Thing 3.
Thing 2: William Rankin and wife Mary (probably née Stewart) of Allegheny County
There are some major differences between Thing 2 and William d. 1792. They establish that Thing 2, the William Rankin buried in Allegheny County, cannot possibly be the same man as William d. 1792 of Antrim Township, Franklin County. Here are the big ones …
- Thing 2 died in Allegheny County and was buried there in Round Hill Cemetery in 1813, while William, husband of Mary Huston, died in 1792 in Franklin County.
- Thing 2’s wife Mary died in 1808, five years before her husband, and is buried in the Round Hill Cemetery in Allegheny. William d. 1792 named his wife Mary in his 1792 will. Mary survived him by more than three decades, leaving a will dated 1818 and proved in 1824.
- William d. 1792 lived in Antrim Township, Franklin County, as his will explicitly states. He appeared in the records there for roughly four decades. I’m betting his family didn’t wait until 1813, twenty-one years after his death, to bury his remains to a cemetery 150 miles away in a county where he most likely never set foot.
- Thing 2 had two children named Andrew and Mary who died in 1794 and 1795, respectively. They have tombstone styles which are identical to their father William’s. The family Bible of William d. 1792 in Franklin names eight children. So does his 1792 will. None are named Andrew or Mary, both of whom died after William d. 1792 signed his will.
Thing 2 and his wife Mary (and children Andrew and Mary) are buried in the Round Hill Cemetery in Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The Find-a-Grave entry for Thing 2 has more errors than I can count, so I’m not going to provide a link to it, hoping you won’t be exposed to all that misinformation.
Incidentally, there were a number of other Rankin families in Allegheny County. The William who died there in 1813 may well be related to one of the others, although I haven’t established any credible connection. Or even a speculative connection, for that matter. If you find one, I hope you will let me know.
Thing 3: the William Rankin with wife Jane who died in Armstrong Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania in 1826.
Thing 3 has been wrongly identified as William and Mary Huston Rankin’s son William, who moved from Franklin to Centre County, Pennsylvania. A number of descendants of Thing 3 claim to be descended from Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin, no matter how many Williams in Adam’s line it took for them to get back to Adam.
I will cut to the chase, courtesy of science. A descendant of William and Jane Rankin of Indiana County has Y-DNA tested. His result places him squarely in Rankin DNA Project Lineage 2. He does not match descendants of Rankin Lineage 3B, which is the line of Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin. Thus, the William Rankin with wife Jane who died in Indiana County cannot possibly have been either the son of, or the same man as, Adam and Mary’s son William d. 1792.
For the evidence, here is a link to an article about William Rankin of Indiana County with wife Jane.
It is a gorgeous day here, mild temps with a high, cloudless blue sky that makes you squint. It is time to bid adieu to the laptop and go outside.
See you on down the road.
 Franklin Co., PA Will Book A: 256, will of William Rankin of Antrim Twp., Franklin Co., dated and proved in 1792. William named his wife Mary, sons Adam, Archibald, James, William, David, John, and Jeremiah, and daughter Betsy. William’s wife Mary is proved as a daughter of Agnes Huston (widow of Archibald) by Agnes’s will. Franklin Co. Will Book A: 110, will of Agness Huston dated 1776 and proved 1787. Agnes bequeathed a gift to her daughter Mary Huston, “alias Rankin.” One of her executors was her son-in-law William Rankin, “husband of my daughter Mary.” Also, you can find articles about William d. 1792 and Mary Huston Rankin’s line here , and here , and here , with still another here.
 Lancaster Co., PA Will Book J: 208, will of Adam Rankin dated and proved in 1747. Adam named his wife (although he did not mention her given name), sons James, William, and Jeremiah, and daughter Ester Rankin Dunwoody. His wife is proved as Mary Steele Alexander, widow of James “the Carpenter” Alexander, by a series of deeds that are a great example of the “follow the land” theory of family history research. Here is a link to an article containing the evidence.
 The oral family traditions of Adam and John who died in Lancaster Co. in 1747 and 1749, respectively, are memorialized in a bronze tablet in the Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Jefferson Co., TN. The legend has several problems, not least of which is that it identifies Adam d. 1747 and John d. 1749 as brothers. Y-DNA testing has conclusively disproved that possibility, leaving this interesting question: does the oral family history “belong” to Adam d. 1747 or to John d. 1749? The only part of the legend related to Scotland and/or Ireland that has been substantiated is that an Alexander Rankin was present at the Siege of Londonderry in 1689. There is no evidence SFAIK that Alexander was an ancestor of either Adam d. 1747 or John d. 1749. Here is a link to an article about the legend.
 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), citing PA Archives 5th Series, Vol. 6, 576, 583: “WILLIAM RANKIN of Antrim Twp., appears as a private under Capt. James Poe, 1782, on an undated roll. He married Mary Huston, daughter of Archibald, as shown by the will of Agnes Huston, widow of Archibald. The will of William Rankin of Antrim Twp., was dated Oct. and prob. Nov. of 1792.” See also PA Archives, 3d Series, Vol. 20: 254 for additional evidence of William d. 1792’s Rev. War service.
 Here is a link to a definition of Whack-a-Mole.
 Here is a link to a Franklin Co. map showing Hamilton and Antrim townships, which are adjacent. Hamilton Township was founded in 1752; Franklin County was formed in 1784, so Hamilton was originally in Cumberland County, from which Franklin was created. Antrim Township is adjacent to and south of Hamilton. This was a crowded area for Rankins.
 William Henry Egle, Pennsylvania Archives Third Series Vol. II (Harrisburg: Clarence M. Busch, State Printer, 1894) 264, Samuel Moorhead entered a caveat against the acceptance of a survey made by William Rankin on a tract on the west side on Conecocheague Cr., in Hamilton Township, Cumberland Co. Moorehead alleged a prior warrant for part of the tract.
 Franklin Co., PA Deed Book 6: 124, FamilySearch.org Film # 8,035,192, Image 361. The deed was executed in 1765 when the warrants were located in Cumberland, but recorded in the Franklin County deed records in 1803, when the warrants were for land then located in Franklin.
 See an article about Mary’s will here.
 Instead, read this article for an explanation of what Find-a-Grave got wrong, plus citations to information about Allegheny County William AKA Thing 2 and his wife Mary.
 An erroneous S.A.R. application is probably to blame for many of the faulty claims by Thing 3 descendants to be descended from Adam and Mary Steele Alexander Rankin, see this article.