Discovering Backgrounds for Our Rankin Roots

By Hazel Timblin Townsend

Adapted from presentation at Rankin Clan Reunion

Mt. Horeb, Jefferson County, TN, July 11, 2010



I’m Hazel Timblin Townsend and live in Greenville, South Carolina with my husband Earle. Our three children are here today, Walter Rankin Townsend, the Clan President this year, and his wife Barbara. Also here are our two daughters, Susan Townsend and Sara Luchuk with her husband Alan. Our five grandsons are also here, Ben and Matthew Townsend and Andrew, Patrick and Nicholas Luchuk. I want to thank Walter, Ben and Matthew for their technical help with the pictures and for Barb’s help in organizing and proof reading my presentation.


My mother was Beulah Rankin Timblin, sister of the late Roy Rankin of White Pine. Many of you know Roy and Marguerite’s passion for family history. Beulah and Roy’s parents were Frank Walter Rankin and Lula Sharp, who lived on the C. H. Rankin Road in White Pine. Frank’s father was Christopher Houston Rankin for whom the road was named. His former house still stands on C. H. Rankin Road. Christopher Houston Rankin’s wife was Catherine “Kate” Franklin whose mother was Lucinda Harriett Rankin. Houston’s parents were Christopher Rankin and Frances Gilbraith.


Christopher’s parents were Thomas Rankin II and Jenett “Jane” Bradshaw. Thomas was one of the early settlers in Dumplin Valley, along with John Bradshaw, the father of Jane, Thomas II’s wife. Both Thomas Rankin II and John Bradshaw’s names are on the monument in the cemetery behind the church that honors the settlers of Dumplin Valley. Thomas’ parents were Thomas Rankin I and Isabella Clendenin. Thomas I was a son of the immigrant John Rankin.  


I didn’t like history when I was in school. Learning all those names and dates was boring. However, in later years when I learned that some of my family was connected to certain events in history, I became interested. The more I learned about my family’s history, the more interested I became. It was like a puzzle to try to figure out answers to questions and I like puzzles. I also think it is very important to pass on family stories to the younger generations. I remember my grandmother and aunts discussing the family stories as we worked together in the kitchen to prepare a large family meal or on the big front porch after dinner. I wish I could ask them about those people now.


In 1997 I compiled the book Rankin Roots in East Tennessee, Descendants of Alexander Rankin (1628-1689), using a lot of the information that Reva Rankin Hammer had gathered but not published.  I hope to do an updated second edition of Rankin Roots to include corrected and new information. To commemorate the 100th wedding anniversary of our Rankin grandparents, Frank Walter Rankin and Lula Sharp, I compiled a book about their family in 1999, Rankin Anniversary Scrapbook.  I also wrote a book about my brother George A. Timblin after he passed away in 2006.


In 1999, an opportunity came to travel to Ireland to do research with a group of family historians with professional genealogists to guide us. Since then, we have returned three times. The last time we went to Belfast in Northern Ireland. After the conference, we traveled to Londonderry and County Donegal with our daughter Susan as our driver.


We saw the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, which is only a short distance across the channel to Scotland. We saw old style thatched-roofed building at the Ulster American Folk Park in County Tyrone, south of Derry.


The most interesting for me was visiting the city of Londonderry, or Derry as most people call it today. The old city of Londonderry sits on a hill on the west bank of the River Foyle. It is the only city in the British Isles which has the complete wall around the oldest part of the town.


Earle and I have attended several genealogical conferences that have helped us get in touch with other family researchers and professionals. Through these contacts and conferences, we have learned about software, internet and tools to help with our research. The newest tool is the use of DNA. I’ll tell you more about that a little bit later.


I invite you to journey with me through Rankin Roots and some of my findings.


My story today is one of “3’s”, and there will be a quiz to follow! –


Let’s begin our journey!


Family Traditions and Stories

Most of you here today at the Rankin Clan Reunion at Mt. Horeb Church are descended from the settler John Rankin of Pennsylvania. Our Rankin family has a 300-year old story about the siege of Londonderry in Ulster, Ireland. It is a story of bravery and tragedy that has been passed down through the generations.  How much of the story is true is hard to prove today. However, we continue to remember the story because it reminds us that we have a heritage that is willing to stand up for what we believe. 


Scotland to Ulster, Ireland

This 300-year old story began when Alexander Rankin and three sons (William, Alexander and John) fled Scotland to Ulster, Ireland, in the late 1600s. Two sons were killed, one on the highway and one in a smoke house, as the family fled the terrors of the day.  Alexander, the father, and son William managed to get to Londonderry safely. Were they fleeing from persecution in Scotland or in Ulster?


In the 1600s, there was religious persecution between the Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders of the British Isles. This period is referred to as the “Killing TimePeople fled Scotland to Ulster, Ireland, to escape the persecution in Scotland, and at times the English rulers were encouraging the Scots to come to Ulster to replace the Roman Catholics. Then it would be the other way around, depending on the ruler at the time. In 1688 King James II was on the march from Dublin, pillaging and burning farms and homes in the Protestant communities. Many Protestants took refuge behind the walls of Londonderry.


Our Rankin family was Presbyterian, followers of the faith founded by John Knox in Scotland.  Alexander and his son William arrived in Londonderry before the siege began in 1689, joining the fighters of Derry.


In the book about the Fighters of Derry by William R. Young (p. 117) there are three sketches about Rankin men. Although I have found no official family record about these particular men, the information does fit our traditional story.


#342. LIEUT. RANKIN, defender, served all through the defense, and is referred to by “Londeriados” in his description of the Pennyburn sortie (a battle near the walled-city of Londonderry) of the 21st April, [1689] viz.:--

“Lieutenant Rankin hewed the Irish down

And in that battle gained much renown.”


#343. ALICK. RANKIN, possibly the above, was a signer of the address to King William after the relief. (The “Petition of Thanks to Almighty God and William King of Orange” for his coming to the rescue of the citizens of Derry and stopping the siege in August of 1689 recorded in Witherow, Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689, p. 409-412)


#344. JOHN RANKIN was among the signers of the Corporation’s Commission of 1690…The family have for generations been closely connected with the city and county, where many of the name are still to be found.


Below are some of the other Rankins I found during this early period. However, I can’t confirm that any of these Rankins are connected to our line.


(1) Captain Michael Browning, captain of the ship Mountjoy, rammed the boom across the River Foyle.  This finally relieved the 105-day siege. Although he was killed in this daring attack, the supply boats for the besieged city continued to Derry.  Captain Browning was married to Widow Margaret Rankin who had at least one Rankin son by her first husband. (Young, Fighters of Derry)


(2) 1630 County Donegal Muster Roll, Barony of Rapho, William Rankin and James are listed under “Swords and Pikes” for Lady Conningham, widow of Sir James Conningham, owner of 2,000 acres in the Barony of Rapho, east of Londonderry. (Donegal Annual)


(3) 1630 County Donegal Muster Roll, Barony of Rapho, William Rankin was listed with the men and armes of The Lo: Bpp of Rapho’s churchlands of 2,700 acres. (Donegal Annual)


(3) 1663 Alexander Rankin listed in Heath money rolls, County Derry.


(4)           May 20, 1709, John Rankin signed a lease for land belonging to Lord/Duke Donegal (Deed Book, Vol. 46, p. 380) and the son John Rankin transferred the lease to Wm. Jackson of Cleraine, County Londonderry in 1725. The lease of 1725 also mentioned the Earl of Staires, Regiment of Dragoons, one of the sons of the late John Rankin of the city of Londonderry. The property was in the Townland of Greencastle and Barony of Ennishoinn. (John Rankin to Wm. Wallace, Vol. 4, p. 147) Several records of lease, rent or mortgage of the same property was found in deed books 1709 to 1725. I found no more deeds listed for John Rankin after 1725.


(5) 1642-1703 The Register of Derry Cathedral (St. Columb’s) had several Rankins listed--baptisms, marriages and deaths. (Derry Cathedral, Londonderry, 1642-1703) St. Columb’s Cathedral of the Church of Ireland was completed in 1633. The Cathedral would have been there when the Rankin families lived in Ulster.


(6) February 12, 1703 administration of the estate of Alexander Rankin granted to his widow, Maria Rankin, as recorded in the abstract record of Prerogative Administrations Intestate, by Sir William Betham, Ulster King of Arms. (Betham’s Abstract 356) The abstract states “Rankin Alex’r: Sergt. Lord Donegals Regt.—To Maria-the Wid. Act Rec’d day of 12 February 1703.” This is believed to be the same Alexander who fought in the siege of Londonderry, signed the petition to King William, and Alexander Rankin our ancestor. However, I have found no documents to prove these connections. The original estate record no longer exists because of the 1922 fire at the Public Records Office of Ireland where all wills, and many historical documents were stored.


On the far hill west of Derry, an ancient Round Fort overlooks the whole area, particularly County Donegal. The fort is thought to have been built about the time of Christ. It would have been there, but in ruins, in the 1600s. From the fort you have a wonderful view of County Donegal.


Are any of these Ulster Rankins related to our John Rankin (1690-1749), the immigrant to Pennsylvania in the 1720s? Unfortunately I have not found enough records to piece the families together and make positive connections. But I’m still trying!


Now let’s move ahead to the 1700s and what we know about the early Rankins in America.


Ulster to America in the 1720s

The story of the immigrant ancestor of the Dumplin Valley Rankins begins in the 1720s when three brothers—Adam (1688-1747), Hugh (1690-1749) and John (1692-1747) —came to Pennsylvania, settling in what is now Cumberland County near Harrisburg. Supposedly their father was William (1658-1720), the surviving son of Alexander the Fighter of Derry. Adam and Hugh supposedly arrived first (cir. 1721) and then a few years later brother John arrived (cir. 1727).


Other early Rankin settlers in Pennsylvania were shown in the Chester County tax lists. Chester County was one of the first four counties of Pennsylvania.

(1)  1724, John Rinkin, London Britain Township

(2)  1724, John Rankin, New London Township

(3)  1724, David Rinkin, Marlborough Township

(4)  1726, John Ranken, Kennett Township

(5)  1729, Joseph Rankin, London Britain Township

(6)  1729, John Rankin, West Caln Township

(7)  1739, David Rankin, East Nottingham Township

(8)  1740, William Rankin, London Britain Township         


Some of the early Rankin settlers in other parts of America were:

(1)  John Rankin banished to the plantations of America August 16, 1670 (Register of the Privy Council, Scotland).

(2)  John Rankin, a Jacobite captured at Preston, and transported to Liverpool and then to South Carolina in 1716 on the Wakefield (CTB, SP/C, Calendar of Treasury Papers).

(3)  Joseph Rankin owned 150 acres of land in 1731 on the south side of White Clay Creek in New Castle, Delaware (May, My Augusta, p. 40).


The children and grandchildren of the two of the three brothers who settled in Pennsylvania, Adam and John [Hugh had no children.] moved south and west, or stayed in the general area of southern Pennsylvania along the Maryland border.



Moving to the Present

Let’s move to the 21st Century and look at a map of Ireland quickly. Due to conflicts within Ireland an agreement was signed in 1921-22 to partition the country. Twenty-six counties wanted to be independent from Great Britain and they later formed the Republic of Ireland. Six northern counties in the Ulster region remained with Britain— Fermanagh, Tyrone, Londonderry, Antrim, Armagh, and Down (History World). County Donegal did not remain with the six northern counties but was one of the twenty-six counties. (Ireland Country Profile)


Our roots in American began in Pennsylvania, and from there they spread across the United States. Our forefathers had faith in God, believed in the freedom of worship and that hard work can improve our way of life. So what became of some of these people who kept moving on to a better opportunity? Let’s look at the present to see what more we can learn about our family history.


Rankin DNA Surname Project

In 2006 I started a Rankin DNA Surname Project with FamilyTree DNA. This is the latest tool to help sort out various family lines and a way for matching people to share information. A simple swab of the mouth is all that is required for the test. The yDNA results can tell us if there is a common ancestor, but it is up to the living descendants to find the paper trail and links. The Surname Project only follows the male Rankin line. Females do not have the y chromosome so cannot provide the same information. Certain mutation markers on the yDNA string are compared to determine a given family line.


WorldFamilies, a company that works with Family Tree DNA, provides free websites on which to post, sort and organize the results of the testing. As of November 1, 2010, we have 45 participants representing five different lines and several unmatched people.


Here is what we have learned so far about those five different lines:


Lineage I

The Lineage I group has known descendants with paper trails from Adam and John Rankin, the early settlers in Pennsylvania. Some of the others in this group may or may not have Adam and John in their direct line, but farther back they have a common ancestor. The common ancestor may go back to Ulster, Ireland, or even to Scotland. Some of the North Carolina Rankins are in our Lineage I group. They go back to a Joseph Rankin in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and/or New Castle County, Delaware. So far we have not found the common link between the North Carolina and Tennessee Rankin families.


It also appears that most of the people in Lineage I have a connection to the western part of Ulster--Counties Derry and Donegal. After visiting that area in 2008, I can see why there is confusion as to exact locations. The walled city of Londonderry (Derry) is actually on the west bank of the River Foyle and is almost surrounded by County Donegal. County Derry is on the other side of the river, the east side.


In Lineage I there are some people who do not have the Rankin surname and yet they are close matches. As far as the Renkin spelling is concerned, we know where an ancestor changed the spelling of his name. In the Mitchell and Dawson cases, they know where an adoption or name change took place.


Lineage IIa

The ancestors of Lineage IIa were early settlers along the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and in Washington/Greene County in East Tennessee. They go back to a David Rankin of the 1700s. It has been assumed over the years that David belonged to the same family line as those early settlers of Lineage I. However, the DNA results contradict this. Researching in the 1700 records is difficult. David was a very common name of that day and particularly in the Rankin families.  There could have been misconnections made or there could have been an “adoption” of a child into the Rankin family somewhere in that particular line. We need more information for Lineage IIa, both in paper trails and in DNA testing.


Lineage IIb

Lineage IIb is similar to IIa, but the experts at WorldFamilies think there is enough difference that it should be a different group.  One of the participants in Lineage IIb still lives in County Down in Northern Ireland. This is in the eastern part, east of Belfast. His ancestral record goes back to 1713 when his ancestor, Michael Rankin, is known to have lived in that area. However, I found a Michael Rankin of Newtownards listed as a Freeholder in the County Down Sessions of Oct. 2, 1701. Although the current Rankin family story says that their ancestor Michael came from Scotland, they have been unable to trace their roots into Scotland.


Two Lineage Groups Needing More Info

Two other Lineage groups, Lineage III and Haplogroup R1a Lineage I, have two people each. There is also another possible group with Haplogroup I2. More people and information are needed to learn about these groups.



The Haplogroup divides world peoples into various groups according to their place of origin. Most of the Rankins who have tested thus far are in the Haplogroup R1b1b2.



There are several in the unassigned group who have no matches. One of these is from an early James Rankin in Maine. Another non-match is a descendant of William Rankin of Virginia. We also have several others who are related to the Rankin family but different surnames who are interested in learning more about the Rankin family through our study.


In the Genes

You’ve heard the expression, “It’s in the genes.” Well last week I heard of another interesting DNA study. It is the “L159 mutation” study.


I had an email from Neal Downing who is working on this project, comparing certain markers that seem to show relationships across surname lines and a connection to the border area of southern Scotland and northern England, as well as the western Scotland Isles. The Rankin Lineage group IIa falls into this pattern. One of our Lineage IIa members has joined this project. It will be interesting to see what we learn. Lineage information that Neal found concerning some people in this group was their claim to Alexander Rankin as an ancestor. Their migration claim is similar to our Rankin Lineage I pattern—Southern Scotland to Northern Ireland and then to Appalachia. Neal raises the question, “Which group is the lineage of Alexander Rankin, the Derry fighter? Lineage I or Lineage IIa?


The very newest DNA test is Family Finder. This test is for both males and females and will help in finding cousins back four or five generations. A different part of the DNA is compared for Family Finder. This testing is just getting started and is now open to the general public. Would you like to join? More about those findings will be reported at another time.


I continue to encourage more people to be tested, particularly the people who are doing family research. Do any of you know other people with the Rankin surname? Encourage them to be tested and to share their heritage so that we may continue to learn about our extended families.



In conclusion, our 300-year old family story about the siege of Londonderry helps us to better understand our early Rankin roots. They were brave, hard working, God fearing, and willing to stand up for what they believed. I hope viewing pictures of the area around Derry will help you visualize and picture where they lived, worked and died. It is a beautiful country and must have been beautiful in their day also. (See Sources below for web address.) We can continue to look back with pride to what they believed and how they lived their lives. Please pass along your own family stories to your children and grandchildren. They need to know the family that came before them.


“And now for the quiz: 

1.    How old is the family story?

2.    Name the 3 countries in the family story.

3.    In the late 1600s, which of the 3 sons made it to Londonderry?          

4.    In the 1700s, who were the three immigrant brothers?

5.    Name one of the DNA studies.

6.    Who is thought to be our oldest ancestor?



1.     300 years

2.     Scotland,  Ireland, and America

3.     William

4.     Adam, Hugh, and John

5.     yDNA,  L159 Mutation, Family Finder

6.     Alexander Rankin




Betham's Abstracts, "Genealogical Manuscript 259". National Archives, Dublin, Ireland. (Vol. 42, 1A, shelf 44-13, p. 126, entry 356), Alex’d Rankin, "Prerogative Administrations Intestate”.


CTB, SP/C: Calendar of Treasury Papers, and State Papers (Colonial). “John Rankin, Jacobite captured at Preston. Transported from Liverpool to South Carolina on the Wakefield, master Thomas Beck. 21 April 1716.” (Beverly Conolly has information.)


Derry Cathedral (S. Columb’s), Parish of Templemore, Londonderry, 1642-1703, (1910, Parish Register Society of Dublin by William Pollard & Co., Ltd. 14, 39 & 40 North Street, Exeter and London.


Donegal Annual 10(2) [f182v], County Donegal, Ireland (1972), page 134, found in Irish Records, page 131), <>


FamilyTreeDNA website for Rankin: <>


History World, “History of the Republic of Ireland”, <>


Index, Tax List, Chester Co., PA.


Ireland Country Profile, <>


Register of the Privy Council of Scotland. “John Rankin, Bonhardpans. Convenater. Banished to the plantations in America 16 August 1670.” (Beverly Conolly has information.)


John Rankin to Wm. Jackson, deed, Vol. 46, page 380, number 28975 [v. 46, 1724-1725- FHL BRITISH Film 461326]. Deed dated 24 May 1725. Mentioned Earl of Staires, Reg of dragoons, one of sons of late John Rankin of city of Londonderry. Same land son John is deeding to Wm Jackson of Cleraine, Co Londondery and Edward Cary of Reddcastle, Co Donegal.


John Rankin to Wm. Wallace, lease, Vol. 4, page 147, number 807 [v. 4 1709-1710 - FHL BRITISH Film 522805]


May, C.E., My Augusta, 2nd edition (1997, Good Printer, Bridgewater, VA), page 40.


Photographs of Northern Ireland



WorldFamilies website for Rankin: <>


Witherow, Thomas D.D., Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689: The Story of Some Famous Battle-Fields in Ulster, (3rd ed.), (William Mullan & Son, Belfast, 1885), pp. 409-412.


Young, William R., Fighters of Derry, Their Deeds and Descendents, Being a Chronicle of Events in Ireland during the Revolutionary Period, 1688-91 (1932, Eyre and Spottiswoode, London), p. 117.