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Rankin family papers

Identifier: MS0365

Scope and Contents

The Rankin Family papers concern a wide variety of subject matter, but for the most-part, are centered on the family’s ownership of land in Gaston County, North Carolina. This is particularly true of those papers up to the latter part of the nineteenth century. Most of these papers, which date as early as 1775, are such things as land surveys, indentures, deeds, and land grants. A term that frequently appears among the Rankin papers is indenture. Indentures could be almost any legally binding contract that had at least two copies. Hundreds of years ago, when indentures were hand-written, the bottom edge of the one copy was overlapped over the top margin of the other, and cut in a curved or zig-zag pattern (dents). This was done so that the two copies could be matched together and the content of both could be verified. Later legal documents would also be called indentures, even though they do not have the characteristic dents on the margin. In any contract, there are at least two parties—the party of the first part and the party of the second part. This kind of verbiage appears throughout the Rankin Family real estate papers. In transactions involving real property, the party of the first part is the seller and the second part is the buyer. In addition, such transactions are made in consideration of a specified amount of money. All business contracts must have consideration in order to be legally binding. Real estate indentures also include a legal description of the land, and sometimes a survey of the property will be drawn on the indenture itself. Indentures and surveys routinely name the county in which the land in question is located. Until 1846, the county named in this collection was Lincoln County, but afterwards is listed as Gaston County. Gaston County was formed in 1846 as a part that broke away from Lincoln County when the population grew large enough to justify the establishment of a new county. As time went on, the nature of the Rankin family papers began to change and diversify. A fairly large group of papers from 1876 through 1878 concerned the settlement of the estate of John Rankin, as executed by Richard Rankin, his brother. In the latter part of the twentieth century, a great deal of correspondence appears in this collection, and most of its contents concern family matters. Dr. Richard Rankin, MD, predominated at that time, and as a prominent member of the Gaston Community he was involved in the region’s social and political landscape. He even corresponded with well-known politicians at the state and federal level. Letters from the likes of Senator Jesse Helms and Governor James B. Hunt are found in the collection. Dr. Rankin wrote several letters to the editors of local newspapers about a variety of issues, most especially concerning the politics and economic conditions that influence the medical profession and the quality of health care that patients are able to receive. The papers at the end of this collection resume their concentration on the land, as the family began to re-appreciate its value, though in an ecological way. Toward that end, the Rankins helped to establish the Catawba Lands Conservancy. There is a variety of maps in the collection (beginning in the late 20th century) showing what families own what tracts, and their roles in the conservancy. Later additions to the collection include material on the Rev. Frank B. Rankin (1878-1951) and his daughter, Mary Delia Rankin Jarman (1910-2011). There is also genealogical material relating to several Gaston county families, including the Abernathy, Moore, Rankin and Pegram families.


  • 1754 - 2006


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Biographical / Historical

A. Gregg Moore and Forney A. Rankin are two genealogists who spent many years researching the history of the Rankin family, accumulating information from a variety of sources. Among their writings are a variety of stories about the family’s origins, some of which are apocryphal, or whose origins are so antiquated that they cannot be corroborated by any existing documentation. Among these stories is one about Jacob de Rankin, the son of the burgomaster of Ghent, who accompanied the Duke of Flanders on a visit in the late thirteenth century to the Court of King Alexander III of Scotland. Allegedly, it was during this visit that Jacob met and fell in love with Margaret Keith, daughter of Marshall Keith, one of the highest ranking of the King’s courtiers. According to this story, this is the origin of the Rankin family in Scotland. However, there are a number of references to Rankins (with a variety of spellings) in Scotland and England at about the same time, casting this story into doubt. As far as the Rankin Family in the Carolina Piedmont is concerned, the most current evidence suggests that it was probably Robert and Rebecca Rankin who first migrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania around 1750, moving to Rowan County in North Carolina in 1755. It seems that their son Samuel (who likely was recently widowed) traveled with them. Samuel bought 320 acres in 1760 in Rowan County from David Alexander. Samuel married a woman named Ellen Alexander, suggesting that she and David might have been from the same family. He later moved farther west, buying land in Lincoln County (now Gaston County). John and William Rankin (probably brothers of Samuel) bought a tract of five hundred acres in Guilford County. William moved in with Samuel in 1768, later buying his own farm. John Rankin, the veteran of 1812, died late in 1876; and several of the papers in this collection concern the settlement of his estate by his brother, Richard Rankin. Richard's son, Frank B. Rankin, served in WWI and later became a renowned Presbyterian minister who developed an outstanding reputation for his zeal and dedication to ministerial service. His son, Richard Eugene Rankin, served in WWII and became a medical doctor. This Richard Rankin had a very busy life outside of his medical practice, serving on the local public school board, corresponding with state and national political figures, and writing letters to the editors of local newspapers. His son, Richard Eugene Rankin Jr., earned a Ph.D. in history, and developed a career as a university professor and the headmaster of a private school in Gastonia. By the late twentieth century, the Rankins still held a great interest in land, but by this time it had become a matter of environmental stewardship. The Rankins were one of the charter members of the Catawba Lands Conservancy. One of the characteristics of the people of this family has been their prolific birth rate. Most of the Rankins had many children, most of their off-spring were strong enough to survive into adulthood (a rare thing in the days of old), and most of their descendants also had large families. The most frequently occurring names within the clan have been Richard, William, Samuel, John, Anne, and Jane, making tracing the family lineage a daunting task. As Scots, the Rankins were Presbyterian, and many ministers are found in the branches of the family tree.


0.4 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The Rankin Family papers consist of a wide variety of materials, though the majority of the collection concerns this family’s ownership and stewardship of the land that they have owned in Gaston County, NC since the late eighteenth century. There are also items relating to the Rev. Frank B. Rankin and his daughter, Mary Delia Rankin Jarman as well as material relating to Gaston county history and the genealogy of several Gaston families.


The collection is arranged into the following eight series: Chronological Files, Oversize Materials, Undated Materials, Genealogical Information, Historical Materials and Deeds, Frank B. Rankin, Mary Delia Rankin and Photographs.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired from Dr. Richard Rankin, Ph.D., in 2006 and 2007.

Related Materials

Catawba Lands Conservancy records, Mss 273 ; Richard Rankin Diary, 1997-2004, Mss 344 ; Rankintown Notes: Tending family land, 1991-2004 / Richard E. Rankin, Jr. RARE HD1476 .U62 N87 2005.

Separated Materials

Confidential circular, no. 2, from the North Carolina State Grange, Patrons of Husbandry 1874 (RARE HD1485.N588 N588 1874)

Processing Information

Processed by Robert A. McInnes

Papers of the Rankin family
Robert A. McInnes
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collections, J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections and University Archives, UNC Charlotte Repository

Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte
9201 University City Blvd
Charlotte 28223 United Stated

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