The Shanklands in America

by John N Shankland, USA

Family history research into the Shanklands / Shanklins in America has centered around the family lines of the two early "patriarchs" who arrived in the 17th - 18th century.

Maryland / Delaware Shanklands

William Shankland arrived in Snow Hill, Maryland, between 1685 and 1689. He is not mentioned in the scanty records of immigration up to 1685, but in 1689 he signed an oath of loyalty to the King and Queen of England as a resident of Somerset County, Maryland. This oath presumably was a result of the newly formed religious policy of the monarchy, that citizens need not be members of the Church of England if they were willing to swear that, religion aside, they were still loyal to England. It was assumed that William was from Scotland, as Shankland is a Scottish name and he was a Presbyterian.

New York Shanklands

Around 1750 four Shankland/Shanklin brothers Robert, Andrew, William and Gilbert emigrated from Ireland to New York, where they established their families under both the Shankland and Shanklin names. Robert was the first to make the journey, and his brothers followed a few years later. Their grandfather is believed to have fought for William of Orange in the Battle of the Boyne (1690) in Ireland and to have been rewarded with the grant of an estate at Butlers Hill near Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, in Ireland.

Genealogy research and DNA

Ronald L Shankland and others have been the chief genealogists of the New York family, from which he descends, and for the last 30 years I have been the researcher of the William line. Ron and I were both convinced that these, the Maryland/Delaware Shanklands and the New York Shanklins/Shanklands, were two separate and unconnected families.

However, at Ron's insistence I recently participated in a DNA test. This test measures 25 "markers"; Ron's results gave a 23/25 match with my own and a 24/25 match with a known relative of mine. This is a very conclusive result, indicating that although the documented genealogy could not identify a relationship between the two lines, such a relationship must certainly exist and that we are both descended from the same common ancestor.

How could this be?


To solve this mystery Simon Grundy and myself, with help from Anne Shankland, began examining ancient Irish records and studying the professional genealogist's report commissioned by Ron Shankland. What follows is a hypothesis on how these two families are related.


In the late 16th Century (about 1577) the Scottish Court Records have several mentions of a Gilbert Shankland. Apparently he had financial problems, and eventually his son sold his house to pay some of his debts. It is noteworthy that there is also a Gilbert Shankland in Ireland in 1631, 58 years later.

Ron L Shankland had commissioned a genealogist in Ireland to study the possible origin of the Shankland/Shanklin line there. The report made the following conclusions.

Having searched many records of Ireland, by elimination, the strongest candidate for the ancestor of the four Shankland brothers that immigrated to America circa 1750 is the Gilbert Shankland who appears on the muster rolls in County Donegal in 1631. Further, a John and a Robert Shankland appear in the Hearth Tax Rolls in 1665. In the genealogist's view, the "working genealogy" would be that this John and Robert were sons of Gilbert, and that the 1750 brothers were descendants of those three people. In Ron L's dissertation his genealogist clearly states that no other records of any Shanklands anywhere in Ireland are known to exist during that time frame.

Neither "Gilbert" nor "Shankland" are common names, and "Gilbert Shankland" is particularly distinctive.

Simon and I think that Gilbert of Scotland (or more likely his son) was brought to Ireland by the Earl of Annandale to help with the Earl's plantation. A common practice of the day was for Scottish Barons to receive land in Ireland from the King for their loyalty to the Crown. They filled the important positions on the plantations with trusted Scots, who were later known as Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots.

When William Shankland of Snow Hill, Maryland signed a petition of loyalty to William and Mary in 1689, as one of 289 signors, many of the other signors' family names appear on the same muster roll in 1631 County Donegal in Ireland - clearly Irish or Scots-Irish.

The DNA results indicate that William shares a common ancestor with the four Irish brothers. If it was Gilbert, then Gilbert was either his great uncle or Grandfather. This does not necessarily imply that William himself was from Ireland, as he may have been from a branch of the family that chose to stay in Scotland. But why did William, believed to be from Scotland, choose to go to Snow Hill rather than, say, Philadelphia, New York, or Boston? Most likely he went to Snow Hill because he was Scots-Irish and his friends or his family's friends were already there. Many times large groups went together, most of the people of a parish, community or town. William was educated, and was a land owner (soon after arriving); it is unlikely that he went as a servant or was bonded.

William was born circa 1663. His eldest son was named Robert. By Scottish naming conventions this indicates that his father's name should be Robert, and indeed his father could be the Robert Shankland mentioned in the County Donegal Hearth Tax Rolls in 1665, hence probably a grandson of Gilbert.

Chronologically the generations and dates fit this scenario.

In summary we believe that Gilbert Shankland went to Ireland from Scotland and that his grandson William and two generations later the four brothers Robert, Andrew, William, and Gilbert jnr. immigrated to America.

Regarding the names, we believe that Shanklin is an "Irishization" of Shankland that occurred over several generations and the name change (in America) from Shanklin to Shankland was not coincidental. We also guess that William thought of himself as Scottish not Irish.

All of the sparse information we have found supports this theory. Nothing directly contradicts it or gives rise to concern.

John N Shankland, May 2006