Lessons from Sarah’s Three Marriages

I never really did much work on the siblings of great-great-grandma Nancy Jane (Newman) Rampley (1846-1923) and recently decided to focus on her sister, Sarah.

Sarah was born in about 1851 in Rush County, Indiana. Obituaries for several of her siblings in the early 20th century indicated she lived in Macon County, Missouri, and was Sarah Graves. Online compilations contained little detail and, without any sources, was somewhat suspect. While it is suggested to research from the present to the past, I opted to research from the past to the present–starting with Sarah in the 1860 census with her parents and moving forward.

The short version is that this approach was the successful one. Marriage and census records quickly painted a tentative picture of Sarah’s life:

  • Married in 1869 to Oscar Williamson in Hancock County, Illinois.
  • Living with Oscar in 1870 in Hancock County, Illinois.
  • Something happened to Oscar and Sarah was in Macon County, Missouri, in 1880 with husband Henry Willingham.
  • Something happened to Henry and in 1900 Sarah is in Macon County, Missouri, with husband Thomas M. Graves. They had been married 15 years according to the census.

The process to get to this point is too long for one of our tips, but there are a few quick reminders here:

  • Sometimes it is best to work from the past to the present–working from the known to the unknown is usually a better approach.
  • People often “hang out” near family. Sarah had family in Hancock County during the time she lived there and also had family (other than her husband and children) in the Macon County area.
  • Short-term marriages (whether ended by death or divorce) can make women more difficult to find. Attempts years ago to locate Sarah had focused on a Newman marrying a Graves. That was not what happened.
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