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.

When You Find Someone In the Census

When you find a relative in a census, do at least the following:

  • make certain you are looking at the actual enumeration and not a transcription or an index;
  • make certain you know what all the headings stand for;
  • make certain you have the entire entry–some are split over multiple pages;
  • know whether the census was taken on one or multiple pages for each entry–some are both on the left and right hand page;
  • look at adjacent households for a few pages before and afterwards;
  • compare the handwriting of other entries to make certain you transcribe as accurately as possible;
  • make certain you know the census year, state, county, and other political/address information contained in the enumeration;
  • make certain you have the page number and indicate where the page number is on the page (upper left, upper right, etc.) and whether it is handwritten or stamped–this is particularly important if there are multiple page numbers on one page…not so crucial if there’s only one page number per page;
  • have the household and dwelling numbers;
  • compare the information to other known details about the family to make certain you have the “right” people.


Kids Say the Darnedest Things

When a child gives information on their parent, it comes from second hand knowledge. It also could be given decades after the event took place. This information can be incorrect, but keep in mind the child did not witness parental birth information first hand. Even erroneous places should not be ignored however as there may be a reason for the wrong place of birth. Children of one ancestor always said she was born in Illinois, which was correct. Except for one record which said she was born in Ohio. Years later, I learned the parents met in Ohio, married there and immediately moved. Ohio was wrong, but it was a clue.

Draft Registrations are Not Military Service Records

Records of military draft registrations are not the same as military service records. Draft registration requirements have varied over time and usually required males of a certain age to register. There may also have been citizenship requirements (or not) and the upper end of the registration age may not be what a person expects. Draft registrations serve as a quasi-census of those who were required to register. The appearance of a name on a registration does not imply that the person actually saw military service. They should be searched whenever a “person of interest” fit the registration qualifications.

A Connection You Don’t See

Always keep open to the possibility that your relative and a contemporary may have had more than one relationship. Just because you’ve figured out a connection does not mean that there were not others. Second cousins could have been in-laws. Step-siblings could have been cousins. Individuals who were related because their mothers were sisters could have had fathers who were also first cousins. Never assume that because you have one relationship figured out that there could not be another one. It may be that the second relationship is the one that yields more genealogical information or helps to explain things about your relative that don’t quite make sense.

When a Usually Reliable Record is “Wrong”

The early 1900s will of an ancestor named a granddaughter Katherine to whom a significant amount of money was left. The will was determined to be valid and was admitted to probate. The family had been extensively researched and no granddaughter with this name had been located. The executor of the will (a son of the will’s writer) in his initial report indicated he knew of no granddaughter Katherine. In the final report the executor stated that there was a granddaughter whose middle name was Katherine and, since she was not named in the will by her first name and her siblings were all named, it was concluded that this was the individual to whom the will writer was referring.

Civil birth and church baptismal records of this individual did not refer to her by the name of Katherine. She’s also been extensively researched and the estate settlement for her grandmother is the only place where she is referred to by Katherine. There’s a few lessons here:

  • any record can be wrong;
  • what appears to be wrong might not be wrong;
  • read the entire file or set of records;
  • not everyone knows the names of their nieces and nephews.


When Your Research Crosses a Border

Eventually your genealogy research will cross a border–a geographical one, a political one, or a chronological one. When it does, ask yourself:

  • How is research different here than where I searched before?
  • What different sources are there in this location/period?
  • Are there any ways the research methods are different?
  • Are there cultural differences I need to be aware of?
  • Is there any other way that the research is “different?”

Not realizing that research in a new location or time period could be different may lead to additional research roadblocks.

There’s Always an Assumption

It’s easy to make an assumption about the relative you are researching. Some assumptions cause us to look in the wrong place. Some assumptions can cause us to connect people who are not really connected. And some assumptions can make think information is inconsistent when it really is not. Generally, assumptions are any statements that cannot be backed up with some sort of documentation. Incorrect assumptions can hinder our research.

And sometimes they don’t really “hinder” our research, but keep us thinking things that are not necessarily true. My Irish immigrant ancestor was a farmer after he settled in Illinois in the 1870s. I assumed that all his family back in Ireland were farmers as well. They were not and held other non-farm occupations. It was an assumption that I had made. It really did not hinder my research, but the discovery has made me realize that my ancestor was different from his relatives in a way that I had not expected.

Was There an Supplemental Addition to That Certificate?

The death certificate for Granville Lake (died 1946 Marcelline, Linn County, Missouri) contains an omission: the year of birth. Part of Granville’s death certificate is shown along with this post entry.

This certificate was located on the Missouri State Archives Death Certificate website.
The year of birth is a detail I would like to have. On the Lake certificate, like others from this era, there is a supplemental certificate to correct the omission. It always pays to read the entire document or see if an additional document is filed after the first one has been located. Of course, they had to stamp “supplementary” OVER the year of birth, but it is still legible (1863).