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  Michael John Neill – 4/24/2001

'Rampin' Up the 1880 Census

When the 1880 census images recently came online for Hancock County, Illinois, I decided I would try and locate my Rampley familes in these records, starting from scratch. My review of these entries reminded me of several considerations when searching for families in census records.

Note: Images of the census entries discussed in this article can be viewed at

Spelling Variants
There are several difficulties in the numerous census entries for various members of this family. In one instance the surname is spelled Ramlei instead of Rampley. This would have been easy to overlook. The fact that the name of the husband and wife and the seven children enumerated all match for the known family of Riley and Nancy Rampley is a pretty good indication that the Ramleis are in fact Rampleys. The alternate spelling is not one usually encountered when searching this family. While there are many reasons for spelling variants, the likely reason in this case is that the census enumerator was of German birth.

Soundex Won't Catch Everything
This is a variant spelling that will not be caught by a search of the 1880 Soundex for this family (Rampley is Soundexed as R514 and Ramlei is Soundexed as R540). In this case, I searched Walker Township first for Riley and Nancy Rampley as I knew they were likely living there in 1880, based upon other records (most notably birth records for their children). When searching for any family in the census, I keep their first names in mind in addition to the surname when I am viewing the individual entries.

Occasionally, I have initially overlooked a "far off" variant, but "caught" the first names and upon re-looking at the surname realized it was a variant of the surname for which I was searching. Looking only for the surname and ignoring the first names (if known) may cause me to overlook desired entries.

Look For Other Family Members and Neighbors
In this case, it is worth noting that the next entry is for Thomas Ramplie, a brother of Riley.

Pretend for a moment that I did not know the likely location of Riley and Nancy in the census and I had used the 1880 Soundex on microfilm in order to locate them. Given the spelling of their surname on the actual census form, I might have reasonably not located them on their Soundex card. However, given the unusual nature of the surname, an effective research practice would have been to look for other families with the Rampley surname. I would have then located the Soundex card for Thomas Rampley.

Upon finding Thomas Rampley's entry (as Ramplie), I should have at least looked at all the entries on this page and the page before and the page after. By doing this, I would likely have found Riley and Nancy Ramlei (the desired) family. Riley is listed directly above Thomas on the census form. Searching for siblings and extended family members is always a good idea.

Mother Born in New Jersey?
The 1880 census entries of Riley and Thomas indicate their mother was born in New Jersey. Elizabeth, their mother, is listed in the 1880 census with a Pennsylvania birthplace. Every other record on this woman indicates she was born in Pennsylvania and all records indicate she was the mother of Thomas and Riley. It appears that this census birthplace for Elizabeth listed by Thomas and Riley, is incorrect. One should not place great stock in birth information listed in a census record, especially birthplaces of parents.

It is interesting that only the two brothers enumerated as neighbors indicated their mother was born in New Jersey. The mother and her other children are also enumerated in this same township and their census entries all indicate a birthplace of Pennsylvania. Is it possible that the second one simply said "put down what brother did?" I'll never know, but I do wonder if this is how the "error" was duplicated.

What if the Family Had Not Been Located?
If I believed the family lived in Walker Township and a search of the township had not located the family, then a search of the 1880 Soundex might have been in order. However, for many, the Soundex is not readily available or does not include the family for a number of reasons (see Soundex articles linked at the end of this article). If the researcher has ready access to the census, then a manual search is in order. In this case, locating a map is helpful.

Get Thee to a Map
Maps are especially helpful for those areas with which the researcher is not familiar. In rural areas and smaller towns and villages (the focus of this article), township maps are frequently sufficient in order to use census records as enumeration districts frequently follow township boundaries. The USGenWeb page ( go to state and county) for the county under study is an excellent place to start looking for maps online.

The 1895 Atlas Site ( will list towns and villages from that era and show their relative location. However these maps do not show township lines, which are frequently necessary to locate rural ancestors in the census.

There are also offline print township maps in plat books and in many cases a modern plat book will be sufficient for this purpose. Some county histories have township maps as do old plat books showing farm ownership. It is possible that some of these materials may be available for loan through the Family History Library. Readers may also wish to post questions about township maps to appropriate geographically based genealogy mailing lists.

A map for Hancock County, showing the townships, was located at: A search of Rocky Run, Wythe, and St. Albans Townships would initially be tried in this case. There are other nearby townships in the county, but starting with those that share borders is a good initial approach, continuing with those that share a corner. Additionally in this case, the southern border of Walker Township is the Hancock-Adams County line. If I knew approximately where in the township the family lived, that information would be helpful as well.

Several maps of Adams County, Illinois showing the townships were located, including: and Based upon these maps, it appears that Keene Township in Adams County would be another place to look for this family if they did not show up in the Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois Census.

Where Did You Get the Maps?
The USGenWeb page for the county under study as mentioned is an excellent place to start. However there are other approaches. I searched on for:

"map township [county name] county [state name]"

(Leave out brackets). This search resulted in several hits and I quickly located the maps referred to in this article. However, not all counties have township maps online and researchers may need to refer to offline maps as an aid in their census research.

Misspellings and geographic considerations can impact our searches for family members in the census. Researching the extended family and utilizing what information we have about their residence may help to overcome these difficulties. Combining this with adequate maps reduces the chance families cannot be located in the census.

In future articles, we'll discuss additional families from various census records and how difficulties in locating these families and in interpreting their records can be minimized. Note the word "eliminated" was not used!


Soundex Part I

Soundex Part II

Copyright 2001, Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing.

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