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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill   9/8/2004

Beyond the Index: Since We Were Girls

This week we look at two statements from the federal Civil War Widow's Pension File of Nancy Rampley. There is one interesting statement made by two individuals who apparently had known Nancy for some time. It was hoped that locating information on these individuals might result in more information on Nancy or her family.

The two statements were taken in April of 1895. S.L. Symmonds, aged 71, of Hickory Ridge, Hancock County, Illinois, states:

"I have bin acquainted with Riley Rampley and Nancy his wife ever cince before there marage they never ware devorsed from Each other nor had any caus to be..."

S.L.'s age in 1895 would result in an approximate year of birth of 1816. p>

Margaret A. Reese, aged 46, of Hickory Ridge, Hancock County, Illinois, states:

"I have known Nancy J. Rampley since She was a small girl and have lived a near neighbor to her ever since she was married. She has never been divorced from Riley Rampley her husband..."

Margaret's age in 1895 would result in an approximate year of birth of 1849.

Both of these statements were made in front of Oscar J. Reese, Justice of the Peace.

S.L. did not indicate how long he (or she) had known Nancy and Riley, only specifying "before their marriage." Margaret is slightly more precise with her use of the phrase "small girl." While the exact meaning of the phrase "small girl" may be debatable, Margaret is indicating she had known Nancy for some time. For now, I will assume Margaret had known Nancy since Nancy was around the age of six. (Like any assumption, this is subject to revision). Nancy was born in Indiana in 1846 and lived there until her family moved to Illinois in 1863 (based upon Margaret's statement before coming to Illinois).

Where to Start?
I will start by locating Margaret in census records. Township maps of the area should be obtained before census work begins.

Nancy is known to have lived her entire married life in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois. Given that Nancy was married in 1867, I will begin with the assumption that Margaret is enumerated in or near that township in the 1870 and 1880 censuses as well (based upon her statement) and will start with the 1880 as it is the most recent.

There is one problem--I do not know Margaret Reese's marital status in 1870, 1880, or 1895 (the year of the statement). If I do not find a Margaret Reese in the 1870 and 1880 census with relative ease I will have to begin looking for marriage information on Margaret as she might not have been "Margaret Reese" in 1870 or 1880. Since census work is an integral part of this study, I made a chart indicating approximately how old S.L. and Margaret would be in each census to make my searches easier. This will help me when searching census indexes and actual census records.

Off to 1880
I decided to search the 1880 Census at because I knew a Soundex option was available at that site (note: the 1880 census is also available online at . Using the interface, I located a likely match in Walker Township: Magaretha Rieese, aged 29, born in Indiana.

This age is fairly consistent with the age of the Margaret making the 1895 statement, and this Magaretha is born in Indiana as was Nancy Newman. The census Magaretha is married to an Oscar Riesse. Could this be the same Oscar Reese who is the Justice of the Peace on Margaret Reese's statement? I'm getting more questions than answers with the census enumeration, but some connections are very likely. The entire census page was printed out.

Upon scanning the page's remaining entries, I noted a Squire Symmonds aged 55 on the same page as the Riesses. This individual's age is reasonably consistent with the age of the S. L. Symmonds from the affidavit. There may be another connection, but I decide to stay focused on Margaret.

The Oscar and Magaretha Rieese in the 1880 census had four children, ranging in age from 10 years to 3 months. Since the Rieese's children were all born in Illinois and the Rieese's were born out-of-state in different states it seemed reasonably likely they married in Illinois. The Illinois State Marriage Index was referenced, and a citation was found for:

Oscar J. Reese and Margaret Symmonds, who married in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1868. The names and date of marriage were consistent with the couple from the census and the marriage date fit the ages of the children nicely.

The pieces were starting to come together. The notary on Margaret's affidavit was Oscar J. Reese, her husband. The other man on Margaret's affidavit was S. L. Symmonds--a man who I now knew had the same last name that was Margaret's maiden name (a copy of the marriage record revealed that Margaret had not been married before her marriage to Reese, so Symmonds was her maiden name).

The census enumerations for Nancy and Margaret are summarized below. After careful examination, it appears that Squire L. Symmonds is Margaret Reese's father and is also the S. L. Symmonds who made the statement in Nancy Rampley's pension file.

The 1870 Census
I found Nancy enumerated in the 1870 United States Federal Census in Walker Township, Hancock County, Illinois. Margaret is enumerated as Margaret Reese, aged 19, in Walker Township.

The 1860 Census
In 1860, Nancy is enumerated with her parents in Princeton Township, White County, Indiana. Margaret appears to be the Margaret Simmons age 10 enumerated with Squire Simons in Harmony Township, Hancock County, Illinois.

The 1850 Census
In 1850, Nancy is enumerated with her parents in District 97, Rush County, Indiana. Margaret is not enumerated (likely because she was born after the census date), but Squire Semmons [sic] appears in Wayne Township, Marion County, Indiana.

Before We Go On
Before we continue there are some things worth noting:
- The first Margaret Symmonds was not grabbed and immediately chosen to be the "one." Searches were conducted and all "hits" were analyzed and eliminated based upon age, location, place of birth, or a combination of all three. There were actually two Margaret Symmonds in Harmony Township in 1860 and both were born in Indiana. However, the other Margaret was too young to be the desired one.
- The ages and places of birth for Squire Symmonds in all censuses were consistent enough to be the same person. There were no other reasonable matches based upon additional spelling variants.
- Margaret indicated she had known Nancy since Nancy "was a girl." Based upon the census that does not appear to be the case. Was Margaret lying? Was she confused? Next week we will get the likely answer to that question and learn why Margaret probably said she had "known" Nancy since childhood and "lived near" her since her marriage. The choice of words might not have been arbitrary.

Related Articles:

Before the Pension

Illinois State Marriage Index Hints

1880 Online Strategies: Part I

1880 Online Strategies: Part II

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 Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his website at, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2004,

Other Genealogy articles by Michael John Neill