The File That Wouldn’t Tell Me Anything

Nancy J. Rampley, etal.
vs. Charles W. Rampley etal., Case file 391,
Hancock County Circuit Clerk’s Office, Carthage, IL.

It is always best when the files are fat and thick.

I first discovered this court case nearly thirty years ago, early in my research when my knowledge of court records, inheritance, research methods, and life in general was much smaller.

I simply wasn’t able to afford a copy of the entire file and so I copied one document that listed the names of all the parties and real estate involved.

The case appeared pretty simple. Riley Rampley died in 1893 with no will, a wife, and eleven children. The document that I copied indicated that the youngest child was too young to sign a deed and I thought that was the only real reason why the case was filed. I also thought that there wasn’t anything else I could learn from the case.

And I never looked at it again until this week.

I only meant to take a quick look–I was actually looking for something else. I really wasn’t intending to read the entire file again. After all, there wouldn’t be anything in it that would really help me and I already “knew everything” about this family.

I knew when they were born. I knew when they married. I knew when they died. And, for the most part, I knew where they lived. Reading it wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.

I was wrong.

The original bill filed by Nancy and her son William named the tenants on the Riley Rampley farm: Charles and Fannie (Rampley) Neill. I didn’t know they had rented her father’s farm early in their marriage. That was news to me. It also became apparent that the Neills weren’t going to be able to purchase the farm and that the partition suit being filed by Nancy and William effectively evicted them from the property.

The farm was originally to be auctioned at the west door of the Hancock County courthouse. The judge changed the location to the West Point post office–most likely because it was significantly closer to the farm. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, one of the notices was posted at the Breckenridge telephone building. I never dreamed the village of Breckenridge would have had a telephone office in 1909.

The final payment of expenses indicated that one of the Rampley children obtained a judgement from one of their siblings and that the amount of the judgement was attached to their inheritance. I wasn’t even aware that Justices of the Peace could hear “small” claims in the early 20th century and issue judgements.

And, my great-grandmother “couldn’t be found” in 1909 when the sheriff came a knocking to give her notice of the partition suit.

All from a case file that I thought “wouldn’t tell me anything.”

What files have you really not gone through?

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