Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rachel Simmons vs Rachel McGrath: The Jury Is Still Deliberating...

How many coincidences does it take to make a fact?

For as long as I've been doing this family history research, I have been looking for the parents of Rachel Jane Simmons McGrath.  Rachel died in 1896, too early in Nebraska for a death certificate at either local or state level.  I have found several snippets of information for her, but not a document that connects a little girl to a married woman.  I present my case... 

Exhibit A.  Rachel's obituary says she was born November 24, 1841.  No parents names given.  
She married John McGrath in 1858, but no exact date or location is given.  Grace Methodist Church in Cozad, Nebraska no longer exists and apparently neither do the records.  Locally no one knows what happened to them, and at Wesleyan University where Methodist records are housed from old Methodist churches throughout the state, there are very few records from Grace.  I searched myself.  

Family notes had her born in Pennsylvania.  No exact location, just Pennsylvania.  I haven't learned the trick to getting a birth certificate from Pennsylvania if there is one.  

Exhibit B.  The 1850 Mercer County, PA census.  In 1999, I searched for all Rachel Simmons' from the Family Tree Maker CD of Pennsylvania census records.  The closest one I found was in this family:
Father Lebius, Mother Ruth, Rachel is 8 years old, Rosilla 6, Louisa 4 and William 1.  Now to find a record that proves this little girl is the woman who married John McGrath.

Exhibit C.  In the old trunk in the attic was an obituary for John & Rachel's daughter Mary Rebecca Smith which gives some details on their married life.  Rebecca was born February 12, 1859 and...
"At the age of 10 years she moved with her parents to Bradford, Stark Co., IL and with her parents at the age of 16 years, moved to Henry, Marshal Co., IL.  On July 28, 1880, she was united in marriage to William Dixon Smith, at Henry, Marshal Co., IL, and started house keeping on a farm near Whitefield Corners, IL, where they resided until they moved to a farm near Eldorado, Clay Co., NE, where they made their home for 35 years living in Stockham since then.  Mr. Smith passed away May 8th 1935."
Exhibit D.  The 1860 Fulton County, Illinois census record.  John & "Jane" are in Buckhart Township with one-year-old daughter Rebecca.  I have tried to get a marriage record in Fulton County, but was told there was none.  I've also requested searches in nearby counties with no luck.

Exhibit E.  Also in Buckhart Twp just 6 households away is the family of Cyrus and Ruth Webb with 3 Simmons children, Mary 16, William 10, and Ruth 8.
Interesting, but I was unsure of this family until 2007 when I learned from fellow researcher Peggy Johnson that Ruth Webb here was formerly Mrs. Lebius Simmons.  Peggy told me about...

Exhibit F.  The marriage record of Cyrus Webb and Ruth Simmons from the "Register of Marriages 1853-1862, Ritchie County, West Virginia", Courtesy of the Ritchie County Historical Society Newsletter, July/August, 1974 Vol. 2 No. 4.  (I found this online originally, but the page is no longer up).    
"1/11 Cyrus R. WEBB, farmer, age 25, b. Harrison Co., VA, son of James & Bridgett Webb; m. Ruth SIMMONS, widow, age 28, b. Mercer Co., PA, dau of Jonathan Smith; 1 July 1854, by Thomas Stinchcomb."   
So what happened to Lebius?  But this clarifies Exhibit E.  Ruth is remarried and has more children.

Exhibit G.  A newspaper clipping that came to me from Lilly Martin Sahiounie just this year.  We had "met" through the Simmons message list years ago and have corresponded a lot on this family.  Her ancestor Rosilla Mills is the sister of Lebius Simmons AND she has a son named Lebbeus.  (Note the name Rosilla in the 1850 census.)  The newspaper clipping she shared with me, which I almost dismissed, is from 1913 and mentions "Mrs. R. M. Pettit, Cozad, Neb".  Lilly had to point out to me who the "R" was!  Young Ruth Simmons, daughter of Lebius & Ruth, married a man named Pettit.  The Illinois Marriage Index shows "William H Pettit married Ruth Maria Simonons" Oct. 4, 1868. I would have never found it with that spelling! Through census records and Find A Grave, I followed Ruth to her grave in Sterling, Colorado.  In 1900 she was living in Callaway, Nebraska very near the homesteaded land of John McGrath and 30 miles from Cozad where Rachel had died in 1896. 

Exhibit H.  A very kind soul answered a request I posted on Rootsweb Message Board for Logan County, Colorado asking for information on Ruth Pettit in Sterling where she died. He answered my post with a cemetery survey - including a .jpg copy - that shows Ruth's parents were Lebius & Maria Simmons.  Not quite how I have her name, but too close to dismiss.

This is the evidence I have.  I rest my case.

Would the jurors of "12 Angry Men" be able to conclude based on this evidence that the little girl in 1850 Mercer County, PA is the same person as the married woman in 1860 Fulton County, IL?  Is it enough to convince Juror #3 that they are one and the same Rachel?  Is it just coincidence that by 1860 Cyrus and Ruth Webb moved to Fulton County, Illinois where Rachel McGrath also lived?  It is just coincidence that Ruth Pettit married in Stark County, Illinois where Rachel McGrath lived at that time and then moved to Callaway, Nebraska just 30 miles from Cozad where Rachel McGrath died?

What other documents in a persons life might mention the place of their marriage?  Will I ever find it in writing who Rachel McGrath's parents were for sure?  I dream of finding a diary or family bible that belonged to Rachel or maybe her mother Ruth or even sister Ruth in some old trunk in an attic.

I have several documents for John McGrath who will be the subject of my next post. None of them have the answer.

This is a Solomon Butcher photograph of the McGrath homestead cropped in close to Rachel & John.  My mom has this photo.

It seems wrong to have a favorite person among people I've never even met, but I can't help but have a little extra compassion for Rachel.  Her father died before she was 13, he was only about 34. Her young sister Louisa may have died before the age of 14.  Her sister Mary Rosilla got married in 1861 to James Jackson Davee, had 2 children and died between 1864 and 1866 at about age 22. Her mother Ruth died before 1866 at about 46 years old.  Rachel herself lost 2 children in the 1860's and she only lived to be 54.  I have never found death dates or locations for any of them.  I can't help but feel for her losses.

Thank you for hearing my case.  Let me know how you vote!


  1. Your evidence is all circumstantial, but I still find her guilty of being the daughter of Lebius and Ruth Smith – Simmons!!

    1. Thanks for reading, Charles. I agree. Still the search continues.