Friday, August 31, 2012


It’s Labor Day weekend. Step away from the computer and enter the world of your farmer ancestors by visiting historic village and farm museums. Instead of typing birth and death dates into your family tree, let’s experience what the world was like for farmers over 100 years ago. Many of my ancestors were farmers, and you probably have your share of farmer ancestors too. 

One of my favorite historic farm museums is The Farmers' Museum ( in Cooperstown, New York. It is a re-created 19th century historic rural community.  The museum features the Lippitt Farmstead, a group of buildings that includes two barns and six outbuildings, animal sheds, a smoke house, and the farmhouse. There is an old-fashioned tavern, general store, pharmacy, doctor’s office, church and much more. I visited there a few years back and loved every minute of it. 


There are museums similar to this in many states.  In Michigan, for example, Greenfield Village ( has a working 1880s-style farm. You can enter the farmhouse and watch folks cook, look at the decorations and examine the furniture.  The actors and actresses, dressed in authentic apparel, are knowledgeable about that period in history. Visit the barn. Enjoy the livestock.


Although I haven’t been there in years, Old Sturbridge Village (  is another museum that has a working farm and many other historic re-creations. The period represented is 1790-1840.

Here are few more historic farms and villages that I found on the Internet:

If you happen to be in England, check out the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading ( This museum contains a comprehensive collection on the history of farming. It houses records of major agricultural manufacturing firms, historic information on agricultural organizations and cooperatives, personal records and journals of farm workers, and company accounts of farms across and films about the English countryside and agriculture.(1) If you have English ancestors, this website is worth your time to explore. 

These living history museums will give you a chance to walk in your ancestors’ footsteps and get some exercise!


“Time Capsule: Farm Life” by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, Family Tree Magazine, December 29, 2010 ( accessed August 31, 2012). 

Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Jonathan Brown (St. Peter Port, England: Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2011). ( accessed August 31, 2012).


(1) The Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading ( accessed August 31, 2012).

Monday, August 27, 2012


On my recent trip to Boston I allocated three hours of my vacation to explore the famous New England Historic Genealogical Society.  That was not nearly enough time but, unfortunately, my vacation landed on two of the days when they are closed—Sunday and Monday.

99 Newbury Street 

I picked my hotel (The Back Bay Hotel) specifically because it is one of the closest to the NEHGS.  At 9 a.m. sharp on Saturday I arrived at the great door of the Society.  A woman arrived and let me and a man from Vermont inside.  I was in awe, almost trembling with excitement. (This genealogy thing really is scary.) I signed in at the desk. Members can research for free; visitors have to pay $15 for the day.  Nearby, I spotted the bookstore so I could not resist. I quickly found two books of interest:

  • Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More, edited by Michael J. Leclerc and Henry B. Hoff (Boston, MA : New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2006).

  • New York Essays: Resources for the Genealogist in New York State Outside New York City, Marian S. Henry (Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2007).

I paid for these at the main desk and received a 10% discount because they are published by the NEHGS.


Before my visit, I had printed out a list of the books and manuscripts I wanted to review.  The lady in charge told me to go to Floor Five, which houses the local history collections. I took the elevator and grabbed a table.  The adrenaline was pumping.  The shelves were clearly marked, and I spotted the Tennessee section right away.  One of the books I wanted to review was Perry County, Tennessee: History and Families 1820-1995 (Perry County, Tennessee: Perry County Historical Society, 1994). This book turned out to be a goldmine of information for my Horner line with a bit of information on my Brashear side.


In all my cleverness, I had brought along my new Flip-Pal and extra batteries.  I did a few scans and then got a Battery Exhausted message. But, fear not, I had brought extra batteries.  I popped in two new batteries but I continued to get a Battery Exhausted message.  Not to worry. I had a backup. I turned to my digital camera, which I used extensively.  In addition, I purchased a copy card on the Sixth Floor for reproducing extra special items—copies are 25 cents each.  (I later learned back in Michigan that the Flip-Pal requires four batteries. Note to self:  Know your equipment better before you venture out on a research trip.)


On my list of must-see items were two manuscripts—(1) Records of the First Congregational Church of Westmoreland, Oneida County, New York and (2) Cemetery Inscriptions from Brookfield and South Brookfield, Madison Co., NY,  by Harry Emmett Bolton. I asked the gentlemen seated at the main desk on Floor Five how to obtain manuscripts. He said that I needed to complete a form for each one and that he would retrieve them for me. However, he continued, you are only allowed to examine one manuscript at a time and if I wanted photocopies, he must make them. He added that digital photography was allowed.  I carefully examined each manuscript, but I found no people from my family tree.  It was a learning experience.


I continued my research on Floor Five by exploring the very large New York history section.  I gathered the books I had on my list as well as many others. I scanned the pages for relevant information on my family while keeping an eye on the clock. After reviewing books, you are to place them on a cart; the NEHGS does not want you to put them back on the shelves.  These are the rules and I respect them, having worked in libraries often during my lifetime.


A few surprises for me among the random books I gathered:  I found the marriage date for one of my Taylor ancestors in Index of Marriages from Buffalo Newspapers 1811-1884 (Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1999) and I found a marvelous book entitled Guide to Historical Resources in Oneida County, New York Repositories (Ithaca, New York: New York Historical Resources Center, 1983).

As the morning started to fade away, I noticed that the tables were filling all around me and that there were genealogists helping patrons with their family histories.  


At last the bell tolled (it was noon) and I had to leave. I made one last quick stop at the bookstore and bought:
  • Puritanism: A Very Short Introduction, Francis J. Bremer (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009).

I realized as I rushed out that I had missed a few floors, but I was like Cinderella with a deadline. In summary, I loved every minute of my visit. Unfortunately, I don’t live in Massachusetts and visiting Boston frequently could quickly cost an arm and a leg.  Instead, I plan to utilize the services of the NEHGS experts from afar.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll plan another trip to Boston next year. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012


My husband is a patient man. We just returned from a vacation in Boston where I managed to drag him through three cemeteries:  Central Burying Ground, King’s Chapel Burying Ground and the Granary Burying Ground.  These cemeteries are filled with famous people (Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and more), but what enthralled me was the “art” on the gravestones. Walking among the tombstones was like browsing through a great museum.  The stones largely reflect the Puritan symbolism as the religion progressed through time.  In the late 1600s, the stones had winged skull death heads symbolizing physical death.(1)

Winged Skull Death Heads

The winged cherub or angel head arrived on tombstones in the 1700s. This symbolized man’s immortal side, but it suggested life rather than death, and the joy of resurrection.(2)

Winged Cherub or Angel Head

In the early 1800s, the urn and the willow became popular themes. The urn symbolizes the remains of human life; the willow represents the mourning over the loss of earthly life and the joy of celestial life. (3)

Urn and the Willow

If you want to read more about early New England burial grounds or if you have ancestors buried there, you might want to check out these books:
  • Boston’s Copp’s Hill Burying Ground Guide by Charles Chauncey Wells, Chauncey Park Press, Oak Park, Illinois 1998.
  • Preachers, Patriots & Plain Folk by Charles Chauncey Wells and Suzanne Austin Wells, Chauncey Park Press, Oak Park, Illinois 2004.
Along with history and informative stories, these books contain maps of the cemeteries and the names of known people who are buried there. My Cutler line came into what is now Boston in the early 1600s. I noticed that there are Cutlers buried in a few of these cemeteries, so now I need to see if and where they belong on my family tree.

The following links will provide you with some good information on gravestone symbolism:

And, finally, here is my favorite gravestone from my trip.  I see a man’s face with piercing eyes, a long nose and a white beard. My husband sees a cross. What do you see?


1. Charles Chauncey Wells and Suzanne Austin Wells, Preachers, Patriots & Plain Folks (Oak Park, Illinois: Chauncey Park Press, 2004), p. 20.

2.  Gravestones & Puritanism, ( accessed August 25, 2012).

3. Ibid., Gravestones & Puritanism.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Frederick Boyser, the husband of my grand aunt, Winifred Williams, served in World War I.  I found these pictures from his duty there and thought they should be shared. I am so glad Uncle Fred remembered to label his photographs. Any military buffs out there?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ancestral Occupations: Railroad Conductor

When you die, what will the obituary say? Aside from the date of death, age, family members and funeral details, the obituary will discuss your occupation—how you spent your time on earth.  An ancestor’s occupation is an important component of your genealogy record on an individual.

How do we discover what our ancestors did for a living? These are some of the places I check after rummaging through family scrapbooks:

  • Historical newspapers 
  • Census (federal and state)
  • Military records
  • City directories
  • Passenger lists
  • SS-4 forms

As an example, I will use my Uncle Fred Boyser, who was a conductor for the Lackawanna Railroad in New York.

Frederick Boyser

After you find your ancestor’s occupation, you should research that field.  These are some of the “railroad career” sites I found, but there are many more:

U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (

Working on the Railroad : a Biography of my Father, Ross D Stong

Riding the Rails Up Paper Mountain: Researching Railroad Records in the National Archives  by David A. Pfeiffer

Cyndi’s List: Railroads (

Central New York Chapter National Railway Historical Society (

Remember that occupations run in families. In my research I discovered that my Uncle Fred’s father (Louis Boyser) was also a conductor.

Often there were trade organizations or clubs for a certain line of work.  In reviewing the contents of Fred’s wallet, I found this card:

I then found the following website that discusses this organization:

Guide to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Records, 1883-1973 

Fred’s father was a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Conductors. Here is a website that examines a society for railway conductors:

Guide to the Order Of Railway Conductors And Brakemen Records, 1868-1969

There were even organizations for the wives of trainmen. Anna, Louis Boyser’s wife, was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.

Learning about an ancestor’s occupation gives you an insight into what their lives were like.  Put yourself in your ancestor’s shoes. Spend the day with them, so to speak, and think about what they experienced.  Fred was away from home quite a bit, possibly making it hard on his marriage.  On the other hand, he got to travel and meet many people. I have been told that Fred used to brace his arm against the wall of the rumbling caboose to steady himself. Apparently, he was so used to that routine that he braced his arm against the wall at home too.  Working on the railroad was financially rewarding: Fred retired after 48 years to spend his winters in Florida and his summers at Verona Beach, New York.

Most of us have to work the majority of our lives, and the jobs define us in many ways. So be sure to explore the jobs of your ancestors.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


When is the last time you sent a postcard? Years ago every time someone went on vacation they sent postcards to their loved ones back home. Postcards have changed over the years. If you would like more details on the timeline and design of postcards, see "A History of Picture Postcards" ( Postcards are still around, but it seems to me that now people would rather upload their digital photographs and e-mail shots of their travels than take the time to buy a postcard, find a stamp and locate a mailbox.

Vintage postcards are a goldmine waiting to be mined on eBay. Many of the pictures displayed on postcards are relevant to genealogy:
  • Hospitals
  • Schools and universities
  • Churches and synagogues
  • Court houses and town halls
  • War memorials
  • Cemeteries
  • Local businesses
Postcards of this type will help you identify the names of churches where your ancestors may have worshipped, schools where they were educated and hospitals where they were born or died. A monument honoring war veterans just might contain the name of someone from your family tree. 

In addition, it is always fun to get a feel for an ancestor’s home. You will find postcards with pictures of:
  • Scenic vistas (rivers, beaches, waterfalls, mountains)
  • Street scenes
  • Parks
  •  Hotels/motels
  •  Libraries and museums
  • Bridges

It is wonderful to find dates of births and deaths, but I want to envision the world of my family. My Welsh ancestors resided in Utica, New York, and had a business on Bleecker Street. This postcard entitled “Bleecker Street from Busy Corner, Utica, New York” shows an early 20th century picture with horse-drawn carriages and women wearing long dresses. This was the environment of my grandparents and my grand aunts and uncles. The postcard gives me a sense of what my ancestors saw and what life was like for them. I keep the postcard in an acid-free sleeve in my Williams surname binder.

If you are really lucky you will find a postcard with writing to or from an ancestor. The following is a postcard I found at home from my grandmother to my mother. The card (postmarked 1955) shows Playworld Toy Shop in Utica, New York; I happen to know that my grandmother worked there. When you find a postcard like this you have placed the sender and receiver in a particular location at a specific time. This is good information for finding other records.

Sometimes postcards are just plain fun. The following is a postcard that my Aunt Wynn sent to her sister Bell in February of 1962. Wynn was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, while poor Bell was freezing in Utica, New York. Notice how Wynn states that it is a “very hot day”!

Do a search on eBay today and see what treasures you will find. If you don’t find what you are looking for, set up an alert so you will be notified when a relevant item comes up for bid. Also, look around your attic or basement for old postcards. This is one more tool we can put in our genealogy toolkit.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Martha Brashear Taylor Ranke


Female ancestors are a special challenge. How do we learn about them? There are items we have been given—documents, letters, pictures, dishes, artwork, recipes, jewelry, aprons, mirrors, tablecloths, samplers, quilts and the list goes on. My grandmother Martha Brashear Taylor Ranke was a lovely combination of French Huguenot ( and Scots-Irish ( She was born in Barrie, Ontario, Canada but moved to Clinton, New York ( at a young age. Grandma Taylor was an artist of sorts—an excellent cook, a meticulous seamstress and an expert knitter.  I remember the knitted mittens (quite handy in Central New York) and new dresses I received every Christmas. To this day I have the sock monkey she made for me when I was a child.

Not only was my grandmother talented domestically but she had other “out in the world” skills. Imagine my surprise when I found her listed as the U.S. Census enumerator for Westmoreland, New York in 1930. Her handwriting was neat and her spelling was excellent. Genealogists will love her handwriting and spelling skills.

(see citation below)

One of the best ways to learn about women is to explore historical newspaper sites such as the free and fabulous, a site devoted to historical papers in New York State.  Searching for women can be tricky.  Often you won’t find a female ancestor’s first name but you will find her as Mrs. [husband’s name].  This is how I located many tidbits about my grandmother.  I had heard that she worked at a college after my grandfather died. Using, I discovered that she had worked for several years at Oneonta College as a house mother.  I knew that she loved to go to church on Sunday and, again using, I learned that she was a member of the Taberg Methodist Church.  At another time she was involved with the Lairdsville Ladies Aid Society. I even learned that she had the mumps in 1934, when she would have been about 36. Newspapers were different back then; they discussed an everyday event in the paper as if it was grand and important news, and I am so glad that they did.

Finding cookbooks from your ancestor’s home town is another way to learn about your female ancestors. Check out Gena Philibert-Ortega’s new book From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes  (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2012) ( Unfortunately, I don’t have any of my grandmother’s recipes so I have eBay alerts set up to let me know when a Taberg, Clinton,Westmoreland or Lairdsville community or church cookbook comes up for sale. My grandmother willed me her china, and I have carried it around the country with me throughout my life.  Cooking and entertaining were important to her.

Martha Brashear Taylor Wratten lived to be 74 after struggling with breast cancer.  She is buried in Sunset Hill Cemetery (, a picturesque cemetery in Clinton, New York, home to Hamilton College.  I am a member of the Clinton Historical Society (

Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Westmoreland, Oneida, New York; Roll: 1623; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 169; Image: 722.0; FHL microfilm: 2341357.
Source Information: 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002.
Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.