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.

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