Gingersnaps made by Bethel Miller

I loved my Grandmother’s cooking. She made great perogies (no she wasn’t Polish or Ukrainian), creamed peas on toast and ginger snaps, my favourite cookie. Her food wasn’t fancy, but it was Gramma made, in other words delicious.  One thing she couldn’t make was pie crust which, much to my disappointment, is a gene I have inherited.

Gramma and Tara

Me with my Grandmother Miller

My Grandmother, Bethel Miller (nee Jerry) was born in Hawarden, Saskatchewan on 15 March 1917.  She lived through the depression and an alcoholic husband. With 8 children she had to learn how to cook cheap and filling  meals and she excelled at making them.

Gramma taught me to bake alongside her youngest daughter. Gingersnaps was one of the things we learned to make. I remember her telling us to mix the flour and lard so the lard was pea size and wondering if she meant big or little peas.

When I married and moved away, Gramma would mail me gingersnaps because she knew how much I loved them. When she found out my husband didn’t like them she sent thumbprint cookies for him.

My sisters carry on the tradition and make gingersnaps. But unlike Gramma, they don’t mail me any (hint, hint). I am including the recipe if you would like to try them. The recipe comes from a church fundraising cookbook, that is known as The Bluebook in our family. As you can see the recipe is well used.

Gingersnap recipe

52 Ancestors – Longevity

Leah Jane Taylor nee Titchworth 1843 – 1935

My father’s mother, Bethel Miller nee Jerry,  lived to age 89. Her mother, Margaret Electa Jerry nee Cranston was 84 when she passed away and her mother, Nancy Emily (Emma) Cranston (nee Taylor) died at the young age of 78. But the person I want to talk about today is Leah Jane Taylor (nee Titchworth). It is believed she was 92 years old when she died. (The only proof that lists her birth date is  the 1901 Canada Census).

Leah Jane Titchworth was born the 2 February 1843 in Paris, Ontario to William Titchworth and Nancy Mulholland. She married Reuben Clarence Taylor, son of Jeremiah Taylor and Olivia Pettit, on 3 December 1863 in Paris. She died in Detroit, Michigan on the 5 November 1935.

In a four generation picture Leah is matriarch with her daughter, Nancy Cranston, granddaughter, Margaret Jerry, and two year old great-granddaughter, Bethel Jerry, beside her. It was said of her that “When she was pleased she smiled. When she was not pleased she looked like a thundercloud.” However, her life was hard and she may not have had a lot to smile about.

4 generations

Left to Right; Leah Taylor, Margaret Jerry holding Bethel Jerry, and Emma Cranston

The earliest record of Jane is in the 1851 Canada West Census of Paris, Brant, Ontario. At that time, Paris was a flourishing town with a population of 1,500.  In 1851, the household consists of William, Nancy, and their children; Ira, Leah, Hugh, Emily, Phoebe, and Walter. Leah’s mother,  Nancy, died sometime between the 1851 and 1861 census. In 1861, only Ira and Hugh lived with their father. Leah worked as a servant for the 86 year old Timothy O’Brien and his two sons.  At Nancy’s death Emily and Phoebe, the younger children, were sent to live with relatives. In 1861 they were with Hugh and Flora Aker in Norfolk County, Ontario.

Even though the family was split up after their mother’s death, the brothers and sisters remained in contact with each other.  Phoebe was a witness at Ira’s marriage and Emily reported that Leah was her nearest living relative in a border crossing record.  It is possible that Emily stopped to see Leah in Saskatchewan as she traveled to Seattle, Washington to visit her son.  And for the last year of her life Emily lived with Phoebe in British Columbia.

Leah married at the same time her father and sister, Phoebe, were preparing to move to Kansas, where free land grants were available. Leah’s husband, Reuben Clarence Taylor, a teacher and farmer, was twelve years her senior. Family stories say that Leah was one of his pupils and they fell in love however, records do not indicate that he taught in Paris. Reuben and Leah moved to a farm outside of Comber, Essex, Ontario and raised their children there. Between 1864 and 1875 they had seven children; Nancy Emily (Emma), Olivia Huberta (Bertie), Margaret Amelia, Jane Electa [Jennie], William John Brown, Josephine, and Thomas Aaron. The youngest child, Thomas, was mentally handicapped.

Leah expected her children to pull their weight. Thomas helped around the house as did the other children. All of her children, even the boys, were taught to knit.  Leah raised her children to be independent. The three unmarried girls all had a trade. Bertie was a milliner in Detroit, Josephine ran a store in Bethune, Saskatchewan, and Margaret worked in well-to-do homes in Essex County.

The family experienced periods of poverty. Bethel Miller was told by her Grandma Taylor [Leah] that “she should be very glad to get good food [a cold pork fat sandwich with hot homemade mustard on it] because there were times when all she had to feed her family was flour porridge and milk.”  Another indication of their poverty was that although they farmed fertile land, Reuben periodically taught nearby to earn extra money.

During the late 1800’s in Ontario Leah was busy. She raised the children, prepared meals, sewed clothes, made butter, and put up food for the winter.  With so few sons, she may have helped with the farm too.  In spite of all the work she had time to crochet and tat items which she entered into competitions at area fairs. Her handiwork was of such high quality she was often asked to judge at these fairs. She was quite proud of her work. Bethel Jerry, a great-granddaughter, was told that when someone tried to pass one of Leah’s doilies off as their own, Leah was quite indignant saying, “I guess I knew my own work when I saw it.”

In 1906 Reuben and Leah moved to Bethune, Saskatchewan with William, Josephine and Thomas. In 1912 Reuben died and was buried in the Bethune Cemetery. Leah remained in Bethune until 1920 when she and her son, Thomas, moved back to Comber, Ontario to live with Emma. The family all agreed to help out. Jennie sent raisins from her fruit farm in California.

In 1924 Margaret Jerry, Leah’s granddaughter, suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in a Saskatchewan psychiatric hospital. For five years her three children were cared for by their grandmother Cranston and great-grandmother Taylor.  Bethel Jerry remembered her great-grandmother Taylor from that time, “In 1924 when I went east, I met Grandma Taylor. She must have been 81 years. She sat and pieced quilts and knit sox and mitts at the window where the light was good. She usually had a dish of daffodils growing in a flat dish with stones and water in winter. She was a chubby and short person.”

Leah died on while visiting Bertie in Detroit and was buried beside her husband in Bethune. She was survived by seven children, eight grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. Although she had a hard life, Leah was a strong matriarch who taught her children independence and the value of hard work.

Memories of Bethel Miller, (no date), privately held by Tara Shymanski, Calgary, Canada, 2008. These five handwritten pages contain information about Reuben & Leah Jane Taylor and their family. As a child Bethel (Jerry) Miller spent from 1924 to 1929 with her relatives. All of the quotations, personal anecdotes and personal information come from these notes; Inherited in 2006 by Tara Shymanski, from her grandmother Bethel Miller.

1851 Census of Canada West, Paris, Brant County, District 2, Subdistrict 11, page 33 line 42, Microfilm Reel C-11714, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

Ontario Registrar of Deeds, Brant County, Paris 1859-1868, Instrument 1053; Archives of Ontario; FHL microfilm 170,352.

1861 Census of Canada West, Paris, Brant County, Page 25 Line 28. Microfilm Reel C-1009, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

1861 Census of Canada West, Paris, Brant County, Page 49 Line 13. Microfilm Reel C-1009, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

1861 Census of Canada West, Walshingham, Norfolk County, District 4, Line 33. microfilm reel C-1053, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

1901 Census of Canada, Tilbury West, Essex County, District 59, Subdistrict J, page 1, line 1; microfilm reel T-6466, Library and Archives Canada. Ottawa.

Ontario County Marriage Registers, 1858-1869, Brant County, p. 127, Archives of Ontario, FHL microfilm 1,030,055 [the marriage registration lists Jane’s parents as William and Nancy Titchworth

“Mrs. Leah Taylor”, obituary clipping with handwritten year, date is in text of clipping, probably from the Comber Herald, privately held by Tara Shymanski, Calgary, Alberta, 2008; Inherited in 2006 by Tara Shymanski, from her grandmother Bethel Miller.

Ontario County Marriage Registers, 1858-1869, Norfolk County, p. 129, Archives of Ontario, FHL microfilm 1,030,061

Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1956, Sumas Washington, November 1911, digital image,  (  :  accessed 4 November 2007) citing National Archives and Records Administration Micropublication M1464, 639 rolls); Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Mrs. Emily Coleman Obituary, The Victoria Daily Times, 24 October 1930, page 15, microfilm reel NJ FM 776, reel 121, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

Ontario Registrar of Deeds, Brant County, Paris 1859-1868, Instrument 1053; Archives of Ontario; FHL microfilm 170,352.

1880 United States Census, Windsor Twp., Cowley, Kansas, Enumeration District 185, p 20, line 16, digital image, Ancestry, com (http;// : accessed 3 April 2008) citing National Archives and Records Administration; National Archives, Washington, D.C.  [William Titchworth is listed with wife, Frances E.; in the 1885 Harvey, Cowley, Kansas Census William is alone but it stated he came from Canada.  As well, in the obituary of Edward Field, husband of Pheobe, we find that this family lived in Kansas prior to moving to British Columbia. Mr. Edward Field Obituary, The Victoria Daily Times, 14 July 1917, page unknown, microfilm reel 121, NJ FM 776, reel 200, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

Records of Department of Education, Annual Reports of Local Superintendents and Local Boards of Trustees, 1850 – 1870 Series RG2-17, Microfilm Reel MS 3539, Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Canada [These records do not list Reuben Taylor as a teacher in Paris for the time period 1855 – 1870.  In 1861 he is teaching while living with his father in Binbrook Twp. 1861 Canada West Census, Binbrook Twp., Wentworth, p 3, household 10, Microfilm Reel C-1085, Library and Archives Canada; Toronto, Ontario]


My favourite photograph

Henry, Joan pregnant with Tara, Willie as baby

My first thought when I saw this picture was “where am I”. There’s Mom and Dad, Gramma and Granddad Dunn and my older brother Willie. Then I realized Mom was wearing one of her maternity smocks (that’s what they wore when they were pregnant in the 1960’s). She was expecting! Over the next 11 years this would be a very normal state for her. The picture was developed in June 1960 so she’s pregnant with ME. This is the earliest picture my parents have of me. Tee hee.




Why I do family history research

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

This year I’m working on the 52 ancestors project, hoping to have fun and write some stuff about my ancestors. This week’s prompt is Start.

Giggling sunshine the four children skip and run down the back alley. It’s not really an alley, more like a path with grasses on each side almost as tall as them. Boy, girl, boy, girl. The youngest, Nancy, age 2, toddles after the others as fast as her little legs will go. They’re on the way to see Auntie Ganton. She has a huge rocking chair and always some cookies for the them. They enter the small house and Auntie goes into the back behind a black curtain, where they’re never allowed to go. Cookies! Tara and Kippy squeeze into the chair and wildly rock back and forth munching on a cookie while Willie and Nancy chatter away. Well, it’s Nancy who chatters, Willie is quiet as he eats.

Filled with cookies, they once again embrace the sun and race two houses down to the end of the lane to visit Uncle Bobby.  He sits on a chair as the children dance and do summersaults in his back yard.  The children fascinated by him; he only has one arm, play around him as he watches and says the right things.

Later that evening when Nancy and Kippy are in bed, Tara and Willie get to walk with Dad to Uncle Holmes and Aunt Edna’s store. Their apartment above the store has a fun red vinyl stool with steps that Tara loves to climb up and sit on. She’s almost as tall as her chain-smoking uncle so she feels really grown up. The children listen as their father and Uncle Holmes quietly talk.

These are a few vignettes of my childhood; a childhood that was always filled with family.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma’s were always in my life, providing old beds, couches, and sometimes food to help my parents. The little village, Lavallee, Ontario,  where I lived until I was seven was “familyville” and I’m convinced that the security and warmth that wrapped around me like a blanket is the reason I do genealogy. This was the beginning of my desire to connect with the past, find out about those relatives, and  experience those warm, comfy feelings again.



  1. Auntie Ganton, Lizzie, nee  Elizabeth McCall born 24 January 1878, Kincardine, Huron County, Ontario, Canada; married William Noble Potter, 8 March 1899, Ashfield Township, Huron County, Ontario, Canada; married Thomas Ganton date unknown; died 4 Jun 1973 Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada; no children; sister to my great-grandmother, Maggie McCall.
  2. Robert McCall, born 21 July 1880, most likely Huron County; died 10 May 1981, Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada; single, no children. He lived to almost 101 years old.
  3. Holmes Andrew Miller; born 6 May 1919, Devlin, Ontario, Canada; married Edna Richardson 2 July 1940, Pembroke, Renfrew County, Ontario; died 27 January 1992, Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada


1881 Canada Census; Robert McCall Household; Bruce South, Huron; District 176; Subdistrict A1; page 35, family 154; Microfilm C_13254; viewed Dec 3, 2016;; [database online]; Provo, Utah citing Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

1891 Canada Census; Robert McCall Household; Ashfield, Huron West; District 78; Microfilm T-6345; viewed Dec 3, 2016;; [database online]; Provo, Utah citing Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

1901 Canada Census; Wellington Potter Household; Bruce West, Huron; District 50; Subdistrict B1; page 4, family 38; ; viewed Dec 3, 2016;; [database online]; Provo, Utah citing Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

1921 Canada Census; Elizabeth Potter Household; Devlin, Woodyat, Fort William and Rainy River; District 79; Subdistrict 19; page 8; viewed Dec 3, 2016;; [database online]; Provo, Utah citing RG 31; Folder Number: 58; Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Ontario Marriage Registrations; #7690; LDS Microfilm 1870923; viewed Dec 3, 2016;; [database online]; Provo, Utah citing MS932, 695 reels; Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Bethel Miller Collection; Elizabeth Ganton Death: Copy of handwritten page of book at funeral stating birth date and death date; in possession of Tara Shymanski, Calgary Alberta

Information from family.

Devlin Municipal Office; I viewed the original registrations in the early 1980’s. No copies were made.

Fort Frances Times Obituary, 5 February 1992

Agricultural census records

While preparing for a presentation I rediscovered the Canadian agricultural census records. Not only is there one for 1861 but I was reminded an agricultural census record exists for 1851 too. The 1871 census, as well as the nominal census that lists the household members, has is a schedule for
1.  return of deaths in 1870
2.  return of public institutions, real and personal property
3.  return of cultivated lands
4.  livestock, animal products, homemade fabrics and fur,
5.  return of industrial establishments
6.  return of forest products
7.  return of shipping and fishing
8.  return of mineral products

You won’t find personal information on these other schedules but they are packed with information on how your family lived.  My 3 great grandfather, William Jerry, came to Canada from Norfolk, England between 1834 and 1837 (I discovered this in the 1851 census that listed the birthplace of his children). He lived in Pickering Township, Ontario County,  but between 1861 and 1871 moved to St. Vincent Township, Grey County, Ontario. (Once again I discovered this from the census records)

The information on the other census schedules reveals how he lived his life.  The 1871 census schedules tell me he owned 2 oxen, 1 milk cow, one horned cow, and 8 sheep. I wondered what he did with all those sheep and discovered he also had 24 pounds of wool; his wife made wool. The milk cow provided milk and 70 pounds of butter. He also had 50 bushels of peas, and 80 bushels of turnips, as well as wheat, barley, and oats. He had 20 cords of wood. This tells me he, his wife, and children worked really hard. Can you imagine picking 50 bushels of peas or chopping 20 cords of wood? That’s a lot of work.

Robert Jerry and Sarah Harriet with Albert, Herb, Edward and possibly William3

This is a picture of William’s son Robert in 1903. Robert and his wife Harriet (sitting beside each other in the centre of the picture) moved to Crozier, Rainy River District, Ontario.

You can find digitized images of the 1851, 1861, and 1871 agricultural and other census records at Library and Archives Canada. Just look under the Schedules heading. The 1861 agricultural census is indexed at Ancestry but when you search you must put “Agricultural” in the keyword box.

1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia; Robert Jary Household; Pickering, Ontario, Canada West; District 26; Subdistrict 245; Line 30; Page 39; Microfilm C_11742; accessed October 8, 2013 at; [database on-line]; Provo, Utah; Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario.

_1861 Census of Canada; William Jary Household; Pickering, Ontario, Canada West; District 5; Line 12; Page 83; Microfilm  C-1057; accessed October 8, 2013 at; [database on-line]; Provo, Utah; Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario

_1871 Canada Census; William Jerry Household; St. Vincent, Grey North; Ontario; District 37; Subdistrict H-1; Family 296; Page 86; Microfilm C-9954; accessed October 8, 2013 at; [database on-line]; Provo, Utah; Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario.

_1881 Canada Census; Charles Lee Household; Pickering, Ontario South, Ontario; District 132; Subdistrict A-1; Family 428; Page 88; Microfilm C-13244; accessed October 8, 2013 at; [database on-line]; Provo, Utah; Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario.