top of page

The Most Powerful Weapon

Time for another addition of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. This week's prompt? Education.

Education hasn't been a significant focus of my personal research. A 1st cousin 10x removed purportedly attended Harvard and one of my great grandfather's went to Fordham University, according to one newspaper article.

The 1940 US Federal Census asked for each person's highest grade of school completed. Of the thirteen great and second great grandparents who I have located in this record set, an overwhelming 77% stated they had only achieved an 8th grade education.

Apparently, at the turn of the 20th century, it was common for high schools to have entrance examinations. It's estimated that fewer than 5% of the population attended high school. Most students were expected to be ready for a job or a family after junior high school.

One ancestor, however, claimed to only have had a 6th grade education.

If you have known me for more than five minutes, you have heard me talk about my second great grandfather, Francis "Frank" Marion Taylor. He was the winning horse trainer at the Kentucky Derby in 1912. (A remarkable accomplishment which had been forgotten with time before I started on my genealogical journey.) According to the 1940 US Federal Census, Frank had only completed the 6th grade.¹

There was a remarkable magazine article published about Frank in the Turf And Sport Digest in September 1936. The article gives an interesting glimpse into Frank's earlier years and the education he underwent to become a successful horse trainer. According to the article, "...young Taylor slipped from his bed at cock-crow, dressed in haste and silence, and sped away to keep a rendezvous with a circus man who had promised him a job with the elephants. This was in St. Joe, Missouri, along about the time that a son of Bonnie Scotland and Nevada was writing the name of Luke Blackburn into the golden tapestry of Racing's history."²

To the best of my interpretation of the reference regarding Luke Blackburn, I believe Frank ran off to, literally, join the circus in about 1880. This would make him about eleven years old and aligns with approximately that of a sixth grader.

Fortunately for this story, it appears that Frank never made it quite as far as the elephants, but instead grew enchanted by the Thoroughbred horses. A man named Bob White is credited with teaching Frank how to water, feed, groom, and care for the horses and after about a year, gave him the opportunity to gallop and exercise them in the afternoons.

Frank purportedly spent two years with Bob before moving on to another gentleman by the name of Dave Cottle where he learned to ride races over the "Missouri Valley circuit, with occasional forays into Kansas and "The Territory," as Oklahoma then was known."

The education Frank gained from both Bob White and Dave Cottle was perhaps untraditional. Frank's life and career weren't always glitz and glamour. There are several references to hardships over the years. However, the skills learned from these two men were undeniably invaluable in Frank's accomplishments and successes throughout the rest of his life.


1. 1940 U.S. census, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 103-2683, sheet 13B, household 89, Frank Taylor; Ancestry ( : accessed 22 January 2023); citing NARA Roll T627.

2. Cervin, Paul. "The Biography of a Man." Turf and Sport Digest (September 1936) : pgs 28-29, 78-79.


Disclaimer: Each blog post is created and presented for marketing and entertainment purposes only but are based on larger research which adheres to the standards of The Board of Certification of Genealogists® as set forth in Genealogical Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry Imprint, Turner Publishing, 2014).

47 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page