The Archive Lady: Finding Records for Our Farming Ancestors
Margaret from Florida asks: “I enjoyed watching your latest Legacy Family Tree Webinar about finding records in archives. My ancestors were plain old farmers and I don’t think they left much in the way of records for me to search for. Can you tell me what records I could find in the archives about my farming ancestors?”
Margaret asks a great question about her farming ancestors. So many of us have ancestors that were farmers. Whether they were share croppers or worked their own farms, there could still be great records found in the archives. Besides finding the deed records for those farmers who owned their own property, a local archive can be a great place to locate other records for our ancestors that farmed.
Farming Record Types
Some of the types of records that can be found in an archive for our farming ancestors are:
Local Growers Association
Maybe your ancestor was a member of a local grower’s association. These types of organizations were started to help support their local farmers. In Houston County, Tennessee we had a Houston County Grower’s Association that assisted local farmers to be productive and successful.
The Local Mercantile
Once our ancestors grew their crop, they may have sold some to the local mercantile or feed store. If your farmer ancestor had chickens, they may have brought the eggs into town and sold them to the local mercantile for resale to the public. Many local farmers worked hand-in-hand with the local mercantile to sell their produce. These local mercantile stores kept account ledgers for such business and these ledgers could be in the archives listing your ancestor.
The Local Fair
Many of our communities held a local county fair every year. This annual event was usually held at a set location in a county to exhibit local agricultural products and livestock. Many local farmers participated at the local fair by exhibiting a sampling of their produce, crops and livestock. There were even prizes such as blue ribbons given out for the best of the best.
Women and Farming
Don’t forget the women! Farming women also worked hard on the family farm and were also members of local farming organizations and clubs. They may have been members of the local gardening club, canning club or local home demonstration club. These organizations and clubs gave the local farming women a place to share with other farming women the ups and downs of farming life. As well as s place to show their talents by growing flowers, vegetables or their prowess for canning and preserving food.
Locating Farming Records
Where in the archives will these types of farming records be found? These records will most likely be found in the manuscript collections section of the archives. They could also be found in the special collections section at a library that has genealogical and historical records. A manuscript collection is box-by-box, folder-by-folder collection of records that have been donated to the archives by individuals or organizations. A finding aid is the “road map” to a manuscript collection and should be studied to understand what is in the collection that could beneficial to our genealogy research.
Margaret has a rich family history with her farming ancestors. They were part of the local community, conducted business in town and interacted with their neighbors. There is no reason to believe there are not records to be found for our farming ancestors in archived records. It might take some digging and research, but the results could mean that we know even more about our ancestors who worked the land.
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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