Melissa Barker, aka The Archive Lady, reviews various ways to locate records for your farming ancestor!
Judy in Arkansas asks: “My ancestors were farmers in the South. In fact, I have been told they were very involved in the local farming clubs. How do I find my ancestors in records relating to farmers and farming clubs?”
Judy asks a great question about farming ancestors. Many of our ancestors were farmers. They may have owned their own farms or maybe they were share croppers. It can be difficult to locate records for farmers beyond the deed records created when they purchased the farm. This is where a local archive can be gold mine for the genealogist and their farming ancestors.
First, let’s remember that an archive can be any place that collects and preserves documents, photographs, memorabilia and artifacts. Even if the building or name of the archive doesn’t have the name “archive” in the title, it could be a place to find your ancestor’s records. Places such as libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, university libraries and archives and even museums have records and are considered an archive. Searching every place where records are being collected and preserved is how we will find fantastic records for our ancestors and especially our farming ancestors.
So what types of records can you find for your ancestors that were farmers? In local cities and towns there were sometimes groups or clubs that were strictly for the local farmer.
One such group could be the local Agricultural Extension Service. In Tennessee, this organization is operated through the University of Tennessee and has offices across the state. They provide information on a variety of subjects, ranging from landscaping to nutrition, from animal health to family money management. Historically, they have been an organization that has been a supporter of the local farmer. One of the programs they support is the 4-H Youth Development Program. This program encourages the local youth to participate in farming, gardening, showing cattle and other farm related events. (https://extension.tennessee.edu/Pages/default.aspx)
Maybe there was a local growers association or club in which your farming ancestor was a member. Many of these types of associations or groups were started to help support the struggling farmer. In Houston County, Tennessee, we had the Erin Grower’s Association that was active in the 1920’s. In the Houston County, Tenessee Archives we have a wonderful document listing the members of the Erin Grower’s Association dated 1921. This document is a rare document that lists many of the farmers and growers in the area and would be a fantastic record for any genealogist researching an ancestor that was a farmer in this area.
Also, don’t forget the women! The farming women also worked hard and were also members of local organizations or clubs that had to do with gardening and farming. Maybe they were a member of the gardening club, canning club or local home demonstration club. These groups produced records such as membership lists, newsletters and scrapbooks. These groups may have even published news and events in the local newspaper. For instance, Mrs. P.L. Cook of Tennessee Ridge won a prize for her 1,000 jars of preserved foods at the Greater Home Gardens Contest in Nashville, Tennessee. This event was published in Mrs. Cook’s local newspaper “The Stewart-Houston Times” on October 9, 1946.
So, where in an archive would these records be found? These types of records will be found in the Manuscript Collection section of an archive. Or they could be found in the Special Collections section of a library. They could be found in the individual organizations records or they could be found in personal records that have been donated to the archives. A Manuscript Collection is a box-by-box, folder-by-folder collection of records that have been donated by individuals or organizations to an archive. Organizations and clubs that were for the benefit of the local farmer could have produced records and they can be located in Manuscript Collections.
The next time you think there are just no records for your farmer ancestor, check to see if there are any records for the local farming organizations or clubs. Maybe your ancestor was a member or participated in local farming events and there are surviving records.
Melissa Barker’s Legacy Quick Guides
It’s Not All Online: Researching in Libraries and Archives
Contains useful information including how to find an archive and prepare for a visit, a list of record types and tips on research strategy, tips on making records requests, and more.
You Can Now Follow The Archive Lady on Facebook
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.
©2019, copyright Melissa Barker. All rights Reserved.