In Defense of Descent from Farmers

I’ve been thinking about this post for some time.

There was a post on a genealogy mailing list a while back that indicated several celebrities were not asked to be on WDYTYA because they descended from generation of farmer after farmer. Woe to them—poor fools. The post was essentially based upon rumor (I think), but it got me to thinking. The stories they use on WDYTYA are rarely about “common” people. The stories are always something “dramatic,” either an involvement, a cause, a war, someone leaving his current family and starting a new one, etc. The ancestors they use for stories on WDYTYA are never homesteaders toiling on the Nebraska prairie, Ohio pioneers breaking the sod in 1810, or Mississippi farmers living a hardscrabble life in apparent anonymity.

As if there’s no drama in everyday life and as if all “farm” ancestors are boring.

As the descendant of generations of farmers–and having been raised on one myself–I take exception to the thought that’s it somehow boring to descend from generation after generation of farmers. I’ve made something of a genealogical career writing about these “common” ancestors, the vast majority of whom were farmers of both the male and female persuasion. I’ve never been ashamed of where I was born, where I was raised, or who my ancestors were.

There’s the farmer who returned to his native Germany in his sixties and, based upon land records and a little reasoning skills, set three of his sons up in farming before he left. Not many people leave their entire family in the United States in 1869 to return to Europe.

There’s the farmwife who stayed on the Nebraska homestead during the week while her husband worked on the railroad. She and four children under the age of seven home alone on the prairie during the week living in a soddie. There’s a story in their homestead records.

There’s the farmer in Colonial Virginia who brought alcohol to an election and was censured by the Virginia house in the 1740s.

There’s the farmer who probably never owned more than 80 acres in his life who when he died left it mortgaged. The widow owned a small house and lot in the nearby town. The judge declared the home “worthless” simply so it wouldn’t be sold to pay the mortgage and she’d have some place to live. That farmer forty years earlier was working as the hired man for his future mother-in-law and in 1902 testified in her Civil War pension application about the work he did, what he was paid, and the operation of his mother-in-law’s farm–in vivid detail with several others.

There’s the Maryland farmer whose farm was confiscated during the American Revolution because the owner was a British subject and the farmer’s lifetime lease made no matter. The land was sold by the Maryland Assembly to pay debts regardless of protests raised by the farmers on the land.

There’s the Kentucky farmer who was arrested in the 1820s for threatening to murder one of his neighbors.

There’s the German immigrant farmer who in his sixties learned to read English–he was already literate in German but decided it was time to take up the new language.

There’s my own grandfather (another farmer) who, in the depths of the Depression when times were hard and money scarce, sold hog houses he had built to help his younger sister pay her college tuition so she could get her teaching certificate. This is the same man who refused to purchase a TV and soda as a “waste” of money. Of course the flip side of this is that in the 1950s he spent several thousand dollars on a bull at a sale and when he brought the animal home and told Grandma what it cost she “had a fit.”

Oh, and when I said “Woe to them—poor fools,” I was referring to the producers of the show and not those with generation after generation of “boring ancestors.” Sometimes we see in others what’s really in ourselves.

And that’s probably enough…I’ve got to get back to work…

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8 thoughts on “In Defense of Descent from Farmers

  1. Michael, I have similar ancestors with similar stories. I do wish that more attention be paid to these common, everyday folk.They worked hard, took many risks, and took pride in their work. Their sacrifices were innumerable, and the perils of their livelihood changed countless lives. Their stories should be told and the ground upon which they walked revisited and respected.

    • Sometimes I think there’s this belief that rural people lived simpler lives than they did. That’s not necessarily true. Discovering their stories is just as fun as discovering anyone else’s. The genealogy “reality” shows simply think there’s little drama in rural life–and we know that’s not true 😉

  2. I love my farmer ancestors, my small shopkeepers, my postmasters in a town of 300, my factory workers and, if I find one, my trash collector. I also love my teachers, pastors, armor makers, soldiers, and merchants. It takes them all to make a family and especially to make a country. No story is more important than any other story-they all matter.

  3. My colorful tree is full of great stories- how my ancestors rescued John Severe’s (later TN first governor) and Daniel Boone’s children from the Indians, one married Davy Crockett’s sister. Some were explorers (George Rogers Clark). Some fought the Brits at Kings Mountain, the Cow Pens, and other such places near those. Who’d thought that 4 men in those battles would later have a common grandson? Who’d thought a gentleman farmer serving as a local military officer and judge would sign the Declaration of Independence (William Floyd), or plantation owners Francis Nash (Nashville namesake) would general a militia and his brother Abner govern a new country’s member state? All these were both farmers and some also served the community in other ways. And I bet the common everyday person, given sufficient time could likewise traces family members back to soe historic event in the US, colonial America or other nations.

  4. Dulcie Fusillo says:

    I am so on board with your comments Michael! The farmers of America were and still are the backbone of our wonderful country! I descend from a long line of farmers in VA, NC, SC and GA. I have recently joined a wonderful lineage society call National Society of the Descendants of American Farmers. Their goal is to honor our farmer ancestors and to aid in the development of future agriculturists. The application is probably the simplest I have ever encountered. It is a life membership. And the application process allows one to attach an approved application from any lineage society which links to a farmer, as shown by census, or other documents. The application process is very speedy and all the proceeds from supplementals filed thereafter go directly to a scholarship fund for higher education in agriculture. Win/Win!!!!!

  5. Daisy McAdams,Baugh says:

    My family were farmers in The McAdams community.
    Joshua McAdams and his Sister Mary McAdams.
    They grew all type of food crops. People would come for miles to get a hold on his crops.
    Joshua sold some and gave lots away.
    We are very proud to be a part of the McAdams family.
    Joshua Dad made it possible to build the McAdams High School for the community.
    I would love to hear or see any information on the McAdams family
    Daisy (McAdams) Baugh

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