Local History: Reach out to legacy families for deep archives
By Jeremy C. Nagel
Some Local History Teams are struggling to find the kind of historical material they’re looking for to share with their members. Across the spectrum of 65 county Farm Bureaus, there’s little rhyme or reason to why one’s cup runneth over and another’s office burnt to the ground in the ‘70s, leaving their Local History Team low on resources in our centennial year.
If the burnt-office scenario or some other catastrophe robbed your county Farm Bureau of its own past, all is not lost. There’s still local-ag-history gold in them thar hills—it’ll just take a little more digging to unearth it.
But it’s a fun dig. In true Farm Bureau grassroots fashion, you need to turn to your fellow farmers, particularly those with the deepest roots in the community. Every county has its own unique roster of legacy farm families; here are three quick sources for identifying them:
- Your Own People — A five- or 10-minute brainstorming session among your own committee members, and/or your county Farm Bureau board, will probably do the trick.
- Centennial Farms — Check first with your local historical society for a roster of centennial farms in your county. If you strike out there, go straight to the authorities: contact the Historical Society of Michigan via email or phone (517-324-1828). Staff there have already helped several county Farm Bureaus with exactly this request.
- Geography — Gather your favorite cronies, spread the county road map across the card table and scribble down every road that’s named after a legacy farm family.
That last suggestion I’ve mentioned to a lot of members at a lot of meetings, but before committing it to print here I figured I’d better test it out. Fortunately nobody knows the lay of the land back in my home county, Mason, better than Ron and Neva Wood.
Few people have done more for MFB’s overall centennial project over the past few years than Ron and Neva, but they also have in-depth knowledge of Mason County’s past. The pulled out the plat book and went down the list of road names.
No fewer than 81 Mason County roads are named after farm families! That doesn’t mean those pioneers’ ancestors are still living in the area—much less still farming—but it is a great starter list of people to seek out when you’re looking for a deep collection of local old farm photos.
That list is also good just by itself as a reminder to your non-farm community that agriculture is a deeply rooted component of your local landscape. It’s even more impressive in graphic form; here’s what Mason County’s farmer roads look like highlighted on a map:
That’s an impressive testament to the deep roots, impact and durability of agriculture on your local landscape, and a convincing way of communicating that impact on the many local non-farmers driving those roads every day.