Research Your Roots

by Kyle Jansson, Oregon Heritage Commission 

A farm and ranch history can be researched and written from many different perspectives. Each topic will help create a unique history for your farm or ranch. Interesting and useful topics that you can research are:

  • The land
  • The crops
  • The animals
  • The machinery
  • The home
  • The buildings
  • The business
  • Family, friends, and neighbors
  • The community


Tools for research
There are probably as many tools to research agricultural history as there are tools on a farm or ranch. Some of these may be found on your farm or ranch. Others may be in the county courthouse or with the county historical society. Some might even be found in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Oral interviews
These planned interviews with family members, longtime friends and neighbors will give you first-hand accounts of life as it unfolded. For questions that you might use during an interview, see our guide to history research questions.


Newspapers and magazines
Look at your community newspapers, as well as agricultural publications such as the Capital Press. If they are not available in your community, you may find them on microfilm at the University of Oregon’s (UO) Library. (Unfortunately, most newspapers and publications have not been indexed.) A Web listing of the UO’s collection may be found at: http://libweb.uoregon.edu/govdocs/micro/papers.htm


Business records
These are the purchases, sales and other records you’ve been keeping in file cabinets or boxes for years. These often have a wealth of information about the ebb and flow of life
on the farm. Equipment, tools and vehicle identification numbers and or patent numbers may help identify when an item was made, and reveal clues as to when your family acquired it.


Photographs
Your family may have taken many photos of your farm. Your neighbors may have taken photos, too. In addition, photos may have been taken by government agencies whose programs your family participated in. Your local historical society and the Oregon Historical Society may also have photographs of your farm or ranch.


Census records
In addition to US population and agriculture census records, state and county censuses have been conducted. These will list every one living at a location, including hired help.


Journals
If you or your ancestors kept any kind of diary or journal while living on the farm and ranch, it may provide a gold mine of information on day-to-day life and other challenges. Some early journal keepers kept a daily record of farmwork and the weather.


Organizational records
Some of the organizations that members of your family members have been involved in may keep older records. Minutes and scrapbooks may give glimpses of family activities.


County records
All land transactions are recorded by the county clerk, including full sales agreements. Some marriage, birth and death records may also be recorded by the county. For a detailed listing of your county’s records, visit the Oregon State Archives Website at:

http://sos.oregon.gov/archives/Pages/records.aspx

State records The Oregon Department of Agriculture has kept records on the work of its many commissions and programs. You can find a listing of these records at:

http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/records/state/ag/index.html

Federal government records
Many agricultural and conservation agency records are kept by the National Archives. This includes records at the national records center in Suitland, MD, and the regional archives in Seattle, Washington.


Your farm and ranch history products
There are many ways to share what you know of your farm or ranches history.
Exchanging photographs at picnics and sharing stories while repairing equipment or
branding are two ways. Other methods to consider include:


Writing
You don’t have to create a book to tell your family history. You can write shorter articles on limited topics and give them to family members as holiday gifts.


Video
You could put together tapes of your photographs and oral history interviews and give them to family members. Please be aware that the film will have a limited shelf life.


CDs
Putting images of maps, photographs, journals, written stories, and important family documents is easily done now. Again, be aware that archivists believe this electronic format only has a limited life and future use will be limited by changing technologies.


Displays
For your next family gathering, put together a display of photographs, important family objects, and written stories. It may stimulate people to tell you more stories, or create more questions you can research.


Creating an archives
Don’t forget that creating an archives of all the information you found about the farm and ranch will provide a gold mine for future family historians to easily find information.

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