Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Saturday Challenge- Occupations

From Randy Seaver: For this week's mission (should you decide to accept it), I challenge you to:

1)    Geneablogger Diane Gould Hall posted WORKDAY WEDNESDAY – What kind of work did your ancestors do? on her Michigan Family Trails blog last year, and I thought the topic could be used as an SNGF post.

2)  Please go back several generations (say parents or grandparents or great-grandparents) and list the occupations that they had in the records you've found for them.  You could do this, say, by ancestor table number.

A field overlooking Owasco Lake
I wondered how to go about answering this Saturday challenge. I can answer the question for most of my male ancestors with just one word: “farmer”. My father left the farm, worked as a mechanic/tow truck driver for a short time.  Then worked for his uncle for a while as a salesman for a Sinclair oil distributorship before taking it over from him. He then ran this business as his own for the rest of his working career, but was always a farmer at heart.  My maternal grandfather was a carpenter by trade, although in later years he also worked for the school district as a janitor. The women for the most part were housewives, supporting their husbands in their careers; especially those who were farm wives. My maternal grandmother was a Registered Nurse. There is not much variety to write about.

Then I read a blog posting from Michael John Neill where he took exception (and rightly so) to somebody saying that an ancestor was just a farmer. That made me think about the fact many people may not realize what the occupations of farmer and farmer’s wife entailed, and often still do today.

The farmer is the one that gets up while its still night to milk the cows and feed all the animals. He may not have had much sleep, as he had been in the barn just a short while before checking on an animal that was sick or about to give birth. Maybe there were new baby animals of some sort to tend to already that morning.

He is the one that gets all the crops planted while checking the weather for storms and cold spells that will hurt the tender plants. Have you ever watched a haying crew scramble to get the hay from the field on a hot summer day when a storm is brewing? They are working at a frantic pace, but organized and knowing exactly what to do.

I use the pronoun “he” above. However, not all farmers are men. And did you notice what was happening right along side that farmer when there was a crisis going on or any type of extra work needing to be done? Yes, that is the farmer’s wife jumping in and helping where needed. When I posted a picture of my grandparents’ barn a while ago, one comment was made by my older brother about something that was missing from the scene. The ’48 IH pick-up truck pulling up to the barn with a load of hay to be unloaded-- driven by Grandma.

The farmer’s wife’s traditional sphere was the kitchen. Getting meals on the table, washing the clothes and keeping the house. Preserving the harvest for use next winter, mending clothes or sewing entirely new outfits. All the time while keeping an eye on the children and making sure they were safe. It was also helping and getting everything done that her husband might not be able to get to. They were a team.

At other times a farmer is doing many other chores around the farm. The job, if a written description were made, would go on for pages and pages and scare any sane person away. The farmer is part veterinarian, part butcher, part mechanic, part electrician, part carpenter, part meteorologist, part business person, part bookkeeper, part salesman, part store clerk, part horse-trader, part blacksmith, part cooper, part herbalist… part many more things I have missed. Whatever needed to be done on the farm needed to be done by him his wife or children, often at a moment’s notice, without a chance to call for help unless it was to his nearest neighbor- another farm family.

So, yes most of my ancestors were “just farmers” and I’m proud to say that I descend from many, many generations of farmers. None of the current generations farm other than a small garden or such, but many of our cousins still do.

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