The Montana Historical Society has just created the Centennial Farm and Ranch Program, joining similar programs in other states. The new program, at the direction of the Legislature, is “to identify and honor the families that have kept a farm or ranch for 100 years or more.” As in other states, the designation requires that a farm or ranch must have stayed in the same family and been passed down through “spouses, children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces or adopted children in a continuous sequence of ownership.” The Billings Gazette states: “The form is detailed and includes questions about the history of the farm or ranch and the people who lived on it.” That last sentence is what family historians want to hear. Click here to read the article.
What is a Century Farm? In general, it is a farm in which ownership has stayed in the same family for a designated length of time such as 100 or 200 years or for operation since the formation of a state or county, province, or other milestone. Such programs exist across the U.S. and Canada. Even New Zealand honors Century Farms. Another requirement might be that the farm must be a minimum size or have a minimum farm, animal, crop, or other product output.
What might Century Farm records hold for you? In many cases the programs add new farms and families each year. The applications range from a few line statement to special multi-page forms which require documentation. In most cases, these are programs not created by genealogists, but the records and clues provided are valuable in our research as the cart below shows. Not all applications have survived once the award was granted. In Minnesota, the older forms are housed at the Minnesota Historical Society.
What might you find in such old forms? Family photos, original and then current farm acreage, legal description of land, photos of buildings, detailed genealogy, list of owners from past to present, name of original owner(s) and spouse, relationships of each to present owner, land abstract, how purchased, tax records, date land purchased, date and birthplace of original owner, deeds (including copies of originals held by family), past and current farm crops and products, place original owner first lived, original cost of farm, and even the names of the children of the original owner. .
Who or what operates the program? It might be run by a state or county fair, state agricultural society, the Grange, a private group, a farming industry magazine, state level agriculture department, farm extension agency, or other organization. The earliest program I have found is New York in 1937 with many of the honored farms dating back to the 17th century. Oregon’s began in 1958 just prior to the state’s centennial in 1959. North Carolina’s awards began in 1970. Many of the programs in the U.S. began at the time of the 1976 Bicentennial of the country. Some farming-related magazines publish yearly updates of farms added. As of 1986 there were 783 Century Farms in Tennessee. Iowa had over 8,000 century farms in 1985; today there are more than 15,000 in Iowa.
Locating the records. Not all programs make the applications available for research. Older applications might be found in a variety of places: state and local archives, historical societies, large public library, or a university library special collections department. With so many repository catalogs online it is relatively easy to check for a location of older applications. A program may have an online listing of the honored farms or an index might be found via USGenWeb.com. If there is no website for a state’s program, check agricultural magazines, rural newspapers, and the state’s genealogical and historical periodicals.
Some websites to check out
Alberta Century Farm and Ranch Award
Marathon County, Wisconsin
Minnesota Century Farms
Missouri Century Farms
Tennessee Century Farms
Selected Century Farm Publications
Baer, M. Teresa, et al., eds. Centennial farms of Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2003. [Includes genealogical indexes by Ruth Dorrel.]
Century Farms of Wisconsin. Shawnee Mission, KS: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1984.
Gorman, Libby, et al. North Carolina Century Farms: 100 Years of Continuous Agricultural Heritage. [Raleigh, NC]: North Carolina Department of Agriculture, 1989.
Harriger, Jean K., ed. The Century Farms of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. Brookville, PA: Jefferson County Historical Society, 1988.
Kant, Joanita. A History of South Dakota Century Farms. Sioux Falls, SD: Century Farms Book Committee. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Co., 1985.
Ladell, John and Monica. Inheritance: Ontario’s Century Farms Past & Present. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1979.
Leonard, Deach Ford. Century Farms of Vermont. Montpelier: Vermont Hist. Soc., 1986.
Men of the Soil: Century Farms. n.p.: Nova Scotia Rural Beatification Committee, 1970.
Morain, Thomas J. and David Miles. Century Farms of Iowa: The History of Farming in Iowa. Dallas: Taylor Pub. Co., 1986.
Wanless, Dorothy L. Century Farms of Minnesota: One Hundred Years of Changing Life Styles on the Farm. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Co., 1985.
Washington’s Centennial Farms: Yesterday and Today. Olympia, WA: Washington State Department of Agriculture, .
Wermuth, Mary L. Michigan’s Centennial Family Farm Heritage, 1986: A Michigan Sesquicentennial History. Hillsdale, MI: Ferguson Communications, 1986.
West, Carroll Van. Tennessee Agriculture: A Century Farms Perspective. [Nashville, TN]: Tennessee Department of Agriculture, 1986.
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