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We’ve all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. When it comes to the family farm, it’s worth even more. Memories of growing up in the country are priceless. I grew up on an Iowa dairy and hog farm, and even with all the hard work and “extra chores” Dad could dream up for Saturday, the memories are what I now enjoy … driving the tractor when I turned 10, first Holstein calf as a 4-H project and even planting my own one-acre plot of corn and keeping track of costs.
But, a picture of the family farm serves another very worthwhile purpose. It’s a historical documentation of a specific point in time, the year that photo was made.
A friend of mine, Linda, took great advantage of this.
“I ordered a photo of the family farm for a Christmas present for each of my children,” she relates. “And carefully wrapped them to put under the tree.”
Many people do this, but Linda went a step further. With a few interviews and some research she put together a history of the farm, which had been in the family since her husband’s grandfather purchased it.
Then, she neatly typed up the history, printed it on a sheet of paper, and carefully fastened it to back of each photo she was giving her children.
“Normally, at our house, they tear open one gift after another, tossing wrapping paper everywhere. It’s a real mess,” she said. Linda says when they opened the farm picture everything stopped. Unwrapping was put on hold while each of her children read the farm history on the back of their family farm photo.
“It was quiet for almost five minutes,” she recalls, “followed by a lot of hugs and thank you’s.”
Linda’s story is special. But, when you consider the memories captured in a vintage farm photo, there are many others that are special too. As a lifetime agricultural photographer and writer, and growing up on a farm, I hear a lot of stories and have written about and photographed a lot of farms. I admire the respect farm families hold for their land, buildings and homes.
Over the past few years, I’ve been closely tracking how the genealogy industry not just uses technology, but more importantly how it approaches and looks at technology. It is one thing to use a technology such as digital scanning; it is another thing to seek out, investigate and evaluate new technologies such as QR Codes or geo-location and see if they are a good “fit” with genealogy and family history. Vision is the key to understanding what technologies could be embraced by those in the genealogy community. No amount of marketing or “crowdsourcing”–the latest catch phrase– will mean adoption by genealogists and family historians. But those companies and individuals with a keen vision and the ability to swoop in for a “close-up” view are able to quickly evaluate and understand what may well be “the next great technology” for the genealogy industry. Just like an aerial photographer, it all depends on your altimeter reading and whether or not you are willing to risk flying in for a closer look at what technologies are available.
A Tech Fly-by
The genealogy industry has been slow to adopt and adapt to technology in general, as was discussed by many attendees at the RootsTech 2011 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah in mid-February. Most genealogists have some knowledge of social media, mobile or smart phone applications, digitization and similar newer technologies. However, much of that knowledge has been gleaned from simply skimming the surface or relying on information from a variety of sources including other genealogists. Such a quick “fly-by” view presents risks in how the technology is viewed:
The rural built-environment is fast disappearing. Meanwhile, small communities are losing more than window panes and rafters.
Timothy Collins / Built in 1856, Warren County’s Octagon House near Roseville, Illinois, is said to have been vacant for about 20 years. It continues to deteriorate.
Rural America, at least in the Midwest, has lost a large piece of its history and culture that made the built landscape of its farmlands and towns special. That’s what 1900 miles of mostly backroads driving last fall through Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Ohio suggests to me.
I suspect relatively few people recognize what has disappeared building by building over the past two or three generations. The loss is disheartening, certainly a sign of changes in agriculture and small-town manufacturing that have quietly sapped our nation’s rural communities.
Anyone who follows rural America recognizes the importance of out migration, the movement of so many people to cities. Perhaps out migration is a testimony that life on farms and in rural towns wasn’t all that great. If so, it challenges our nostalgic myths of agrarianism and the goodness of community. Then again, maybe people had to leave, pushed and pulled to urban areas by larger and smaller economic, social, and political forces.
The great rural outmigration is not only about the loss of human souls whose talents and energy went someplace else. While some rural areas may have done all right economically in the wake of population decline, they – and the nation – have lost part of their cultural soul. This soul was expressed in vernacular architecture, the homes and buildings of men and women and their families who worked the land and built rural villages and towns. Change has taken part of our history.