Have census records at Ancestry.com shown that many of your ancestors were farmers? Has that farm remained in the family? These long-term family farms may have been honored as a Century or Bicentennial Farm or Ranch. A farm that is no longer in the family could have been honored before it was sold. Such programs are meant to honor the heritage of farming and ranching, remember the men and women who settled an area, and have resulted in many applications and publications related to the awards.
What is a Century Farm?
It is a farm or ranch in which ownership has stayed in the same family for a designated length of time. Usually, this is 100 years or more with some awards given for 200 years of ownership or for operation since the formation of a state or county, province, or other milestone. The farm may have changed ownership from your great grandfather to his brother or a nephew and that is continuous family ownership. Most state that a family member must still reside on the property. Another requirement may be a certain acreage and/or have a minimum animal or crop output. Such reward programs exist across the U.S. and Canada, and in some areas overseas. New Zealand honors Century Farms.
What Might You Find In an Application Or File?
Applications range from a few lines to multi-page forms with documentation and may hold some records and clues for your research. Not all applications have survived once the award was granted. The application may contain family and building photos, original farm acreage and cost, legal description of the land, current farm acreage, detailed genealogy items, list of owners from past to award date, names of original owner(s) and spouse, relationships of each to present owner, birthplace/date or previous residence of original owner, abstract of title, names of current owners, how and when originally purchased, tax records, deeds (including copies of originals held by family), past and current crops, animals, and products, original cost of farm, birth date of original owner, and a list of the children of 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.
Age of the Programs
The earliest I have found so far is New York in 1937 with many of the honored farms dating back to the 17th century. Oregonâ€™s began in 1958 just prior to the stateâ€™s centennial in 1959. North Carolinaâ€™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 and now there are over 1,000. Iowa had over 8,000 century farms in 1985; today there are more than 15,000.
Locating Records and Publications
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. If there is no website for a particular stateâ€™s program, check agricultural magazines, rural newspapers, and historical periodicals or ask the historical society.
I suggest using all of the finding aids below in case one does not yield a positive match for you.
- National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC)
A manuscript cataloguing program via the Library of Congress. Published volumes, annual indexes, and some combined indexes listed collections that over 1,400 repositories reported from 1959-1993. These manuscripts covered hundreds of years of material. Cataloguing since the mid-1980s is available free on-line at
Subscription database in some major libraries that includes the complete NUCMC, both the earlier published volumes and more recent online data. It is an easily searchable format; the chore is finding a library that allows patron access to it. No individuals subscriptions are offered. For more information see theÂ About Archivesusa page.Â
This is another way to search for specific records and locations. About a million collection descriptions are included. Individuals may purchase a subscription and many major repositories have this database available.
- Newspaper indexes online are a way to search for articles about century farm programs and individual farms. I located some newspaper articles for a variety of areas at Ancestry.com.
- PERiodical Source Index (PERSI)
PERSI is ongoing topical indexing of more than 5,000 genealogical and historical periodicals. An article may have appeared in a periodical that details or indexes a specific Century Farm program. A search of PERSI at Ancestry.com recently yielded almost 100 references to century farms.
AÂ search turns up many books related to century farms in specific places.
Websites and Books to Check
- Alberta Century Farm and Ranch AwardÂ
- Marathon County, WisconsinÂ
- Minnesota Century Farms
www.fbmn.org and www.mnhs.org for archived recordsÂ
- Pennsylvania Century and Bicentennial Farms ProgramÂ
- Tennessee Century FarmsÂ
- Centennial farms of Indiana. (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2003.)
- Century Farms of Wisconsin. (Inter-Collegiate Press, 1984.)
- North Carolina Century Farms: 100 Years of Continuous Agricultural Heritage. (North Carolina Department of Agriculture, 1989.)
- The Century Farms of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. (Jefferson County Historical Society, 1988.)
- A History of South Dakota Century Farms. (Taylor Publishing Co., 1985.)
- Inheritance: Ontarioâ€™s Century Farms Past & Present. (Macmillan of Canada, 1979.)
- Century Farms of Vermont. (Vermont Historical Society, 1986.)
- Men of the Soil: Century Farms. (Nova Scotia Rural Beautification Committee, 1970.)
- Washingtonâ€™s Centennial Farms: Yesterday and Today. (Washington State Department of Agriculture, 1989.)
About the author
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, of St. Paul, Minnesota is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer. She has lectured all across the U.S. and coordinates the Intermediate Course, American Records & Research at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is a contributor to several periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments will reach her at <PSWResearch@comcast.net> Paula is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of e-mails received. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in my writings. I will not use your name but may use your place of residence (i.e. Shreveport, LA).
Upcoming Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
(I enjoy meeting fellow genealogists at these events so please introduce yourself as an Ancestry Weekly Journal and 24/7 Family History Circle reader.)
- 17 February 2007, Green Valley, Arizona
Green Valley Genealogical Society
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Root Cellar-Sacramento Genealogical Society
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