From the nation's earliest days, farming has held a crucial place in American culture and economy. Early in the nation's life, farmers were seen as exemplifying economic virtues such as hard work, initiative, and self-sufficiency.
Hardworking farm families who farmed the land from the turn of the twentieth century until the 1940s are sometimes difficult to trace. This is especially true if they were tenant farmers, worked a farm for an owner, or, literally moved frequently to greener pastures.
Animals were important to our ancestors' survival...each must earn its keep. Horses were used for transportation: ridden by individuals or used to draw wagons, buggies, stagecoaches, or other vehicles. Horses and mules were used for hard farm labor such as plowing, dredging, and drawing heavy loads on sleds or wheeled conveyors. Oxen were used for pulling even heavier loads, for threshing, milling, and other tasks. Cattle were raised for milk, beef, hides, and other byproducts. Pigs were raised for pork and hides. Sheep were raised for their wool and for lamb and mutton. Chickens, ducks, geese, and other fowl were raised for eggs and meat, as well as feathers for pillows and bedding. Cats were used to control mice and other vermin, and dogs were often used for hunting, herding, and retrieving. Records created or kept by your ancestors are often filled with references to their animals. You may be surprised at the values placed on their livestock.
The United States Congress passed the Homestead Act in May of 1862. Generally, this act gave a citizen (or an alien intending to become a citizen) 160 acres of land, free of charge, if certain requirements were met. Usually, Homesteaders had to build a home on the land, cultivate it, and reside there for five years. Later acts amended the original act. For example, an act of 1872 was geared toward helping Union veterans (or their widows) and their families. Homesteading had a profound effect on the nation. It is estimated that between 400,000 and 600,000 families were provided with new farms as a result of the original act and amendments.