This week, I’m attended a virtual course with the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy called “Advanced Practices in Social History” coordinated by Gena Philibert-Ortega, MA, MAR. So far, it has been a wonderful experience learning about all of the sources one should consider when adding social context to our family history stories.
Social history can be a broad topic. It involves economics, sociology, women’s history, microhistory, and material culture. We want to go beyond the vital record dates. We want to fill in the details the lives of our ancestors and understand their lives within their community. They did not live in a vacuum. They interacted with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, business people, teachers, law enforcement, court system, and others. Besides working, they played, went to church, shop for food, clothing, and other necessities, and socialized with friends and family. There is so much we can learn about our families by studying the community they were a part of.
But how do I do this when I don’t know any details about their lives; I don’t even have photographs. Through the records we do find, we can jumpstart our research into the social lives they lived. For example, my southern ancestors were mostly farmers, who ended up in North Texas. Perhaps I can ask what kind of farming occurred in North Texas? Let’s do a little research. I’ll start with a search in Google with “farming in North Texas.”
There is actually a website dedicated to farmers of North Texas called “Grow North Texas.” Sure, this is mostly for current farmers. Their resources may be helpful in learning how to get started with farming and ranching.
Because I was getting current information, I added “history” to the search terms and got the Texas State Historical Association’s website. This article on agriculture gives a history of farming first by Native Americans, then the Spanish, and finally the American period. It describes the type of farms, the crops they grew, and the equipment used to harvest the crops. There are details about the economy, difficulties with disease and pests, organizations that were formed to help the farmers. These organizations included the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, the Grange, Farmer’s Alliance, and Colored Farmer’s Alliance. Each of these organizations should be researched as well.
Regular genealogy sources such as land and tax records can be consulted. When did he purchase his farm? Did he end of selling it or losing it to back taxes? Court records might tell a part of the story, too.
Newspapers of the time period and location are another good resource. What were the farmers concerned about when your ancestor lived there? Was he a member of the local organization? Did they grow cotton and then had to change because of the boll weevil?
Texas A&M University Library has issues of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin. I searched on “boll weevil” and got an issue from 1904 that might be helpful.
Another wonderful site for Texas research on social history is The Portal to Texas History. It has a wonderful collection of newspapers and other items such as images of letters, maps, and photos.
Searching the Stephenville Empire, I found articles about my 3x-great-grandfather, James Madison Coor, relocating to Erath County, Texas from Mississippi. One portion of the paper described his decision to live at Kikers Mill.
The land around Kikers Mill was described in the article.
And lastly, the article about Mr. J. J. Durham, the father-in-law of James’ daughter, Irma, describes his farming success the previous years.
All of this information adds social context. To learn more about this community, I would read as many newspapers as I could until the time of Coor’s death to learn who his neighbors were and what activities were happening in Kikers Mill.
 Henry C. Dethloff and Garry L. Nall, “Agriculture,” Handbook of Texas, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/agriculture.
 “Kikers Mill,” The Stephenville Empire, p. 3, col. 5 & 6, The Portal to Texas History (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth857623/m1/3/zoom/?resolution=3&lat=6102.286764599015&lon=2100.1872658549364).