Learning From the Past: An Adventure in Farm History

| 1/19/2011 3:23:44 PM

This blog is Part One of a four-part series describing the search for the history of a modern-day organic farm outside of Lawrence, Kan.  

hoyland farm 1890sThe farm that my husband and I bought in 1976 was forty acres of hilly, eroded soil, sagging barbed-wire fences and dilapidated buildings. We were young, energetic and poor, and set about fixing those things that did not require much money. We hauled and spread manure, used old baling wire to repair the fences, and wondered where to begin on the old house (pictured in the 1890s, at left) — was it worth fixing up, or did it need to be torn down? Where do you begin with a farm that needs work on almost everything?

Høyland Farm: Tracing the History

With our brand new property, which we named Høyland farm after my Norwegian ancestors, came a priceless document — an abstract. Before putting it away in the safe deposit box, I read it over and was entranced by the hints of the stories there: Otto and Augusta Bruchmiller, the loss of the farm at a sheriff's sale during the Depression, Maynard Wipprecht returning from WWII with his Scottish bride to live on a Kansas farm. I yearned to know the rest of the story, but as the years passed, we were busy rearing our sons, fixing up the old house (instead of tearing it down), trying to keep the animals fenced in, raising fruits and vegetables and working in town as teachers to pay the bills. There wasn't time to pursue a serious inquiry, nor did I really know where to start.

But children grow up, projects get finished (well, some of them — we still don't have a garage), and time begins to open up. I realized that I had the key to begin my search for the past — the abstract, filled with the names of everyone who had owned this farm. It even had some stories of death and divorce, to clarify the title of the property. I just needed a way to follow the names. Starting with clues and stories from neighbors and moving on to the internet, I tracked virtually all of the names, sometimes finding living descendants who could help me with my search.

When a neighbor showed me a family booklet telling his family's history, I found one of the names that I had been searching for: Gertrud Bruchmiller. Gertrud had married the neighbor boy, Arthur Skeet. Their daughter, Fredericka, was mentioned in the book, along with her name and address (pictured as a child at right). She was living near Seattle.

Letters to Frederickafredericka skeet

Fredericka and I began to correspond by email, and our farm's story slowly emerged. When I wrote to her, I told about what was happening on our farm now and speculated about how it would have been when her grandparents lived here. Because she was over ninety years old, I did most of the writing. For two or three years, Fredericka sent me photos and stories of her family.  We chatted on the phone and came to feel very close to each other.  I finally persuaded her to let me come visit for a few days, although she felt nervous about actually meeting me. I, too, was a bit nervous — but very excited.

Chuck Wideen
2/3/2011 12:32:50 PM

What a great Story, I am looking forward to Part two. I encourage everybody to record family history for our future generations. Once we are gone, it is sometimes to late to get the real facts of our history.

Sandra Dyer
2/2/2011 10:22:19 PM

Great story! Genealogy is addictive even when it's not your family!

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