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HERd management: Family stories preserve your legacy

Karma Fitzgerald Published on 24 November 2015

I started a project recently that has me thinking about legacy.

My legacy. Your legacy, too. 

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The local historical society asked me to start compiling a written history of our county. Lincoln County, Idaho, has a dynamic yet good ol’-fashioned wild West history. While I’m thrilled at the opportunity, I’m also daunted by the task.

I’ve opted to tell the story of this place through its people, and the one element Lincoln County’s history has always had is agriculture. So I’ll tell our history using the stories of our farmers and ranchers. We started this project last spring with the thought of having a kick-off during June Dairy Month.

That didn’t work out, but I did collect some great stories. I found out the process of drying whey for use in things like protein drinks and milk replacements started right here. I was honored to sit between two cousins, who grew up on a local dairy, tell stories of their ancestors coming to the U.S. to escape the Bolsheviks in Russia.

I met an old man at the park, his large hands gnarled with arthritis. But I could tell just by their size and his calluses he’d milked cows for at least part of his life.

My heart was blessed by these stories and these people. As I prepared my first presentation, a couple of issues came up repeatedly. First, our farm families were thrilled to be asked to tell their story. Although many of them said I’d have to wait until winter to get them. Summertime was just too busy.

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Also, many of our farm families have few pictures of the work that goes on. Yes, there were photos of stacking hay here and there. Maybe a picture or two of a child with their favorite cow. But no one seemed to have photos of working as a family in the barn or herding cows.

One question came up often: “What about your story?”

“Mine? Oh, yes,” I’d say. “I’ll get to that. Let me tell yours first.”

It’s funny how it’s easier to tell other people’s stories than it is to tell our own. At least it is for me.

So I got to looking through our collections of family photos. Sure enough – I have pictures of buildings and of fields (showing off how high the corn was that year), but few, if any, of my children working together in the barn. Or of my husband and his brothers and sisters changing water or feeding calves.

I have what seems like hundreds of pictures of cows of various sizes and breeds. I’m not sure what to do with the photos my dad took of a beautiful Hereford. I hate to throw them away, but they tell me nothing about what he was up to when he snapped the photo.

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And while I’ve done bits and pieces here and there, I haven’t bothered to write down the stories I know about how the Fitzgerald family got into the dairy business. Nor have I written my own family’s personal farm stories.

“I’ll get to that.”

The thing about family history is: It matters little if it’s not shared. While looking at a genealogy chart gives you clues, 100 years down the road, it won’t tell you stories.

My challenge to myself and to you is to not just snap photos on our phones and cameras and leave them trapped on our hard drives. Let’s actually print those out, label them and get them in a scrapbook of some sort.

There are dozens of digital scrapbook programs to make this relatively easy. Then take advantage of the holiday season, when we are more likely to be around extended family, and record those family stories.

I have found there are a couple of apps to help. The first is Story Corps. I love this site. It is filled with compelling family stories recorded at Story Corps booths throughout the country. This spring, the company released a phone app so the general public can start recording oral histories. It has easy-to-follow instructions. I’ve recorded one interview so far and am looking forward to more.

I also came across another program I haven’t tried yet. According to their website, Legacy Stories provides a format and tools for collecting pictorial and oral histories. It’s set up, in part, like a direct sales company, so there is a cost for some of its products. However, Legacy Stories seems to also provide low- or no-cost avenues for non-profit organizations.

Our farm history project was postponed and will kick off officially as this magazine goes to print. But I’ll keep my Proud to Dairy page updated with our progress. I’m hoping more and more farm families will use these tools – or a good ol’-fashioned tape recorder – and start collecting our stories

. As the holiday season is upon us, families are together, and it’s a good time to leave a phone on the table and catch the sounds of stories being told around the dinner table.

The other thing I’ve learned is not to just rely on our elders. All of us have something to say. Recording a child’s voice as he or she describes her daily chores might be a wonderful keepsake one day. How about getting your favorite aunt to describe how she makes that cheesecake she makes? There are thousands of stories in everyday life.

Tell them … and leave a legacy for someone to find.

Be sure to message me on Proud to Dairy and share your experiences.  PD

Karma Metzler Fizgerald
  • Karma Metzler Fizgerald

  • Dairy Producer
  • Shoshone, Idaho

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