I had a general theory that Americans have a bigger tradition of family farms than do people living in Europe or other parts of the globe. While the results of my little poll are anything but scientific, I think my theory does hold some water.
So here are the results in general. Things got a tad bit iffy for a lot of reasons that I'll discuss below, but this is as close as my tabulations can get:
Americans: I got info from or about 22 Americans (some people wrote about their own families as well as the families of their spouse or significant other - I included both myself and CatMan in the survey.) Of those 22 all but 3 could trace their family back to a farmer - so that's roughly 86%. The average number of generations that those Americans who had farmers in their families had to go back to find one was 2 (meaning their grandparents were farmers).
Canadians: Three Canadians responded, and all could trace their families back to farmers. Here again, the average was 2 generations.
Europeans (2 from UK, one from Netherlands): Three responded, none of them could find a farmer in their history.
Australians: One responded, no farmers in her family.
Points of confusion. Throughout the discussion in the comments I started to note a number of things that throw a bit of confusion into the mix.
First of all, what exactly defines someone as being a farmer?
- Does one have to support oneself completely "off of the land" in order to be a farmer?
- What if you need an alternate source of income?
- Do you have to own the land in order to be a farmer?
- What about agricultural workers?
- Can a person be considered a farmer if they grow vegetables but don't raise livestock?
- What if you have a huge garden, and some pigs, goats and chickens in the backyard?
- What if you raise cash crops but not food?
I'm not sure I have the answers to any of those questions, but it does give me a lot to think about.
The other thing that became increasingly clear to me as I read all of the comments is that determining where someone is "from" is a complicated question.
Most of the Americans could pretty quickly trace their family roots back to Europe - and it seemed that the quicker the roots went back to Europe, the less likely it was that there were farmers on that side of the family.
I guess when you look at the history of it all, none of this is particularly surprising.
I mean, a big reason that people left Europe to come to the "new world" was because it offered them the opportunity to own land which simply wasn't possible in their home countries where much of the property rights had been gobbled up hundreds if not thousands of years before.
And I think it's fair to assume that many of the folks who became farmers hadn't actually been farmers before they came to America.
Discussing this whole topic really opened my eyes to some things that I hadn't previously considered, largely because my picture of the past is greatly colored by my geographical location as well as the fact that I am of European descent.
Several people mentioned that their ancestors were fisherman or otherwise worked in the fishing industry.
While it should be obvious that people have been fishing for centuries and centuries, it's something that my land-locked little brain never really considers.
I guess I always think that fishing is something limited to those "few people" who live on a coast - but in reality roughly half of the world's population lives near a coast.
I also tend to take land ownership for granted, and while one can argue about the ideology behind whether one can really "own" land or not, the reality is that having access to land for the purpose of producing one's food is one of the main sources of human conflict throughout the ages.
I think my picture of the family history of the "average American" would be quite different if I was the descendant of African slaves or migrant farm workers from Mexico or Latin America.
The other thing that really surprised me in this discussion was the prevalence of farmers in places like Canada and the northern United States. I'm not sure why this came as such a shock, but it does point out that my picture of other parts of the world is just way, WAAAAYYY off.
I guess I tend to think that anybody living north of Wyoming is off in the "frozen tundra" somewhere. My mental image is sort of an endless forest full of trees, snow, moose (meese?) and grizzly bears. Obviously, this is not the case!
Anyhow, I want to thank everybody who participated in my little informal poll. It was a very enlightening little exercise, and I really enjoyed getting to read about everybody's family history.
So tell me, did you draw any interesting conclusions from our little discussion?