Preserve Your Family Heritage
Several years ago, I began a family history project tracing the arrival of my ancestors in the U.S. from 1864 to 1884.
What surprised me most about what I learned was the rapid pace at which my paternal great-grandfather established himself in a strange country where he didn’t know a word of the language.
I was amazed to read about the successful farming operation he established relatively quickly (thanks to land grant options from the federal government) and his skill as an entrepreneur.
Although I was so pleasantly surprised at what I learned, I also was disappointed in what I couldn’t uncover. As a budding entrepreneur, I wish he’d left behind some insights into how he managed to start and grow his business in an era before federal and state government business loans, “Shark Tank,” and other staples of the modern entrepreneur’s tool kit.
I wanted to know about his keys to success.
Don’t let your descendants wonder how you succeeded. If you’re the product of a generations-old enterprise and know some, or all, of its history, write it down for future generations.
Pass along your business wisdom now. Your advice may be as powerful as that of Warren Buffett and more meaningful because of family ties.
If you need some ideas for what to record and share, here’s my recommended outline
(to be supplemented by historical photographs of course).
- 1. Origins of the family’s farm/ranch enterprise
- Who were the original owners?
- Why did they decide to start their own farm/ranch?
- What agricultural background did they have going into the effort?
- Did the founders establish any other businesses? If so, what are their histories?
- Why this location or these locations?
- What’s the brand, if any? How was it selected? Has it changed over the years?
- What’s the logo, if any? How was it selected? Has it changed over the years?
- Are there any trademarked phrases/slogans? How were they selected? How have they changed over the years?
- What grains, if any, were originally harvested? What livestock, if any, were originally raised? Now?
- How was start-up financed?
- Who were the original managers and employees?
- Were there any mentors who were helpful in starting the farm/ranch? If so, who were they? How did they help? Do you recall any specific advice they provided?
- 2. What were the toughest challenges faced in establishing the farm/ranch, making it profitable, and keeping it successful?
- Changes in business environment (e.g., customer preferences)
- Disaster recovery
- Economic (micro & macro-economic)
- Environmental (e.g., dust bowl)
- Technology changes
- 3. What have been the greatest successes?
- Civic involvement
- Innovations (e.g., breeds, seeds)
- Spin-offs (from this one or started by managers or employees)
- 4. Details
- Leadership/management philosophy
- Ownership (for example, solo, partnership, privately held corporation, publicly held corporation, franchise)
- 5. What advice would you give to someone starting a new business in these areas?
- Conflict resolution
- Customer service
- Disaster planning
- Financial stability
- Risk taking
- Strategic planning
- 6. Timeline of the farm/ranch (marked against important local, national and international events)
Editor’s note: Sharon Lawrence helps individuals, small businesses, and small civic organizations organize their financial, personal, and professional affairs. For more information about her work and/or assistance with a family history project, contact her at P.O. Box 387, San Marcos, Texas 78666, (512) 757-8669 or via her Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/AskSharonLawrence.
“Preserve Your Heritage” is excerpted from the December 2017 issue of The Cattleman magazine.