Many of us have agricultural labourers and tenant farmers in our ancestry. As the fields around us are looking abundant and nearing harvest, it seems like an apt time to talk about farming and rural life.
Thanks to impressive DNA analysis, the culture of farming has been shown to have arrived in Britain some 6,000 years ago. Originating in the Far East and then spread across Western Europe, farming marked the beginning of the Neolithic period (New Stone Age). Previously, in the Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age) Britain had been home to a population of hunter-fisher-gatherers.
Farming would have provided this group of previously hardened nomadic humans with a consistent supply of food and a reason to settle into permanent communities in order to sow and harvest their crops. It is hard to underestimate the huge shift in the culture of our ancestors this would have had and how it has influenced our lives to this day.
Whilst we may not realistically be able to trace our personal heritage back to Neolithic farmers, we can absolutely find a treasure trove of family history by starting a bit closer to the present day. As recently as the 1600s 80% of the population lived in the countryside and would have been linked to farming and its associated trades. By consulting sources we are used to using for our family history, in combination with research more often considered to be a study of local history, we can build up a picture of our ancestors lives and the farming communities they lived in.
We have plenty of courses that will help you learn more about your rural farming ancestors and how studies of family, local and population history can be used in combination: