Family History on the Farm

Sometimes the best genealogical information comes from truly unexpected sources. The State Archives of Florida holds records from a wide variety of state agencies, many of which have had direct contact with the state’s citizens over the years. As a result, many of the records document the specific locations of specific individuals at specific times, which can be a big help for folks tracing their family trees.

One unusual source of information comes from the records of the Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (Record Series 299), which was active in Florida from about 1918 to 1927. The program was funded by the federal government and administered by the Florida Department of Public Instruction, a predecessor of today’s Department of Education. Participating students took instruction in the areas of agriculture and home economics and completed projects, such as farming a small crop or raising livestock. The program was immensely popular in rural communities nationwide, and over time it was incorporated into what we now know as the Future Farmers of America.

An example page from a volume of student records for the Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (Series 299, State Archives of Florida).

An example page from a volume of student records for the Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (Series 299, State Archives of Florida).

The records in Series 299 document the students who participated in the Smith-Hughes classes. Each student’s entry gives the student’s name, age, his or her project and its extent, income and expenditures associated with the project, and the school and teacher providing the class. Perhaps most crucially, many of the entries explain what the students were doing in 1927 when the program ended. Some of the students appear to have stuck to farming, while others went on to high school, college, or straight into a new career. This information can be highly valuable for family history researchers working with a “mystery” ancestor for whom information has been tough to find.

Example entries from Barberville, Florida from the Smith-Hughes agricultural education records. As of 1927, student Gordon Bennett had moved on to Stetson University, while G. Baker had established himself as a farmer at Pierson, Florida (Series 299, State Archives of Florida).

Example entries from Barberville, Florida from the Smith-Hughes agricultural education records. As of 1927, student Gordon Bennett had moved on to Stetson University, while G. Baker had established himself as a farmer at Pierson, Florida (Series 299, State Archives of Florida).

While these records are interesting, they do have limitations. Not every student in a community took the Smith-Hughes classes, nor did every rural Florida community offer them. According to the 1916-1918 report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, only 24 Florida counties applied for the program, and of these counties fewer still received funding. Participating communities included: Alachua, Allentown, Altha, Aucilla, Baker, Barberville, Canal Point, Chiefland, Chipley, Crescent City, Delray, Eustis, Fort Pierce, Fort White, Graceville, Grand Ridge, Greensboro, Gonzalez, Hawthorne, Homestead, King’s Welcome, Laurel Hill, Lemon City, Live Oak, Madison, Malone, Marianna, Mason, Mt. Pleasant, Montverde, Plant City, St. Cloud, Sanford, Sebring, Sneads, Summerfield, Taft, Trenton, Wauchula, and Winter Haven.

Members of a Florida chapter of the Future Farmers of America apply pesticide to a citrus grove. The FFA grew out of the nationwide Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (circa 1920s).

Members of a Florida chapter of the Future Farmers of America apply pesticide to a citrus grove. The FFA grew out of the nationwide Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (circa 1920s).

These limitations aside, the records offer a unique glimpse into the lives of students living in some of Florida’s most rural communities in the 1920s. And, for some genealogists, they may be just the right piece of the puzzle to help illuminate the life of an ancestor.

The Smith-Hughes Student Records (Series 299) are just one of many genealogically significant record series housed at the State Archives of Florida. Visit our guide to genealogical research on Florida Memory AND the Archives’ Online Catalog to learn more about our collections and how you can use them to discover more branches of your family tree.

Which Way to Two Egg?

If your boss tells you she’s off to a meeting in Jacksonville, no one blinks an eye. A cousin heading to Key West? Maybe a bit of envy and best wishes for a pleasant suntan. But when someone says they’re off to Two Egg, Florida, there’s bound to be a either a giggle or a look of pure confusion.

1950's era map showing the location of Two Egg northeast of Marianna. Note: This map precedes the construction of Interstate 10.

1950s era map showing the location of Two Egg northeast of Marianna. Note: This map predates the construction of Interstate 10.

The bustling metropolis of Two Egg is located a few miles northeast of Marianna in Jackson County. Although it’s little more than a wide spot on a curve of State Road 69, it was a prominent crossroads in the region as early as the 18th century. Europeans and native Creeks established trails in the area heading to Neal’s Landing and Thomas Perryman’s trading post on the east bank of the Chattahoochee River. The route between Perryman’s in the east and the natural bridge over the Chipola River in the west crossed right through what we now know as Two Egg. Although the road has been slightly reshaped and much improved over the past 200 years, it still follows roughly the same path.

Department of Transportation highway map showing the Two Egg area with the location of dwellings, churches, and a school (revised 1946).

Department of Transportation highway map showing the Two Egg area with the location of dwellings, churches, and a school (revised 1946).

How the crossroads got its peculiar name is something of a debate among local historians. It was originally called Allison, after the family that established a sawmill and general store in the area in the early 20th century. The name “Two Egg” began appearing during the 1930s, some say as a result of a cultural phenomenon brought on by the hardships of the Great Depression. With jobs and cash as scarce as hen’s teeth, local citizens had very little money to buy the goods they needed from the general store. As a result, they turned to the barter system, trading in a few vegetables or other farm products for the materials they needed to make it through the week.

John Henry Pittman and his wife at their general store in Two Egg (circa 1970).

John Henry Pittman and his wife at their general store in Two Egg (circa 1970).

According to one legend, a local man named Will Williams decided during this difficult time that since he couldn’t afford to give each of his 16 children an allowance, he would instead give them each a chicken. Whenever one of the chickens would lay eggs, the child who owned it could trade them at the store for whatever they pleased. A traveling salesman witnessed one of the children trading two eggs for some candy, according to the story, and decided to nickname the town accordingly. At least a dozen versions of the tale exist, but the majority seem to agree on the common thread of bartering with eggs. However the name came about, by 1940 it was in use on official state road department maps.

Sign explaining a two-cent charge for opening cans at Pittman's general store in Two Egg (circa 1970).

Sign explaining a two-cent charge for opening cans at Pittman’s general store in Two Egg (circa 1970).

A sign in Pittman's general store (circa 1970).

A sign in Pittman’s general store (circa 1970).

A combination of New Deal relief programs and the arrival of World War II breathed new economic life into the families living around Two Egg. Perhaps just as importantly, as more people began traveling to Florida in the postwar era, curiosity about the strangely named town led an increasing number of visitors to pass through for a quick stop at the general store. John Henry Pittman’s store was the main place to shop for a number of years, although it eventually closed, leaving the Lawrence Grocery as the sole business in town. As late as the early 2000s, the grocery remained open, selling candy, cigarettes, cold drinks out of a machine, and Two Egg souvenirs.

Street view of Lawrence's grocery in Two Egg. This was the last store open in town. Note the license plate on the car reading

Street view of Lawrence’s grocery in Two Egg. This was the last store open in town. Note the license plate on the car reading “Two Egg Florida” (1985).

The Lawrence Grocery eventually closed, and the Pittman store was condemned and destroyed in 2010. The town, if it could be called that, serves more as a bedroom community for Marianna nowadays, but signs on State Road 69 still proudly mark the location of Two Egg. When the signs aren’t being stolen, that is. Locals say the signs for Two Egg are stolen more than any other place name markers in the state. Even bolting the signs to their posts hasn’t stopped the problem; the thieves simply cut the signpost off at the bottom when they cannot remove the sign itself. In a way it’s a sort of backhanded compliment to the uniqueness of this small Florida curiosity. We at Florida Memory, however, would encourage visitors to leave the signs alone and just take a picture or two.

What unusual places have you visited in Florida? Tell us about your favorite by leaving a comment below or on Facebook!