America's small business heritage

America's small business heritage

small business heritage roadside stand selling preserves library of congress 1931

In an era dominated by giant companies and technology platforms, it's easy to forget America's small business heritage. If your ancestors owned a farm, operated a restaurant or tavern, or were shopkeepers, they were small business owners.

As were blacksmiths, barbers, weavers, dressmakers, truckers, ranchers, printers, haberdashers, innkeepers, masons, midwives, agents, bakers, trawlers, builders, tailors, cobblers, sawyers, salesman, metalsmiths ... these were occupations 100 or 150 or 200 years ago that reflected our nation's entrepreneurial drive. The photos on this page from the Library of Congress illustrate that spirit.

library of congress blacksmith

Historical business directories

Do you have ancestors who operated a business? Sometimes you have to dig deep to find examples, but they are almost certainly there. Look at some of the business-related genealogy directories, which may reveal the location of a business owned by an ancestor. Be sure to talk with older relatives who may remember the details ... and the stories!

My paternal grandfather had a day job at a factory that manufactured parts for General Motors. He also had numerous side jobs in his younger years including farming, fixing broken cars for resale, and Prohibition-era brewing and, erm, "transport."

My maternal grandfather, whom I knew in his later years as a retired Navy captain, had another entrepreneurial side to his life that I only realized much later after talking with my mother, my aunt, and a cousin. After leaving the Navy, my grandfather ran multiple small businesses in his middle age, including an appliance shop and a local insurance agency. My grandmother co-founded a travel agency, an occupation she loved.

new mexico general store 1940 LOC archive

Not all small businesses were successful. I have shared this story before, about a maternal great-great-grandfather. My great-aunt takes up the story, in a hand-written written account that is now part of family lore:

Raising hops was very profitable at one time in Northern New York which caused my grandfather to buy a farm and take up raising this crop. The farm was in Burke, New York. Unfortunately, there was one bad year. When the price of hops went so low that he was ruined. He had to go back to his original trade.

In our genealogy newsletter, we shared a list of Black Friday/Cyber Monday genealogy deals (such as the Family Tree DNA 50% discount) that can help you research your ancestry and better understand your roots.

Also, it's good to remember that tucked in between "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" is Small Business Saturday. EasyGenie, like almost all other small businesses, depend on holiday sales (see current deals here). When you go shopping this weekend, be sure to visit local small businesses, shop on their websites, or give them support in whatever way you can.

Our ancestors' small businesses helped make America what it is today, and will continue to provide superior service, special experiences, and unique products you won't find anywhere else.

shopkeeper loc archive

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