Town Fairs and the Details of Our Ancestors’ Lives

Over the years, I have spent a great deal of time researching the people in my family tree. Sometimes, I’ll pick a name in the family tree at random and see what new details I can find about that person using GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Today I picked Robert Starbird (1782-1870), my 3rd great-grandfather.

Photo: Robert and Abigail Starbird
Photo: Robert and Abigail Starbird. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

His photo, along with his wife Abigail (Haskell) Starbird (1803-1861), still hangs on our wall. Other than his approximate birth and death dates and the names of his two wives and children, the only information I had on Robert was that he lived his whole life in Gray, Maine.

I began by searching GenealogyBank for Robert’s name, limiting the dates to his birth and death years, so I could narrow down my search.

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for Robert Starbird
Source: GenealogyBank

Looking through the search results I noticed something interesting: several of them were about town agricultural fairs. There are agricultural Town Fairs almost every week in New England. It looks like this is a very long tradition here – and my ancestor was a part of it.

According to the Eastern Farmer and Journal of News, Robert – along with two other farmers in the community – were recognized by the “Committee on Horticulture” for their butter:

“Beautiful Butter of an excellent quality was exhibited by Robert Starbird and Alpheus Frank of Gray, and Miss F. R. Frye, of Windham, for which they have the thanks of this Society.”

An article about Robert Starbird, Eastern Farmer, and Journal of News newspaper article 27 October 1842
Source: GenealogyBank, Eastern Farmer, and Journal of News (Portland, Maine), 27 October 1842, page 6

Maybe that’s why I love butter.

And, look at this article in the Maine Farmer and Mechanic’s Advocate:

“The Committee also award to Robert Starbird, of Gray, the Society’s first premium of $5, for wheat, he having raised 26 1-2 bushels of summer wheat, on 165 rods and 15 links of ground.”

An article about Robert Starbird, Maine Farmer and Mechanic’s Advocate newspaper article 18 November 1843
Source: GenealogyBank, Maine Farmer and Mechanic’s Advocate (Winthrop, Maine), 18 November 1843, page 1

In November 1843 the local “Committee on Agriculture” gave out its top award for the highest wheat production – good for Robert for winning that prize.

In the 1840s, almost everyone in New England had a farm and produced food for the family; that tradition is still everywhere across the area. We see it at the Town Fairs. Thanks to GenealogyBank, I now have these additional details about Robert’s life that I can add to the family tree.

Genealogy Tip: Searching GenealogyBank can be a great way to find information about your ancestors’ lives. Maybe they produced record crops of wheat and “beautiful butter” too.

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