Wednesday, May 4, 2016

#NGS2016GEN Connie Lester Opening Keynote

Dr. Connie L. Lester
Image credit:
University of
Central Florida

Dr. Connie Lester presented the keynote address at the 2016 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference. She titled her address, “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, 1870-1945.”

All of us have farmers in our past, she said. They didn’t leave a lot of records. They were too busy providing for their families. We don’t understand the foundation they laid for modern life. Before the establishment of the agricultural colleges, a lot of the experimentation done to find the best varieties of citrus to grow in Florida was done by individuals. While land speculators were telling people up North how great the soil and climate were, Floridians were experiencing something different.

“You know you have become a real Floridian,” she said, “when you know exactly how many of bags of mulch will fit in your trunk.”

The climate is also a challenge. The citrus freeze of 1894-95 was especially severe. It killed both fruit and tree. There was nothing like it before and there has been nothing like it since. It took years to rebuild.

Prince Butler Boston was one of the ordinary people living an extraordinary life at the time. Prince was the black son of a former slave owner. They came to Florida in 1885 when he was 12 years old. After the freeze, his father left the industry and moved away. The farm went to Prince. He was one of the citrus pioneers of Central Florida, although he isn’t mentioned in the citrus hall of fame. He carried on key citrus experiments. He was extraordinary. One measure is his children: He had ten and all ten graduated from college. (See

Connie is working to preserve the stories of these individual farmers through a project called RICHES. They are capturing the history of individuals from Central Florida. They approach the small museums and archives to find information about the individual farmers. These are stories not captured in the large archives. Even individual users can make contributions. Check it out at


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