The Seventh Generation

  1. William Chism
  2. John Marion Chism
  3. William Chism
  4. Charles Chism
  5. Thomas Chism
  6. Rosemary Chism Jordan
  7. Chris Jordan

I am the seventh. Mom pointed that out to me as we were chatting recently. I am the seventh generation on this farm. We often hear discussion about Seven Generation Sustainability and we should think about how we will impact people 140 years into the future. But we can’t begin to imagine the world ten years from now, let alone 140 years from now.

From mom’s blog, “William was born in Virginia on Dec.12, in either 1798 or 1800.” In my case 140 years only goes back 5 generations to when great grandpa Charlie was born. (Charlie is second from the right in the back next to his brother Tom who, in that picture, looks EXACTLY like my grandpa Tom. Maybe less shoulder than grandpa.)

Think about what this all means. That mink I caught in my chicken house a few years back? William, John, William or Charlie’s chickens may have terrorized by that mink’s ancestor.

That hedge tree I hate and plan to cut? It’s ancestor may have been purposefully planted here by William.

Charlie built the white barn 100 years ago. Did he expect it to last this long? Dick built my house. Grandpa built ponds, corrals, loading chutes, more barns. What will I leave?


The Fatherland.

Do you know anyone who has as strong of a connection to the land as me? Not even the King ranch! Not only did they own it, most of my mother’s fathers are buried here. We have carved rocks to prove it.

Patria. Patriot. Patriotic. My 60 acres, ’tis of thee.

Will we still be here on the fatherland in seven generations?

I don’t know.

I can’t know.

I’m not even sure it’s important.

But I’ll tell you this – and I say this from the perspective of someone who is almost as deeply rooted as any American can be – I don’t think William bought a farm to fix his descendants in one place for all of time. In fact, though we modern folk read Laura Ingalls Wilder and swoon, I don’t think William saw the farm as anything other than a means to an end.

Let’s revisit Illinois in 1834. Illinois is a state but there is more land available on the continent than there are people to settle it. Europe is pouring itself into the US. Jefferson wrote quite a bit about the lack of opportunity for private land ownership in France and those who could were leaving their father’s rocks and hopping on a boat. So, while owning the means of production is important – and it is – the specific land we are currently parked on is less so. For some reason William, born in Virginia, moved to Kentucky then on to Illinois. My understanding is they were frozen out the first winter, returned to Kentucky and came back again. So they had some mobility and some tenacity.

Somewhere along the line prior to William the Chism family left Scotland and changed the spelling of their name. I met a man from Scotland recently and he joked with mom and dad that the Chism clan are midland Scots…I think he meant that to be a somewhat derogatory joke but it went over my head. And it doesn’t matter because I’m not Scottish. Nor am I German. Or Irish. Or whatever. But the point is my ancestors left their PATRIA! And why? Why did they abandon the rocks that marked the graves of their fathers? Because their prospects looked better elsewhere. What dead father wants to make his children suffer in proximity of said rocks?

So what is this farm? If we assume, and I think we can, that this farm represented a measure of hope, a feeling of place and the means of production for a family relocating from Kentucky…then what were William’s thoughts about me? …about the farm?I have no idea. William died long before I was born and I am not aware of his journals but I have to believe his thinking was not dissimilar to my own.

I have an attachment to my farm. I live in my grandma’s house. We put our dishes in cabinets she built. Our wood stove is in an addition built by a cousin of my grandpa’s. The house was built by a great-great uncle. We watch TV in a room built by my father. Most of the family is buried 200 yards from my back door. As a child I rode grandpa’s three-wheeler all over the farm. My cousin Kate and I ran down the hill and played in the creek (downstream from the hog floor…in retrospect, yuk). I remember the one time she touched the electric fence well. I have been in this house every Christmas of my life but one. I have an emotional attachment to my farm. I owe the bank a bunch of money for my farm…so I have a legal attachment too.

But what about my children?

This hasn’t been a post about chickens or cows or pigs or manure. This is a post about purpose!

My farm is a place, not a purpose. The chickens, cows, pigs and manure are just the means. Land forces us to work hard and save money but the children are our wealth. The children are the ends…even when covered in silly string.


If William Chism had time to wonder about the seventh generation, I have to believe his thoughts were less about farmland and more about family. Would there be a seventh generation? Not just generations formed by boys and girls doing what boys and girls do but intentional families. Julie and I are intentional about family. Our parents are intentional about family. My grandma and grandpa Chism were intentional about family. Aunt Marian was intentional about her family…even if we weren’t her kids. Mom has memories of her intentional grandmother. My dad’s grandmother lived with us for a while when I was a kid (hilarious!). The culture of our family is not an accident and while it is true that there wouldn’t be Christmas memories in this house if Uncle Dick or a grandma Chism or grandpa’s cousin or my dad hadn’t built it, the house is the least important part of that list.

In some recent writing I have focused more on my kids and less on my business and that is entirely on purpose. I have an amazing and challenging job in town…a job that I don’t plan to leave any time soon. In fact, I like my job so much that I do it on my vacation time. The Chris Jordan you see on this blog is hardly Chris Jordan at all…but then again it is. The real Chris Jordan is absolutely fascinated by farming, that’s true. So much so that he journals what he is learning on an almost daily basis.

But the real Chris Jordan is even more fascinated by his wife and children. And as he lists his hopes for 140 years from now the well-being of his family rank far above his hopes for the well-being of the farmland he lives on.

My ancestors once moved out of Scotland. My children or grandchildren may move away from the farm…or even the US. That’s how it is.

We may not have the farm in another 140 years. But will there still be a family? Will our family culture persist? Or will there just be children?

William Chism succeeded.

Will I?

6 thoughts on “The Seventh Generation

  1. The Ingalls family moved fairly often if you consider. Same with Laura and Almanzo Wilders in the beginning, For Pa Ingalls, I seem to remember it was about creating wealth more than it was about putting down roots. Didn’t he start out as a trapper/hunter, and switch to homesteading later? And moved back to town after that. Laura and Almanzo took up farming, then orcharding – their only child didn’t pursue it, though she did come back to their home later after her stint in San Francisco. Almanzo’s father had built up a farming business that certainly seemed in Farmer Boy as though it was being built up for future generations, but neither Almanzo nor Royal stayed there and in fact Mr. Wilder sold up and bought his deceased brother in law’s farm in a different state when Almanzo was still a teenager.

    Family culture – yes, I agree, I think that perhaps this is what parents are thinking of when they look to future generations. If it was about building up a farm empire, more people would have fought to stay on the land. What about people like the Rockerfellers or the Irvings or Kennedys? Maybe not good examples when I think that through a little, but still, they exhibit strong family culture. I’ve just had to give back a book to the library about high country farmers in NZ – how they identify themselves with their place, creating a high country culture that sets them apart from other farming folk in NZ. It’s an ethnography, written by an anthropologist and wasn’t the best written ethnography I’ve ever read, that’s for sure, but she was raising the opposite point to yours, and coming out to the same place. That the families who eventually took on more permanent ownership of the big stations in the high country developed their own culture fairly consciously, but due in part to their isolation from “town”. They were certainly intending for these stations to be owned in their families for generations, and there are myriad complexities in estate planning and management load sharing that testify to that. Now of course, very few of the original families have been able to hang onto their properties – lack of interest in the new generations in some cases, but mostly the finances of it. To try and keep their family culture intact it’s not about wool anymore so much as about hunting lodges and outdoor adventure resorts, wapiti (deer hybrid raised for it’s antlers) etc. Their family culture is very much part of the place, and without it, the families scatter to the winds. I wasn’t able to finish the book, so I don’t know if she put it in writing, but I definitely got the sense that the parents being interviewed in the book (men and women in their 60’s around 2001) had come to a realization that the stations wouldn’t be with the families forever as they had all worked and dreamed towards. I hope they articulated that they valued family over station, but to tell you the truth, the culture of their time and place is so strong, I’m not sure it it turned out to be true. I can’t ask for the book back for a year, and it’s not good enough to buy, so maybe I’ll never know.

    • Julie and I were talking about this a little more tonight on our way home from a family outing. We think Bill Bonner included a thought in his book Family Fortunes that went along these lines: The first generation is hungry and works hard to earn and save toward wealth. The second is influenced by that work ethic. The third grows up rich and has no idea what was involved in the creation of that wealth.

      To preserve that family wealth (I’m talking money or land now, not children) each generation has to believe they are responsible for the foundation of the family fortune. I saw a good example of that when I read about Bob Kleberg a few weeks ago. He took the ball and ran with it. But he made no provision for succession. The King ranch isn’t what it used to be…in terms of global operations anyway.

  2. On Family – Was Gen 1 William the first Chism to settle in the area? Were there already kith (friends/acquaintances) and kin that brought him there?

    You previously mentioned that you are related to most of the county or something like that. Approx how many Chisms are still in the area– like are there 200 remaining descendants from William left in the area?

    On Farm – Seems he left kin with farming in their blood too – can you ballpark how many of the Chisms in the area are still on farms and how many acres would it total to all in? i.e. are there 10 Chisms still farming in the area on a combined total of approx 3,000 acres, including you and your parents.

    Today you have Minecraft – Wiki defines as: “The creative and building aspects of Minecraft allow players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world. Other activities in the game include exploration, gathering resources, crafting, and combat. Multiple gameplay modes are available, including survival modes where the player must acquire resources to build the world and maintain health, …”

    In William’s day I assume he played a somewhat similar game called “Prove Up”. I don’t know what the rules of the game where in your area – likely similar to what the players/ pioneers in my area went through in my Province – game cost was a $10 ((1/4 section (160 acres)Homestead Title registration fee)) and the 1884 Rules were:

    – The settler must build a habitable house and reside on homestead for no less than three months.
    – The settler must live within a radius of two miles from the homestead.
    – Within the first year after date of entry, the settler must break and prepare for to crop no less than 10 acres of the homestead quarter section.
    – Within the second year, the settler must crop the first ten acres, and break and prepare to crop no less than 15 more acres.
    – Within third year after date of entry, the settler must crop the 25 acres broken in the first two years, and break and prepare for crop no less than 15 more acres.
    – The settler must reside on the homestead for at least six months of the year in each of the three years.

    Additional game points were earned if you built our own barn, and fence, dug our own well, and pumped and hauled water everyday for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry and livestock, when breaking your land you removed rocks, trees and stumps all at the same time as growing and producing most of your food.

    Quite the feat really for people that played that Prove Up game! After all that, I am sure William would be happy his farm still carries on!

  3. Chris, I really enjoyed reading this. I would love to chat. I am related through Hope (Stotler) Chism. I hope to hear from you.

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