Handing down the farm: Values, strategies, and outcomes in inheritance practices among rural German Americans

Stephen John Gross

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Scopus citations

    Abstract

    This article examines inheritance practices among German Catholic immigrants and their children in Stearns County, Minnesota. It argues that fairness, embedded within an "ethic of equity" and rooted in Catholic sacramentalism, provided the guiding principle in distributing property. Farmers modified strategies to meet the demands of rural capitalism but still managed to preserve key family values. However, inheritance strategies varied according to the wealth of individual farmers and their German home districts. Wealthier farmers and settlers from areas where partible inheritance was the norm seemed to have been more aggressive in pursuing land for their sons and more often opted to hand down the home place to a younger child. Middling farmers and those from impartible regions were more conservative and generally selected the eldest son as the primary heir. These strategies also informed mobility patterns, and these in combination with differences in inheritance regimes effected a stubborn egalitarianism, one that persisted throughout the frontier phase well into this century.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)192-217
    Number of pages26
    JournalJournal of Family History
    Volume21
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Jan 1 1996

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