Any preschool child can tell you about a farm. There is always a big red barn, and almost always some cows, who are usually black and white. There may also be sheep, goats, horses, pigs, and chickens. Sometimes ducks.
You would think I know better. I have seen fields of tobacco in Connecticut, of wheat in Kansas, of artichokes in California, with never a red barn or a farm animal in sight. Yet whenever a census record shows that someone was a farmer, my mind defaults to My First Farm.
Creating an accurate profile is not just a matter of getting all the dates right. It means asking, "what was this person's life like?" and being aware of my own preconceptions. In my family there were farmers of maple trees, Christmas trees, sugar cane, chickens, or catfish. All are different.
Recently my cousin told me that our grandmother used to go into the city with the horse and wagon, and sell herbs to the pharmacies there. In my mind, herbs grow in an backyard garden or even a kitchen window. I had to rethink. I found an article about a Shaker herb farm. Grandma's garden couldn't have been that large, but she must have done some of the same things.