Mel George: Branching out with family-tree research

As a UC Davis extension rangeland specialist, Mel George works with farmers all over the state, helping them decide the best places to graze their cattle and how to keep the water near their property free from farm waste.

He's been with UC Davis 24 years, after starting out his professional career at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Despite his longevity, he has no plans to retire any time soon, George said.

"I'm having too much fun," he said.

George's love of agricultural-extension work should be a given - farming is in his blood going back 15 generations.

But that fact is something George - a self-proclaimed "city kid" who was born in Torrance - just recently learned. He knew his father and paternal grandfather had worked a number of itinerant farm jobs over the years. And George's father, Emmet, eventually became a kiwi grower in the northern Sacra-mento Valley. But it took an intensive gen-ealogical search beginning in 1996 to discover the rest of George's family farming history.

Along the way, he's uncovered some neat details about his family's agricultural legacy. For instance, his great-great-great-grandfather, William George, a top timothy grass producer, pledged $150 along with a number of other landowners to bring the proposed University of Missouri to Columbia. Other ancestors have farmed or ranched in Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico and other states.

George has now traced his father's side of the family back to England and 1563. The resulting family tree is online at

He also presented a poster of photos and vignettes detailing "Missouri Roots, Five Centuries of Farming and Western Migration," at last year's Society for Range Management conference.

George and his wife, Gail, a cruise travel agent, have two children. Beth, a star field hockey goalie at Michigan State, is now an adaptive physical education teacher in Sacramento. Gregory works for in Rocklin.

"We're it," George said of himself and his brother, Leland, who runs a landscaping business in Red Bluff. "Our children are not going into agriculture."

What do your colleagues think of your genealogy interest?

Most of my colleagues don't know of my genealogy interest. Those that do think it is interesting. One of my colleagues' father was born in northern Arkansas near where my family lived until 1898.

Are you still working on your family tree?

You are never finished working on your family tree. There is always another generation to discover.

Is there anything else you'd like to know about your family's past?

  • would like to know if I really am part Cherokee and if my great-great-grandmother or her parents were among those who were forced to leave the Cherokee Nation and travel the "Trail of Tears." I also have a great-grandfather Ewing from Texas whom I know very little about.

What's your favorite place to work out in the field?

Probably the University of California Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center. The staff does a great job supporting the research and education activities of the station. Their dedication makes the station a very pleasant place to work.

What's your favorite place on campus?

  • don't spend much time on campus so I would have to say my new office in the PES building.

What's the best part about your job?

The people I get to work with on campus and around the state. I have helped rangeland owners throughout California voluntarily develop water-quality plans for more than one million acres of privately owned rangeland. Local farm advisers and staff from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service have cooperated with me on this water quality education project. Additionally, I have research projects on private ranches so I get to work with private landowners quite a bit.

How about the worst?

Probably attending meetings, and not having long blocks of time to methodically work through a problem or project to completion without interruption.

What are some other interests you enjoy, apart from genealogy?

  • like to travel. We have a long list of pla-ces to visit internationally and in the United States. We have visited Italy, Tahiti, the Mississippi River for a barge trip, Arkansas and Hawaii in the last two years. And we hosted some old grad-school friends in the Amador wine country a few weekends ago.

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