I am reminded of kindergarten…

23 Feb

while working on my thesis.  When I was in kindergarten, I loved this instrument.  While learning the alphabet, I wrote and rewrote letters over and over, forcefully erasing the previous version each time.  Sometimes, my furious revisions created a hole in the paper.  But this is not about revisions.  It’s about closely scanning a page to find any faint marking.  The difference between kindergarten and graduate school is that in kindergarten I erased that marking.  In graduate school, I want to throw a party.

You’re probably asking where in the world could I possibly be going with this.  Has our resident blogger gone mad?  No, not yet.  I’m currently examining church association minutes between 1817-1833.  A few of the names are clear.  Others…not so much.  I bet if I could see myself, I would laugh.  Move the paper closer.  Move it away.  Put it under a light.  Remove it from the light.  Tilt the paper.  Tilt my head.  And so on…all in an attempt to find out if those two lines were part of a “u” or an “n.”

When I finally decide that the letter is a “u,” I still feel more like an artist than a scientist.  First off, I do not know if consistency was valued less in the early 19th century, but apparently it was the in-thing to vary the spelling of church leaders and ministers each year.  Ok, that is a slight exaggeration.  Still, even after I figure out the spelling in 1826, I have to decide if the 1826 spelling trumps the 1825 spelling.  Then, sometimes the census has a completely alternate spelling different from both.  All of this leaves me feeling like the artist above, instead of the scientist below.

But surely, once I find the correct name, the rest should be easy.  When the name is something like “Obediah Wimpy” it is pretty easy.  Apparently, there weren’t many Wimpy people in Kentucky in the early 1800s.  I can quickly type the name into ancestry.com and enjoy how much easier their search feature has made my life.

But what do I do when the name is “John Wilson?”  There were quite a few John Wilson’s in Kentucky in the early 1800s.  This is where I feel closer to the above artist.  I check the location of all the messengers from the same church.  Generally, this fixes the problem.  If I have eight other people from the same church who lived in Logan County, Kentucky, then there is a really good chance the John Wilson from Logan is the right one.  Still, it isn’t exact.  Sometimes, I never figure out which person is the right person.

MB

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