Monday, August 24, 2009

Jobs That Would Be Helpful

As I do genealogical research, I often run across indices prepared by WPA workers in the 1940's. An index done by the WPA usually extracted information from Marriage Records, Birth and Death Records, and even Will Books from various counties around the nation. These WPA products are an invaluable launching point for the researcher.

Like most WPA projects, they were not uniform in application. So, for example in one county there might be a complete index of names, and in the county next door, nothing. I think the work depended on the available labor -- in terms of competence and like today's TARP funds, which squeaky wheel was clamoring the loudest for relief. But where they did work, not only did they create databases for court records and vital statistics but they created also cemetery records by walking the land where the stones were. Many of those cemeteries are long since plowed under, or their markers destroyed or worn off. What a valuable resource for us now.

I can remember back in the 1980's checking a book out of some library that was an abstract of "places to see" in various states. It was an early Fodor's Guide to our country, but because the data had been collected in the 1940's, it was a look at roadside attractions that are long gone underneath the interstate system or a new Wal-Mart.

Still, all those original records still exist, and if someone wanted to give believable background to a novel set in the time, visiting the National Archives to look at the originals would be a good start.

But, the original point of my blog today is this: if we have many, many people out of work, what is to stop the literate among them from being paid a wage to create indices of documents that would help people who are researching their family history? Not only does it help genealogists, but it helps connect us as a nation. I have been blessed enough to discover 2 distant cousins through my genealogy research. One visited me last week. The closest relative we share is (for me) my great, great grandmother's mother. (My grandfather's great grandmother - six generations back). She was Elizabeth Jane Petty, profiled in my blog earlier. She had three children who survived her to have their own families. Each of the three of us cousins is a descendant of a different one of her children!

To be honest, before I met my cousin last week I didn't care much about what happened in the particular area of California where she lives. But you can bet that now when I hear about news from that area, I'll check in with her to make sure she's okay. That's what I mean by connecting all of us. Because if you go back far enough, most of us will find a connection that makes us family. Skeletons in the closets, black sheep in the families, river boat gamblers, and temperance workers are all interesting tidbits to share when this much time has passed!

If we don't know where we came from, and we don't appreciate our forefathers, we scorn an important gift left to us by the ages.


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