Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflections on Hemming and Genealogy

Okay, I know most of you are wondering what in the world hemming has to do with genealogy, but bear with me as I guide you through my thought process as I had to re-hem a pair of pants that was manufactured in China.

My first thought, like many of yours, was that we can't purchase clothes that are sewn well any more. That inevitably led to thoughts about moving our manufacturing overseas instead of keeping it here in the United States. I began to think about all the children who are being exploited in the Chinese factories and about the empty garment factories that I had seen in Amory while I was there at Christmas. I also thought about the economy and how the garment industry used to employ so many people in the area in which I grew up. My mom even worked in one for awhile way back when. As I thought about how many people are out of jobs right now, I began to wish that those factories were still open and giving employment to people in an area which really needs some jobs.

From there, my thoughts went to college. I was in a vocal ensemble when I was in college called "Radiance." We had matching outfits but for some reason the person who was making them was way behind right before our first performance. We had to hem them ourselves. Well, I'd never hemmed anything in my life. By the time I made it around the skirt, I had three legs! Our music professor's wife took pity and tore out the hem and did it herself! I'm pleased to say that my hemming skills have improved since then. It's kind of sad though when you think about the reason they've improved. It's because you can't find clothing today that will hold together once you take it home. I'm always having to mend something.

I then began to realize that the rhythm of the stitches was relaxing. I wondered if our ancestral women found sewing to be relaxing or if it was just a chore for them. Then I thought about the invention of the sewing machine. I realized that any time you introduce mechanization into a process that it becomes less relaxing. I'm sure that most of the women by this time viewed sewing as a chore instead of something for relaxation.

This led to thoughts about genealogy in general. As we have more and more electronic tools -- databases, Word processors, spreadsheets, online sources, etc. available to us are we also letting the quality of our research slip? Do we start relying on online sources and forget that there are things in courthouses, archives, and other repositories that may never make it online? Do we become so intent on making sure we get everything entered and cited that we never make progress when sometimes a written documented summary might do the same thing for us? I know that I have a lot of old data that still needs to be entered into my genealogical software and documented. However, I have that information available in my files, and I generally know what I've proven and haven't proven. Yes, I need to go back through some of that early research, but I'm not sure that putting it into my genealogical database and citing it is what I need to do as much as creating narratives and timelines where I can spot gaps or things that need further documentation. Have we forgotten how to do the things that bring order to our chaotic electronic world? I'm not saying that we ought to abandon those programs, but I think there is a time and place for them. I've decided not to worry if I don't have everything in my program if I can reach the place I need to reach without the stress of adding it. There are some things that are easier to do with a program. I'll continue to enter and document for those things, but I'm going to be relying a little more on the Word processor and spreadsheet software. I'll have to admit that I still like to do things with pencil and paper, but I also know that it's easier to document when I have the footnote feature available to me in the word processor. I am, however, going back to a few of those old family group sheet forms and putting little numbers in circles for the footnotes and writing those out on the back of the form. There are times that is all I need while sorting people out. We also need to remember that those full image electronic resources we love so much are still derivative works. While I don't think that any of our major vendors are guilty of digital manipulation, it's possible that could happen. I'm especially careful when it comes to digital images on a personal Web sites. It would be pretty easy to "photoshop" a document. We need to get the best source we have available to us to use. Most of the time that means a visit to a state library, archives, or courthouse. Sometimes we still have to use the microfilm which is a derivative, but we can get as close to the original as possible. I guess you can say I'm getting out the needle and thread a little more and not relying on the sewing machine quite as much with my genealogical research these days.


wendy said...

Really good article, Lori. My mom was a professional seamstress - worked for a family owned drapery company and then in a factory making government ordered truck cargo covers & parachute bags. Toward the end of her factory career - she was laid off a lot during the summer - now that plant isn't even in existance. So are we now outsourcing our own military fabric manufacturing? (small rant - sorry!) Happy New Year!

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