Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Norm's Work on the Birth Certificate Project

My dad retired a couple years ago and now keeps a busier schedule by volunteering as "the recess dude" at the church's school, driving the van for the Memorial Blood Center, guiding tours at the Mill City Museum, and entering birth and death information for the Minnesota Historical Society. For this last bit, he was asked to write a bit about his experience, which I thought interesting to share.

I enjoy working at the History Center on the birth certificate index project. I've always been pretty quick on the keyboard and this gives me a chance to keep my fingers in shape. The MNHS staff members are so very friendly and appreciative of the work done by volunteers that it is a pleasure to keep coming back.

I've been interested in names for a long time. My name, Teigen, is a fairly simple name but people frequently get the pronunciation of the first two vowels wrong. Pronouncing Teigen is the same as pronouncing Heidi. ei” in northern Germanic languages like Norwegian and German is pronounced “ī”. ie” in these languages is pronounced “ē.” An example is Tietjen in German.

I know from my own experience how important it is to me to get my name right. I want to get the names right for all of the people whose names come across my view. One's name is an important part of who one actually is.

I think that a name is an integral part of a person's identity. My maternal family name in Norway was Larson. When the family came to the States they found it very confusing to find so many Larsons. The name was changed to the little village where they came from, Tjernagel. Coming from that little village in Norway was so important to them that they wanted to perpetuate it in America. (I've wondered why it wasn't confusing in Norway to have all of these Larsons.)

I knew going into the project, that Minnesota was a land with diverse peoples. I didn't realize how diverse our state is until several weeks of work on the project had gone by. Lots of people from many different lands and cultures came to live here. Their names are found in the birth records. That is very interesting to me.

There isn't a lot of time to reflect on the names that are entered. It is a pretty fast-moving project. Child's last name, first and second names, mother's maiden name, date of birth, and whether public record or not, doesn't take much time. Once in a while a few things catch my eye. The twins Harold and Gerald, and, Ana and Johanna made me chuckle. So too did the parents who named their child Easter Lillie.

The "no public record" or illegitimate births, though rare, usually catch my attention. What stories might there be in the lives of these women? The mothers are young, most often in their teens. The fathers and their places of residence aren't usually listed. Married mothers are listed "Housewives." The unmarried mothers are frequently listed as "domestics" or even "servants." What sorrow for those young women who most usually were born in another country not so many years prior to the record date.

One such birth occurred when the father was in France with the Army. Did the couple ever get together as a family when the war was over? Did the father survive the war?

In one county, I don't remember which county it was, the frequent deaths of infants in the great influenza epidemic are listed. Such records were not required by law, but in this county someone listed them. I didn't do any counting as a I might have done if I were doing a research project, but it seems to me that there were very high rates of infant mortality in those awful years.

-Norman Teigen

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Week of Activities

So...what else have I been up to this week... besides studying and work...

Tuesday: An Exercise in Hard Budget Constraints - Susan Tanaka and Maya MacGuiness of The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget led an exercise where teams made the budget decisions that Congress faces. We chose what budgetary goals we wanted (eliminating the deficit in 3 years), and then tried to accomplish it based on the exercise choices. We realized how hard it is to cut spending and raise revenues. You can learn more about the exercise here.

Tuesday: Ruby Sunrise @ the Public Theatre - The Times gave it a tepid review, especially for Oscar Eustasis' first turn at directing as the new Artistic Director. Perhaps it was as smashing as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but Rinne Groff constructs complex and engaging play. The play is as much about the tension of idealism and skepticism as it is about the development of television.

The plot aside, the production's ending "TV show within a play" did the mix of live video as well as long timers like the Builders Association or the Wooster Group. While not experimental in content, I felt like it was showing how mainstream theatre is adapting these tools of downtown theatre. As always, I found Groff's structure and metaphors engaging. In the beginning she connects the lines in farm fields with the lines of a cathode ray tube. There is great, brief meta theatrical musing of how writer's work is undermined or changed by actors and directors.

One of the starkest contrasts for me is Ruby's vision that television will connect us to the world, as it is, and by doing so, end war. "Because who could stand having it in our livingrooms?" But what we have is war in our living rooms as a form of infotainic detachment. In the end of the play, we have stories, written, under commercial pressures, that play with our sympathies, not some objective portal into the greater world that could build understanding.

John Lahr's criticism was that the play leaves unresolved the "conumdrum of commercial television" opposing the idealistic, Liberal, outlook for TV. But I disagree with that necessity. What is more real is that ideals aren't ever truly subverted or truly realized, but left a in a mishmash. It is task enough to be aware that the world we live is a result of a massive matrix of decisions and on top of that, to be aware of the compromises made as we balance our fears with our hopes.

Who makes this conundrum? We do, by what what we desire or fear, and how we chose to engage or detach from the world. The puzzel we face then, is how do we respond to knowing we contribute to the state affairs (pollution, red baiting, commercialism, etc..) yet also know/sense that we have little power to oppose it as individuals.

Wednesday: MicroFinance In Theory & Practice - Wagner Professor Jonathan Mordoch talked about how sees microfinance changing in the next 5-10 years and PhD candidate Daryl Collins South Africa discussed why kind of context that might play out based on her Financial Diaries Project. The project was a super interesting study of how poor people in South Africa manage their money. Two interesting notes were the average household employed 17-20 different savings instruments and that the major financial event for them were funerals, many having to do with HIV/AIDS.

Wednesday: The Hazzards Make-Out Party - after months of missed connections, Dave and I caught up and saw Anne & Sydney host there recurrent show at Galapagos. The surprise of the evening was the taqueria on Bedford in the back of the bodega. Great, inexpensive mexican food, a super treat in the tragically hip strip.