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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Anonymous Anonymous said...


your readers depend on your pithy observations and razor-wit to inspire them.

Saturday, 14 January, 2006  

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