I’ve written three different blog posts today and don’t feel ready to publish any of them – could be because I worked on (someone else’s) taxes all afternoon and I’m just tapped out. Or it could be the rain.

But I have wanted to explain my work at McMaster so here goes:

It’s kind of hard to explain – but basically an archeology professor of mine is doing a long-term study on commemorative practices in cemeteries in Cambridgeshire, England. In order to do that, he needs a really big database to be able to make comparisons and figure out what are the motivators for people to commemorate, what are the patterns (do rich people do a type of commemoration and then others follow?), what are the economic factors, do people commemorate children or marginalized people (people from asylums, or workhouses) – he needs data.

I don’t get to do actual on the ground work in England. And no, I don’t dig up dead people. Not even close. I like cemeteries and I like the stories they tell, but don’t put me near bones. No thank you.

The work (done by other research assistants and me) involves taking burial data from the various parish records in Cambridgeshire and filling in commemoration information as well as occupations and other census data for the people buried. In the period we are investigating (1845-1925), the occupation of the head of the household, usually a man, is how everyone within that household is defined.

We look into genealogy sources (Ancestry being our most utilized) and graveyard sites. We have a success rate of finding occupation and other records of well over 85% for most of these parishes.

As a person who likes to make up stories, there is a significant amount of possibilities for storylines – with entire family stories written out over the decades. As the prof once said, you see the birth and the death of many people in that 80-year period.

Most parishes average about 350 burials in that 80-year time span so you get a bit of variety in the work, going between inputting of data and the internet research.

Yesterday, I completed a parish which had 6700 burials in that 80 year period meaning at times there would have been a burial every 2-3 days! It took me two months of work (about 21 hours per week) to complete. It hurt my brain to be doing relatively the same thing for days on end.

Upside: we are creating a database that will help support researchers beyond this project as well as the prof who hired me. This thought has been a good motivator in the depths of the repetitive nature these past few months.

So, not sure about next steps – discussions about what happens when my contract is up (in 10 days) have not taken place. It might be time for a bit of space between me and that computer, or that could just be the ridiculously big chunk of research talking!

 

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