Friday, November 20, 2009

Journey of a Thousand Li

An old Chinese saying is: A journey of a thousand li begins with a single step. I've taken the first step on a journey that could literally cover a thousand miles before I'm done.

I have plans for my next book, to be an examination of the history of St. Augustine, Florida, during the second Spanish period of Florida's history (1783-1820) through the lens of genealogy, as I have mentioned before. I haven't yet heard about the grant I have applied for, but I do have one step toward the goal accomplished. The Chair of the Department of History at the University of North Florida has approved my proposal for a Directed Individual Study (DIS) which will be an examination of the family structure of St. Augustine. I will have only one term, from January into May, to complete the study, so I cannot do the entire ball of wax I plan for my eventual book during that limited time. So what I propose to do for the DIS is to produce a series of short genealogies of the families of St. Augustine just during that 37 year period.

I want to see how the families were related during that time. Who married whom will be an important question. I will be examining censuses, land and tax records, and birth, marriage, and baptism records. For these, I will be looking at the East Florida Papers on microfilm, which can be very difficult to deal with due to issues of faded ink, poor microfilming, tearing of the original documents, and other damage to the documents, as well as some instances of absolutely atrocious handwriting! Other documents I will be using will be some land records at the Florida State Archive in Tallahassee, so that will be another visit to that repository. I previously spent three days in Tallahassee at the state archive for my forthcoming book on the sources to the colonial, territorial, and state censuses of Florida.

I will also be examining records at the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, at their archive. These will be the birth, marriage, and baptism records.

If I receive the grant, I am thinking of using it to go to Washington, to the Library of Congress, to examine the originals of the East Florida Papers, which may be better than the microfilms. One thing I'm going to try with the microfilm is to take digital photographs of the screen image on the microfilm reader. The problem with my local source, the Jacksonville Public Library, is that their scanning microfilm reader produces only .pdf files, which I don't like for this particular purpose. I prefer .jpg files, which I can manipulate and work with to improve the readability of the image. Some genealogists have said that they have had good results from taking digital photos of the image on the screen, so I'm going to experiment with that over the holiday break.

This will be a new approach to the history of St. Augustine, and I hope I will be able to make some definitive statements from this new perspective. I also hope it will make just one more little step -- in a journey that could take more than a thousand miles -- toward bringing genealogy to the academy in a meaningful way.

1 comment:

Amy Coffin said...

I enjoy reading about your educational pursuits. The topic of your book is interesting, even to someone like me who has no history in that area. I hope you hear good news of the grant soon.