James Agee and Walker Evans published a book about the Great Depression in 1941, with the title, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The title is drawn from Ecclesiasticus, and the rest of the verse reads, “and our fathers that begat us”. While our Research Programme is concerned with the “famous”, the genealogy programme is concerned with the “begatting”.
Our genealogy programme is composed of four sub-domains: database development; archival conservancy; family profiles; and historical gis. The database work is, in many ways, foundational to all of the efforts as it is central to our understanding of the “begatting”: lineages of ancestors and descendants, inter-marriages, and biographies. The archival work is upstream, but is motivated and driven by the downstream need for better understanding. The family profiles and work in historical gis are downstream, but are benefits that flow from the understanding that is developed through the database work. These activities are being advanced by our database volunteers.
A database, though, is not just a body of information, but also a set of procedures to access, organize, and modify it. That is, it needs a program to make it useful. When dealing with a large number of digital records with many attributes, as we are, a major gain in efficiency is achieved by organizing these records with a software program. Separate from the content development and conservation, therefore, are complex and continuing programming jobs. These activities are being advanced by our programming volunteers.
Genealogy of this kind, while valuable in its own right, also has great potential for scholars throughout the world. The research on the “famous” of social history, no matter how abstract and theoretical it becomes, has its roots and its legitimacy in the “begatting” of genealogy.