Friday, May 26, 2006

Excavating Grandma's Privy



I'm not able to go to the National Genealogical Society Conference in the States at Chicago on June 7-10. I would love to be there, however, for the NGS Banquet speaker:

"Excavating Grandma's Privy for Family History Data" by Craig Pfannkuche. The abstract says:

"Where can data sometimes be found concerning individuals who are not well represented in the mass of available paper records? Grandma's Privy! This presentation will show that not everything that went into privy holes, latrines, and outhouses was a mixture of ... organic wastes. Into these holes went bones, bottles, toys, money, clothing, jewelry, dishware, cutlery, and watches among many other things; in fact, a wide variety of inorganic material which represents a full spectrum of the artifacts (articles of use) used by the people who made use of the privy.

"Hundreds and thousands of those privies, treasure troves of a variety of family artifacts, remain safely buried in both city and countryside. Using basic archaeological techniques, a minimally trained excavator can build from these artifacts both a picture of who deposited the materials, when they deposited those artifacts and how they lived. Information that cannot be found in paper records. Join us and learn."

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Hmmm. This raises many questions, such as:

* What new equipment and training we will need to do this?

* Will the owners of the property in question be receptive? Can you imagine walking up to a house where your ancestor used to live and asking the owner "can I dig around where the outhouse used to be?" O-kay...

* Will the bones have names on them? I doubt it!

* Will the papers be important? I doubt it!

* Won't most of the genealogically relevant items be decomposed?

I can hardly wait to get my syllabus with the speakers handouts!

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