Saturday, December 10, 2022

Not (Unfortunately) Off This Shelf


Periodically, I like to pull a book down off my shelf which I had bought, well meaning, years ago—but never read. I'd like to think I can do the same this month, considering my current research involvement with an American watchmaker who might have been tangentially related to my family. However, when I pulled up the title on a bookseller's website, the best price I could find was for a used volume selling for well over one hundred dollars.

Um...I like books, but not that much.

My next attempt was to search on WorldCat for the closest library sporting the title. It appears that only two libraries in my entire state hold copies of this book, requiring a long drive. Worse, even the libraries near the places I plan to travel to next year don't include that title.

The book is the late Marvin E. Whitney's four hundred ninety nine page tome, The Ship's Chronometer. According to the official blurb, this 1984 publication provides a comprehensive treatise on ships' chronometers. Somewhere, buried in all the detail, is supposedly a page or two on the Eggert Chronometer and the man who originated the business. It's that specific Eggert ancestor whom I am after, but I will evidently have to wait for better fortune before I can access those hidden details.

What to do when an ancestor was known for a particular craft or profession? If you are like me, pursuing family history means far more than researching mere names, dates, and locations. You want to reconstruct a life, and learn about what each ancestor was truly like. What better way to learn such secrets than to examine the very stuff that went into the bulk of an ancestor's life: a person's occupation.

Getting curious about alternate ways to research such information, I took a casual glance through the "occupations" category at Cyndi's List.

Yes, there is such a listing. And it comes with many sub-headings. There are a variety of occupations listed, everything from the expected professions like scientist or photographers, to the least expected (try lace makers, circus workers or even prostitutes). Still, even though there was an entry for mariners and seafarers, that was not exactly what I was seeking.

I know that understanding the underpinnings of an occupation can help broaden a researcher's understanding of a particular ancestor, but apparently the information I am seeking on this Eggert ancestor is far too specific for mainstream research. I've benefited from membership information regarding ancestors working in law enforcement or medical professions and certainly for those working as musicians, actors, and attorneys. Why not for watchmakers?

I understand that the book which, but for the matter of a spare Benjamin, I would be consulting this moment contains some of the information I'm currently coveting. But you know how it goes: there is always another route to get around that brick wall. We'll piece together that story one way or another.

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