World building and hobbies would seem to have little in common except that, these days, world building games like Minecraft (favored among my grandsons) and Fortnite (despised by same) take time, go nowhere, and build worlds. They carefully rejected my assessment of Terraria as world building explaining in simple words that survival was its object. I don’t even know how to turn the consoles on, or anything else.
Are hobbies not worthwhile? The definition, sadly, leads to that. Think of the word “hobby horse.” As such, I don’t have what I’d call hobbies. Instead, I have things that I do for various reasons: gardening, for example. Again sadly, no fruit or vegetables result from it, just flowers. One thing I do is hard to describe. It’s called indexing, and the result builds access to historical records that need to be digitized. I once worked on a 19th century British census, recording names and relationships for thousands of entries. The final result, after my results and those of others were completed and verified, made those handwritten documents searchable, i.e., indexed.
Yesterday’s project was much more simple. In 1917, men in Connecticut were asked to fill out questionnaires regarding their backgrounds, height and weight, marital status (married soon, one wrote), and so on, for the war effort. Pretty standard stuff. But the more interesting section, all heaped on at the end, included questions remote to us 100+ years later. Could he ride a horse? (Most could.) Manage a team? (Many could. And, hurray for YouTube, you can learn how here. It’s a horse or mule team, by the way, not soccer.) Drive a car? (Few, actually. Remember the year.) Understand telegraphy, have experience with steam engines, swim? It was quite the list. My job, however, was simply to input location, name, and age. A batch of 3 takes about a minute. And it’s a bit addictive. All the rest of the information will be available at some point, and gladly received, when someone searches out her great-grandfather, finds his name, and accesses the record. So, not a hobby, not world building, but something I do.
That’s where I came across the place named Plainville, Conn. (We don’t expand abbreviations.) We have a Plainview, Texas, and there are apparently several other places in the country with this name, but it struck me as a bit uncreative. The men’s names, however, were not plain at all: Nicolo Zoccos, Giovanni Cioto, Stazi Angelo. They were all short men, 5 feet tall or 5’3”. Italians, they reported. One man had the last name Przvizamavski. He was Polish. Others were from French Canada, Finland, Scotland, Russia, Austria. It was fascinating, even in as plain a place as Plainville.
So I decided to look into the current city view. It’s small, under 20,000 people. But the diversity is still there: Weinhofer and Alosso run departments. There are 30 justices of the peace (a different system than my little town, apparently), and their names reflect the area’s heritage too: Blanchette, Drezek, Romonow, Harper, Sawczuk, Winkoop, Zakrzewski.
My own great-great-grandparents were nearby, in fact. New Haven seems to be where they settled upon arriving from Scotland. My great-grandmother, born in 1865, lived there until her father died in 1879. She was then sent to Onion Creek, a little place near Austin, to live with her aunts because her mother had died in 1865. I remember they had a little hat shop. People wore hats then. That’s about all I know, but, if you think about it, that’s quite a lot, removed by time and space. Her name was Margaret Zuleika Tait, before she married. I do know that. Perhaps there is a picture somewhere. And, of course, because of her, I am here.
Indexing is a thing I do. You could, too, if you’re a bit bored and have a minute or two to spare. Someone looking for a great-grand might thank you, silently, someday. A hobby that helps someone else build a world. Even better than a hobby…