Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ghosts in the Database

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Huntington Library has opened an enormous database with information about the lives of over 100,000 indigenous people, according to "Huntington Library Database Tells the Stories of 100,000 Mission Indians." Now the Early California Population Project has to figure out how to make its database more user-friendly for elementary school children doing reports on native tribes. But in the meantime, it is encouraging to see the lives of these first Californians documented, even if the information is generally limited to birth, marriage, and death records.

Since I'm a rhetorician, I'm fascinated with naming, as a primordial speech act. As I discovered from doing a few searches, looking for godparent information for the Pueblo of Los Angeles, the original names of the natives are sometimes also preserved in these documents. And thus names from even extinct tribes survive. I found Coguiuayet, Sayavit, Echsep, Culluxilly, and many others long since dead.



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