My Job & Ellis Island
Half my family can’t trace their history back more than a hundred years because when we entered the harbor our names were changed, in one case a simplification of the original name, in the second case to the name of the town whence we came. Many people take for granted the fact that even have family histories, though by the complete disinterest shown by my older relatives, perhaps I’m just wrong, as they don’t seem to care in the slightest about who came before them. So it’s up to me.
In the meantime, as I transfer old medical records from handwritten to digital, a lot of these people don’t seem to have any idea how to even write their own names. I don’t hold potential illiteracy or poor handwriting/memory/deteriorating bodies against Them except insofar as it makes my job more difficult, especially considering that a large number of these troublesome records likely represent deceased patients. And what do I do? I write their names however I see fit. And their addresses. Sometimes I discover a corrected spelling of the name when two patients have the same address. A lot of people aren’t sure if they have diabetes or not. A lot of people don’t know their zip codes. A lot don’t know how to spell the name of their cities. A lot don’t check either ‘male’ or ‘female.’ A lot aren’t sure of what year they were born, and significantly more don’t know how to properly express the full date of their birth–so they take creative liberty in doing so. And then, here I am, trying to transliterate all of this into what makes the most sense to the greatest number of people in the office. But, no doubt, I get it wrong often enough. And in a way, I’m just inventing people, addresses, and medical histories; I might as well work at Ellis Island; I might as well be Shakespeare.