Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Genealogists - How Our Brains Assimilate Information

Each of us has a unique functioning tool in our heads. Our brains are the power tool that helps us to process thoughts, form ideas, catalog information, communicate emotions, and many other processes on a continual basis. Yes, even when we sleep and especially when we are trying to go to sleep. In genealogical research it is a critical tool. It will determine how successful we are in solving genealogical puzzles and help us to piece together the information that we gather. We are the computer system and we can impact how that system works, yet sometimes things may get out of our control.

There are forty-two files in the computer database program that I use to organize the work I do for others and myself. Without those files, I could not possibly remember the vast amount of information that they contain. When someone contacts me after a period of time with a question, I must turn to the files to retrieve that information. There is probably that many more people that I have helped, but did not create a file for them. The people, for whom I do not create a personal computer database of their family history, are those who do not have any interest in such a file and our work together is on a very limited basis.

These are the people for whom we create a family tree at familysearch.org, or another online family tree. I prefer familysearch.org as it is open to everyone and is free to search. Usually, they are older people, who are intimidated by the computer. We want to capture the information that they know, and combine it with the information that they have gathered about their families, before they are unable to do so. They often have worked for years on their family history and have information that is unique to their family. Once they are gone, their information is lost and any physical collection they have may be cast into the dumpster. So, for people who are older and concerned about their genealogy, I am willing to help them in preserving that information.

Then there are people who are so intent on research that they will not take the time to get organized. Others will feed me tidbits of information, not wanting to disclose everything about the family. The problem with that is that we need those connections in order to be truly successful. We need a road map to effectively piece together the details and look for the hidden connections that will validate the information that we have.

We all have to consider how we work best in doing research. That means understanding the capabilities of our brain and using tools that will help us to retain the information that we are gathering in the process of our research. Since, my brain surgeries three years ago, I know that my brain processes things differently. My short-term memory is a challenge and I have to use a process that overcomes that difficulty. Since many of us genealogical researchers are reaching the time in our lives where we will experience this same challenge, we need to become very organized in our research.

A recent blog comment about a serendipity moment made me think about this. The comment is, " What a great experience! Of course, serendipity works best when there is some expertise to help it along."  This expertise she is referring to, is just the ability to process the information in one's brain and come out with a potential research path. Part of becoming a professional genealogist is learning to use these abilities. There are many opportunities to fine-tune our research processing skills. Working with others also refines these skills.

So, how does you brain assimilate genealogical information? What is your best learning style, communicating style, organizing style? What things are going to help you be the best genealogist you can be?


  1. My wife is recovering very successfully from a stroke on Jan 22. Her experience, and all the discussions with folks around the experience, makes this post fit well into my thinking. I'll be doing some blog posts and possibly a couple of Examiner.com articles on related subjects. Thanks for the additional stimulation to my thoughts! ;-)

  2. Hi Bill,
    Thank you for sharing. The one thing that helped most in my recovery was doing genealogy research. I could process information, reocrd it and then verify how I was doing. Wishing both you and your wife well in the process of adapting to these changes. Susan