Ever feel like the answer to your brick wall “has to be here somewhere, I just can’t see it!” We all do. But there's a remedy. Read on.
Taking your time and slowing down will produce the best results and improve your ability to notice clues and hints. But how do we do that? These four tips will help you “slow down” and will make all the difference!
Examine documents OFF the computer (Yes, really)
Scanning a computer screen is just that - scanning, skimming. You’re HOPING the answer will jump off the screen. But if you have a complex problem, it requires deep thinking instead. Our brains engage in deep thought better when we are more interactive with what we are studying.
For example, when we hold papers or write words, we must pay more attention than if we are just skimming through lists of facts on a screen. Think about it, most people prefer a paper book to an electronic screen for comprehension. Why is that? Our brains work better when we are interacting physically with the document. Print the documents so you can hold the papers, highlight or circle words, and write notes.
Transcribe the documents
OR... at a minimum, use your finger or a pencil to touch each word. This may seem silly or tedious, but it will make you slow down and concentrate on each word. Transcribing causes us to consider the words, making sure we read and understand each one. It prevents us from skipping any part.
Rewrite it in your own words
We don’t always UNDERSTAND the entire document, especially if we read things quickly. But if we re-write what the record says in our own words, it ensures we understand it. Sometimes, the part we don’t quite comprehend of deeds, tax records, probate files, etc., can be the very thing that breaks down our brick wall. Taking the time to summarize or abstract the records is a great technique to gain understanding.
Set aside time to do nothing but think
We need time to think in depth without being distracted about the genealogy mystery. It takes discipline and you may need reminders. Write the information on an index card and keep it on your desk or taped to the fridge. When you see that card, you’ll be reminded to think about the information. What does this mean? Why did that happen? Who is this other person mentioned in the record? When could this even have occurred? Where did they live before? How were they able to accomplish this? Before you know it, you'll have many new theories and searches on your to-do list!
In genealogy, we tend to rush to the next clue and the next hint and the next ancestor. But when we slow down, we actually produce better results.