The Passionate Genealogist - Using Creativity to Climb Your Brickwalls!

Just back from a Learning and the Brain Conference in Orlando on imagination, curiosity and creativity.  As genealogists we have passion which is the basis for all three, the drive that’s needed for success.  After hearing the wonderful speakers from around the world I began to think that the application for genealogy can knock down our brick walls.  Here’s how-
The beginning of imagination is dreaming.  Our dream may be to discover who our several times great grandpa married or the reason our family moved to an area.  It could be how our grandparents met or why we always have banana birthday cake.  These thought provoking questions for people with passion to learn more about their ancestors lead to pursuing and seeking ways to find the answer to the question. 
The posed research question you act upon is how you demonstrate your curiosity.  One of the sessions had an interesting photo at the beginning – it showed square trees.  The research question presented was where could you find square trees.  I figured it was a trick question and immediately replied Lowes or Home Depot.  Hint:  That’s not the answer the presenter was looking for!  How I formulated my response was by enlisting my background knowledge.  My do-it-yourselfer hubby has had me assist with so many projects involving square wood if I lived in a large city my frame of reference may have been to expect that most trees grew in a square shape because that’s what I would be familiar with in the big box lumber department.  I know that the trees in my neighborhood grown in somewhat of a round shape and that what we find in the store is processed lumber.  Think how this applies to your research.  Do you always rely on your same go to websites – the big names on the web to answer your research question?  That’s not bad or wrong to do but there’s so much more that you’re missing.  Those that want to REALLY know the answer would have their curiosity take them to some out of the box, unconventional places.  I have found the answer to some of my research questions in odd places – on a microfilm in Salt Lake City  of a book that exists in no library today, at a research facility in Boston that had a text that isn’t anywhere in the state the record was compiled from, on a CD created by a rural former church historian of the denomination’s newsletters, in a deed moved from the recorder’s office to an archive, in a letter stuck in a book on the shelf in our study.  Those are just a few examples that pop into my brain that have happened to me in the last six months.  None of those had anything to do with the major genealogical websites.  Please do not think that I don’t value the information that’s now available on the web.  I DO!  I certainly don’t want to go back to those dark ages when information was difficult to obtain.  I highly value and appreciate the big box genealogy sites.  My point is that we need to remember it’s not the be all and end all.  There is more – lots more – and your curiosity will propel you to find the more. 
If you’re thinking, easy for her to say!  I can’t afford, find the time, etc. etc. to go seek this information you’re wrong and doing your research a disservice.  You don’t have to go to Salt Lake or Boston or even clean your house to find the letter in a book.  You can use the technology that’s available to minimize the miles and bring the research to you.  Use Worldcat if it’s available to have your library cooperative bring the material to you.  Same with the microfilm – search Familysearch and order the film to be delivered to a closer site to your home.  Yes, there is a fee but it’s minimal compared to cost involved if you don’t live in the Salt Lake City area.  Aren’t sure how to find what you need?  Call or visit your local library and they will help you.  If they don’t, go to another.  Don’t give up and don’t let negative people stand in your way. 
How interesting is this! I’ve even mentioned big box sites to help you find the information you’re needing.  You are bringing the knowledge closer to you.  That’s why I believe genealogy is a study in patience.  In this info overload world we so often expect the answer to arrive instantly on our phone, tablet or laptop.  As the song says, “Waiting is the hardest part” but could also be the most important and relevant piece of your genealogical puzzle.  While you’re waiting – go make yourself a nice cup of tea and dream some more, then act on that dream and the cycle continues.
See, when you’ve acted on your curiosity you’ve become creative.  It was quite easy!  We all have this ability we just have to practice it. 
We did a cute little exercise at one of the breakout sessions you can take part in.  Go to Answer Garden and answer the question “What is creativity.”  Your answer is right because there is no one right answer so don’t be afraid.  You don’t have to sign in, give your email address, nada!  Once you submit your answer you will get an interesting “art” piece.  I printed it and have it on my workspace as a reminder to be creative. 
Creativity is the quality of human existence that allows us to modify the environment to our needs to make something new and useful.  It’s a mix of intuitive and rational factors.  That’s why we use the Genealogical Proof Standard.  We use our gut and our brain to analyze the findings and reach a conclusion.  We may be right and we may be wrong but until a direct or negative piece of evidence is discovered to make us revisit our findings, our analysis stands.
Creativity is a process and like all processes, has several steps.  Preparation is primary!  If the problem is worth studying you need to have background information and that’s pulling together what you know.  Your answer may be right there in front of you but was overlooked the first time you saw it.  Here’s one of my “Oh, Duh!” moments – wanted to know where an adult child had moved and found it listed on a death certificate for the parent.  Was there all the time but I failed to “see” it.  Don’t reinvent the wheel! Collaborate with others who may have already discovered what you’re looking for.  Email the person who posted that family tree and ask where they got their info.  Sure they might have just copied someone else but they might not have.  If you don’t ask you won’t know.  Asking is free! 
Now you’ve found some tidbit of a record and you don’t know how it fits.  No worries, time for another cup of tea.  You just need to reflect on the finding.  It will allow your brain to storm!  Hmm, maybe I should check this resource or that facility or ask that second cousin.  Research shows brainstorming is best done alone; we are social creatures for the most part and even if we don’t want to believe it, social inhibitions often prevail in group think.  There is a time for collaboration and a time for going solo.  When you’ve got some brainstormed ideas it’s time to put it out there to the genealogical community and step back into collaboration.  How can technology help you in preparation?!  Use Google Docs to share your findings with the other researchers that are working on your same line.  One of the presenters recommended Padlet which I haven’t tried yet but plan to.  It looks like a thinking Pinterest and it’s free.  I like free!  You collaborate with whoever you select to be in your group.  Wish I had known about this a few years back when I was working with several distant relatives to beat the clock to find a Revolutionary War participant so an elderly relative could join the DAR before she passed.  We made it happen but this would have been so much better.  Another awesome idea is to use a Web Whiteboard.  A whiteboard has taken the place of blackboards in the classroom – no squeaky chalk and no dust.  You don’t even need one in your office, you can draw, write or scribble on a virtual whiteboard to help you sort out the connection between those found documents.  Symbaloo may be the answer you need to bookmark your favorite go to web sites.  It’s a free social bookmarking cloud based service that allows you to surf your favorite website with an easy click AND download an ap so you can keep being productive when you’re waiting in line at the checkout or for an appointment. 
Now that you’ve got many ideas to help you with your preparation you’re ready to move to the next stages of creativity:  Incubation and Inspiration.  I love incubation – it’s easy but we don’t do it enough.  We just need to STOP and let our brain process what we’ve found.  Go outside and smell the roses. Take a walk.  Swim.  Lay on the sofa.  Wherever you love to hang, go there!  Your brain is still working on solving but it needs to be left to do it without the pressure of hurry.  It’ll come.  Just wait.  Patience  again!  My brain works in a weird way.  My best solutions for my job as an educator comes when I’m stuck in traffic on the interstate after my 2nd cup of coffee and old hard rock is playing on the radio.   I see my destination off in the distance, Oz beckons me and Voila! The answer is there.  So if you’re like me, you may have your incubation moment in an odd location but if it works, who cares because you’ve reached inspiration.  The unconscious mind (incubation) has brought the solution to be recognized in your conscious mind (inspiration). 
If you’re stuck in incubation here’s some ideas that might help you.  Vocaroo is an online way to share voice messages over the web.  For those of you who are auditory this may really be helpful.  Say what you know into Vocaroo and then listen to what you said.  That’s it.  If you’re a visual learner you may want to Mindmap. Unfortunately, most mindmap sites are not free but you don’t need to purchase it – take a look at images on google and you’ll get the idea.  Mindmap on paper or on the virtual whiteboard.  Poplet is a free sight designed for schools that can help you with a downloadable ap so you can take it anywhere.  Since you’re reading this blog you might be a blogger yourself.  Blogging can also help your inspiration.  You can keep your blog to yourself, include just a few or make it public.  There are lots of blog sites but I like Google’s Blogger.   I don’t want you to think you have to spend a lot of time on becoming creative.  Use your smart phone clock timer to keep yourself in check.  Don’t beat yourself up if the timer goes off and you’re not where you hoped to be.  It’s okay, really. 

The last parts of creativity are Verification – Implementation – Production.  Test the ideas that inspired you.  You’re that much closer to scaling your brick wall.  Happy Hunting!


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