Monday, June 25, 2007

June 25 Program - Anne J. Miller on "Overcoming Obstacles..."

We had our Chula Vista Genealogical Society (CVGS) meeting today at the library, with about 40 in attendance. Anne J. Miller from Temecula was our guest speaker on "Overcoming Obstacles that Interfere with Finding Your Ancestors." Anne's biography and talk summary are here.

Anne used her professional experience as a PhD psychologist in this talk - telling us that our problem solving styles, first impressions and assumptions, our thoughts and beliefs sometimes hinder us from finding our ancestors.

She introduced and defined "convergent thinking" (oriented toward finding the best single answer to a question) and "divergent thinking" (producing many possible answers to a question). A purely convergent thinker would search for only "John Robinson Hall" and no other name variation. A purely divergent thinker would "name collect" all people named Hall, put them in a database, but would never put them into families. The ideal for genealogists is to be a divergent thinker but not obsessively so. We should search for all possible answers, but work toward finding the right answer to a problem.

She noted that first impressions and assumptions that people have may be wrong, and that people may consciously or subconsciously ignore, excuse or reject information that doesn't fit. One of her examples was a family story about a great-grandfather who was born in Scotland and his family owned a mansion there. The truth was that the fellow was born in Ireland, but the family members refused to believe it because the Scottish story had been handed down over several generations and they wanted to believe it.

Anne showed a list of surnames with just one letter different, and discussed how the Soundex method of finding similar sounding names won't work on them - essentially because of an added or missing consonant in the name, or because the surname was indexed with a different first letter. Examples included Irwin - Erwin, Owens - Owen, Vasquez - Basquez, Niles - Miles, Johnson - Johnston, Thomason - Thompson, Colton - Cotton, Leigh - Lee. Understanding the Soundex system is still important, since and other search engines use it for their "Sound-like" searches.

She recommended that researchers should be aware of their thinking style, try to think outside the box, and consider all possible solutions to a problem. You should question your beliefs, assumptions and research findings. Understand how, why and when various sources were created, and then critically evaluate them. You should expect the unexpected - other marriages, divorces, people moving in unexpected directions, name spelling errors, etc.

This was an excellent talk on a subject of interest to all researchers - from an angle that many of us don't consider.

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