Monday, October 27, 2014

Do We Have the Genealogy Reflexes We Need?

Elizabeth Shown Mills calls them "mindsets." Thomas W. Jones calls them "dispositions." By whatever name, they go a long way toward explaining why some people have 20 years of experience in genealogy, and others have just one year's experience repeated 20 times.

Genealogy is not just about what we know, it's about how we react. If we're disposed to react in a useful way, then we're more likely to learn what we need to know about genealogy and about our families.

Recently I tried to boil down the important genealogy reflexes to a short simple list. So far I've got them down to five. If we have to travel light, I think we could manage with just the first two. What would you add or subtract?

1.When I learn a new genealogical fact, I ask, "How do they know? Where did that come from?"

2. When I make mistakes, I appreciate being corrected. Sometimes I seek out correction (from a friend, an editor, or a credentialing body).

3. When I see a strange word in a document, I find out what it means.

4. I look for clues everywhere, but I don't trust any clue by itself.

5. I attend conferences and institutes within reason, even though I think I've heard it all before . . . because, chances are, I haven't.

Harold Henderson, "Do We Have the Genealogy Reflexes We Need?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 27 October 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Yvette Hoitink said...

Great list! I would add always wondering "Now why would they do that?" when finding out something about an ancestor. Just brainstorming about these possibilities often leads me to new record sets to consult.

Harold Henderson said...

Thank you, Yvette! That would fit right in with #3.


Geolover said...

Thanks for your intriguing list, Harold. It prompted consideration of various angles on ~context~.

Jana Iverson Last said...


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!

Toni said...

Great list, Harold. I featured it in the most recent Visit Salt Lake Genealogy Newsletter.

Harold Henderson said...

Toni, that is fine with me as long as you include my name and the URL where you found it. Please send me a copy of the newsleter!