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That Flash of Recognition

By Daniel Hubbard | March 29, 2010

I suppose everyone has had the experience of learning something new and suddenly that little fact seems to pop up everywhere. That experience has just happened to me again, so I’ve been inspired to write about it. A few posts back I wrote about This Republic of Suffering, about death and dying in mid-nineteenth century America. Before that, I didn’t have an appreciation for how the process of dying was understood at the time of the Civil War. Now, reading The State of Jones, the importance of a soldier’s statements after the slaughter of the Battle of Franklin, just one line out of hundreds of pages, struck with so much more importance—”Franklin was the only battlefield I ever saw where the faces of the majority of the dead expressed supreme fear and terror.” I’d just learned the importance of the facial expressions of the dead, and so that quote leaped from the page, and the deep meaning of that fact for people in that era sprang to mind instantly. A few weeks earlier I would have had no reason to react to that description. Now, it popped out at me the way that only something just learned can.

When this kind of thing happens, hardly a week goes by without seeing that fact in use or somehow being reminded of it. A word you swear you had never seen before last Tuesday is suddenly in every other article you read. A phenomenon is mentioned in a nature program and suddenly you see it whenever you step outdoors. It is truly astounding that things we had never managed to notice, suddenly start popping up everywhere once we become aware of them that first time.

When I learn something new in genealogy, there is instantly so much to do. If it is a new skill, I can go through everything I know of a family and see if there aren’t a few opportunities to use that technique that jump out at me, perhaps some difficulty that I hadn’t even noticed before. Sometimes an implication of data already collected will be what pops out. Something that seemed shaky before, now looks much more solid. A clear way to investigate something opens up. It’s just important to remember the old adage about the man with the hammer that sees all problems as nails. It’s important to make sure the problem really is a nail before trying out that new hammer on it.

If that new bit of knowledge is a fact about a family, it is time to go through the evidence about that family. If I have a good deal of documentation for a family, that means there are many places where that flash of “new fact recognition” can happen. Suddenly something will appear that I hadn’t seen before. Perhaps a neighbor that was just a name in the census or on a land record will take on new significance and jump out at me. Maybe a mystery grave will take on unforeseen importance. It isn’t enough to just plop the discovery into a database or onto a family group sheet. By going through what you have, you may find connections you’ve never seen, connections that pop out at you. New facts are wonderful but if things really start to happen when you look at your data, that is so much better.

Whenever something new is learned, going back over what has already been found is more than a trip down memory lane. It is more than an opportunity to look at things with fresh eyes. Now you have eyes primed to suddenly see connections with that new bit of information or places where that new technique might work wonders. Take advantage of that flash of recognition. Like tipping over one domino can bring down many, learning one new thing can give you the chance to learn many things that you already almost knew.

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Topics: Forgotten History, Genealogy, Methods, Uncategorized | No Comments »

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