Saturday, June 27, 2020

Brick Wall Ancestors
and Invisible Gorillas

While struggling over the lack of leads to further identify the roots of my father-in-law's great-grandmother, out of the blue, I remembered a book. Not having anything to do with that Falvey surname in Ireland which currently has me stumped, it's a book by two psychology professors about how much our minds miss of even the things that should seem the most obvious. Aptly named, it's The Invisible Gorilla, brought to us through the studies and reflections of Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.

I've written about the book before. You may have even tested out the video I mentioned back then, which goes along with the subject of the book.

But how quickly we forget. This weekend, after reflecting on how much of a struggle it has been this past week to find any documentation for that one family line I've been seeking in County Kerry, that reminder came back to slap me in the face. Sometimes, things are so obvious, we fail to see them.

Here are a few research tendencies I'm taking to heart—and hopefully avoiding in this upcoming search.

First, remember that, no matter how much we might think we don't, we carry forward in our research those assumptions which have been invisibly embedded in our own outlook on life. If we can't imagine a life without computers, or mobile phones, or—forget mentioning those modern conveniences—even think about a life without antibiotics or refrigerators, how can we think like our ancestors? How could we accurately calculate their most likely plan of action when confronted with impossible situations (like the Great Famine)? Forget that, how could we guess how their everyday choices compound to back them into unexpected corners?

Second, just like subjects in car wrecks might not have been able to spot the very visible threats coming straight at them, we may well be staring straight at the document which holds the answers to the research questions which have us struggling. Could it be that taking a second look at all those documents which didn't help before actually lead to an answer which was always in plain sight, yet unseen?

Third, the activities of daily life can camouflage the unobvious details which are the very clues we are trying to find. Perhaps we can actually find our answers embedded within the constant drone of life's same old same old.

These are just a few thoughts running through my mind as I struggle to see my way clear of this brick wall research problem. They may or may not yield remarkable results—if anything new at all. But in thinking of these things, I am reminded to at least slow down and take my time reviewing what I already know. If nothing else, it encourages me to not consider it a waste of time to look at the same documents twice. Maybe I can see that invisible gorilla detail on the second visit.


  1. Patrick Falvey m. Ann Fleming Kilcummin 1824?

    1. Kat, you've spotted one of the possibilities I've been keeping my eye on. I'll explain why next week, but the Patrick in that entry works well with the naming pattern of Johanna's children, and the Fleming surname has shown up as godparents for some of the baptisms I think belong to this family. But then...sometimes it seems like everyone has repeated the same names in their own family. It's hard to sift the children from the cousins.


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