Friday, October 16, 2020

Learning by Osmosis


How does one go about learning something new, when there is no handy pre-fab class developed to hand the hapless researcher everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-in-a-box? You don't just sit there and bemoan your fate. None of this "woe is me" stuff, here. You simply stumble on ahead, opening yourself up to an experience I like to call "Learning by Osmosis."

Immersing yourself in a topic, seeing what others are doing and comparing the unknown with already-established protocols and proper methodology, can be one way to lift yourself out of the pit which has strategically been placed in front of your research brick wall. After all, if you don't gain any traction on your research dilemma, all that is left is...nothing. And nothing will never do.

I learned a long time ago the key is in finding the finding aids. Some are obvious. Others take some searching to uncover.

Of the former, while I sometimes have my doubts, I have learned to graciously allow that Google might be my friend—at least when it comes to searching the Internet. I also learned, from those years spent researching Irish resources in preparation for my trip to the Emerald Isle, that Google comes in many flavors: the Irish turn to Discovering that little local detail leads me to conclude that, if I want to search the Internet like people in New Zealand do, I best learn the appropriate suffix to attach to the Google address for those as-yet-undiscovered resources in this new-to-me country.

Second order of business: check out what Cyndi's List has for New Zealand resources. Prepare to read up on a lot of new information. Some processes and record sets will be vaguely familiar to anyone researching ancestors in the English-speaking universe; others may seem totally unexpected.

Just perusing entries in one particular New Zealand blog, for instance, I stumbled upon this detail

We have some fairly robust privacy laws in New Zealand and most of the official records that genealogists are interested in, particularly the records that contain personal information, are sealed for around 100 years from the date of their creation to protect the privacy of living persons.

While that may also be the case in other countries, it's important to keep that detail in mind while going through the typical genealogical research process. What works in your country may not be how it's done in the residence of your distant cousins.

Stepping off the beaten path of go-to resources often used by family history researchers may mean setting aside down time to read up on background information. In my case, I don't know much more about New Zealand than the name of some main cities, and the fact that there is a North Island and a South Island. I clearly need to immerse myself in some familiarization of my research plan's new target country.

Not only is geography necessary when researching this new-to-me land of distant cousins, but so are customs and general way-of-life. Those pinpoints on our ancestors' timelines make more sense when viewed not only in the context of historic events, but also within the understanding of local customs and culturally-defined norms. Just because your ancestors spoke English doesn't necessarily mean that all their descendants live a life filled with the same assumptions and expectations as yours.

With those thoughts in mind, I'm off to explore just what it meant for some of my husband's fourth cousins to narrate a life so vastly different than his, yet told in the same language with which he tells the story of his own.


  1. Another post that strikes a real chord with me. I like having a term, "learning-by-osmosis," to give some credit to what I have always worried about - my not being methodical enough, not learning things in a correct or quick way. I really do have to wander down many paths, not always understanding what is going on - just knowing that it may all come together in my brain later.

    1. That's exactly how it goes, Lisa: those disparate parts eventually do come together, but when you are assembling all the unrelated wisps, it's hard to know which ones belong to the puzzle at all.

      Don't let the process dismay you, Lisa. It is just a different way of thinking, but certainly a valid approach to problem solving. When we don't yet know what the "whole" consists of, we can't really have a pre-determined count of how many parts belong in the puzzle at the start.

      That's why it feels like "wandering." But we are the not-yet-knowing, the not-having-discovered. If we already knew the answer, then we'd have known the method.


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