What do brick walls (of a genealogical kind) have to do with hats?
I was reading an article in “Success,” a type of magazine that I used to read a lot–motivational, leadership, and management sound bites given by people who say they have work force experience and wisdom that might pertain to me. I don’t find that type of magazine interesting any more, except from a historical perspective– what are the pundits saying now that is different from before? One article caught my eye. It was about how to solve tough problems using the analogy of hats–different colored hats. I then immediately applied its premise to genealogy.
Perhaps this article and its approach will help you solve your latest “brick wall” problem. So, pick one of your brick walls and see if “wearing a different hat” suggests to you different approaches to solving your particular puzzling research question:
- White hat: look at what you have already gathered. Do you see anything glaring that stands out that needs to be researched. If so, keep a list of your findings.
- Red Hat: Trust your intuition. What is your intuition telling you to do? While we cannot rely on our intuition, it can lead us to evidence that perhaps is a little out of the ordinary. Be adventuresome and add your thoughts to the growing list of tasks and your thoughts.
- Black hat: Ask yourself, “what if I am wrong?” Go back over your assumptions you have made….start one, two or even three generations before your research question in order to make sure you have made all the correct decisions in the first place. Are there any gaps? Where? Identify the gaps and add each one to the list.
- Yellow Hat: As yourself, “What if I am right?” If the assumptions are correct, are there conflicts? Multiple names or years of birth, unanswered negative evidence or unidentified location of an event? Each conflict should be described independently and added to the list.
- Green Hat: Now it’s time to get crazy. Stand in front of a big white board with a marker and right down all your thoughts about the problem and how you could possibly solve it. Perhaps the trip to the locale of your ancestor is in order? But, there are many options. Add them to the list.
- Blue Hat: Collaborate with someone else and share your problem. Can you articulate your problem? Can you describe what you have completed so far in five bullets? Can you do it? If you can’t, you need to work on the articulation of the problem; If you can, consider writing down “assignments” that you would give to a collaborator on your list.
Now look at your list of disparate entries. Is there a pattern? Is there some prioritization you want to do? Rearrange the elements and what they suggest.
Looking at our brick wall with different hats may actually help get them solved! But, don’t worry–for every problem solved it seems to me that two more problems appear–they’re called “parents”! 🙂
If you want to know more about the “hats” see Carol Jacoby’s blog.
What I have done since the last post: I have been working on the family of my son-in-law, an interesting combination of Italian, England and famine (and later) immigrants from Ireland. They moved to Massachusetts and often worked in the woolen and cotton mills as winders, watchmen, carders and weavers. I also took a vacation on the Cape where I spoke to the Falmouth GS. Always a fun, engaged group to speak to.
 Cecilia Meis,”Brain Games,” Success, January 2018, p.66-68.
 “multi-colored hats,” Google search, using the Images Labeled for Reuse. Cluster of hats broken down into individual hats.