We usually have all the facts to hand but by using this process to visualise the material it can sometimes help us cross the barrier. While the term, mind-mapping is modern, the concept is ancient! Rarely do I see family historians using it as a research tool and yet I have found it quite successful. In fact you probably undertake such thinking all the time but never take the second most important step of putting thoughts on paper to use our powerful sense of visualisation!
A mind-map requires the use of paper and pencil. By putting together the known facts and linking them to places, times and/or events one can often reveal a new avenue of research previously not considered. It maybe that your barrier results from too many possibilities such as a multitude of people with the same common names and this process may help eliminate some of the candidates.
All mind-maps start with a basic concept that is more often than not a simple question. It might be as basic as when and where did Joe Smith die? What was Mary Jones maiden name? Where did George Johnson come from? The latter question relates to my maternal 2g-grandfather who appears out of nowhere in 1847 and is likely one of the countless men of the same name born about 1820 in Britain. This starting point is recorded in the centre of your sheet of paper and around it you record known facts and/or further questions that may resolve the problem. Thus in the case of George, a question could be, where was he recorded in the 1841 Census? Another, does the emigration to South Australia records provide personal information? What was his father’s name on his marriage certificate? These sub-questions/concepts may in turn lead to their own set of questions creating a new hub in the web. For example in my case George, who emigrated to SA in 1847, is obviously not in the 1851 Census. By recording all the George Johnsons in the 1841 Census and then locating them in the 1851 Census it could eliminate a number of candidates. While it does, the relatively poorer 1841 Census enumeration and coverage does not help the process in this particular case!
Pictured below: A mindmap of the process of mindmapping!
See Go Conqr.
Of course mind-mapping may not provide an answer as has been the case with George Johnson but the exercise did reduce the number of candidates considerably and doubtless there are some questions I have not even considered asking that may produce an answer!
If you decide to try this process to resolve some of your barriers, I recommend initially trying it just using paper and pencil. You may be inclined to use a free (at the basic level) online program like Coggle or SimpleMind, but I suspect initially you may find this virtual process a little daunting until you become familiar with the way you work. You may end up spending all your effort on understanding the app with all its logos and colour scheme rather than applying the process! Moreover, I find the program limitations annoying. None I have tested allows the linking of concept hubs.
Many people have good visualization and this process will get any kind of information out of your head and into an organised visual structure. If you do give the process a try I would welcome your opinions.