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A Genealogist In The Archives: Book Review: "The Psychology of Searching" by Dr. Penny Walters

Friday, November 13, 2020

Book Review: "The Psychology of Searching" by Dr. Penny Walters

The Psychology of Searching by Dr. Penny Walters is a self-published book about looking at the psychology of why we do genealogy research. Why are we interested in our family tree and our ancestor’s past. This look at the reasons why we genealogists do genealogy intrigued me because I am always asking “Why?” about my ancestors and part of that “why” is why do we do genealogy.

This book has only 163 pages with 22 pages dedicated to a robust reference section. The chapter headings themselves will no doubt interest any genealogist:

Chapter 1: Why do we ‘do’ genealogy?

Chapter 2: What is a relative?

Chapter 3: Reconstructing the past

Chapter 4: The psychology of naming

Chapter 5: How do you visually present your family?

Chapter 6: Death and dying

The author digs right in with Chapter 1: Why do we ‘do’ genealogy? She asks the question “What is your motivation to start compiling your family history?” which made me stop and think what my answer to that question would be. I think all genealogists can remember what it was that started them on their journey of researching their family history. Whatever the reason, Walters goes into the psychology of why genealogists do what they do. I appreciated the fact that on Page 8 the author says “Genealogy is not like other pastimes. In fact, it is not really a pastime at all. Genealogy is a field of study that is integral to the human condition.” I would completely agree with this quote.

Chapter 3 was probably my favorite chapter of this book. Dr. Penny Walters dedicates this chapter to genealogists reconstructing the past, their ancestor’s past. What I liked about this chapter is the fact that Walters emphasized the need to know everything about our ancestors. More than just dates of birth, marriage, and death. As the very beginning of the chapter, Walters asks “What did my ancestors do all day?” This is exactly the question I ask myself as I research my ancestors. I want to know everything there is to know about each ancestor. I want to know what they had for breakfast, what were their hobbies, what did they do daily. Walters quotes Bob Brooke on page 63 as stating “Tracing a family’s emotional behaviour patterns over the last few generations can shed light on present day problems.” This statement is so true and one that I have researched myself and have seen the correlation.

I must say that Chapter 6 addresses the question that I suspect all genealogists get “Why are you looking for dead people?” I have gotten this question from several of my family members who don’t understand why I want to know information about our ancestors who are dead and gone. Walters covers different religions and their beliefs about death. She then talks about genealogy records relating to death that the genealogists can seek online and at various archives.

The reference section starting on page 141 is quite extensive and I was pleased to see such a healthy reference section. As an archivist, when I read a book I usually go directly to the reference, notes or bibliography section just to see what the author used as reference for what they have written. Dr. Penny Walters has a variety of references, everything from academic psychology reference works to well known genealogists such as Lisa Louise Cooke owner of Genealogy Gems. I found myself highlighting and taking notes while reading through the reference section of this book so that I could do further reading.

Dr. Penny Walters has done a wonderful job with this most recent work and I recommend it to my genealogy friends. I can also recommend her previously published book Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for the review.