Are you a visual learner? When you’re sorting out your family history research do you often resort to drawing little diagrams on paper to help you make sense of what have and don’t have? When faced with a difficult research problem, I have often done the drawing thing, only to have to erase, redraw, and waste a lot of time in the process. I recently decided to try mind mapping a research project just to see how it would work for me. How did it work? Keep reading and I’ll fill you in.
My mind mapping journey began with Peg Ivanyo’s class at RootsTech 2016. Peg piqued my interest with her examples and I ordered Ron Arons book, Mind Maps for Genealogy to get me started.¹ My tech savvy son found mindmup.com, a free open source, web application for me to use and I was off and running. I needed research experience in Florida for Accreditation and I randomly picked Arthur Dillard, because he showed up in a Florida land record in 1843. Dillard is my gg grandmother’s surname and I don’t have parents for her. I hoped I would make some connections to help in researching her Dillard line.
I clicked on “Create a new map” and got a new screen that explained the various storage options.
Clicking “more information about storage options” I learned that with the new version 2.0, only saving to Google Drive is supported at the moment.
If you have gmail, you already have a Google Account and can start using Google Drive to organize all of your web based creations. I clicked “private map on Google Drive.”
I control the sharing, which means I can make this map just for me, share with a client, or share with fellow researchers. I can change the sharing options at any time.
The first thing I saw was this screen with the first node in blue. “Node” is the mind mapping terminology for boxes.
I double clicked in the blue box and started my very first electronic mind map. Hovering my mouse over each of the icons on the toolbar shown on the right hand side of the screen, I quickly learned how to add parents, children, and siblings. On a mind map, a “parent” is the central node. Adding a “child” creates a new node with a line connecting it to the parent. Adding a “sibling” creates a new node connecting back to the parent. Before I did anything, I just played with the relationships to learn how the program worked.
I started with Arthur Dillard as the “parent,” then added various record types as “children.” Then I added “children” to each record type for the specific records I had found. If I messed up I used the “undo” option under edit and I even began to learn the keystrokes.
The screen was intuitive and a lot of fun to use. Right clicking on a box let me change the node color. As I researched Arthur Dillard, I added each record to the map.
The default version has curvy connecting lines, but I decided I liked a more linear map so I clicked “Extensions” at the top of the page and changed to straight connecting lines.
Notice the little paper clips on several of the nodes. That means that I have attached notes or an image to that record. By clicking on the paper clip for the will of his father, I can quickly see a link to the document on Ancestry.com and the information I abstracted.
Being able to attach notes, an image, or links to the nodes has made reviewing my research so fast and easy. Each time I return to this project, I can quickly see at a glance what sources I’ve gathered for Arthur Dillard. As you can see from the image above, I have many more record collections to search: court and probate records, cemetery records, county histories, the fun is just beginning.
Some of the applications for a Mind Map that Ron Arons lists on the cover of his book are:
- Visually stunning reports
- The FAN Principle / Cluster Research
- Inferential Genealogy
- Entire Life-Focused Genealogy
- Story Telling
- Research Planning
- Research Logging
- Genealogical Proof Standard
- Simplified Correlation
- Clearer Thinking
The great thing about mind maps is that you’re only limited by your imagination. You can create as simple or as complicated maps as you like. You can even add an image right into the node or box of your mind map:
Creating a mind map might be a fun summer project for your teenager or someone else you’re trying to hook on family history. Check out how Nicole used MindMup to create a family tree here in her post about creating family trees with kids.
Give it a try and see how fun it is to map your family history!
¹Ron Arons, Mind Maps for Genealogy: Enhanced Research Planning, Correlation, and Analysis, Criminal Research Press, Oakland, California, 2014.