Finding what you are not looking for

While focused research is vital it can also unintentionally lead to what is called “inattentional blindness,” that is, looking without seeing[1]. In other words, if you are looking for one thing–one name, for example–you might miss other things.

Take a look at the following video:


Are you guilty of this when researching?

When you are searching tax lists or census records, do you focus tightly on certain names or surnames? Or do you search with your eyes open, noticing what else is happening in the records? You might be surprised at what you see in the records when you simply pay attention.


[1] David McRaney, “Inattentional Blindness,” in You Are Not So Smart: A Celebration of Self-Delusion blog, posted 1 October 2009 ( : accessed 21 Nov 2011).

3 thoughts on “Finding what you are not looking for

  1. Good point, Michael! The more research experience I have, the more cognizant I am of the less obvious clues in the records. The NGS course I recently completed, helped me hone my research skills. It is amazing what an untrained eye will miss.

  2. I agree it is a good point. I would like to add that wider attention is much easier when one is looking at records (which sit on the page as long as you wish) rather than focusing on action as in the video.

    Seeing the bear in the video would distract you from the count; seeing the other items on a static page only takes attention to detail.

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