Remembering Who You Are: Genealogy For Your Brain Health

March 30, 2010 at 7:16 pm 1 comment

Family Tree - Image by fangol on Stock.Xcng
By now, you probably know that exercising your brain is an important part of maintaining the health of your mind and memory.  You may also know that  specially targeted brain fitness programs (like Dakim) and intellectually challenging  hobbies can be part of that exercise, helping to keep your brain fit and healthy.   This week, I thought we’d look at a popular hobby that offers a unique set of challenges to our minds and memories – tracing the family tree.

Why is it so unique? Building your personal family history starts with your own memories. Recording what you know about your family strengthens those memories, and every time you go back over that information, the neural network that supports it becomes stronger.

At the same time that you’re reinforcing old memories, you’re laying down new memories – new information that you’ll discover about family members, history, geography.

Once you’ve gone beyond the known history and start filling the blanks, the family tree becomes a puzzle.  You’ll need to guess at names, spellings, misspellings, and name changes.  You may need to try and decipher which Ruth Justin is your great great grandmother, and which one is your great aunt.   You’ll learn little bits of history and geography as you go, and find yourself imagining what your ancestors looked like, how they lived.

Keeping track of all the begats, birth dates, and knowing which scraps of information go where? It’s a pretty good intellectual workout.!  Even with modern genealogical software and the extensive online databases, tracing your family is a complicated, mentally challenging process.

Although much of the work can be done online, before long, you’ll likely find yourself wanting to visit the areas your family lived in.  You may want information directly from court houses and libraries, you may need to visit cemeteries, or you might need to drop in on distant relatives to ask questions and get copies of documents and photos.

The whole process is quite the brain workout. You’ll reinforce old memories, build new ones. You’ll learn to use new research tools, software, develop new organizational skills.  Once you start contacting distant family members, it becomes a social outlet (also good for the brain) and travel to new areas?  Exposure to different environments is connected to keeping a sharp and active mind.

And it’s never ending – there’s always more to find, new challenges to conquer, more puzzles to work out, different things to learn.  As you move deeper into your history, the difficulty increases, and you’ll find yourself looking into distant lands and times – meeting the requirements of “new and novel” brain exercises.

Have older relatives you’d like to involve, but you don’t think they’ll remember?

The parts of the brain that store our oldest and most important memories are some of the last to be effected by diseases like Alzheimer’s – so even family members who suffer from cognitive difficulties can often contribute to a genealogy project.  Going through old photos can trigger memories, and participating helps to restore a sense of self and purpose, and a challenging project like putting together family information might help even the most senior of brains be a bit more healthy and fit.

I love the idea that remembering who we are, in terms of our family history, can help us strengthen our minds and memories.

What do you think about the idea? Going to give it a whirl? I warn you… it’s addictive!

Entry filed under: Be Mentally Active. Tags: , .

Get Moving for Your Memory (even if you’re out of shape or physically limited) A Reliable Medical Memory Test You Do By Yourself.

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Linda Buroker  |  April 3, 2010 at 10:04 am

    I love your blog. Your bio is great and it makes me want to know you and read more of your work. I was particularly drawn to your article on genealogy. My own blog for smart seniors also promotes health and ideas for independent living and I feel very strongly about people taking charge of their own lives. I would love it if you would visit my site. I look forward to visiting your site again. Linda


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About This Blog

A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness



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