23 March 2007

Operant conditioning in genealogy

I've been researching a great uncle, one my grandmother had little contact with after he moved to Canada and she married. On Tuesday a copy of his will arrived in the mail. It was gratifying to read that he had not totally overlooked his sister making her beneficiary in the event that none of his descendants survived.

In the will he expressed his wish to be buried next to his wife. It named the cemetery where she was buried and I wondered if he was there. As he had died in Majorca I thought maybe not. I also wanted to know whether other family members were buried there. So I Googled. There is a web site for the cemetery, and I sent an email seeking information. The next day's inbox contained a courteous reply that he was indeed there beside his wife and giving the plot numbers, section and dates of burial. In addition the message noted that his daughter, son and daughter-in-law are all buried in the same cemetery. There was also an offer of a map to show the locations.

A similar request, to a cemetery on a different continent sent earlier in the week, seems to have been ignored. Previous experience is mixed with enough positive experiences to keep one hopeful.

Operant conditioning explains that a randomly administered reward is the most effective way to get a rat trained to press a lever. It seems to apply in genealogy too.

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