Sunday, October 1, 2017

Desperation: Why My New Genealogy Research Strategy Is A Cluster

I get the premise behind genealogy cluster research. If records are nonexistent for your ancestor, turn to those around them and look for patterns, relationships, or even outright answers.

Elizabeth Shown Mills branded this research strategy as the FAN principle. The idea is simple: sift through the records of your ancestor's Friends, Associates, and Neighbors in the hope of discovering overlap with your people. Perhaps a clue may lead beyond missing records and catapult you over your research brick wall.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? What could drive a family historian to commit precious time to researching the lives of strangers?

One word: Desperation.


What Drives A Genealogist To The Brink?
Genealogists don't easily give up. We scream and cry laugh in the face of brick walls as we employ different tactics to chisel our way to the other side.

I'm currently on a research journey to identify the parents and ancestral origins of my fifth great-grandfather Thomas Kirk (1778-1846).

History has conspired against me, tying my hands. As fate would have it, his local courthouse burned to the ground, pre-1820 Ohio census records are non-existent, and family lore is dim.

My poor luck and limited research options have left me little choice but to start branching out.

I have identified several persons of interest in the area where Thomas lived - at the same time - who I suspect may be family, perhaps siblings. This includes:

  • John and Margaret (Kirk) Beard
  • Anthony and Mary (Kirk) Geiger
  • Hugh and Nancy Ann (Kirk) Ford

I contacted the Licking County Archives and asked whether any records for these folks survived the courthouse blaze.

Happily, a package arrived in the mail with a smattering of chancery court records for these individuals. The court appearances all centered around land rights.

They're fascinating glimpses into the lives of this cast of characters, but, true to form, they don't boast obvious family linkages. Certainly no mention of Thomas or anyone surnamed Kirk.

My cluster research is helping me to plot a lot of dots - all pieces of evidence - but, as of yet, no clear connections between them. I need a domino to fall to help me, you know, connect the dots.


How has cluster research helped you to break through your genealogy brick walls? What are your best tips? Have you had better luck with a particular record set?

10 comments:

  1. I haven't use it but perhaps I should find this to identify "Mother Coleman 1789-1831" in Huntingdon County PA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let me know if you give it a go and how it works out, Claudia.

      Delete
  2. I've used probated wills with some satisfaction. Also, voter lists (of all record sets I'd never have imagined I'd be able to track a person this way). As always - fingers crossed! Laurene

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probate is difficult in this situation because they were largely destroyed in the courthouse fire. But voter records are a new one to me. I need to look into these. Thanks for the tip, Laurene.

      Delete
  3. I always try to find out if lodgers were relatives, and sometimes that has been fruitful. But since most of my ancestors lived in big cities, it's not a feasible strategy to search all the people living in a big tenement. :( Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make a goodnight point. I need to find the time to eye the neighbors in the census records. What a beastly project.

      Delete
  4. I am presently tracing a family around 1750 with the same name and in the same geographical area (Luxembourg) as "MY" family to try to link it to mine and figure out the next generation through hopefully the find of a marriage act. It worked for me once before in an area of France. At least, I hope, my research will make someone happy when I post it on Geneanet, even if it turns out it was not MY family at all. Annick H.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This makes me think about taking a step back and re-reviewing folks with the same surname in Ohio (where my research is focused) to see if I strike similar luck. Thanks for bringing this example to my attention, Annick.

      Delete
  5. I use this with the bulk of my research. It works well generally.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll be sure and keep at it! Thanks, Susi.

      Delete