Pat Burns

 Family and Genealogy

Genealogy Cluster Research

This weeks topics are:

  • Conducting Cluster Research
  • Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos

Conducting Cluster Research

Cluster research as defined by Thomas MacEntee: “When you research the friends, associates and neighbors (aka F.A.N. club) who were part of the community of your direct line ancestors.”  This usually means focusing on the geographical area. Just a few great resources I have found helpful for finding FANs:

  • US and State Census Records.  When you look at the neighbors, you may be able to learn something.  I see many familiar names in my ancestors census records.
  • If you find your ancestors on Plat Maps, you can see who their neighbors were.(See my post on Plat Maps for more information).
  • Baptism and Marriage records will usually list witnesses. Who were they? What connection did they have to your family?

Cluster research can be very helpful when trying to break down those brick walls or when you have a common name ancestor. Thomas referred us to QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle1 by Elizabeth Shown Mills, which provides great examples. You may just find a clue that will break down that brick wall or enhance your ancestors story.

My grandparents and great grandparents tended to marry within their community and church affiliations. Mothers side was Danish Lutheran (Nebraska) and my fathers was German Catholic (Iowa).

Here are Thomas MacEntees Best Practices for Cluster and Collateral Searching:

  • Always use a research log.
  • Formulate theories and write them down.
  • Try Spelling variations on the names.
  • Stop relying on records that are indexed.
  • Try swapping given and middle names.
  • Search by address.
  • Do a reasonably exhaustive search.
  • Search over township, county and/or state boundaries.

Organizing Research Materials – Documents and Photos

Here are some of the things I’ve done to organize my documents and pictures.

  • Scanned my physical photos in TIFF format at 600 dpi,
  • Scanned all of my historical documents in TIFF format at 300 dpi.
  • Placed all of my historical documents in acid free sheet protectors.
  • Organized most of my pictures by timeframe.
  • Stored most of my photos in acid free plastic binder protectors or storage boxes.

However, I have a few boxes of pictures that are not organized and just sitting in open boxes. I also have many ‘framed’ photos that are no longer displayed. Although I don’t plan to do that this week, what I do plan to do is buy a few more acid free storage boxes and work these as I have time.

1 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : accessed 04 Mar 2015).

The Genealogy Do-Over journey is a 13 week challenge from Thomas MacEntee, of GeneaBloggers.


Pat Burns. Copyright © 2021. All Rights Reserved.
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