May 13, 2013
Cluster Genealogy - Have You Discovered the Benefits?
According to Wikipedia, Cluster Genealogy "is a research technique employed by genealogists to learn more about an ancestor by examining records left by the ancestor's cluster. A person's cluster consists of the extended family, friends, neighbors, and other associates such as business partners. Researching the lives of an ancestor's cluster leads to a more complete and more accurate picture of the ancestor's life."
In simple terms this just means for example if you can't find out who your great-great grandpa's parents were, try researching his siblings. Look for their marriage records or death certificates or their obituaries. Chances are you will hit pay dirt and find at least one of those records for at least one of the siblings.
I search all siblings on all generation lines even if I am not looking for a specific record or information. This allows me to get a much better idea of my direct ancestor's life and circumstances. Who did great-grandpa's sister marry? Where did they live? Do I think great-grandpa ever went to visit her? The answers to these questions help me to flesh out great-grandpa's life.
Remember, our ancestors didn't live in a vacuum. They had friends and family just as we do. They went on trips. They attended weddings, baptisms and funerals. The more you discover about an ancestor and his/her family members, the more you will begin to see your ancestor as a real living breathing person and not just a name and date.
It's also a good idea to search neighbours, and this is where census records come in handy. Neighbours can turn out to be friends and sometimes a son or daughter marries the girl or boy next door. With any luck you'll find out more about a spouse by searching those on the same page as great-grandpa in the census. Maybe when great-grandpa was a toddler his parents lived next door to the family containing his future wife - the one whose maiden name you've never been able to find. But you won't know until you take a good look and do some in-depth research on those neighbours.
So what are you waiting for? Dig out those census records (you're looking for neighbours) or marriage records (who were the witnesses?) for a brick-wall ancestor and take a really good look at them. By doing so you're already on the road to utilizing Cluster Genealogy.