May 13, 2013

Cluster Genealogy - Have You Discovered the Benefits?

Cluster Genealogy - Have You Discovered the Benefits?
I've been doing Cluster Genealogy for over a dozen years. But I didn't know it was called that. I just did it because it's an excellent way of fighting past a genealogy brick wall. Some of my readers might be scratching their heads right now, wondering what on earth Cluster Genealogy is.

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.

7 comments:

CallieK said...

I'm just back from a trip to the LAC, researching an ancestor who was part of the Red River settlement. I took some time away from that line in order to make use of the Genealogy room they have and one of the staff hooked me up with a database I was unfamiliar with: BMS200 - http://www.bms2000.org/en
The interesting thing about this particular source was the ability to search by godparents names! I was able to search family members and come up with records that I had never seen before, where my ancestors had been godparents to other family members, some of whom I didn't even know of!

dianee said...

Yea. I do that too and didn't know it had a name. Thanks for an informative post.

smytttie40 said...

I do the same and didn't know it had a name either. I was recently helping a friend with her tree and had a few names to search for. Sure enough, the one family lived next door on the census.

Diane Hewson said...

I didn't know it had a name, but it have used this method, using census and notices in old newspapers etc.
great post!!!

Diane Hewson said...

great post,nice to have a name to put to this type of research.

Dickey Morris said...

I have used this method since I started my research a short time ago. I have always heard about my Aunts and Uncles from as far back as who ever was alive could remember, I don't actively seek actual copies of their birth, marriage and death records but if they have a copy in Ancestry.com I will print it out. One problem I had was not reading anything about Ancestry,com or anything else regarding genealogy and I clicked my way into a big mess!! I am still cleaning out old census records and such. But I did learn a lesson!!

Thanks for allowing me to rant,
Lisa Bullock Mings

Mariann Regan said...

I guess I've been doing cluster genealogy, too, without realizing that was the name for it. My ancestors seemed to live in a circle of surnames, and often married into another surname more than once.

I've been taking my mother's maternal line back to the 1600s, and I also do the siblings. It's much easier to see the patterns when they're spread out that way. A local Reverend married first one sister and then the other -- that happened twice, several generations back.

Cluster genealogy also makes a person much more informed when reading local histories. We find out in the histories just what our ancestors and their pals were up to! : )