FANning Yourself Genealogy Gold
January 31, 2017
Did you know that each of your ancestors had a FAN club? Yes, you read that correctly, and these FANs (friends, associates, and neighbors) can provide genealogy gold. Also known as cluster genealogy, this technique helps you find the people who interacted with your ancestor. Let’s say you’re trying to find an ancestor, but they seem to have disappeared. Sometimes knowing their FAN club can help you find the perfect clue.
You may be asking yourself, "Who exactly are these FANs?" Well, they can be extended family members, co-workers, boarders, church members, and more. As your ancestor moved through life, he or she interacted with a wide group of people. Each of these people can provide new information for your genealogy research.
Let’s use census records as an example. Most of us will look for a specific ancestor in a census, and once we’ve found them, we move on to further research. It can be beneficial to look at the names on the pages before and after your ancestor, as well. These neighbors were in close contact with your ancestor and might even be family members. This same technique is useful when searching cemeteries, passenger lists, and more. You can find maiden names or previous married names using the FAN approach. Oftentimes, a mother-in-law or other family member will appear on a record and you can discover a surname. Witnesses to events such as marriage or naturalization are another great place to look for FANs.
The Midwest Genealogy Center has resources about using FANs or the cluster genealogy technique. You could check out and listen to Cluster Genealogy: Finding Your Ancestors or browse The Historical Biographer's Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN principle). And, of course, MGC has many databases, books, and periodicals in which to utilize FANs.
FANs provide possible solutions to break through a brick wall or locate a lost ancestor. These individuals played a big part in your ancestors’ lives and could be the clue you need. Do you have any stories of when a FAN helped your genealogy research?
Midwest Genealogy Center