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Cluster Genealogy

Branching Out on the Family Tree


Our ancestors did not live in isolation, although we often research them as if they did. They were part of a family, with siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other relatives. They were also part of a community, with friends, neighbors, classmates, and co-workers. This "cluster" of family, friends and neighbors can provide valuable clues to the lives of our ancestors.

Cluster genealogy, sometimes referred to as whole family or extended family genealogy, is the practice of extending your research on a person to the individuals and families to which he was connected. These connections could range from his brother or spouse, to the neighbor who appeared as a witness on a land deed.

Why Cluster Genealogy?
Even if you don't really care who your ancestors siblings, cousins and associates were, cluster genealogy can still be a very effective research technique:

  • The records of siblings, cousins, and other family members may provide clues to the next generation that you haven't been able to find in the records left by your direct ancestor.

  • Neighbors may actually turn out to be relatives. Family groups often migrated to the same town, lived near each other, attended the same school or church, and were buried in the same cemetery.

  • Since a single record is often not enough to "prove" an ancestral connection, cluster genealogy offers additional documents to support accurate research.

  • Knowing and recognizing the names of other family members can sometimes help you locate your own ancestor when he has been mis-indexed or had his name mangled in a record where you expect to find him, such as the census.

  • Tracking ancestors as they move from place to place can often be a daunting task. Knowing the names of relatives and neighbors who may have moved with him can make it easier to identify him in a new location.

  • Researching more people means an increased chance of making connections and possibly sharing research with other genealogists.

How Cluster Genealogy Works
The cluster genealogy technique involves expanding your genealogy search beyond your direct line ancestors to include their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends. Check for as many of these individuals as time and finances will allow in major records, including birth, marriage and death records; census records; land deeds; published family histories, etc. Collect information on them just as you do for your direct ancestors and record it all in your notes or genealogy software program.

[blockquote shade="yes"]Don't neglect the spouses of these "cluster" individuals. Even if your family tree appears to be sadly lacking in genealogists, perhaps theirs were not. Published family histories for spouses of siblings can often provide an unexpected gold mine of information.

Census records and estate records are especially useful for identifying additional family members, including brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Land deeds, newspapers, and church membership rosters can often prove useful for pinpointing neighbors and friends.

By increasing the pool of individuals whom you are researching, cluster genealogy improves your chances of locating records and details on your ancestors. In the process, you'll also learn more about the place and time in which your family lived.

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