I blogged earlier about location research, but another type of research can help you drill further into a person’s or family’s life. It is called researching a person’s FAN Club. I’ll use my main character Mary as a model.
Mary’s records included census records from 1830 in Jefferson County to 1870. I also found marriage records, tax records, and several land records. These helped me determine where she lived and traveled, but there are more profound clues that can help one paint a broader picture. For example, who witnessed these events and filed for a marriage license just before or after hers? Who married her?
Census records can show us who their neighbors were. Who else lived in their community? Land records can help one tell how far away that person lived? Who witnessed their land purchases? Who purchased land on the same day? Who voted, and who voted next or immediately before in line. These people are their FAN Club (their friends, associates, and neighbors). Many of these people may be related to them, though they may not initially appear to be.
Elizabeth Shown Mills named the FAN club, which can also be called cluster research. In short, it is a network of people to whom a person connects. It was imperative to research Mary because no definitive records show who her parents are. I had to look to others around her to find the answer.
For example, her father and her husband traveled together to vote back to back in Florida’s first statewide election. Her brother Henry and her husband traveled together to Tallahassee and bought adjoining land on the same day from the US government. Almost all of her children named at least one child after her father, one of which named his son Jesse Walker Andrews, using her father’s surname, too. Several of her Walker family members named their children after her husband.
FAN research was also used to determine Mary’s mother’s maiden name. Though less robust, there is one secondary document with her maiden name listed, but the informant never knew her personally. The document is dated more than forty years after Elizabeth died.
However, using FAN club research, some people lived nearby, both in South Carolina and in Florida, who shared this maiden surname.
Numerous Wilsons attended their church in South Carolina. Also, in Jefferson County, a lady less than a quarter mile away in the northern part of the Elizabeth community shares the same surname and could be a sister. Both Mary’s mother and this woman came to Florida from the same community in South Carolina at the same time. Both their husbands are descendants of Walkers, too. This and other information make a strong case that Mary’s mother was a Wilson before she married.
This additional research can provide clues that your ancestor‘s research failed to do. Granted, it is much more work, but it can help you break through your brick wall.
Using FAN club or cluster research, one can rely upon indirect clues and a preponderance of evidence to build a case instead of relying on primary evidence, which is often unavailable.
The more I learned about Mary–who lived with or near her and interacted with her family–the more I learned about Mary herself.
To learn more, please click on the link below.