Sunday, August 25, 2013

Collateral research

Elizabeth Shown Mills, one of the top genealogists in the country, coined the phrase “FAN Club.”  This is an excellent strategy for breaking down brick walls. 


Yesterday I told you that people tended to migrate with their friends, family and neighbors.  There was safety in numbers.  If you can’t work your ancestor back in time to where they came from try working the neighbors and extended family back.  If you can, then you can start looking for your ancestor in that county.

Another thing you need to consider is that in isolated areas there is a limited number of people available for marriage so many times neighbors and associates are also extended family members.  You can draw a 10 miles radius from your family member and then look at the people within that circle as possible relatives.  Even in large cities people tended to marry within their own circles, either close friends/neighbors, church members or children of dad’s coworkers.

In-laws (father-in-law, brother-in-law, son-in-law)  will show up on documents as witnesses and executors/administrators of wills. Siblings and parents of the wife you don’t have a maiden name for usually live nearby. 

If you think someone is related but you just aren’t sure, you can add them to your database as an unlinked individual.  All of the genealogy program will allow you to do this.  You can then work on them just like you work on anyone else.  If you find the connection, it takes two seconds to attach them into the right spot on your tree.  If you never make that connection all of that research won’t go to waste because that person is someone’s ancestor and they will be grateful for the work that you did.  Right now I have 11 separate trees in my files.  That means I have been working on 10 other lines that I think will eventually hook into mine.

Another fun place to look for relatives is in a cemetery.  People tend to be buried near their family members.

Many times you can find out more about your ancestor by sneaking in the back door and it can be a lot of fun to do it that way.  It is almost like you are outsmarting your elusive ancestor.


Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Hi Michele,
    Had to share this with you since it fit so nicely with today's blog. My 5C1R John Fournelle just left after having dinner with us and talking about our family tree. This was the 2nd time he visited me here in Luxembourg. The first time we didn't know how we were related. A month ago he wrote that he was visiting Luxembourg again and wanted to stop by. I never really knew what he had on his line and this time I wanted to be prepared when he came. He sent me a few names and dates.
    Luxembourg records have been online at for a few years and I have gone through every Fournelle in the town my ancestor came from. Not just my direct line. Then the Luxembourg Census was added and I was connecting the dots faster than I could cite the source. Once I figured out where his (known by him) earliest known ancestor fit in (he had moved to a neighboring town that I had not checked) I was able to show him that I have his line 5 generations farther back than he knew of. He couldn't believe it. He left a bit confused and I'm sure all the little notes he wrote in his little notebook may not make sense to him tomorrow or when he gets home.
    I'm going to have to generate some reports for him and give him all the links to sites. Bet I could have made a bundle if I was charging for the research. So going in through the back door can really pay off!
    Best wishes,