19 October 2012

Value of FAN Clubs

Elizabeth Shown Mills, a pre-eminent certified genealogist, devised a wonderful family history tool called The FAN Principle, an elaboration of "Cluster Genealogy." Cluster Genealogy is the idea of looking at records to find not only your particular ancestor but neighbors, others with the same surname, and family members with connections to your ancestor. Mills strongly suggests that you should look at all the people your ancestor came in contact with, in other words, his FAN Club: Family, Associates, and Neighbors.  

What a daunting idea! Just think of all the people you come in contact with or are related to, or with whom you do business, or who share a church, hobby, or interest club membership with you.  Just how many people went to school with you?  (I'm not limiting the pool to just those people you like!) No one lives in a vacuum. Pretty much everyone has spent all or part of their life in a community, and has friends, neighbors, associates or family members nearby.  Therefore, your FAN Club could be a potential fountain of information about you.  (How else do you think that security clearances come about?)  Similarly, an ancestor's FAN Club could be a font of information about them, too.   

According to Mills, a prime source for applying the FAN Principle are census records.  It's a well known genealogy practice to look 5 to 10 pages ahead of your family members census records and 5 to 10 pages after your family members census records in order to help you place your ancestor in context.  Oftentimes, other family members are discovered using this process.  Over several censuses doing so can also tell you a lot about the relative stability of a community.  Are lots of folks leaving near the same time?  Did groups migrate together?  Were members of the migrating groups affiliated by blood or kinship?  Such questions are very good questions to ask and help you flesh out the life story of your ancestors. 

According to Mills, establishing your ancestor's FAN Club can be accomplished using these six basic questions:

  1. Who are the people in the ancestor's FAN Club?
  2. What was the nature of their association with your ancestor? School? Church?, etc.
  3. When did they have this association? In other words, what is the time frame of their associations?
  4. Where did they associate?
  5. Why did they interact?  In other words, what caused them to be associated in this or these particular interactions? 
  6. How frequently did the interactions take place?  In other words, was this a one-off situation or were the interactions recurrent? 
There are many other places to look for FAN Club members. A few of them include deeds, probate and other court records, church registers, cemeteries, and vital records which can provide us with the names of others who were associated in some way with our ancestor. Did an ancestor witness any legal documents or religious rites?  Usually one asked a friend or relative to witness a will or stand as a godparent at a child's baptism.  

By listing the people you find while answering these questions, you can begin to see who is in most frequent contact with your ancestor and his family. The most frequent contacts are the people whom  you want to look at first.

Please Note:  I acknowledge that this entry was mostly appropriated and purloined from the article "Elizabeth Shown Mills--The FAN Principle," by Susan Emert as reprinted in the Genealogy Pointers 28 August 2012 issue found at http://www.genealogical.com/newsletters/genealogy_pointers_8-28-12.pdf.  I threw in some of my own words to describe personal experience based upon helping family historians through the years.  Emert explained the process so well there wasn't much I could do to improve it.

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