Cluster Research for Genealogy

Tips for using cluster research when an ancestor is difficult to find

There are times when researching your ancestor that you aren't able to find further records. Sometimes records for the time and place may limited, or some of the information you have is not completely correct, or other factors are happening that are making your ancestor more difficult to find. In cases like this, a cluster research strategy may be helpful.

What is a Cluster Research Strategy?

A cluster research strategy is expanding your research to include people that were connected to your ancestor's life. Cluster research may include spouses, siblings, children, grandchildren, and other family members. It may also include people living near where your ancestor lived because relatives tended to live near each other.

Examine What You Know

To do a cluster research strategy, you'll first want to carefully examine all of the documents and sources that you have for your ancestor. It may help to write out in detail everything you know about your ancestor and how you know it. For example, you could write that you know that your ancestor was born in a certain place because it's listed on a particular census record, etc.

As you examine your sources, look at the images of the documents and make note of any individuals listed that are connected to your ancestor, such a witnesses at a marriage, relatives listed on documents, neighbors on the census with the same surname as your ancestor, people with the surname living nearby in a city directory, etc. It may also be helpful to make a timeline of your ancestor listing when and where your ancestor was through time in order to think about carefully what information you know so far.

Expand Your Search

Once have a clear idea in mind of what you already know about your ancestor, it's time to search outward from what you know already. You will want to study all of the known relatives of your ancestor including spouses, children, siblings, etc. You will also want to study anyone who is listed in documents about your ancestor because they can be potential relatives or people who came from the area that your ancestor came from. For example, if a witness is listed on a marriage, you'll want to study that individual and find out about them. Or a relative listed on a draft registration may help give you further information. Or people on a land deed or probate document can be studied. Or neighbors on the census can be studied, particularly those with the surname.

In addition to studying people named in documents about your ancestor, you can also study people living in the same area as your ancestor. Sometimes if you study those individuals, you will find out more about the individual you are searching for. For example, if you know your ancestor's specific birth place, but not his or her parents, it may help to study people of that surname in and around that birth place may help to identify possible families. Or if a woman's marriage place is known, but her parents are unknown, it may help to study people with her surname in around the marriage place.

We have many brick wall case studies our site that included a cluster research strategy:

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