The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls

Another brick wall…busted! We all have trouble spots in our family history research. Sometimes, we just need a little help breaking through. Here’s a tried-and-true method for using the genealogy FAN club principle to overcome brick walls in your family history research from guest author Amie Bowser Tennant. 

Creating a FAN club tips

A FAN club stands for Family, Associates, and Neighbors. Using the FAN club principle is a process in which genealogists identify a list of people (family, associates, and neighbors) that lived and associated with a given ancestor. By researching these other people, you may flesh out some new hints for your own research. Ultimately, identifying our ancestors FAN club is an effective tool for overcoming brick walls in genealogy research.

Renowned genealogist and author Elizabeth Shown Mills, coined the phrase “FAN Club” for genealogical purposes. She points out the significance of not only searching records for an ancestor’s surname, but also paying attention to documents about the ancestor’s “FAN Club” (Friends, Associates, Neighbors). Historical information, she says, is like real estate: the true value of any piece of information is unknown until it is put into community context. Learn more in Elizabeth’s “QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to Cluster Research (the FAN Principle).”

Step 1: “F” Stands for Family

Searching out other family members may prove helpful. Like in the case of Michael Knoop of Miami County, Ohio, I noticed there was another man in the county named Jacob Knoop. What was even more unique is both Michael and Jacob were born in New Brunswick. How unusual, I thought! Two men with the same last name, both born in New Brunswick, living in a small, farming area in Ohio! They had to be related, and they were. Jacob was Michael’s older brother.

Because I was having trouble finding when Michael had come to America, I traced Jacob instead. I located the passenger list with Jacob’s name on it and in doing so, I viewed all the passengers and found Michael, their mother, and lots of siblings!

Creating a FAN club family

Image above: Creating a FAN club with Family

In the case of Catherine Fearer Coddington, wife of James Coddington, I was having difficulty finding who her parents were. By searching for other Fearer individuals in the area, I discovered a biographical sketch on a John Fearer, Jr. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, Volume 2, reads:

“In 1836[,]John Fearer [Jr.] brought his family to Illinois. From Wheeling, West Va., the journey was made entirely by water. A landing on the Illinois soil was made at Hennepin. James Coddington, from near the Fearer’s old home in Maryland had already settled north of Princeton, in Bureau County, and later married John Fearer’s sister Catherine. The family found a home at Coddington’s until Mr. Fearer rented land near by.”

Catherine had a brother! With this new information, I was able to easily trace John’s father to John Fearer, Sr. of Allegany County, Maryland and finally connect Catherine to her parents through a probate record.

It’s easy to see what a powerful strategy researching the relatives of your ancestors can be!

Step 2: “A” Stands for Associates

Creating a FAN club with associates

Creating a FAN club with Associates

An associate could be a business partner, a witness on a document, a pastor, a lawyer, or the man that bailed Grandpa out of jail! Associates are often related. To create a list of associates, you might start gathering all witnesses to vital events, such as baptismal or christening records, marriage records, probate, land, and affidavits.

Were the courthouse records in your targeted area destroyed? Check the local newspapers for clues for possible associates. As an example, Jacob Trostel was a signee and vouched for Harvey D. Wattles’ tavern license. The license and names of the vouchers were listed in the newspaper, too. Eleven other men of the community appear on that petition. Later, Jacob himself petitions for a tavern license. That petition is signed by twelve men: George Filler, Conrad Slaybaugh, Lebright E. Hartzell, William G. Eicholtz, Isaac Yount, Joseph Dull, Isaac Myers, George W. Rex, Daniel Filler, William Harlan, and John Bream.

In both of these examples, relatives of Jacob Trostel had been vouchers. By tracing them, we were able to find out more about Jacob and his family.

Step 3: “N” Stands for Neighbors

Where can we find a list of our ancestors neighbors? A census, of course! When looking at a census page, we look for other people on the page with the same surname as our targeted ancestor. There’s a good chance those folks could also be related. But, your ancestor’s neighbors may also hold rich clues that can help you in your research. Many neighbors intermarried, sold land to each other, and even migrated to new locations together.

Besides looking at individuals listed on the same census page as your ancestor, remember to turn the page! Sometimes, a neighbor is not on the same page as your ancestor, but rather the pages before or after. Just because a person appears directly after your ancestor on the census rolls doesn’t necessarily mean they were neighbors. This only indicates the order in which the census taker visited the homes. You might also be able to identify close neighbors by looking at land ownership maps for the area. In this way, you can easily identify who lived near-by.

If you are having difficulty determining where your ancestors came from, researching the neighbors may give the answer. Many neighbors migrated together. Always check at least one page before your ancestor and one page after your ancestor in any given census.

Image above: A FAN Club with Neighbors

Genealogy Fan Club: Comments and More Resources

There are likely dozens of successful ways for creating a FAN club for your ancestor. We would love to hear your examples in the comments below. For even more ways to break through those genealogy brick walls, enjoy these links below.

Read our article Solve Your Genealogy Brick Walls: 3 Tips for Breaking Through!

Genealogy Gems - Family History Podcast and WebsiteEven better: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can watch Lisa’s one hour video class Brick Walls: Cold Case Investigative Techniques. In this video you’ll not only learn how to apply criminal cold case strategies to your brick walls, but you’ll also get loads of fresh and innovative ideas you can try right away. If you are not a Premium Member yet, learn more about becoming a Genealogy Gems Premium Member here.

 

Solve Your Genealogy Brick Walls: 3 Tips for Breaking Through!

Cold Case investigate your ancestor criminals

We’ve all got genealogy brick walls in our research: family mysteries we have so far found unsolvable. In the new issue of Family Tree Magazine (May/June 2014), Lisa’s got a great article packed with 14 strategies for SOLVING those perplexing questions.

The article is “Warming Up a Cold Case,” and it’s got a fun criminal investigator theme. I won’t give all 14 of her tips away, but some of my favorites include re-examining old evidence, finding new witnesses and going on a genealogical stakeout. And one that made me laugh out loud: “Post wanted posters.” And then I just had to put my ancestor’s face on a wanted poster (right).

How do you really create a wanted poster for your ancestor? Lisa shares these ideas in the article:

1. Post their names on genealogy online message boards (like at Ancestry.com). But fill in those “wanted” details. Instead of height, weight and hair color, add what you know about their births, marriages, deaths, family relationships and residences.

2. Post your family tree online at any number of sites for free. Sites organize their trees in one of two ways. Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and others can i buy medication without insurance offer the individual tree model. You upload (or build on the site) and maintain your own tree. FamilySearch.org, WikiTree, Geni.com and WeRelate.org are community tree sites. You may work from a view of your own tree, but the site is merging your tree with others behind the scenes to create a single world family tree (each does this a slightly different way).

3. Start your own family history blog. Write keyword-rich blog posts that make it easy for Google searchers to find your ancestors there. Check out Lisa’s free four-part series on how to create a genealogy blog at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel. This link will take you to the 4 part video playlist.

Find the entire article in the May/June issue Family Tree Magazine. Even better: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can also watch Lisa’s one hour video class Brick Walls: Cold Case Investigative Techniques. Not a Premium Member yet? You’re missing out on 24/7 access for a year to some of her most popular classes on Google, Google Earth, organization, Evernote, newspaper research and more. Learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership here.

7 Important Reasons Why (and How) to Start a Family History Blog

Here are the reasons every family historian should be writing a family history blog–and how can you get started NOW.

7 reasons to start a family history blog

Why Start a Family History Blog

Many of us want to write up our family stories, but with busy schedules, a 300-page book may not be in our future! 

You don’t have to have a lot of time to write and share your family history. Blogging about family history is a perfect alternative. Blogs are just simple websites that present articles in chronological order beginning with the most recent. This is a great format for telling a story that travels through time. 

Blogs also allow your readers to “subscribe” for free much like a podcast. In other words, your readers don’t have to remember to visit your blog and read the latest. Instead, they can receive email prompts when you publish new articles, or they can receive those new articles alongside their other favorite blogs and podcasts in a blog reader. Very convenient indeed!

Still not convinced it’s possible to start your own genealogy-themed blog? Here are 7 reasons why and how you can start a family history blog.

 

1. You can write a little bit at a time.

You don’t have to fill hundreds of pages or lay out an entire book. With a blog you can write as little as a paragraph at a time. There are no rules because it is your blog!

Over time, even a one-paragraph blog post, once a week, will eventually result in many pages. It’s a great way to pace yourself and still get your family’s story in writing.

2. Every word you write is searchable by Google.

Gone are the days of simply posting a query on a genealogy message board that only reaches genealogists.

By blogging about your family history, other people who are researching the same family lines can find and connect with you through their Google searches. You’ll be writing about the family they are searching for, so you’ll very likely be using many of the same keywords, dates and information that they will include in their search query. This means your blog should pop up high on their Google search results list!

Think of your family history blog as your own big message board. Your posts can be found by anyone in the world searching for the same information. The connection possibilities are endless. So essentially, family history blogs are your way to “fish for cousins.” This of it as “cousin bait!”

cousin bait how to start a family history blog

Blogs typically include a Comment section at the end of each of your articles, so encourage visitors to your blog to leave comments. Don’t worry, you can set your blog to only show the comments after you have reviewed and approved them.

 

3. You might bust your toughest brick wall.

I’ve heard and shared countless success stories here at Genealogy Gems from readers and listeners. By just “putting it out there” on a blog they have opened the door to a distant relative contacting them with a treasure trove of new information about their family tree.

“Your encouragement to blog genealogy has given me courage and a vehicle for which I can share the stories of our family’s common history. So, over the past month I’ve been posting digital images of each day (from my great grandfather’s) journal from 50 years ago, the transcription of the journal and an historical image that gives context to what he was writing about.  I plan to include family photos and other documents as I expand this blog.”

– Chris C.

4. You’re more likely to spot your mistakes and missing links. 

Have you ever told a story out loud and discovered in telling it that something in the story didn’t quite jive? A blog can help you tell your family’s story “out loud” too.

The process of writing up your family history discoveries can often reveal gaps, errors, or bad assumptions in your research. And that’s a good thing! Use it to your advantage to identify further research that needs to be done. But those items on your research to do list. 

And don’t be afraid to let your reader know what your gaps are and where you’re stuck. They just might be able to help!

 

5. Your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, etc. are online.

 

Your descendants probably prefer to read quick and easy stories on-the-go on their smart phones and tablets, and a blog fits the bill perfectly.

Putting your research on a blog provides your relatives with an easy way to digest the family heritage. And of course they can subscribe to it, since blogs can be delivered to their email inbox or to a blog reader like Feedly.

Blog posts are also super easy to share to Facebook, which means your post can get even more traction. 

Chris continues:

The family response has been amazing.  The cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles think it is cool and want to see more!  They love the stories and can’t wait for subsequent postings so they can hear detailed history about (him) that they never knew about.  

I believe this blog will be part of how our family begins healing and comes back together again.”

6. Because there are no excuses.

You can start a blog for free, so cost is not a barrier.

There are no rules, so you can decide how often and how much you write at once.

There is just one thing you have to do to successfully blog about your family history: begin.

 

7. Because your blog continues to share even when you aren’t researching.

The best news of all is that your family history blog will be out there working online for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Even when life gets in the way and you need to take a sabbatical from blogging and genealogy, your blog is still out there ready to be found. You will still be sharing your family’s story, and attracting relatives to it. And when you’re ready, your blog will be ready for you to add the next chapter.

family history blogging

How to Start a Family History Blog

Starting a family history blog isn’t hard. But some people find it intimidating. So I’ve created two entire series to help you get started.

blog your family history video series youtubeClick to watch this free series of videos on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel These videos show you how to set up a family history blog. They are a few years old, but will give you the basic idea. You’ll see how to get started for free in Blogger, with your Google account.

(I use WordPress for my website and my blog. They have a free version at wordpress.com.) Need more encouragement? Click here to hear from other readers who are very glad they got started.

 

Learn More About Blogging on the Family History Podcast

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastClick to listen to a free series from our Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast(an online radio show).

Starting with episode 38, you’ll learn:

Part 1: What to Consider when Starting a Genealogy Blog.

The “Footnote Maven,” author of two popular blogs, talks about the process of starting a genealogy blog. She gives great tips for thinking up your own approach, finding a unique niche, tips for getting people to comment on your blog posts and more.

Part 2: Insights from Popular Genealogy Bloggers. 

We hear from two additional popular genealogy bloggers, Denise Levenick (author of The Family Curator and alter ego of “Miss Penny Dreadful” on the Shades of the Departed blog) and  Schelly Tallalay Dardashti (author of the Tracing the Tribe blog).

Part 3: Step by Step on Blogger.com.

How to create your own free family history blog on Blogger.com. Learn tricks for designing a simple, useful blog and how NOT to overdo it!

Final tips: Wrap-up and inspiration.

In this concluding episode, learn how to add a few more gadgets and details to your blog; pre-plan your blog posts, publish your first article, and how to help your readers subscribe. You’ll also get great tips on how to create genealogy content that others looking for the same ancestors can find easily online.

 

Share the Blogging Adventure!

thank you for sharingInvite someone you know to start a family history blog of their own. Send them a link to this webpage or share it through social media. They’ll thank you for it later!

And if you have started a family history blog, please comment below and share your experience. 

 

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