How do you decide which people to research and which to ignore? Do you follow parents of people who married into your family? How about the siblings of your direct ancestors? Do you try to follow all the children down to the present?
During our discussion, we established some general questions to ask ourselves to help decide whether to follow a line or not:
What is the purpose of our project? And what is our goal for today?
- Are we trying to join a lineage society? If so, following siblings and others is probably a distraction.
- Are we planning to write a book about the descendants of a particular couple? How many generations down? If someone falls in that set, follow them!
- It might help to establish a file folder or Word document where you can jot down the interesting clues you find and decide not to pursue. It will make it easier to move on if you know you can come back and pick it up later.
Have we hit a brick wall? Perhaps we should be researching our subject’s FAN club. Elizabeth Shown Mills named this research technique — Friends, Associates, Neighbors — others have called it cluster research. The general idea is that very few people live in a vacuum, and other individuals in their lives may have left records you can use. For example, if your ancestor was from Virginia, but you don’t know where in Virginia, perhaps he moved with a group of folks who are now his neighbors. Perhaps if you researched some of them, you can find a clue about where they all moved from. Or, if you’re trying to find the maiden name of a woman, perhaps you should look at the people who witnessed wills, administered probates, and bought and sold land with, to see if any of those people might be her parents or siblings.
Are we using DNA? Matching up with cousins is much easier if we have a reasonably complete tree for the most recent generations, which allows us to recognize married names for our second cousins. It also increases the chances that we’ll recognize situations where we link up with a cousin in more than one way.