Cluster Research: How it can help you break down some brick walls

Every genealogical researcher has come up against a brick wall in their research. Hopefully it is not one that is insurmountable but can be broken down. Have you ever done a cluster research project to help you break down that brick wall?

A cluster research project, or sometimes called a reconstruction or reconstitution project, requires that you search all the collateral lines of your family to find additional data that will hopefully break down that brick wall. It can also be a one name study in a particular area to see if familial links can be found. The process can be more difficult if the name is a common one but that just increases the challenge. Remember searching for spelling variations of the surname is another important step in the process.

I have used this method for clients and was able to get one client’s family back to a place in Ireland where he found a marriage for the couple who came to Canada. This information was found by doing a one name study over three counties and five townships in Ontario. The information did not come from the client’s direct line but from a newly found collateral line. It was a long process but was well worth it.

You might start with doing research in one county but find you will have to cover more area in your search. This is especially true if the area in the county where the family is from is near a border. You must be flexible in where your research takes you.

Do not limit yourself to the criteria with which you started the project. If you suddenly find a record that takes you to a new county follow that lead. If you do not follow the lead you may miss the link that brings the research all together. Add this new information to your research plan and continue on with your research.

This is a process I also use for my own research. It has worked well for proving a family story wrong and for proving one right. It also has not worked a few times but you never know unless you try.

Organization is critically important to the project. You have to be able to keep track of all the records searched as well as the people found. It can become difficult when you have several with the same name and have to distinguish between them. Only you can decide the best way to organize the data gathered in the project. I have used a genealogy program and a spreadsheet as well as paper and pencil. They have been used singularly or together. Research plans, research logs and source citation sheets are all very important.

A good book on the subject is “Family History Problem Solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques” by Andrew Todd. It is published in England.

It can be a large undertaking to do this type of research but the result can be the bulldozer you need to break down that brick wall you have been banging your head against for years.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research

  1. Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith’s avatar

    Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    http://drbilltellsancestorstories.blogspot.com/
    Author of “Back to the Homeplace”
    and “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”
    http://www.examiner.com/x-53135-Springfield-Genealogy-Examiner
    http://www.examiner.com/x-58285-Ozarks-Cultural-Heritage-Examiner

  2. Greta Koehl’s avatar

    I am currently doing several different types of cluster research for several different families. I love this approach, but it does take a lot of time and sifting! By the way, I am so glad to see you on GeneaBloggers – it was so nice to meet and talk with you at the FGS conference.

  3. admin’s avatar

    Thank you for the warm welcome Bill. I am looking forward to being a part of the Geneabloggers community.

  4. admin’s avatar

    It was also great to meet you at the FGS conference Greta. You are right cluster research is a lot of work but can be very rewarding.

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