FAN Club Approach, how to

Good genealogy isn’t just about going backwards.

Ever heard of the “FAN Club” approach? A term pioneered by genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills, the “FAN Club” approach requires tracing the friends, associates and neighbors of your ancestor. It’s time consuming, so it tends to be the last resort for many genealogists.

They’re making a mistake. I’ve solved – or at least made significant strides towards solving – several recent “brick walls” by tracing the whole “FAN Club.” A nineteenth or early twentieth century woman can be nearly impossible to locate in records unless you happened to know her married name. Most women lived under their husband’s name after their marriage, essentially “disappearing” in the records. Yet, I’ve found at least two women by searching for their male siblings’ children. Turns out more nieces and nephews end up with new families than you would expect.

How do you apply the “FAN Club” approach to your own research? Consider searching for the descendants of your ancestor’s siblings in the same way that you would search for your ancestor and their siblings. Include the whole family every time you search a census document. Look for cemetery records. Consider working with a local historical society or hiring a professional when you get stuck. Yes, it’s time consuming, but the extra effort will be worth it.


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