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

You won’t find it all on the Internet…

While going through my family information in preparation for the trip I have noticed one thing about my research plans. It has been a recurring theme that is just unavoidable. I won’t find everything on the Internet.

There is still an awful lot of work that can only be done in an actual building that holds items that provide information. This means using books, microfilms and other resources. It could be an old fashioned concept but one that is still necessary in family history research. The building can be an archive, library, historical society, court house, university library or family history centre.

I will admit that I love to go into libraries and just be with the books. I will go through dozens of books checking for specific and obscure information that could relate to my family history.

The darkened microfilm room with everyone intently staring at the images is a very peaceful place, except of course when you get the one microfilm reader that squeaks at every opportunity.

Then there is the one thing that brings a smile to all faces and it is when someone expresses a very excited “yes” to signify that they have found the piece of information they have been looking for and it has solved a problem. They realize their excitement has broken the silence and they quietly do a little happy dance in their chairs.

One person is usually found to be mumbling quietly to themselves, a sign of madness in some places but not a family history library. They are usually the ones who didn’t find what they were looking for and are trying to figure out where to look next.

The library is a place where you can find direct information on your family or information that will help expand your family’s history. Either way you will be enhancing your experience by leaving home to do research in an actual building.

©2010 – Blair Archival Research