Research the Relatives and Friends
Birds of a feather flock together—and so did your ancestors, leaving valuable clues with their clusters of family, friends and neighbors. Here's how "cluster genealogy" can get your research off the ground.

You've heard the expression, "We're all in this together." Try thinking of your ancestors the same way. Just like you, your ancestors were not isolated individuals:

• They were part of a family, with siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents. Groups of relatives often lived near each other, worshipped together, witnessed each other's documents and were buried in the same cemetery.

• Like you, ancestors had friends and neighbors. Often their spouses came from neighboring families or were the siblings of classmates and military buddies. They and their friends were lodge brothers or officers in the ladies' literary society.

• Your ancestors had business partners and co-workers, were clients of local doctors and lawyers and bought dry goods from the local mercantile store. They were known in their communities and occasionally got their names in the local newspapers.

• Sometimes, even small communities had several families by the same surname. When you start researching, you may not know whether these same-name families were related to yours. They may have been, and it could be to your benefit to find out.

Studying your ancestors in the context of this community of relatives, friends, neighbors, associates and same-name families is practicing "cluster genealogy."

Emily Anne Croom is the author of four books on genealogy, including the best-selling Unpuzzling Your Past (Betterway Books), now in an enlarged, updated and revised fourth edition.