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Researching FANs

By Daniel Hubbard | July 20, 2014

Summer is, perhaps, the right time to think about fans—except that the kind of fans that I’ve been thinking about aren’t for keeping cool and they don’t cheer at the ballpark. I don’t even mean entering names from my pedigree into a fan chart. I’m working with a different kind of fan for a client. This FAN stands for Friends, Acquaintances, and Neighbors.

Wait, isn’t genealogy about ancestors? Why would one want to study all those extra people?

Much of the time we don’t need to study those extra people. They may be interesting in their own right. They may add spice to what we know of our ancestors but they aren’t absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, there are times when our ancestors seem to vanish into the crowd. Then we need to understand the crowd to find them. Put another way, you can’t find a needle in a haystack without ever touching any of the hay.

Neighbors should be a clear concept. Land records and censuses can be quite explicit about who the neighbors were. How does one know about friends and acquaintances? Letters, local histories, court records and even wills can be explicit about those people but there are more subtle clues. Who witnessed a document? Who performed various services related to probate? Who shared an unusual occupation or had the same work address listed in a directory? Almost any document can produce a unique clue about Friends, Acquaintances, and Neighbors. I’ve been playing around with acronyms for places where one might look for FANs. One place to look for a fan is on the ceiling.


Employers and employees,
Itinerants (even boarders can be a clues),
Locals (sometimes we might define neighbor too narrowly),
Immigrants (who else was on the boat?),
Nationals (from the same country or with the same native language?),
Group members (Connections exist between members of organizations)

Odd connections can turn out not to be so odd if you show that a group was tight-knit. In what I’m working on now, a woman’s brother’s sister-in-law’s father’s neighbor has the same unusual surname as the siblings’ mother. Coincidence? It might be, but the more I study this group, the more tightly bound they appear to be. The lines that I draw to connect people to the documents that show them together form quite a tangled web. It seems that if one of them knew someone or was related to someone, then they all knew that person. More and more, it seems that they were also all related. Where there are relatives, there are greater chances to find ancestors.

Good luck finding CEILING FANs or any other type of FAN. They just might provide the clue you need.

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