Thursday, November 11, 2010

Target the FAN Club to tackle "Elusive Ancestors" problems

I love it when respected genealogists take a complex subject and make it simple to understand.

Several professional genealogists have advised and spoken about the "FAN Club" Principle (see while pursuing elusive ancestors - the Friends, Associates and Neighbors.  Now Elizabeth Shown Mills has defined a method she uses - and it makes a lot of sense.  She described it in her Transitional Genealogists Forum post dated 8 November 2010.  The description of the BullsEye concept is:

"It may help to think of genealogical research as a bull's eye. Our specific ancestor is the target. When we start to research a newly identified ancestor, that's who we focus on. Much of the time (or MOST of the time, in some areas!), we do seem to run out of records before we find the clear-cut evidence we need to identity his family or sort him from other same-name individuals.

"At that point, we need to move out a ring on the bull's eye--i.e., we extend the search to all known kin and all records created by those known kin. If that does not produce the evidence we seek, we move out to another ring of the bulls' eye: others of the same surname who are in the same area but aren't known to be kin. From there, if need be, we move out another ring to known associates--and, eventually, to the ring we might call "associates of associates."

I don't want to excerpt too much of that - I encourage all researchers to read all of Elizabeth's post, and the entire thread, for the entire discussion. 

Like I said, it is simple, and elegant.  What I really like about it is that it focuses attention on one group of FANs at a time, but eventually gets to the whole community. 

My guess is that perhaps 10% to 20% of elusive ancestor, or "brickwall" problems, can be solved using this approach.  Perhaps it's more.  I do know that almost all of the Case Studies published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, and other peer-reviewed scholarly journals, are solved by using the FAN Club principle in conjunction with applying the Genealogical Proof Standard.


Xfaith said...


Hasn't this been brought up a while back just under a different name? I ca't find the links anymore but a lot of people use this when they hit brick walls and just start branching out from the brick wall.

Also how is your computer?

Martin said...

I think the number is lower. None of my brick walls have been solved by this method.

grace said...

I have one major brick wall. Every time I work on him I get frustrated and ignore him for months. All I have a picture of him in the 1890's, his name and area he lived. Until I find someone today who has the same picture will never know for sure who he is. I probably will go back and try the fan a little more. Some day I may find him.