Are You Doing Cluster Genealogy?


One technique that can help a genealogist is cluster genealogy. That’s where you not only look for your ancestors but you also look for extended family members, neighbours and friends.

This worked for me when I was searching for my great grandparents (Beaton)  in the 1911 Canadian census. When I did my initial search I couldn’t find them.  In the 1906 census they were in Lethbridge and I knew they eventually went to Edmonton. So where did they go? But I also knew that the Kottmann family sisters all moved together like a herd of antelope. Kottmann was my great grandmother’s maiden name.  So when I couldn’t find my great grandparents; William and Mary Beaton, I search for one of Mary’s sisters; Josephine Stead (nee Kottmann) and sure enough I found her and her family  in Red Deer. Knowing that the Stead family were in Red Deer I was pretty sure that I should be able to find my great grandparents but that they had probably been indexed wrong.

The next step was to open up my search. Red Deer wasn’t that large in 1911 so I searched for every Mary born in Ontario that was living in Red Deer . I didn’t put any surname. This gave me 312 hits. So then I tried to see if I could narrow it down a bit,  so I edited my search and added a husband named William. That gave me 22 women and guess who was at the top of the list?  Sure enough they had been indexed wrong;  Balton not Beaton. I’m not sure if I’d have ever thought of that variation on the spelling.

Often I find you are better to start with a wide search and not a lot of exact entries as this often completely eliminates your people. Or you can start with an exact information search and then if you’re not successful start loosening it up a bit. But usually I find that less gives you more.

Another example of cluster genealogy is again with the Beaton family. My great-grandfather had a friend John Phillips that he met as a boy in Kingston, Ontario and that same friend travelled along with the other families to Lethbridge, Red Deer and then Edmonton.

So sometimes when you can’t find those ancestors perhaps check out some of the others in the herd.


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