Saturday, August 26, 2017

Taking That FAN Model
Out for a Test Drive

There is one thought in the back of my researching mind which has troubled me. No, it is not my recent difficulty in accessing records for my Davis-Tilson connection to the passengers who arrived centuries earlier on the Mayflower. It is a totally different type of research dilemma.

The problem is this: no matter how much progress I can make on my maternal line or my mother-in-law's family history, for both my and my husband's paternal lines, I cannot seem to gain any traction.

Interestingly, both those male lines are descended from more recent immigrant arrivals to the United States. With that in mind, you'd think there would be more readily-accessible records to gain me some mileage. That, however, is not the case.

The nagging thought is: how to zoom down the road on these two lines which are turning into such roadblocks? Because they are obstinate, I tend to avoid the issue when I need to set every other tempting research trail aside and just focus on my quandary. Or, at least, give it a try.

Because these lines originate with nineteenth century immigrant families, I have an inkling these people may have traveled with others. That was, sometimes, the case with those leaving a far-removed home to come to the New World.

We have a model for tackling that type of family-history-evading entity. It's dubbed the "FAN Club."

"FAN" is an acronym standing for Friends, Associates and Neighbors. The handy moniker reminds us that those brick-wall individuals in our family tree likely did not pattern their life choices on Lone Ranger models of behavior. It is more likely that our mystery ancestors did what they did—even if we can't figure it out now—in the company of others. And those others, besides their own immediate family, were likely their friends, associates or neighbors.

The FAN Club model was a technique of research relying on the concept of cluster genealogy, brought to the mainstream by one of America's foremost current genealogists, Elizabeth Shown Mills. In the National Genealogical Society Quarterly of June, 2014, she championed the usefulness of that technique in combination with other hallmarks of sound genealogical research in her article, "Testing the FAN principle against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi."

Articles like this prove to be a helpful demonstration, encouraging me to tackle some of those projects I've slid to the back burner for, ahem, a while. Among them are my paternal grandfather's murky origins preceding his appearance in New York City—after all, with the unofficial name change from Puhalski, can I really trust that that was his surname to start with?—and my father-in-law's lines leading back to pre-famine Ireland.

While these men seemed to show up as solitary shadows, the FAN Club seems to indicate that it's more likely they had connections. They were part of the fabric of society—their society, at the least. I need to seek out those connections and see if they lead me anywhere. In other words, I need to broaden the net to capture any of the names surrounding them that seem to repeat themselves.

True, taking myself to task for my lack of grunt work on these paternal lines won't necessarily produce fascinating stories for you to read—as I've said before, the making of laws or sausage or even genealogy can make for dull (or disgusting) reading. But if I stumble upon something interesting, I'll come up for breath and tell about it.

But do this, I must. I've neglected these gents' lines for far too long. Progress is pleading for me to make more of it. I'm going to try my hand at a test drive of the FAN Club principle and see if it delivers me to my destination. 


  1. It is worth a try! I know that two families came from Canada at the same time, neighbors there and neighbors here which is part of my husbands heritage and I have wondered did they come to Canada together too? Good luck!

    1. That may well have been the case, Far Side. At the very least, perhaps they came from the same village in their home country. Even discovering that is sometimes a big find.


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