Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Who Are the People in Your Neighbourhood? aka Cluster Genealogy

Do you remember this song from Sesame Street?
Who are the people in your neighbourhood….
They’re the people that you meet
When you're walking down the street
They're the people that you meet each day

Well, that’s important information to know about your ancestors too. Who were the people in their neighbourhood? Examining the connections to your ancestors, whether cousins, workmates or neighbours is a great way to learn more about their day to day lives and is really a key way to understand their social history, by adding context to their lives. Knowing about the people in your ancestor’s lives helps to make sense of the dates and events and helps to breathe life into their stories.

The official term for this type of genealogical research is “Cluster Genealogy” It is getting a lot of press lately, but for many of us, it is the way we have been doing business for years. An ancestor’s “cluster” is their extended family, their friends, their neighbours, their workmates. Census records, passenger lists and wills are great ways to identify additional family members.

Ok, I know you understand the whole “moving across the lines” thing. Searching not just your direct line, but their siblings, cousins, and perhaps even in-laws. But why neighbours, you ask? Well, in many instances, neighbours may actually turn out to be relatives. If a family were miners or fishermen or weavers, quite often you will find that they not only shared an occupation, but also that they lived near one another. For instance, my miners would have worked for the same coal company and lived in the miners housing provided by that company. I can see in the 1861 census returns for Slammanan that they lived within blocks of one another. Often next door, or just a few doors down.

Slamannan is a village in south east Stirlingshire. Mining employed a large portion of the population. The population of the village in 1861 was 482. Of those, 28 were Fowlers. There were a number of small mines in the area of Slamannan. By looking at the 1861 census records, it is easy to connect siblings living with their spouses and children.

Similarly, in Roughrigg, a small mining village in Shotts Parish, there were two families, the Crawfords and the Fowlers. Certainly these weren’t the only families, but they were large families. As you go through the children of these two families, you find that there were three separate inter-marriages. Three of the 10 Crawford children married three of the 11 Fowler children. This of course deepens the family connections with the offspring of these three couples sharing the same maternal and paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

When it comes to emigrating, you will often find that family groups migrated together. Ships lists will show parents and several children. In my husband’s family, three of the other passengers aboard the same ship as his paternal great grandparents married into the family once they arrived in Canada. This group settled in the same town and worked at the same factories. They were witnesses at each other’s weddings and christenings. They lived within a three block radius of one another. They attended the same church and show up in the church registers. They are buried in the same cemetery. One daughter in particular seems to be the place where new emigrants went to live. She is listed as a next of kin on several sets of attestation papers and her address is used as the home address for the enlisting soldiers.

Recently, I was playing around with a search engine and entered the name of one of my brickwall ancestors. Lo and Behold, I found him and his immigration papers to boot. I entered the names of his  two brothers (one of whom is my grandfather). I found them on ships passenger lists. Interestingly, their destination was the home of a cousin, who at the time was living in Windsor, Ontario. Windsor is on the border with Detroit, Michigan. Later research shows that these four men all went to Michigan where they went to work for the Ford Motor Company. My grandfather and one of his brothers returned to Scotland. The other brother migrated west to San Francisco. The cousin remained in Detroit, working for Ford.  

I have a photo of my grandfather and another man in Michigan. The person who gave it to me told me they thought the other man was my grandfather’s brother. I have other photos of his brothers and am convinced that neither one of them is the second man in the photo with my grandfather. However, now knowing about the connection with this cousin, I have to wonder if he is the second man in the photo.

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