So the more I ponder and the more I mull, it seems there is more than one type of cluster you can put your ancestor in.
Clusters that are a single event.
Signing a petition is a single event that creates a cluster. Being enumerated in 1830 in York County is a multi day event that creates a cluster. Participating in the battle of Kings Mountain on October 7th, 1780 is a single event; everyone who participated is part of the cluster.
Clusters that have members over a period of time.
Belonging to a church or being married and starting a family happens over a period of time. You can find a start date and an end date for the cluster and you can define a start and end date for your ancestor.
If your ancestor fought in the Civil War he belonged to a cluster of men who fought for a company. The company has a start and end date; and your ancestor participated for the full time of the company’s existence or some subset of that time.
If you ancestor belong to the Antioch Baptist Church, the people who belonged were a cluster. The church membership has a start date and possibly an end date. Your ancestor’s membership has a start and and end date within that. That will help you determine how to direct your research.
Big Clusters or Small?
Each cluster is interesting in its own right and should be identified and investigated. The fewer number of people in the cluster, I suspect the more meaningful the insights you can gain about those people.
Everyone who fought for the Confederacy is too big of a cluster to research. Everyone who belonged to the South Carolina 17th Infantry Regiment, Company F is much more focused and easier to research. Or maybe you want to research the wives of the men who belonged to the company — it is a well defined cluster of people who have something specific in common.
Or you could research everyone in that company who participated in the Battle of Antietam. It’s defined, and the people who participated can be defined.
What does it mean to research a cluster?
If your ancestor belongs to any given cluster, your research into that cluster should tell you something about your ancestor. Maybe what his beliefs were. What her life was like. You should know that person better because you know something about that cluster.
To discover this, you need to be able to put the people in the cluster in context of the time and place.
The petition was signed in 1834. Where were the men living between 1830 and 1840? You would guess that they lived in York County, SC in 1834. Had they just arrived? Did they soon leave or did they spend their lives in the same place.
Where they young or old? Did they have families? Were they farmers? What did they farm? Were they related to each other? Did they own land? Did they own slaves or were they slaves? Did they attend church together?
What was happening in York County around that time? What was happening in South Carolina?
General Research Plan To Understand A Cluster
- Pick a cluster that can be defined by a single event, or membership into a specific group over time. And avoid clusters that have thousands of people. It has to be a number you are willing to research.
- For everyone in the cluster, where did that person live before the event or before they joined the cluster, and where did they live after the event or when they left the cluster. This allows us to define a location and a time span so we can learn about the area. It also helps us understand if this event or cluster was part of a migration.
- For everyone in the cluster, what was their station in life? Poor or rich? Young or old? Were people in the group more or less the same or was it a wide range of people?
- What were the local events and the state and national events of the time? This helps us understand what may have driven the creation of the cluster or the event itself to happen.
I’m sure that I will modify and add to this over time, but I want a place to start. And not just pulling a bunch of documents about the people who were involved — I want to understand who they were and what their lives were like.
And I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!
I love your term “cluster.” I researched the cluster of my grandmother’s high school graduating class of 1907. On the back of a commencement photo I found in her papers, she had written the names of everyone in the class, giving me a great starting place to paint a picture who they were as individuals, where they came from, and how they interacted. My fascination with genealogy is not just learning about my ancestors, but understanding the communities they lived in. Thanks for a great post. You have described perfectly what I strive (imperfectly) to accomplish.
I’m glad you shared your story. If we can formalize and share good and best practices I think we can give everyone a better understanding of their people. And BTW I didn’t come up with term cluster genealogy — it has been around for awhile. I’m just expanding!
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