Getting better at genealogical research involves many different skills. One important skill is learning how to find relationships when no document states the relationship. Cluster Research is a research technique that can overcome this problem.
The early years of research are filled with the “low hanging” fruit of easily found census and other online records.
When that fruit runs out—which I assure you it will—are you equipped to keep uncovering relationships in your family? That involves learning new strategies, finding clues and piecing them together through analysis.
Here’s a good, short example from my own research.
My 2nd great grandmother Martha Simpson was born a free woman in Anne Arundel (later Howard) County, Maryland. I found her and her siblings in their mother Louisa’s 1850 household.
Martha married Levi Prather and had 13 children. They settled in Montgomery County. I had bible pages that recorded Martha’s siblings names and some of her own children:
Martha’s husband Levi died in 1894. In 1897, Martha purchased 75 acres of land from a man named Nicholas Moccabee and his wife.
I noticed that Martha lived in the same house with Nicholas and his wife in 1880. She also lived next door to the widowed Nicholas in 1900.
These kind of connections should always arouse suspicion and curiosity in the diligent genealogist. Who is this couple–Nicholas and Harriet?
Nicholas was also buried in the same cemetery as my ancestor Martha. So I decided to delve into Nicholas’ life more deeply.
An obvious impediment was his name, Moccabee, which was spelled umpteen different ways.
But take a look at several entries I found in land records for various years:
1876, Willie R. Griffith to Nicholas “Macbee” and wife Leanna
1896, Nicolas “Mackabee” to Harriet L. Mackabee
1897, Nicholas “Mackabee” and wife Harriet L. to Martha J. Prather
1897, Harriet Leannah Mackabee and husband Nicholas to Sandy Spring Bank
Nicholas’ wife’s full name—her first and middle name—is only ever provided in the last 1897 deed record above.
His wife’s name was Harriet Leannah. With this critical clue, I unlocked the puzzle.
A Relationship Emerges
I remembered Martha named one of her daughter’s “Harriet (Ann) Leanna.” If you go back to the bible records above, you’ll also see the name of “Leanna McAbee” on both pages.
All of this provides evidence for one conclusion: Nicholas married Martha’s sister, Harriet Leanna Simpson.
Later, I found an obituary for Nicholas McAbee that further verified the connection:
Notice that no single source says that Harriet Leanna, Nicholas’ wife, was Martha’s sister. I could draw that reasonable conclusion from the analysis of all the relevant evidence.
Later when I visited the family cemetery, I also found “H. Leannah McAbee’s” headstone right next to her husband Nicholas. It was located alongside a group of Simpson family headstones.
Reading genealogical case studies and learning how to extract clues from various records will help improve your cluster research.
A few months ago, I joyfully discovered a descendant of Harriet Leannah who still lived in Maryland.
He and his family surprised me by accepting my invitation an attending our family reunion. It was so wonderful.
Since then, I have gotten to spend time with their family and share my research. They shared priceless historical photographs.
The one I was most happy to see was the photograph below of Harriet Leannah. The two sisters have finally been reunited. Another ancestor–reclaimed!
Readers, in the comments, I’d love to hear stories of how you uncovered a relationship through clues in multiple sources.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.