Thursday, October 1, 2009

Root-digging at a "Cluster Reunion"

If you want to break through a genealogical brick wall, follow the associates -- that is, the extended family, friends, neighbors or business associates of your ancestor. This "big picture" approach to family history research is sometimes called "cluster genealogy." In her book, The Sleuth Book for Genealogists, Emily Anne Croom devotes an entire chapter to cluster genealogy.

I just returned from what might be called a "cluster reunion." This is a family reunion on a grand scale. In this case, it was the Dutch Cousins Reunion bringing together a diverse group of families associated with the Low Dutch Colony of Kentucky in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Led by Carolyn Leonard of Oklahoma, the Low Dutch descendants converged on Harrodsburg, Kentucky the last weekend in September.

Mind you, although I'm Dutch, I'm completely unrelated to the Low Dutch. But I'm researching an intrepid Methodist minister -- my wife's third great-grandfather -- who married a Low Dutch meisje. The marriage did not go well, but the resulting divorce case has given me new leads for my research. But, it was the people I met at the reunion that led to two unexpected leads.

First, I encountered the hero of the restoration of the Low Dutch church built in 1800. I'm not sure how he is connected to the Low Dutch, but it looks like he is a distant cousin of my wife. He is willing to do a DNA test that might prove my theory about the origin of John Fawkner.

Second, quite by accident, I heard another reunion attendee mention that she was from Montrose, Iowa. Did my ears perk up! I knew that two of John Fawkner's sons had lived in Montrose in the 1850s. I had never realized that their next door neighbors were Low Dutch from Kentucky. This discovery helps solidfy my working theory about family relationships.

The key to this reunion for me was the cluster part of it. This was more than a family reunion, it was a gathering of a community. I highly recommend the experience.