How should you document a broader search?

The FFANs principle neatly categorises the people in a broader search as family, friends, associates or neighbours. Family can be included in your family tree, but how should you document research into friends, associates and neighbours?

What information needs to be documented?

First we must consider the type of information that needs to be documented. We are researching FFANs because that research may provide information which contributes to the history of someone in our family.

The key information, therefore, is:

  • name of the FFAN
  • vital dates and locations (birth, marriage death)
  • name of the person in your family that they are connected to
  • nature of the connection
  • information obtained from researching the FFAN that is relevant to the person in your family
  • source citations for that information.

Research plans

Including FFANs in research plans helps you focus your research on specific research questions that are necessary to progress your research and identify which FFAN is most likely to provide the best information.

You could include FFANs in the research plan of the ancestor that they are connected to. For example, I create research plans in Excel and add extra worksheets for FFANs. One worksheet lists all potentially relevant FFANs, then worksheets are added for more detailed research about those which have the potential to yield useful information.

Alternatively, you could create separate research plans for each FFAN or group of FFANs.

Family trees and associated documentation

When you research family beyond your direct line, you should add them to your family tree as this identifies their relationship to you. Friends, associates and neighbours can also be included in your family tree as unlinked individuals. You can then add their families, if that information is relevant to your research.

Another option is to create separate family trees for different family lines and for friends, associates and neighbours. I personally do not like having multiple trees. Family history software and online family trees have tools to help you with your research and I find that these tools work better if the people are all in the same tree. Having them all in the one tree also keeps all the information together, which minimises the risk that you will lose information or forget about some of the people that you were planning to research.

You should also extend your organising system for associated documentation to include FFANs. For example, I organise all my files by paternal and maternal sides, then by surname. I store documentation about FFANs under the surname that they are connected to.

How do you link FFANs to your ancestors?

Regardless of which approach you take to research planning and family trees, you need a system to document who each FFAN belongs to.

Using unique identifier numbers greatly assists this process. Family history software automatically adds a unique identifier number to each person. If you do not use software, you can set up your own manual system. The numbers are used to distinguish between people of the same name and as a short reference to a person.

You could use your master list of research plans to provide cross-referencing between ancestors and their FFANs, as demonstrated below.

Example master list of research plans using unique identifier numbers to cross reference to FFANs.

Another option is to add information about the FFANs and their connections on the profile of the relevant ancestor. Ideally they should appear with the information about the shared connection. For example, I added each of the men who were executors of John Townson’s will to my family tree as unlinked individuals, and then I added their names and unique identifier numbers to the fact about the will on John’s profile. I can use this information to search my tree by their names or their identifier numbers. Adding information about their connection to John on the profiles of each FFAN also allows me to trace that the link back to John.

DNA matches

DNA matches can be treated as FFANs, because the DNA results suggest that they are probably part of your extended family. DNA matches should be added to your family tree, if you have sufficient information and they are relevant to your research.

If you know, or think you know, the most recent common ancestor between yourself and your DNA match, you could include that DNA match in the research plan of that common ancestor. You could also list the DNA matches on the profile of that ancestor.

If you have not yet identified the most recent common ancestor, you might find it useful to have a research plan for a group of DNA matches who appear to be related to you in the same way, or have a DNA research plan for each of your four grandparent lines. A single DNA research plan would also be feasible.

You might like to read a post I wrote a while back, Research Planning with DNA.

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