Monday, June 6, 2022

Methodology Monday: Collateral Research -Looking for the Whole Bunch

Collateral Research-Looking for the Whole Bunch

Have you ignored your ancestor’s siblings or other family members when trying to answer your genealogy questions? Like grapes grow in a bunch, your ancestors most likely didn’t grow and have experiences alone. Researching collateral lines may give you the clues you need!

"I just want to know about my direct line ancestors!" Many a genealogist has perused this line of thought and found themselves with brick walls that could easily have been avoided if they had turned to other members of the family for answers.

Imagine a bunch of grapes. Each grape is a single piece of fruit but growing and going through most of its lives together, sharing similar experiences. The same principle applies to your ancestors. They had parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, etc.  They shared homes, memories, and in many cases, records with them. 

Benjamin Thomas Thames Family
Clarendon County, SC

How Collateral Research Can Help    

  • Locate family Bibles, photos, and other documents.
  • Track family migration. 
  • Research on your collateral lines may help put “flesh on the bones”. 
  •  Answer Genealogy Questions
Baker Family Plot
Sumter Cemetery, Sumter, SC

Where to Find Collateral Lines:

Vital Records are a good starting point in looking for people who might be related. These are usually filled out or signed by a member of the family. Who was the informant on a death certificate? Where may they fit in the family tree?

  • Witnesses on legal documents
  • Obituaries -who is included as a family member?
  •  Church records-look for family connections 
  • Probate records-who is mentioned in a will? Who is buying and selling inventory?
  • County Histories
  • Surname Files in Archives and Libraries
  • Cemeteries-who is buried nearby?
  • Census Records-look for those with the same surname or potential family who lived close by.
  • Names in a Family Bible.
  • Online Trees for hints. 
  • Compiled family histories for hints.

Tips for Researching Collateral Lines

  •      Fill Out a Family Group Chart. Make a research plan for each family member.
  •      create a list of surname spelling variations. 
  •     Stay organized with charts, graphs, and timelines.
  •   Study maps for possible family connections.
  •   Connect with descendants

Collateral Research could be just what you need to break through a brick wall. Don’t be a direct-line-only researcher! When it comes to your family, look for the whole bunch!

Thanks so much for stopping by!
Heping you climb your family tree,


  1. Great advice - I LOVE collateral research - sometimes I'll be so deep down the rabbit hole I'll have forgotten they're not my direct line. I feel a kinship to them all :)

    1. Thanks so much for reading! I love it too!! And I hear ya about those rabbit holes!

  2. Yes, collateral research is very important. Fanning out helps to break down brick walls, and it is a necessary part of any form of genealogy research. Great post! :)

    1. Thanks, Diane! I appreciate you reading my post and commenting. Happy Researching!

  3. Love your grape analogy! Collaterals and their descendants usually have family information and photos that they can share. My paternal aunts had all of the family photos —my father had none. A descendant of the spouse of my grandaunt shared family photos of my great-grandmother and all of her children. That was the only photo I had of my great-grandmother.

    1. What a great example of collateral research! Thanks so much for taking the time to read the post and comment! Happy researching!