I attended a number of Elizabeth Shown Mills‘s presentations this past week at the NGS 2016 annual conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (see photo at left).  ESM rarely works with direct evidence and is usually in the extreme ends of the lineage trying to solve her research question. Her presentation on identifying John Watts, “Reasonably Exhaustive Research: The First Criteria for Genealogical Proof,” soon to be a NSGQ article, is a study in extremely complex FAN Club research. 
What is a FAN Club? Friends, Associates and Neighbors comprise any person’s FAN Club. These are the individuals who surround us and who we interact with regularly. We call upon them to assist us in our dealings that generate documents that survive to today. More importantly, we find our FAN Club being kin, especially before the 21st century.
For example, when it is time to fill out the request for the Civil War pension and you need to have some attestations of your service and good character. Who are you going to ask to give character witness? –your comrade in arms from your unit. Your unit was comprised of individuals from your state and often included kin.
Or, you are a member of a church. Who is on the church rolls with you?—other church members, many of whom may be family members
It is time for you to emigrate. Do you just pick up and go?–no, you probably entice others from your small town to emigrate as well and all appear on the passenger manifest together. Do you shoot darts at a map to determine where you are going to settle?—again, no. You instead pick an area you have heard about, because others from your parish have migrated before you to that place.
These are just 3 examples of different FAN Clubs. As you can see one person can have many FAN Clubs at the same time and individuals may “occupy” overlapping groups. In very difficult problems, such as the identification of John Watts, not only did the FAN club include multiple types of clusters, but it grew in numbers of individuals as more evidence was found. A FAN Club is never static. It will increase in size as new information is obtained and new names are added. It will shrink as individuals are identified who do not answer the research question.
The reason why someone would drop from the list is if they defied Newton’s Laws of Physics:
Principle 1: and object (individual) cannot be in two places at the same time.
James Smith #1 farms on Smith Creek and James Smith #2 farms on James Creek in 1850–at the same time. These are two different James Smiths. Understanding the distances one could travel in the time frame of investigation is necessary to eliminating individuals from a FAN Club.
Principle 2: one object (individual) cannot occupy the same time twice as someone else. James Smith #1 resides on land from 1812 to 1850. James Smith #2 resides on land from 1830 to 1860. These are probably two different James Smiths because their timelines are not in alignment.
These are extremely simplistic examples and are only used to illustrate a point of identity of same named individuals; not to illustrate reasonably exhaustive research, which would be necessary to actually eliminate John Smith #2 in each instance.
Same named individuals can only be separated by using reasonably exhaustive research and having alignment of geography, time AND the FAN Club.
I would also suggest that you probably use it more frequently than you think. Your FAN Club size may be small and you can quickly eliminate all but one. This type of research is particularly critical for Irish and Scandinavian ethnic groups whose naming practices result in many individuals having the same name.
What I have done since the last posting: attended the NGS 2016 conference, blogged about the conference, presented twice and became inspired as I read the submissions of others for certification at the BCG booth. Next up? Whidbey Island GS and Jamboree! Next blog (probably)—coincidence and decision-making.
 Photo of Elizabeth Shown Mills & Jill Morelli, taken at the request of Jill Morelli by an attendee, May 2014. Photo taken NGS 2014 conference in Richmond, VA.
 FAN Club is a group composed of friends, associates and/or neighbors devised by Elisabeth Shown Mills, also called “cluster research.” The use of FAN Club principles are used repeatedly in solving genealogical problems.