The FAN concept was first coined by Elizabeth Shown Mills to emphasize the importance of researching not just our direct ancestor, but also their friends, associates, and neighbors. That’s where the acronym “FAN” comes from.
It’s a worthwhile concept, but it’s important to remember that your ancestor might not have been a literal fan of everyone in his FAN network–especially his associates and neighbors–and some of their relatives as well. There may have been associates your ancestor interacted with only when necessary. There may have been neighbors of your ancestor with whom he interacted as infrequently as possible. Your ancestor also may have had relatives with whom he interacted only when absolutely (or legally) necessary.
Think about your ancestor’s friends, associates, and neighbors, but pay close attention to how often he interacts with them and how he interacts with them. Is he interacting with them in a way that exposes him to some legal or financial risk? If so, then he likely trusts them. Is he interacting with them in a way that benefits them more than it does him? Then he may like them.
It’s also worth noting that your ancestor’s friends can change over time as well. Moves, changes in social or economic situation, or other life events can alter the nature of a friend relationship.
Use your ancestor’s FANs, but be thinking about it when you do.