Malachi's Promise "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers...." Malachi 4:6

Friday, June 7, 2013

T is for Timelines - Family History Through the Alphabet

I think of timelines as one of those essential tools to help find gaps in information about an ancestor; to help discover possible inconsistencies; and to help place an ancestor in his environmental setting at any particular time.  Timelines may be especially useful when trying to figure out where to turn next to find more  information about an ancestor.  I think they are a concise way to see an overview of an ancestor's life.

I include every event I learn about an ancestor and note the date (of course!) and geographic location where the event took place.  I think it's important to include a note in the timeline after each entry giving abbreviated source details about where you found the information.  (You'll have recorded a full citation elsewhere, such as in your genealogy software program.)

Sometimes dates and ages are calculated from a census, other times the record gives the age and date.  Here are some of the things I include in my timelines.  Possible sources are in parentheses.
  • Birth dates and ages of the focus ancestor and every member of his/her family (civil record, church record, newspaper announcement, obituary, gravestone, death record, interment record)
  • Baptism, christening, confirmation  (church records, possibly newspaper announcements)
  • Immigration information (passenger lists)
  • Naturalization (county or federal government records)
  • Marriage (government or church documents, calculated from some census records, newspaper announcements)
  • Divorce (government documents, vital statistics in some newspapers)
  • Property purchases and sales (county records)
  • Military service (government documents, newspaper articles)
  • Moves/relocations (census records, city/county directories, newspaper articles)
  • Wills (county records, newspaper announcements)
  • Deaths of individual and all family members (government records, church records, grave markers, obituaries, interment records)

I think of timelines as working tools, subject to change as I learn more information about my ancestor.  If a birth year is calculated from a census record, I may learn more accurate information from some other source, and then I change it and make an additional note about where I found the information.

Timelines sometimes help me sort out information.
  • Ages:  Is the mother old enough to have a child, too old to have a child?  Are the children spaced at least 9 months apart?  Is there a wide age gap (3 or more years) between siblings?  Perhaps a child was stillborn or died without being recorded in a census.
  • Immigration:  If an ancestor is located in a distant city two days after his ship arrived in the U.S., perhaps they are two different people. 
  • Moves:  If the ancestor is in different locations in consecutive census records, it can narrow down the date he moved to at least 10 years.  Additional research (city/county directories, state census reports, property records) may help narrow the move even further.
  • Local and world events:  I include these if I suspect my ancestor immigrated (from any location to another) because of problems in his homeland or previous location.  Knowing that the community scorned people from his homeland would help me understand a move to a new community.  War may be another reason for an ancestor to move.

I've noticed that many people like to make horizontal timelines, probably because we think of time as horizontally linear (at least I do).  I find a vertical timeline easier to use when I know I'm going to be adding information.  Using a computer I can insert dates and just move the information below it down.

Your genealogy software program may be helpful to you.  If you've included as much information as you know about an ancestor you may be able to use it to begin a timeline.  By clicking on an ancestor's page in RootsMagic, it shows me the date of every event I've added for that person.  That will be a good basis for an even more extended timeline (or incentive to add all the information to the software program). 

For more information about timelines
  • Do a google image search with the words "timeline family history" and see how others have created timelines.
  • Look at FamilySearch's US Timelines - Creation and Use with Families or Family Tree Magazine's  Create a Personal Timeline where you can read more suggestions and ideas about timelines.
  • For those researching in the United Kingdom, the BBC Timeline Tool gives a nice historic overview of national and local events that may help you understand more about your ancestor's situation and the reason for some of his/her decisions.
I've posted three timeslines:  Elvira Bartley Gerner - Her Years from Birth to Burial, Timeline for Harry Hepler, and Every Scrap of Evidence - Timeline for Henry Meinzen.  They are not perfect timelines but they helped at the time I was researching the individual.


This post was created to participate in Alona Tester's Family History Through the Alphabet challenge at Genealogy and History News.  Thanks, Alona. 

--Nancy.

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