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