Genealogical research involves a lot of papersâ€"pedigree charts, family group records, and at least one copy of every record mentioning your ancestor. Multiply this by hundreds (or more!) people on your pedigree chart and you end up with so many pieces of paper that it's easy to overlook facts.
A timeline can help you organize what you know about a person (or family) and give you ideas for further research. The process of listing every fact known in chronological order also forces you to carefully study every record, which may help you notice things you hadn't seen before. A timeline is helpful for research in every time period and location.
I've found that the easiest way to create a timeline is to use the word processing program on your computer. Begin with the person's birth date (or an estimation), and then continue listing dates and what happened to your ancestor on that date. For example:
John M. Smith
16 May 1836...................................Born in Clark County, Arkansas
1850...............................................Listed on census with parents in (location)â€¦
3 Feb 1859......................................Married Martha Ann Mays in â€¦.
29 Apr 1860....................................Son Richard Smith born inâ€¦
1870...............................................Listed on census in...
and so onâ€¦
Include every event you have a record of, including marriages, censuses, births & deaths of children, spouse(s) and parents, land transactions, migrations, military service, etc. Sometimes you'll find that you know a lot more about a person than you thought! And because it's a computer document, you can easily add or edit information.
By reviewing what you already know, you will be able to see both potential problems and holes where more research is needed. Potential problems include being too young for a marriage date, having children too close together, or being in two locations at the same time. Holes in your timeline may include finding an exact date or location, filling in large gaps between children, searching other census years or state censuses, or searching for military records.
In the above example, you might notice that the 1860 census is missing and should be searched if it hasn't already. In addition, this man was in his mid-20s during the Civil War and may have served in the military.
When creating your timeline, it also may be helpful to include historical events that may have affected your ancestor (wars, famines, political events, new laws, etc.) These may be national or local. You can find many timelines online by searching for "timeline" and "history" in any search engine. You can also search for more specific timelines by including a location, such as a state or town. Even if you don't include other events on your timeline, it is a good idea to consult a historical timeline to help you analyze your current research and plan future research.
Creating timelines will help you put all your knowledge in one easy-to-read place, see gaps in information, notice possible problems, and see avenues for future research. It also helps you understand your ancestor better, and makes it easier to share your information with family members or get help from librarians or other genealogists. And for particularly difficult lines in your pedigree or when you have done a lot of research on one person, timelines are especially helpful!
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.
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