Timelines are an essential genealogy tool that enable researchers to track information, anchor your research to historical events, and even track migration patterns. They are a useful way to organize records and information when you’re taking a deep dive into the life of a Correlational Research specific ancestor. Timelines are also helpful when you’re working to visualize the connections and flow of information and events across generations. Yet it’s not always intuitive to researchers how to develop and use timelines as a launching point in their work. Here’s a closer look at some creative techniques for using timelines that can bring new perspective to your genealogical research.
Start with what you know: Creating a timeline is often a tactile process, and one that people enjoy doing with unlined paper and colored pencils. The ability to sketch out an outline and then fill in the details as you learn new information can be highly satisfying. Many tech savvy researchers create computer-based timelines that offer flexibility and the ease to quickly share data with family members or other researchers. The base of your timeline should be the details that you know. Consider the case study of creating a timeline of one family member’s life: start by entering the birth date and death date. Do you know any other major dates, such as marriage information, emigration details, dates of military service, baptismal records, or the date that a will went into probate? Add everything you have to provide the scaffolding for the story you’re mapping out.
Fill in the details and identify gaps: Use supplemental records such as school information or the US Census to provide supporting details. For example, it may become obvious that an ancestor was married twice. It’s then easier to focus on gathering the documentation that relates to both marriages without getting confused. Or you may learn that your ancestor was married in another country in a given year and then shows up on the US Census twenty years later. By developing a clear sense of the timeline involved, you’ll be able to significantly narrow down your search for immigration documentation to the intervening years. In other cases, an ancestor may have resided in the same locale decade after decade and produced a healthy paper trail. A timeline is an effective means to organize this information and give you a high level overview of the order of events.
Connect your timeline with historical trends: It may not be immediately obvious that your ancestor played a role in key historical events. For instance, you may have an ancestor that was born in 1830 and died in 1900. Family legends suggest that he served in the military. As you sketch out that ancestor’s life and important dates, it’s easier to note that there was overlap with the Civil War between 1860 and 1865. As a male between thirty and thirty-five, it’s a likely point of service within his lifetime. These types of insights can help you break through difficult research problems and focus your efforts to find sources of supporting documentation.
Timelines provide researchers with a different way to look at the information that they have accumulated. Using a date-based approach can help you draw connections that were missing before and identify future lines of inquiry. If you’re interested in expanding your genealogical knowledge and toolset but you’re unsure of how to get started, consider consulting with a professional genealogist for insights into the tips and tricks that you can help you uncover your personal family history.