Timelines. We talked about using them to capture your own story in a previous BLOG. You’ve probably heard about using them in genealogy but wondered if they were only for the data obsessed. Or you think ‘I have all my key dates for my ancestors captured in my genealogy software’. Perhaps you do but let’s talk a bit more about that.
I have found timelines to be a great way for organizing your family story because it almost creates an outline for you…especially if you are telling the story chronologically. Timelines can do much more. We all have a pesky ancestor who refuses to be found in the records and collateral documents that we would normally find them. We can use a timeline to narrow down the time gaps in our story, identify missing information and make sure that we’ve noted the source documents to support the dates we have.
As an example of how this worked for me, I’ll tell you about my great uncle “Fred”. For most of his life from childhood to young adult, he faithfully showed up in all the census and land records. Then by the 1920s, he’d disappeared. There was family gossip that he’d died a vagrant in Denver or he was married several times or that he moved to Indiana. I started to list the dates and sources on a timeline, searched records without results until finally two key census records helped narrow my focus. He was found in the 1930s census with a new wife and family. He was not in the 1940s census…it looks like they started to list him as head, crossed that out and put his wife as widowed. Hmmm. So now it looks like he may have died between 1930 and 1940. That is still ten years so what other information could I use to narrow this gap? City directories and birth dates of his children. I also had a picture that showed him visiting my grandparents in 1937. All these data points reduced the ten years to three years. It was more reasonable for me to now try to find a death or obituary record within this timeframe. Those two missing pieces resulted in solving this mystery…he died in May 1938.
Now that I have these great data points for Uncle Fred, I can map out his life and create a story to share with family and a great mystery has been solved.
A quick search will show several different options for timelines. I find Microsoft Excel works the best for me as I’m able to include pictures, snippets of data and use the tabs to manage dates. I’ve included a few links to help kickstart your search for ways to do timelines.
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Rudyard Kipling
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.