Sometimes, when our research gets too complicated and we get frustrated we tend to put our family history aside for another day. There is however, one last step that you should consider before doing that. Consider timelines! A timeline cannot only get you out of a frustrating research loop – it can literally save you time from the beginning. Keeping a timeline and filling it in as you go along with your research is a smart choice that will never let you down.
You can create your own timeline from templates you can find on the web, from a spreadsheet, or create your own in a word document (or similar writing program – see below).
Grandfather John Anton was born in 1917.
b. 1917 m. 1938 1st child b. 1942
War declared on Germany 1917 Prohibition begins Jan 1920 US enters WWII Dec 1941
As you can see, I like to put the personal facts from the person on top and the historical facts on the bottom. I think that historical facts put things in perspective – so I always include a few important historical facts in my timelines.
Another way to do this is a simple vertical timeline:
1917 – John born
1938 – John married Mary (Jessup) May 16
1942 – June 2, First child born, Mary
1945 – John joined the Masons
1946 – April 14, Second child born, Jason
1972 – deceased Aug 10
1972 – buried Aug 14
Or you can do a double column timeline and have personal details on the left and historical details on the right:
Do you see how this makes it easier to see the gaps in information that you have? It literally puts their whole life on one page for you to see!
Any way you choose to do it, make sure it feels comfortable to you. There is nothing worse than writing out a research project, only to realize that it confuses you more and doesn't necessarily make your life easier. That is the whole point of this exercise - to plainly put things into context in an easy to read, easy to comprehend document. You notice that I wrote “document”? A timeline should never be more than one page in length.
Also, consider this... I am always advising my students to research the county and town histories of their subjects. Through this, you can discover if there were unexplained deaths (epidemics), and why things happened in their lives. Locality histories could explain a lot as to why family members disappeared, towns moved, or they may even mention an event about your ancestor that you didn't know about! I could go on and on about local histories – but this is another subject for another time...
I hope this has given you another tool to make your research easier. If you have ever done a timeline – or an alternative format – please share with us the way you did it and the rewards that it brought to you.