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Creating Timelines

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Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash.jpg

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

I've been doing a lot of reading about genealogical/historical timelines recently, basically checking to see if there are more details I can or should add to my timeline template. This template makes use of Excel's rows and columns and I added colorized categories of Birth, Marriage, Residence, and Death to document my ancestor's life history.

This method of tracing my ancestor enabled me to solve some mysteries that had been eluding me for some time. That was my initial purpose in creating a timeline for my great grandmother. But then I started thinking about how I could improve this timeline for future use by learning from what others have created. "the Armchair Genealogist" has a great blog about the "Four Steps To A Family History Timeline". Basically they are:

  1. Identify the Ancestor you wish to plot - She mentions plotting a whole family or surname. I believe that even if you start with one person, you will end up plotting the whole family but I was very intrigued with the idea of plotting a whole surname.
  2. Choose your tool - There are lots of tools available but even more intriguing to me was her mention of using mindmaps as a way of presenting the information. She called Excel (and Word) not pretty or creative but getting the job done which is what I needed. Choose the tool for you that get the job done.
  3. Create Your Categories - There is a great list of categories at "the Armchair Genealogist" blog. These include items directly related to your ancestor and also events that may have impacted their lives. I suggest you check it out!
  4. Identify Your Time Frame - This is basically scoping your work and research so it answers what you need and does not become too onerous. My scope was two generations before my great grandmother and one generation after. But it really needs to be what is needed for your purposes and what you are working to accomplish.

FamilySearch also has a good blog on "Using Timelines to Plot Out Your Ancestor's Life".It is mentioned that both FamilySearch and Ancestry generate timelines for an individual automatically, as you research and attach information to your ancestor. I jumped over to one of my Ancestry trees to see how well that would have worked for the timeline on my great grandmother. Turns out not so well as I wanted to include her parents and grandparents (including siblings) in the timeline and it starts with her birth. Ancestry does identify events such as death of parents and birth/death of siblings as long as they occur after the birth, and before the death, of your ancestor.

I believe it is worthwhile to identify why a timeline should be created. In the case of a mindmap or other visual way of representing the data, it could be to publish within a book about your ancestor. In regards to research, it is to solve a mystery, to fill gaps in your research, to identify errors or anomalies, to gather all the data needed to write your ancestor's story; all with the goal to gain a complete picture of your ancestor and their life.

The FamilySearch blog also provides a lot of information regarding other online technologies/tools that can be used to generate and display genealogical timelines, some paid and some free. All were more than I was looking for in consumption of time so believe I will stick to my Excel spreadsheet for now. But there is a lot of interesting ways to approach timelines and many resources available to help you in developing this tool for your purposes. Now to get started on timelines for Mildred and Mary & George!

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