How to Create a Genealogy Timeline

How to Create a Genealogy Timeline

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Have you ever gotten stuck with your family tree? If so, you know that any tips or tools that will help you get over the roadblock are invaluable. Timelines are such a tool. They can point to holes in your research. They can show you things that you might not have caught such as an ancestor moving before they got married or a baby that died before adulthood. They can also help you understand outside forces they may have forced a migration or a change in career.

There are different ways to construct timelines. The easiest way is to start with the basic facts about your ancestor.

Here’s an example:

Margaret Jones
b. 5 Jul 1880, San Francisco
d. 13 March 1960, San Francisco
m. ca. 1904, San Francisco

The timeline would start with her birth

5 Jul 1880 Margaret Jones born
1889 Margaret’s mother dies giving birth
1900 Margaret is single and lives with her father in San Francisco
ca 1904 Margaret marries Harry Jackson
2 Feb 1965 Margaret dies

Let’s look at some other facts about Margaret’s life.

She was raised in San Francisco and lived there after her married. Around 1908 she moved to Fruitvale District, Oakland, CA. She had her first child in March 1906 in San Francisco and her second in 1909 in Oakland.

Let’s add this information:

5 Jul 1880 Margaret Jones born
1889 Margaret’s mother dies giving birth
1900 Margaret is single and lives with her father in San Francisco
1880-1908 Margaret lives in San Francisco
ca 1904 Margaret marries Harry Jackson
Mar 1906 Margaret and Harry’s first child is born in San Francisco
1908 Margaret and Harry move to Fruitvale District, Oakland
1909 Margaret and Harry’s second child is born in Oakland
2 Feb 1965 Margaret dies

Now, that seems suspicious! Why did Margaret and Harry move to Oakland? What events might have been going on that caused the shift? The answer is an earthquake! And, a big one! Margaret and Harry were living in San Francisco when the 1906 earthquake struck. They lost their home. According to her daughter, they lived at the Bernal Heights camp for a few months. They remained in San Francisco on Aztec St. for a couple of years, then finally moved to the other side of the bay.

Now we add the historical events:
5 Jul 1880 Margaret Jones born
1889 Margaret’s mother dies giving birth
1900 Margaret is single and lives with her father in San Francisco
1880-1908 Margaret lives in San Francisco
ca 1904 Margaret marries Harry Jackson
Mar 1906 Margaret and Harry’s first child is born in San Francisco
April 1906 Earthquake and fire strikes San Francisco. Harry and Margaret lose their home.
ca Apr 1906 Margaret and Harry live in the Bernal Heights camp
1906-1908 Margaret and Harry live on Aztec St. in San Francisco
1908 Margaret and Harry move to Fruitvale District, Oakland
1909 Margaret and Harry’s second child is born in Oakland
2 Feb 1965 Margaret dies

So, we now see how a natural disaster caused Harry and Margaret to leave town permanently. What else happened in their lives. Well, they had 3 more children between 1912-1917. Then in 1930 census, Margaret is listed by herself in Oakland. She and Harry were divorced. City directories show Harry living at the address until 1927, so they divorce sometime between 1927 and 1930. Soon after Margaret moved back to San Francisco. Perhaps because of the depression Margaret couldn’t afford to keep up the house on 25th Avenue alone.

We have some more facts to add to our timeline:
5 Jul 1880 Margaret Jones born
1889 Margaret’s mother dies giving birth
1900 Margaret is single and lives with her father in San Francisco
1880-1908 Margaret lives in San Francisco
ca 1904 Margaret marries Harry Jackson
Mar 1906 Margaret and Harry’s first child is born in San Francisco
April 1906 Earthquake and fire strikes San Francisco. Harry and Margaret lose their home.
ca Apr 1906 Margaret and Harry live in the Bernal Heights camp
1906-1908 Margaret and Harry live on Aztec St. in San Francisco
1908 Margaret and Harry move to Fruitvale District, Oakland
1909 Margaret and Harry’s second child is born in Oakland
1912 Margaret and Harry’s third child is born in Oakland
1915 Margaret and Harry’s fourth child is born in Oakland
1917 Margaret and Harry’s fifth child is born in Oakland
1920-1927 Margaret and Harry live on 25th Ave
ca 1928 Margaret and Harry get a divorce
1929 The stock market crashes bringing on the depression
1930 Margaret lives with two of her daughters on 25th Avenue in Oakland
2 Feb 1965 Margaret dies

In 1965, Margaret passed away. From her death certificate I learned that she lived at 2186 Geary Street, San Francisco at the time of her death. Her daughter is show living at the same address.

So, let’s add this tidbit:
5 Jul 1880 Margaret Jones born
1889 Margaret’s mother dies giving birth
1900 Margaret is single and lives with her father in San Francisco
1880-1908 Margaret lives in San Francisco
ca 1904 Margaret marries Harry Jackson
Mar 1906 Margaret and Harry’s first child is born in San Francisco
April 1906 Earthquake and fire strikes San Francisco. Harry and Margaret lose their home.
ca Apr 1906 Margaret and Harry live in the Bernal Heights camp
1906-1908 Margaret and Harry live on Aztec St. in San Francisco
1908 Margaret and Harry move to Fruitvale District, Oakland
1909 Margaret and Harry’s second child is born in Oakland
1912 Margaret and Harry’s third child is born in Oakland
1915 Margaret and Harry’s fourth child is born in Oakland
1917 Margaret and Harry’s fifth child is born in Oakland
1920-1927 Margaret and Harry live on 25th Ave
ca 1928 Margaret and Harry get a divorce
1929 The stock market crashes bringing on the depression
1930 Margaret lives with two of her daughters on 25th Avenue in Oakland
1965 Margaret lives at 2186 Geary with daughter
2 Feb 1965 Margaret dies

It looks like I have quite a bit of details of Margaret’s life, but also a few gaps. By looking at my timeline, I can see where I need to fill in. Clearly, she was doing something between 1930 and 1965. It might be interesting to get their divorce papers to see what details it might hold. I could also use city directories to see where Margaret was during the time period before her death.

As you can see, a timeline can be a handy tool when deciding where to research next. You can keep your timelines in a word processing file. As you learn more details about the person’s life, add them in. You can also add world events or local events that add meaning to your ancestor’s life and experiences. When analyzing your timeline, you’ll see things in a new light and perhaps see your ancestor in a different way.

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