If you look at your family history, you will most likely find lots of facts organized in genealogy software or written on Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts. With all that data, it can be difficult to see how parts of an ancestor's life fit together. Creating a timeline of an ancestor's life will help you see their whole life picture instead of just the bits and pieces.
A timeline is a chronological list of events. In the case of an ancestor, it is a list of events from birth to death. It can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Depending on what I plan to use it for, I have made both plain lists and the more complex structures.
Start by making a list of every known fact about an ancestor. Note the date, event, place, and source. Adding the ancestor's age at the time of the event is also useful when evaluating information about things such as marriage, birth dates of children, and military service.
Items to include in a timeline are: birth; marriages; divorces; census; directories; education; occupation; land transactions; military service; immigration; religious affiliation; birth of family members, such as parents, siblings, spouse, children, grandchildren; death of family members; witness to events, such as marriages, baptisms, wills; retirement; death; burial; and probate. Every source that mentions your ancestor should be in their timeline.
Here is an example:
Theresa Huber Timeline
This partial timeline of Theresa Huber's life documents all the various stages of her life. A timeline, like the one above, can aid in uncovering inconsistencies in data and exposing inaccurate conclusions about that data. It will often direct the focus of future research efforts by identifying missing information.
World and national events such as wars, natural disasters, might have impacted an ancestor's life. Adding these events to a timeline will add depth to your research and place an ancestor in historical context. For instance, anyone living in the United States in 1861 should have an entry for the American Civil War.
In many cases, regional and local events had more of an affect on an ancestor's daily life than national or world events. For example, Newport, Kentucky, was devastated by a flood in 1937. Most of the city was under water, including my grandfather's house. The flood certainly impacted the family's life and should be included in their timelines.
Historical information for use in timelines can be found in history timetable books and historical event Web sites such as Timelines in History. Some good sources for local events are state, county, and town Web sites, published histories, and historical societies.
A timeline can be made using a word processor, spreadsheet program, a pencil and paper, special timeline software, or a genealogy program that has built-in timeline software.
Genelines and Genealogy Timeline are software programs designed specifically for making genealogy time lines. There are also Web sites that offer free timelines, such as OurTimeLines.com.
Consider adding timelines to your genealogical toolbox. They are invaluable for analyzing and interpreting genealogical data and they add life and substance to your research.