So you are in a research quandry. Perhaps you are suffering from information overload, and don’t know what to make of it all. Are there too many pieces of evidence going through your mind? Are you trying to figure out what to do next?
Maybe it’s time for a timeline…
My little brain is too tiny too hold and sort more than a few pieces of evidence, so I use a research log and report for the “holding”, and a timeline for the “sorting”. I’m guessing you have already discovered the benefits of timelines, and the need to make order of the events in an ancestor’s life while placing him/her within the context of local and world events. If so, it might be time to update a timeline for your latest research project.
Timelines reveal gaps, inconsistencies, and conflicts in our research, but they also sometimes serve up a well-ordered line of logic that can make writing a proof summary or proof argument much easier. Timelines are valuable tools at any stage of research:
- In the beginning they steer us to the jurisdictions most likely to house our ancestor’s records.
- As we accumulate records they help us order and make sense of our findings, and they often nearly shout out to us what our next research objective should be.
- At the conclusion of our research project timelines help us to prepare our proof summary or proof argument. Utilize timelines as the scaffolding for your research, but also as the showcase.
Create a timeline for an individual and another one for an entire family. Record the locality, date, and age for life events such as birth, marriage, death, birth of children, residence (census, directories, voter registration), land ownership, military, education, employment, and immigration, among other things.
Be sure to tie events to source documents in your research log for easy reference. Include significant local, state, and national events, such as wars, natural disasters, border expansion, change of jurisdiction, railway or waterway development, and mineral discoveries in your timeline. These things influenced your ancestor’s choices and will help you make sense of the personal events of your ancestor’s life.
Timelines are key to a good researcher’s success. Give it a try – you will be rewarded every time!