Building a Timeline of your ancestor’s life

Once you select an ancestor that you want to learn more about, one of the first steps is to build a timeline of that ancestor’s life. Start with the basics such as birth, marriage and death. Add other information such as moving to a new location, war(s) that the ancestor either fought in or lived through, births and deaths of her children, and other significant events. This information may come from documents or family legends. Either is OK to start, although you will eventually want to back up everything on this timeline with the appropriate documentation. The important thing is just to get it on paper, with dates if possible. Set it aside for a couple of days and then come back and see if you can add anything else.

Here are two examples of the same timeline. I did one in Excel and one in Word. The format doesn’t matter–just use whichever you are most comfortable with. Pen and paper work well too.

Levi Savage Timeline Excel

Levi Savage Timeline Word

It’s clear that I know a lot about Levi Savage. I could have included even more. Most of this is knowledge that I already have in my head from family stories and his diary, but as I start writing up his story, I need to cite sources such as diaries, vital records and census records.

Usually, however, we know much less about the ancestor that has been chosen. Let’s look at the Loyalist I mentioned in my first post. I know much less about him. What does his timeline look like?

Thomas Sumner timeline

Clearly, there is a lot more work to be done on this timeline.

But, whether you are starting with an ancestor about whom much is known, like Levi, or an ancestor like Thomas where much less is known, the process of fleshing out their lives through historical and social research is the same.

This week, create a timeline for the ancestor you have chosen. I’d love to hear feedback about what interesting things appear on your timeline.

A future post will discuss expanding these personal timelines by including external information on historical events, disasters and epidemics, wars and other important events.

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