How to Make a Genealogy Time Line
What is a Genealogy Time Line?
Genealogists and family historians love charts and forms! There are pedigree charts, family group charts, research record logs and cousin charts, to name a few. One type of chart that is often overlooked is the genealogy timeline.
A genealogy timeline is a visual aid that shows an ancestor's birth and death, as well as any other major events such as marriage, the birth of children and emigration. Local and world events can also feature on the timeline. A timeline can take any form, from a simple chronological list to be used as a working document, to a beautifully illustrated work of art to take its own place in a family history book. It's simple to make your own, but you can also find templates and software to make the job easier.
The Benefits of a Genealogy Time Line
If you already have a well-researched pedigree chart and your family tree is groaning under the weight of names you've added, you may question the use of a further chart. However, if you are a family historian who is aiming to truly uncover your family's history, rather than just someone who collects names and dates, a timeline is a valuable tool. It may be that a timeline for each of your ancestors is excessive, but constructing a timeline for a select few may yield dividends.
The major benefit of the timeline is that in creating it, you may well spot opportunities for further research. The timeline adds another dimension to your family's story; family tree charts tend to be a vertical line whilst the timeline broadens out the tree horizontally. Your tree will give the basics of each ancestor's life, his or her timeline will add the detail.
Genealogy Charts and Forms
- Pedigree Chart - tends to start with an individual and shows his ancestors going back several generations.
- Family Tree - usually the oldest generation are at the top, their descendants shown below
- Family Group Sheet - data about each ancestor and his family is collated on one record.
What to Include in a Genealogy Time Line
The obvious place to begin your timeline is your ancestor's birth date. I would suggest that you extend it back a few years so that you include his parents' marriage date, if applicable. The end of the timeline will be dictated by his death. In between, you can add anything you know about his personal life, including:
- date and place of baptism
- date and place of starting school
- employment details
- military service
- movement between towns or emigration
- birth of children
- death of parents
Once you have included these details you can add local and world events. You may be able to find links between personal and world events. For instance, you may notice that your ancestor left Ireland in the 1840s. Finding out that the Great Famine occurred in Ireland at that time is probably the reason for the move.
If you are not sure of where to start on adding world events to your timeline, visit a website. For example, History Timelines includes timelines covering different countries, eras and themes that could help you fill in your own timeline.
A Simple Genealogy Time Line
How to Create a Time Line
There is no set format for a timeline, so you can be as minimalist or as creative as you like. The only set rule is that your timeline should be in chronological order. As you are likely to revise and add to your timeline it is advisable to work either in a computer program that is easily changed or work with pencil and paper.
Personally, I think that if your timeline is to be a working document it is best to use Word. Simply open a table and add rows to the table as you discover more information. If you reach a point where you feel that you have discovered all that there is about an ancestor you can get creative and work on a more lasting document. You may wish to draw it out and add photographs for instance.
If you aren't confident in using Word (or alternatively Excel) then you might consider downloading a template or installing software to make your timeline. You can download a free timeline template at ObituariesHelp.org.
Smartdraw offers downloadable software to create timelines. Family history packages that list a timeline feature are shown in the box to the right.