Timelines for Analysis & Correlation

I love timelines and their “sibling,” tables. The use of timelines and tables was critical to my writing of the Case Study and the Kinship Determination Project for my BCG portfolio.  I even used a table in my document transcription and research plan. I found, however, that many people do not understand the power of placing information in an array and looking at it differently than in the narrative format.

I am very visually oriented — basically for me “pictures say 1,000,000 words!” I need timelines and tables to array my information so I can visualize the gaps, the overlaps and/or the relationships of one bit of information to another.  Without them, I try to construct the array in my head, which is not always the most reliable “canvass” on which to work!

Because of my intense interest in timelines and tables, I put together a presentation on the ways one might use timelines.  In this blog, I wanted to introduce you to some examples I used in the presentation. You can also use timelines to assist in story telling but I am not going to discuss that here.

jacobson-rm-person-pageEXAMPLE 1: I use timelines to identify gaps in my data. This may be as simple as looking at my RootsMagic individual report (left) to see if I have entered all the census reports that are available.[1]  It can assist in identifing if I have researched all the source types mentioned in Val Greenwood’s book, The Researcher’s Guide to American Research.[2]

slide1EXAMPLE 2: Another kind of gap is that of time. You might have two “fragments” of an individual which you believe is one person, but there is a significant gap in their timeline.  This was true for my Case Study where I had located my Swedish ancestor on the Handskhult (Hishult, Halland County) farm where he was a child and on the Rishult farm when he was an adult, but I was missing 10 years in the middle!  Could I link them or not?


slide1EXAMPLE 3: Another example of a timeline that expands and assists in analysis and correlation is one where there are many same named individuals without enough information to identify the unique individual who satisfies the known information. Fredrick Eilers is my “brick wall.” He is the second husband of my great great grandmother, Eda (van Hoorn) Berg. I have lots of information on Eda, but I also have a 7 year gap after the 1862 marriage to Fredrick. During that time the family moved from Illinois to Iowa, arriving in 1871. I developed a timeline for Eda and then aligned it with the timeline of known information of Fredrick, and then identified Fredrick Eilers in the Midwest who passed some minimal thresholds (old enough to marry, likely to have been in Stephenson County, IL). I am still bedeviled by the fact that I cannot identify the right Fred. Right now my research summary of this problem is 10 pages of places I have looked and not found.

slide1EXAMPLE 4: Some time ago J. Paul Hawthorne took his pedigree chart and colored it according to location of birth. That was interesting to do, but my pedigree chart is pretty boring–4 colors–Danish (red), Swedish (blue), Ostfriesen (olive) and Iowa (green). He then added the idea of time to the pedigree chart. I decided to look at that as well. I don’t know that I learned a lot from it, except it is obvious that my Danish and Swedish ancestors had their children who were my ancestors earlier than my Ostfriesens (who generally do not marry until age 26-30). You can tell that by seeing that the red and the blue pedigree chart areas are more compressed, i.e. same number of generations in less time, than the Ostfriesens in the olive. It is a fun exercise whether you gain deep insight or not.[3]

Hope you found these of interest.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: I have reorganized my way of keeping track of my lectures/presentations. I needed to do this as I have over 27 presentations set up for this year and most are being given in the next 6 months. I have investigated four different software programs to assist and am seriously looking at AirTable. I have presented at SGS my “Making Timelines Work for You.” It was well received, but I need to tweak it more. In a week I will be going to Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) to take the course, “The Law Library” from Judy Russell. This course will assist me in using the law for genealogical purposes. In the meantime I have to develop a research plan for my time there. If I have some minutes for research I want to use my time wisely in the Family History Library.

[1] In my quick review of the Christian Jacobson person page I found I had not have the 1940 census for him recorded.  And I made a note to look at the 1935 Census of Business to see if his trucking company was covered in the enumeration.

[2] Val Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Research (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, Co., Inc. 1990), specifically Part 2.

[3] You can make one of these as well. use 1/4″ grid paper and use 10 years equals on square on the x-axis. For the primary person, start with 9 vertical or y-axis squares.  the next generation is 7 vertical squares. Calculate the overlap and work back to the year of birth.


6 comments on “Timelines for Analysis & Correlation

  1. J. Paul Hawthorne says:

    Excellent article, Jill. Very helpful.

  2. a gray says:

    Two comments:

    1. I don’t see how anyone can do genealogy without a timeline — one for the people under study and one for the era in which they live.

    2. Tell us more about Judy Russell’s course.

  3. Jill,

    I want to let you know that your wonderful blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2017/01/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-january-20.html

    Have a great weekend!

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