Feeling a little bogged down with your genealogy research? Need a fun project for the summer that just might have the added bonus of helping break down a brick wall? Try creating a timeline for your family.
I had finished writing the report for my first generation of my accreditation project, but I lacked any mention of church records. Those are important for researching in the south, but my family moved around so much in Indian Territory/Oklahoma, that I didn’t know where to start. To find church records, I needed to know my family’s religion and an idea of locations where they might have attended church.
Two personal histories gave me clues to both church attendance and the movements of my great grandparents Dora and William Huston Shults: one by my grandfather Charles Leslie Shults and one by his sister, Loraine Shults Bassett. Written many years after the events, the histories agreed for the most part on names, dates, and happenings, but it was confusing going back and forth between the two. I also had some historical records that needed to be inserted into the appropriate time frame. I decided it was time to track this family with a timeline.
I created my timeline in Google sheets. For some time now, I’ve been using only Google docs and sheets for my family history endeavors. I also use Evernote to keep myself organized. Just recently, Evernote released the news that it is now partnering with Google Drive so that my docs and sheets will be accessible straight from Evernote, on all of my devices. Still in the beta version, I’m looking forward to this seamless integration of all of my family history and genealogy.
I started entering my information and decided to add an analysis feature to my timeline. As I wrote my accreditation report, I needed to show that I understood the types of sources: authored, original, and derivative; the types of information in those sources: primary or secondary; and the kind of evidence provided by that information: direct, indirect, or negative. Filling in those blanks on my timeline helped me boost my analysis skills and better evaluate my information.
Because I am a visual learner, I color coded the types of events so I could see at a glance the movements of the family. Moves to a new location are colored gold, births of children are blue, residences are green, etc. This helped tremendously in getting the information straight. I also noted discrepancies between the two histories, such as the place of birth of the oldest children.
My timeline pointed out one glaring inconsistency. The family is enumerated on the 1910 census in Jefferson County, Oklahoma, but neither history mentions this location. Instead, both had the family living in Pontotoc County at this time, about 100 miles northwest. To corroborate the family’s residence in Pontotoc County I researched the FAN club (friends, associates, and neighbors). Both Charles and Loraine mentioned individuals that I could locate on the 1910 census.
“Dr. Sam Therekill” who Loraine noted as delivering several of the Shults children was actually Sam Threlkeld and stated his occupation as a farmer on the 1910 census. “Mack” Mcguire who Charles spoke of owning a dairy, was named Reuben Mcguire on that census. His sons, named in the history, helped me pin down the right Mcguire family. Locating these neighbors in Pontotoc County gave further evidence that the Shults family did indeed live in that location. My timeline clearly pointed out that the Jefferson County residence from the 1910 census must have been short lived, so no need to look for church records there.
My timeline also showed that William Huston had purchased Indian land at a government sale in 1912. How had I missed that? I also had forgotten that the family took a wagon train trip to Melrose, New Mexico in 1907 where they stayed with Grandpa Royston in his hotel. Another place and set of records to research.
Loraine’s history gave me clues about the family’s church attendance:
On Sunday afternoon, we went to the river for baptising services for our community church (no denomination.)
On Sunday we would go to church and Sunday school.
We [Loraine and spouse] were married by Rev. Clements.
Now that I knew they attended church I could contact local historical societies in Pontotoc and Pushmetaha Counties to find more information about the community churches during the early 1900’s. Without my timeline, I might have searched Jefferson County as well.
What did I learn from analyzing the family’s movements on the timeline? That I had more work to do! Here is my list for future research:
-Contact the Pontotoc and Pushmetaha Historical Society for information on churches from 1905-1920
-Look for records from 1912 sale of Indian lands
-Search for homesteading records in New Mexico in 1907
-Contact the county courthouse in Roswell, New Mexico for information on the hotel
How often do we locate our family on all of the censuses and call it good? I have certainly been guilty of this. What I learned from this exercise is that a timeline is another valuable tool to add to our research toolbox. Don’t just rely on the automatic timeline generated by Ancestry or your software. Make your own. Add everything you have on the family and just see what turns up!
5 tips for using a timeline to improve your research
1. Create a spreadsheet in Google sheets or Excel using appropriate headings
2. Assemble your sources: histories, records, personal knowledge, etc.
3. Enter information and color code events
4. Analyze events looking for new research opportunities
5. Make a list of future research suggestions
Best of luck in your family history endeavors!
Do you want to take your genealogy research to the next level? In our Research Like a Pro Study Group, learn how professional genealogists stay organized and make discoveries. You will meet twice a month via google hangouts, complete assignments, do peer reviews, and receive feedback from professional genealogist, Diana Elder AG®.
Hi – I’m one of the founders of Twile and I’ve just shared your article on our Facebook page. We’re really keen to develop the Twile family history timeline to support research and seeing examples like yours on how a timeline can help break down brick walls is really valuable.
We’d love your readers to have a play with Twile and let us know how it could be enhanced to solve their family mysteries.
I heard your presentation at RootsTech and voted for you! I gave Twile a try and loved how easy it was to create a timeline of photos and events. Interestingly, the timeline I created featured the same family I wrote about in this post. I’ll take a look at it again and see how I could tweak it to reflect research opportunities, then share it with our readers. Thanks for reading and sharing on Facebook!
I first learned of you when I saw one of your presentations at Rootstech. You are a very good speaker and educator. Very useful information there and in this article. My question is: What are the column headings further to the right on the spreadsheet in this article (the part we can’t see)?
Thanks for the question and your kind words! Those headings are for analyzing the source: Source, Information, Evidence.