We all struggle with our genealogical research especially those who research people of color. We hit the famous brick walls repeatedly as if we are in a boxing match. First, we must realize that we have to find a better way of doing our research. There are many fancy ways out there, but I recommend that you stick with the basics. There is no one proven method to help combat the bricks walls, except a timeline. A timeline should be the foundation of your genealogy research. At the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute aka “MAAGI” we teach, rather insist, that the student’s build their research plans from a timeline. An institute is different than a genealogy conference, which provides lectures. MAAGI provide hands on, step-by-step on how to build your timeline, which leads you to developing a successful research plan. We want to encourage those who don’t use timeline to use them. Listed are the benefits to using a timeline:
- It keeps things organized
- Information is in chronological order
- One document, includes citations and resources and it can be shared (Word/excel)
- You have the beginnings of a biography of your ancestor and his or her family
- You are able to see things that could have been an impacts to the ancestor and to the community they lived in
- The conflicts and gaps will be evident giving you the Hint of what you have to resolved-then question the information
- Beginnings of your research plan
- They can be fancy or simple
Here is a simple guideline with tips to get your timeline set up.
First, you should set a goal for your research. What are you specifically looking for? You don’t want to make your goal or goals to big or too broad. Be specific! You don’t want a goal that says I want to know everything about my father’s people. A good example of a focused genealogy goal is-I want to know the parents of my great grandfather or I want to find the birthplace of my great grandmother, etc.
Next you want to list the events and resources surrounding your ancestors such as birth, deaths, marriages, military time, census, buying and selling land, and wills. The timeline will be in chronological order to help keep you organized. A good example would be your ancestor was born in 1845 and died in 1915. Now think about what census this ancestor could possible been listed in. Since he/she was born in 1845 and a free person of color, they should show up in the 1850 through 1910 and 1915 if the state took a state census. You would log in any listing in the census or any other event that your ancestor encountered during this time. Also, think about what was going on in the community/county during the time your ancestors lived there. It’s 1863, and you are researching the Fluvanna County, Virginia. First think of the date and what was going on during this time. Yes, the Civil War was going on, so your timeline should reflect what was going on in Fluvanna County that your ancestor might have been a part or was impacted by. You will have to learn about the community your ancestors lived in.
Once you begin to build the timeline you will need to question the information you are putting into the timeline. There could and will be clues to lead you to other things. Maybe you see a 10 year gap between the birth of children-that should trigger a question as to why there aren’t any children born during this time. You will have to look for births and deaths of children during the ten-year span; there was no birth control back in the 1900s. Or maybe there is a census when one of the household members isn’t there. Consider they relocated elsewhere, maybe married or died or served during wartime if they were of age to serve. You have to question the information from documents to combat the challenges or to find new leads.
Here is a sample blank timeline made in Word, using a Table. This shows that you can add more rows and columns and each block also expands. It tells you everything you need to do to keep your information in order. Follow the columns and fill them with what you find, also what you question in notes or the next steps that will be taken. Also insert page numbers and you can also put headers in place to keep the columns organized. All questions and missing information must be resolved in order to keep moving forward, telling the story of your ancestors life.
Developed by Shelley Viola Murphy aka “familytreegirl”
Building a timeline will take some time to complete. Just stay focused. It will be a good journey with benefits to combat some brick walls. Select the individuals you want to set up a timeline on and go for it, do the research and fill in the blanks. Please share your comments and progress!
About Dr. Shelley Viola Murphy
An avid genealogist for over 25+ years Shelley, aka, “familytreegirl” presents Genealogy workshops at the local, state & national genealogy conferences. Murphy is known for her inspiring & interactive “Getting Started” & “SO WHAT” with genealogy research, “African American Genealogy Resources”, “Time & File management” along with interesting problem-solving methodology lectures.
Shelley is a founding member & current President of the AAHGS Chapter of Central Virginia & Coordinator and Instructor for the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI), former Vice-President of the Central Virginia Genealogical Association (CVGA), Board member for the Library of Virginia, and a proud daughter of the Jack Jouett Chapter of DAR as the 3rd Vice Regent. Shelley holds memberships with the National Genealogical Society (NGS), Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) and Central Virginia History Researchers (CVHR) and various historical societies and genealogy groups throughout the USA. Shelley is also working on her membership application to the Sons and Daughters of the US Middle Passage. She holds a Doctorate of Management in Organizational Leadership & works as an Adjunct professor for Averett University in Virginia. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shelley’s tagline is “Know your roots, they are long and strong.”