Skip to content

Using Timelines In Genealogy

November 2, 2022

Timelines are an excellent research tool for genealogists, which I have been using for years. They have become part of my process of writing family stories. Before writing a family story to be published, I will always create a timeline first, so I have an overall view of the person’s life. This helps to give me guidance, as to the direction I’d like to take, and ensures I have time periods in the correct order. Depending on the project in mind, a timeline could be written about a family member’s entire life, or just a period in their life. For example, you may wish to write about your family members’ teenage years, or perhaps their life after 50.

A timeline can be designed as a graph, or on a line across the page, or whichever way suits you best to display the information. For me, a timeline works best when it is done as a list. Because of the way my brain works, I find it easier to read and keep track of the information in a list. I call my timelines “Research Timelines” as they are never complete, and can always be referred to while researching, and added to when new information is received. If I was going to publish my timeline in a book or an official document of a life story, I would choose a more elaborate timeline for publication. It’s entirely your choice. As long as the timeline works for you, that’s all that matters.

What Is A Timeline?

A timeline, as it is used for genealogy, shows a list of events that happened in the life of a person, and the date that they occurred. As family historians, we collect information and documents relating to our family, often over many years. Entering that information into a timeline will give more clarity, and and will put it into date order.

Even if the information is entered into a family history program, a timeline is still beneficial. The timeline gives the outline, and the family history software tells the story around the information in the timeline. Many family history programs produce timelines, which is a bonus, as that means that the information only needs to be entered once, and the software creates the timeline.

Historical information such as the dates of wars, or other historical events, can be added to the timeline to give context to your ancestor’s life. You will be able to see your ancestors’ life very clearly as it relates to historical events.

Timelines can be as basic, or as complicated and decorative, as you prefer. Mine are usually very basic, usually due to my skill level being fairly basic. You can create a basic timeline in a Word or Excel Document. There are also many apps available that will create an impressive timeline quite easily.

An example of a decorative timeline

Why Use Timelines

  • Information can be seen at a glance
  • Shows any gaps that may be in your research.
  • Errors in research become more obvious
  • The next area to be researched can become clear
  • Conflicting information is more easily identified
  • Helps to breakdown brickwalls
  • It’s possible to see the movements of your ancestor at a glance

The above are just a few advantages of using a timeline, and the main reasons that I use this research tool.. I’m sure you can think of many more.

Watch out for my series of timelines coming soon. These will be Research Timelines, that will make it clear to me, the direction that my research needs to take in future. Do you use timelines in your family history research? If so, do you find them beneficial?


@2022 copyright. All rights reserved

  1. Marian Burk Wood permalink

    That decorative timeline looks great! I usually handwrite my timelines with space to add new events or notes.

  2. It’s great that timelines help you out! Love your decorative timeline! I checked out right away, but not sure how to use it…did you just purchase the scrapbook paper and print the timeline onto it?

  3. I LOVE timelines! I totally agree that they are so helpful to find gaps in research. Go Timelines!

  4. jerijones889 permalink

    I love a good timeline! And I see we share the surname Jones, so if your Jones line is like mine timelines are essential in keeping track of their comings and goings 🙂

  5. Dear Jennifer,

    I enjoyed your article about timelines. We publish the book, HISTORY FOR GENEALOGISTS: Using Chronological Timelines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors, by Judy Jacobson. We also just released a new cheat sheet on Wales entitled, “Genealogy at a Glance: Welsh Genealogy Research,” by John Rowlands and Beryl Evans. If you would like me to send free examination copies of both/either, I would be happy to do so. Naturally, I hope you will mention them on your blog, but you would be under no obligation to do so.

    Best wishes,

    Joe Garonzik
    Marketing Director

  6. I’m using timeliness more and more. I do mine in MSWord using styles for the dates so I can jump around within the timeline easily. Great blog post.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Best of the Genea-Blogs - Week of 30 October to November 2022 - Search My Tribe News
  2. Best of the Genea-Blogs - Week of 30 October to 5 November 2022 - Search My Tribe News

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

And Anyways...

Author, Baker, Sunrise Chaser

Barroworn Succulents

Succulents, Geraniums, Iris and much more. All grown on our local property

Kerryn's Kin

A Tribute to my ancestors by Kerryn Taylor

Next Phase In Fitness & Life

Over 60 and living my best life

'Genealogists for Families' project

Family History and Genealogy


Family History and Genealogy

Western District Families

Family history from the Western District of Victoria, Australia

%d bloggers like this: