Monday, April 15, 2013

Tuesday’s Tip – Timelines in Genealogy Research

“A grasp of history is important in putting the circumstances of an ancestor’s life in context.” Speaking to an audience with experience that ranged from a few months to over forty years, Phyllis (Jule) Legare explained how important timelines are in genealogy research.

Presented in PowerPoint format, Phyllis showed a number of ways timelines can be developed to help fill out an ancestor’s life.   She explained that timelines provide chronological information of our ancestor’s lives as they fit into local and even world events.  Timelines can be historical events, a list of individuals in your family, or any combination. 

I decided to try one of her options, which was to develop a timeline for an individual.  I chose my grandfather, Harry Nunn, since he was the person who got me started on my genealogy journey. I thought I had pretty much filled out his life, so this database should be easy to fill in.  Wrong.

My fields were: Year, Event, Town, County, State, and Source. What I quickly realized was that since I had started his research in the mid-1990s, things like the five-year NY census were not known/available to us, and his whereabouts in 1910 was still a mystery.

I went about filling those holes in my database.  I cannot find him in the 1905 NY Census. In 1904 at the age of 14 he was sent from St. Joseph’s Home in Peekskill to work with a Mr. Salmon (?), Middletown, NJ.  New Jersey also had a five year census, where I found a George H. Nunn in Morris, NJ, but not a Harry or Henry.

I am convinced that in 1910 Harry was in Alexandria Bay, NY working as a bartender, even though the stated age on that census was “30” when he was actually 20.   At this point I decided that not only is my Irish side creative with their ages, but that tendency seems to be on my German side as well!  I went back to the database and added another field – Age. It will be fun to track how individual’s ages were recorded through the years.

Harry was married in 1914, so in 1915 and 1920 he is living with his in-laws, Patrick and Maggie Doyle.  By 1930 Harry, Mary and their children are living at 1948 Cruger Avenue in the Bronx.  I had assumed that the Doyles died at some point in the 1920s, but again, have had no luck finding their death dates.

Consequently I was surprised that in 1925 the family was living at the Cruger Avenue house, but with Margaret (Maggie) Doyle as head of household. Her daughter Winnie (age 21) was living there along with the Nunn family, cousin Mae Conlon and niece Catherine Murphy.  Now I know that Patrick Doyle died between 1920 and 1925; Margaret (Maggie) Doyle died between 1925 and 1930, and that Winnie was married sometime after 1925.  I have found a couple of options for Patrick’s death certificate on, and will be ordering the microfilm.  Fingers crossed.

Developing a timeline database has helped me immensely on a family member I thought I knew pretty well.  Although I had much of this information, pulling it into a database gives a whole different perspective.  I may now expand on the database (or develop a new one) by adding additional family members as well as historical/economic events.

Phyllis (Jule) Legare was a speaker at Introductory Genealogy and Beyond, a spring series offered by the Fredericksburg Regional Genealogical Society and the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.  The last two sessions in this series will be held at the Free Lance Star building, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, VA.

April 27, 2013 – Session I - Probate/Courthouse Records: Understanding Them and Locating them, and Session II – Civil War Research

May 11, 2013 – Session I – DNA in Genealogy, and Session II – Continuing the Family Legacy: Honoring Heritage through Lineage Societies


  1. Laura Prescott talked about timelines at our local gen club meeting, mentioning that it can be helpful to do a timeline including all the members of the immediate family to see how all were affected by family events such as the birth of a child, death of a parent, somebody moving away, etc. She also said you can turn your database from Excel into an actual timeline, although I don't know how. Good luck!

  2. There are so many ways to utilize this tool - thanks for sharing more. I will work on other family members!