Streamline with a Time Line
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“Streamline with a Time Line,” Ensign, Mar. 1989, 68

Streamline with a Time Line

Doing research for writing an ancestor’s biography is a lot like working a jigsaw puzzle. You gather information in bits and pieces and then try to assemble them into a pattern. When you sit down to write you often discover that important information is missing. But I’ve found that using a time line is an effective way to be more thorough in my research.

A master time line—one that shows major events in a person’s life on one page—is my guide and index to all the information I gather. I can then create detailed notes for each event and key them to the master time line.

Suggested Steps for Creating a Time Line:

  1. First, create a master time line. Draw a straight line running horizontally across a large sheet of graph paper. On the left side, write the individual’s birth date. Leave plenty of space to record events under each year. I first write in years by fives, then add other years as needed.

  2. In pencil, add to the time line significant events such as moves, schooling, marriages, births of children, calamities, deaths of family members, jobs, achievements, Church service, and military service. Next to each event, indicate with a code how the information is documented. For example: “11” for the eleventh reference in your reference file, “P#3” for the number of the corresponding photograph, “M” for map, “C” for facts calculated from documents.

  3. Create a page or more for each event entered on the master time line. This will allow you to write detailed entries. Use all your facts about the event, people, and locations involved. Indicate questions that need to be resolved. Document the sources of information with the code described above.

  4. Use the master time line and event notes and questions to suggest where the research needs to be done and how to organize it. For example, if you note that in later life an individual was known for his ability to grow excellent apples, how, where, when, and from whom did he learn? Where did he grow apples? What varieties? These questions can then be researched and the information added to the detailed event notes.

  5. Make copies of the time line and the detailed event notes to use in interviews and to send with information-seeking letters. Ask for written comments on the time line. Include an extra copy for the recipient of your letter to keep.

  6. Use the time line to search for local and national events that might have impacted the life of the person you are researching.

  7. Use the time line to crosscheck your dates, references, connections, and assumptions as you write the detailed history.

  8. Include the master time line in your completed biography, and add page references. This will give your readers an overview of the person’s life and help them reference selected events.—David A. White, Provo, Utah

Illustrated by Lynn Rogers