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Monday, December 1, 2014

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Twelve

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter Twelve: Timelines: Essential to the Genealogist's Toolbox by Joy Price, AG.

Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of specialty tools, some for fixing cars, others for household repairs. Some of those tools remain unused for long periods of time and I am tempted to throw them out or sell them at a garage sale, but inevitably they come in handy to fix what could be an expensive repair. Some genealogical tools might seem to fall into the same category, but that impression can be an illusion. Timelines might appear to be a specialty tool, but in fact, can be one of the most helpful tools for everyday research.

For me to write about and promote timelines I have to be a little bit hypocritical. I use them as a tool, but rely mostly on the type of timeline generated by many of the available software programs, both desktop and online. The author reviews several individually generated forms of timelines, but again, I have to admit that I have never done one on my own mechanically. If I were going to use one to solve a problem such as multiple people with the same name in the same location, I would likely use a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel, rather than a pencil and paper.

Notwithstanding my lack of use of timelines, all of the conclusions Ms. Price makes about timelines are perfectly valid. They are a valuable tool for analyzing certain types of situations. From my own standpoint, the main reason for using a timeline is to put the person in historical perspective. Some of the software programs give you the ability to integrate your ancestor or potential ancestor with the historical background of the time when he or she lived. This integration of events gives you potentially valuable source suggestions. For example, if a male ancestor was of the age to fight in a war, then realizing the connection between his availability and the wars that have occurred is a strong suggestion to follow up with military research. Timelines can also give strong indications of missing family members, particularly children, and other types of missing information.

The author quotes Roseann R. Hogan, Ph.D as follows:
I have used [a family timeline] to determine research strategies by linking families and to solve problems that probably would not have been solved if not for the way in which the data was presented. Seeing the contents of my findings and what the data was telling me has often resulted in an "at long last" experience as the solution finally jumps off the page….I use my archives/library research time much more effectively… link the myriad clues and make connections, eliminate rival hypothesis, and eventually establish a relationship that could not be documented otherwise. Thus, another important use of the chronology is facilitating the development of data for establishing a relationship based on a preponderance of evidence. See Roseann R. Hogan, "Chronology: Keeping it All Together." Ancestry Magazine 15, no. 2 (1997),
If you have read my blog posts in the past, you will probably not be surprised that I do not agree with the use of legally derived proof criteria, such as "a preponderance of the evidence," but otherwise the statement is very accurate as to the use of timelines.

The last short section of the article is a very succinct summary of the need to view your ancestors in the historical context. It is important to note that there are several very good database programs that will create such a timeline without the need of copying out all of the pertinent data by hand or spreadsheet.

As usual, the articles in this excellent book are a jumping off place for a great deal of discussion and further investigation. Here is a summary of the articles so far:

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