This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series Bust Your Brick Wall Challenge

Now that we’ve defined our brick wall in the first step of this Busting Your Brick Wall Challenge, our next step is to create a timeline for our problem family. By arranging your genealogical data in chronological order, the answers to puzzling questions can suddenly seem to leap off the page. New relationships between people, places and events will reveal themselves. You will be looking at the lives of your ancestors as they lived them, surrounded by their extended families, the places in which they lived and the world around them.

Define the Scope of Your Timeline

Depending on your challenge, your timeline might include a single generation or multiple generations.  In the example of your great grandfather, you may decide to look at his entire lifespan from birth to death or you may work from his earliest known ancestor forward to yourself. Include whatever makes sense for your particular brick wall.

Decide on a Format

One option is to develop your chronology in a chart or spreadsheet format.  This format has the advantage of being easier to sort in date order but the structure of a chart may limit the information you include.  Another option is to develop your chronology in a point form text document.  Your choice may be influenced by the capabilities of your particular genealogy software’s report output formats.  My personal preference is to use a point form text document because it allows the most flexibility in the included information and format.

List Life Events

Once you have chosen a format, make a list of all the events in the life of your chosen ancestor.   When and where was he born?  Was he christened or baptized?  When and where did he get married?  When and where did he die?  Where was he buried?  Did you find him listed in any census records?  Passenger lists?  Did he join the military?  Put all relevant facts into date order in your document or spreadsheet.

Expand to Include Family Events

Your ancestor was affected not only by the events in his own life but also by the events within his family.  Look at the facts attached to other members of his household and add these into your chronology.  Did he have younger siblings?  When and where were they born?  Was his father in the military?  Did his siblings get married?  Go through each of your ancestor’s family members and insert events from their lives into your document or spreadsheet, making sure to maintain chronological order.

Expand to Extended Family

Consider your ancestor’s extended family next.  Did he have aunts and uncles living near by or even far away?  Were his grandparents living?    Did he have younger cousins?  When and where were they born?  Did one of his grandparents die?  When and where did that happen?  Did one of his siblings die young?  Did he lose a parent?  When and where did that happen?  Examine the events within the lives of these people and add them into your document or spreadsheet.

Expand Further to Witnesses

Many of our genealogical records include people who are not necessarily related to us, but whom our ancestors obviously knew and interacted with in their daily lives. Census records may include non-family members. Look for boarders, visitors or servants. Marriage records normally include at least two witnesses to the happy event. Death records often include the name and address of the person who was ‘present at the death’. Wills and probate documents sometimes mention non-family members who received bequests or are named in some other context. Land records will include who the land was being bought from or sold to. Look through every document that relates to your timeline scope for other witnesses to your ancestors’ lives.

Look for Implied Events

Once all of the primary events are listed in chronological order, examine each event listed to see if there are any implied events.  One example of an implied event might be the date of onset of ill health if your ancestor’s mother has a death record that indicates the length of her fatal illness.  Another example of an implied event might be if your ancestor’s aunt was married ‘after banns were called.’  If your ancestor lived near by, he may have been in church on the three prior Sundays when the minister read out the banns, announcing the intention of his aunt to marry.  Did your ancestor’s cousin die young?  Perhaps your ancestor attended the funeral service.  Carefully study each event in your chronology so far and add any related, implied events in your chronology document or spreadsheet.

Local Historical Events

Research local events in the location and time period where your ancestor lived.  Were there any local epidemics?  Search Wikipedia for a list of major epidemics.  Were there any local natural disasters?  Were there any laws passed that would have affected your ancestor or their family?  Were there railway lines built in your ancestor’s area?  When did the telegraph come to your ancestor’s area?  Internet searches are a great way to find local historic events.  Look for local history books on your ancestor’s town or county in your local library.  Search WorldCat for books available through inter-library loan and ask your library to get them for you.  Search Google Books and the Internet Archive for books that are now in the public domain and available for download.  Consider how these historical events might have changed your ancestor’s life or the lives of his family.  If your ancestor lived in a rural area, what crops were planted in the area and when would they have been harvested?  If your ancestor lived in a town, what industries were started in that town and did your ancestor or his family work in them?  Insert any relevant local historical events into your timeline.

Analyze the Results

Now that your chronology is complete, read through your resulting document.  Instead of just a collection of names, dates and places, you should have a better understanding of how your ancestors lived, why they did what they did and who they really were by seeing their lives in context with all the people, events and places around them, giving you a better chance of Busting Your Brick Wall!

Checkout my post on creating a timeline for my Brickwall Browns.

Brick Wall Challenge
Write a post about your timeline and share a link in the comments below.
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