4 great ways to use a timeline in family history


02 May 2023
Keith Gregson shares four different timeline ideas to inspire you to look at your ancestors' lives in a fresh way.

In 2021 I wrote an article for Family Tree pleading for the Baby Boomers of my generation to make sure their stories were passed on. Many of us regret not asking our own grandparents about their lives, times and experiences before it was too late, so let’s not leave our descendants in the same predicament. 

Fortunately for me, both my parents and grandparents, who saw active service in the World Wars, were proactive and left me well-organised and detailed accounts of their deeds - so I really appreciate how precious these personal accounts are. 

Read on for four ideas on using timeline to enrich your own family history.

1 A chosen ancestor

Choose an ancestor and create a timeline for their life, displaying all the people in your family with whom their life overlapped (parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousin etc). Visualising your family members’ lifespans in this way gives great insights to your family tree at any one time. 

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2 Historical events timeline

Create a timeline with major historical events (perhaps for your country, or looking more locally at the town or community). Then study it alongside your family tree, to help to place their lives in historical context. 

3 Themed timeline

Build a themed timeline. Perhaps you’d like to create a timeline that concentrates solely on an occupation or a pastime (either one that’s of interest to you today, or was once significant in your family). Such themes could range from the history of mining, to the history of football, the history of baking & so forth.  

4 A research aid

Last, but certainly not least, timelines can be an invaluable research aid. Creating a timeline, including all the information that you have gathered so far, about an ancestor or family group, will help you spot gaps and inconsistencies that you have in your info. The logical layout of a timeline will help you think through research problems too. 

Text adapted from an in-depth article on using timelines in family history, from the June 2023 issue of Family Tree magazine. Get your copy here.

About the author

Keith Gregson is author of Tracing Your Northern Ancestors; A guide to the North East and Cumbria for the Family Historian (Pen and Sword, Bury, 2007); A Viking in the Family and other family tree tales (The History Press, Cheltenham, 2011); Sporting Ancestors; Tracing your family’s athletic past (The History Press, Cheltenham, 2012) and A Tommy in the Family: WWI Family History Tales and Research Tips (The History Press, 2014)