Timeline Grids

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What is the Timeline Grid?

The timeline grid is a research aid that makes it easy to track your research findings. It also allows you to view your research findings in a compact and readable format so you can use them for further research.

The timeline grid is usually made by creating a table in a word processor, but it can also be created in a spreadsheet. Templates are available here.

Because the timeline grid is based on the census, it’s most helpful for countries and time periods with regular census enumerations. It uses columns for vital information and each census, and rows for each family member.

What Does It Look Like?

Below is a blank timeline grid in its simplest form. Key features:

  • It centers on one nuclear family; that is, a father, mother, and their children.
  • The first column can be used for an identifying number, such as a FamilySearch Person ID (PID), as well as birth, marriage, and death information for the individual on each row
  • The headers for each census column contain the census name and year, the enumeration district, the county/shire, the image number, and the residence address, if available.
ID & Vitals
1871 Census
1881 Census
1891 Census
1901 Census

As you find information for each individual in your research, you add it to the appropriate cell on the grid. A completed timeline grid might look something like this:

John Bescoby and Jane Ellis
John is the son of Thomas Bescoby and Ann Priestly

ID & Vitals

1871 Census

Cambridgeshire > Doddington > District 11 > image 24

1881 Census

Cambridgeshire > Doddington > District 11 > image 23
Beezlinger (?)

1891 Census

Cambridgeshire > Doddington > District 11 > image 18

1901 Census

Cambridgeshire > Doddington > District 8 > image 12
Beezlings Dr (?)

abt 1833
Thomas Guy, head, mar, 38, farmer 16 acres, Manea, Cambs
Thomas Guy, head, mar, 48, Farmer 24 acres, Doddington, Cambs
Thomas Guy, head, mar, 57, farmer, Manea, Cambs
Thomas Guy, head, mar, 68, farmer, Doddington, Cambs
Ann, wife, mar, 31, Chatteris, Cambs
Ann, wife, mar, 41, Chatteris, Cambs
Ann, wife, mar, 53, Chatteris, Cambs
Ann, wife, mar, 62, Chatteris, Cambs
William C, son, 1, Doddington, Cambs
William Carter, son, 11, scholar, Doddington, Cambs
(not with family)

What About More Advanced Uses?

  1. Add hyperlinks to census records and vital records; you can also easily link to related timeline grids—for instance, between parents and children.
  2. Use your word processor’s Comments feature to record questions, information on discrepancies, negative search results, etc.
  3. Change the text color to highlight things you want to stand out. For instance, when one family member is enumerated apart from the rest of the family, you can color that person’s information a different color. Or you could color unproven items red until you’ve proven them.
  4. Keep a brief list of “next steps” at the top of the grid for easy reference.
  5. If you use a service like Google Drive, you can easily collaborate with other researchers. You can see their edits in real time; you can also chat online or leave comments for each other. Documents are easily searchable. Also, Google keeps a revision history so it’s easy to see who made what changes, and to go back to an earlier version if necessary.

How Can the Timeline Grid Help Me in My Research?

  1. Use the timeline grid to see at a glance what research you’ve done so far, and what still needs to be done—something that’s particularly helpful if you are starting research again after time away.
  2. When you are working on multiple lines or generations, timeline grids can help you keep your research organized.
  3. The grid helps you avoid tunnel vision by allowing you to see connections that might otherwise be overlooked. For instance, a boarder in one census might become a son-in-law in the next, or you might find a nephew that was missing from his family in another grid.
  4. When you have two individuals with the same name, age, and birthplace who might easily be confused for each other, you can use the grid to compare them so you can tell them apart.
  5. The grid makes it easy to see trends or inconsistencies across census records—for instance, in birthplaces, occupations or addresses—which can help you verify your assumptions, or at least avoid making wrong assumptions.

How Do I Get Started?

  1. Choose a family to research using the grid.
  2. Decide whether you want to use Google Drive, Word, Excel, OpenOffice, etc.
  3. Create a grid or download a template.
  4. Start finding information for the family, and enter it on the grid!

Where Can I Find Templates?

Templates are available here.