Three Easy Steps:
Discovering the choices they made. And why.
Country music legend Reba McEntire was determined to find out why. Why wasn’t her
great-grandfather in the census? Why did her 7th great-grandfather send his young son to a
new land as an indentured servant? Her quest to uncover the truth – to understand history,
events, even personal motivations – is what helped Reba find the answers she was looking
for on episode 4 of Who Do You Think You Are? (Miss the episode? Watch it on NBC.com.)
It’s easier to understand why when you see a person’s actions against the backdrop of history.
And the best way to do that in your own family tree is to plot your discoveries on a timeline.
Step 1: Start with the facts.
Create a simple timeline with pen and paper or a word-processing document. Add basic information
you know about a relative and his or her immediate
family. Jot down names, dates, places and key events
in chronological order. Add details from census
records, family stories and any records you find at
Step 2: Add history and supporting records.
Give your timeline context by adding historical events.
Include big ones that may have affected your
ancestors (for example, the U.S. Civil War or the
California Gold Rush) and smaller ones specific to
your family (moved to Chicago, attended college in
Texas). Use these events to help you find additional
records like draft cards, newspaper articles,
yearbooks, obituaries or city directories.
Step 3. Analyze.
Look at your timeline. Does everything add up?
Gaps and inconsistencies can show where and when
to look for records. For example, a widow with a
six-year-old child in 1910 is an invitation to look for the
husband’s death certificate between 1904 and 1910.
Download our guide: Creating Timelines That Produce Answers.