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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

How Database Timelines Helped Me Learn More About My Ancestor

If you’re not using a modern database program, you’re missing out on a powerful tool to better understand your ancestors.

Rachel Dunkley explained that, "Building a timeline for each ancestor is important because you can collate your information, see gaps in your research, and observe how historical events may have impacted your ancestor’s life."

While numerous tools to help you create genealogy timelines, I prefer using the built-in features in genealogy software, such as Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic.

Add Content to Database

I strive to ensure everyone knows what's required to make tools work. Thus, the first step to finding clues using database timelines is to fill your software with names, dates, places, and relationships.

Record births, marriages, deaths, residence information (regardless of the source of that information), military service, migration, and so forth. If you can associate a date with a place, create an event for that until you have something that looks like this:

RootsMagic 8 Edit Person Window
RootsMagic 8 Edit Person Window

Family Tree Makers Individual Facts Window
Family Tree Makers Individual Facts Window

While these timelines are great, the magic happens when you add the life events of family members to the list.

RootsMagic 8 Edit Person Timeline With Relatives
RootsMagic 8 Edit Person Timeline With Relatives

Family Tree Makers Timeline With Relatives
Family Tree Makers Timeline With Relatives

Once you turn on the events from relatives, you will begin seeing clues you had not considered before.

What's Your Genealogy Question?

To find genealogy clues, you must know what questions you're trying to answer.

In this case, I want to know what happened to Evaline Townley between 1881 and 1892.

Timeline for Evaline Townley
Timeline for Evaline Townley

My second great-grandmother Evaline Townley was born on 22 October 1859. On 1 July 1892, Evaline married William Talbot Peak at the age of 32.

I found Evaline in every census from birth to the end of her life. Thus, she appeared in the 1880 census before she married. She was not fortunate enough to appear in the surviving 1890 fragments, two years before her wedding.

In 1875, Evaline appeared in the Cincinnati City Directory as a student. I did not find her again in city directories until 1881 without an occupation.

While the 1881 city directory likely refers to her location in 1880, the biggest questions are:

  • What happened to Evaline between 1880/1881 - 1892?

  • Why didn't she marry until the age of 32?

Timelines Suggest the Answer

The first clue to consider is that Evaline's mother Anna Townley died on 24 June 1881.

However, if we do not thoroughly research all of Evaline's siblings and parents, we're likely missing out on the clues that answer our question.

RootsMagic Timeline

Notice that before Anna's death, she gave birth to a child on 21 June. Unfortunately, the baby died of a hemorrhage. Three days later, Anna died, presumably from her confinement after the baby's delivery.

At the time of Anna’s death,

  • Evaline's father, Richard, was 44 years old.

  • Evaline was 21

  • Her brother William was 17

  • Brother John was 11

  • and brother Harry was 3.

Furthermore, William was already studying and working as a brick mason, which is his father's profession. He apparently worked with his father throughout the 1880s.

They had their own brick masonry services business called Richard Townley & Son.

By 1888, John worked with his father and older brother, William. The father and sons worked together until at least 1895.

With her father and brothers providing the family income, who was left to care for three-year-old Harry, who no longer had a mother?

It’s safe to reason that Evaline now took on the domestic duties that her mother left.

If this theory holds, when her brother was old enough to care for himself, Evaline was free to marry.

Thus, we could write this story:

Evaline Townley, at age 32, was able to start her own family when she married William Peak on 1 July 1892. She became pregnant immediately with her daughter Evaline, born on 13 April 1893. Since William and Evaline moved to his hometown of Bellevue, Kentucky, Evaline’s father and brothers were left alone. Her brothers were now 28, 22, and 14.

The youngest brother, Harry, did not take up the bricklaying profession. Instead, he was studious and was allowed to focus on his education. He eventually earned a doctorate and became the US Inspector for the Bureau of Animal Industry at the Cincinnati Union Stock Yards. Evaline was fond of her younger brother, whom she helped raise.

Do You See the Benefits of Genealogy Timelines and Databases?

All of this information came together because I reviewed Evaline’s timeline within a genealogy database. The database quickly let me view her life with key events of her father's and brothers' lives.

It’s safe to say that someone needed to care for Harry. One could speculate that the burden would fall upon Evaline.

Further support for this speculation is that Evaline would name one of her children after her younger brother, presumably the one she helped raise. Additionally, other family resources indicate her great fondness for her brother Harry.

Looking at the timelines that included family life events helped me discover why a strong connection must exist. I could only have easily made this connection with the help of the timelines in RootsMagic or Family Tree Maker.

New addition to the timeline
New addition to the timeline

Continue Your Genealogy Education Journey With These Tips

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