Given Name(s) Last Name

from the Ancestry Daily News
  by Michael John Neill – 7/10/2002

The Space-Time Continuum

I have long been aware of the importance of developing a chronology in working on the life of a specific ancestor. A simple ordering of the events in an ancestor's life from their birth to their death helps the researcher to see unaccounted for time periods, gaps in research, and records that have not been accessed. A chronology can also be an excellent synopsis of an ancestor's life, albeit a limited one. It provides a different perspective on an ancestor than does a family group or pedigree chart and can even be the framework for creating an ancestral biography.

A chronology usually focuses on the life of one individual. These limited chronologies do serve a purpose. However, there are times when a more extended type of chronology is helpful.

Our ancestors did not live in a vacuum (they might have lived near them, especially if they were Hoovers, but living in the vacuum was not an option).

There were other people and events that shaped the lives of our ancestors. Some of these people were related by birth or marriage—some were not. Even unrelated neighbors or acquaintances might have had some direct impact on our ancestor's life.

Historical events are also relevant, but it is important to keep these events in perspective and find a logical connection between the historical event and our ancestor's life. The start of World War II had an impact on the lives of many throughout the world. The election of American president Warren Harding probably did not. Of course, if my chronology is on Warren Harding, then I should include the event! Thinking before including something in an ancestral chronology is a good thing. The thought process may lead to new and uncharted research territories.

An Extended Chronology
Readers of the Ancestry Daily News are aware of my continuing attempts to locate information on the parents of my wife's grandmother, born ca. 1913 most likely in the Chicago, Illinois, area. In this case a chronology has been developed that goes beyond the grandmother, beyond her suspected parents and step-fathers, to include virtually every extended family member known to have lived in the Chicagoland area. And even a few family members who did not.

The chronology does not begin at the suspected time of the grandmother's birth in Illinois. Instead it begins forty years earlier in upstate New York when the supposed maternal grandparents married. The problem involves more than just the woman born in 1913. To have any hope of solving a problem of this type, the extended family must also be included in the study. In my chronology, the following people are included as they have some relationship to either the grandmother born ca. 1913 or the grandmother's likely parents:

The grandmother
Her "mother"
Her "father"
Her step-fathers
Her "mother"'s parents
Her "mother"'s step-mother
Her "mother"'s biological siblings
Her "mother"'s step-brother
Her sisters
Her brother
Her sister's daughter

All of these people are not the parents of the grandmother born ca. 1913. However, the chronology is helpful to get an understanding of how events in the family unfolded. One important event is the death of the likely maternal grandmother in 1895 when the likely mother is a year old. This death might have had a profound impact on the children. The chronology was especially helpful to me as the family being researched was not one I was familiar with before I began researching the research. Even when you've known a family forever, chronologies can be helpful and may clear up misconceptions.

What About the Suspected Father?
The chronology includes little about the likely father. However, there is a reason for this. The father seems to have been dropped by a UFO in Chicago around 1908. He appears to have been picked up by another UFO shortly after he registered for the World War I draft. His sole ten years of "known existence" compounds the problem significantly.

The chronology ends in 1987, the year the grandmother died. On the chronology, I have included the date of virtually every event I could locate, including such items as:

  • Births
  • Deaths
  • Marriages
  • Divorces
  • Onset of Illnesses (inferred from death records)
  • Moves and immigrations
  • And anything else for which I could at least approximate an year.

    The chronology is long and some events are more pivotal than others. Each event did not impact every family member equally and certain events might not have impacted some family members at all. Separate chronologies for each individual, helpful in some cases, were not as useful here. I wanted to get the whole picture.

    Why Go to All This Trouble?
    I did not create the chronology for my own entertainment. As I compiled the listing of events in chronological order, I began to see potential motives for actions, interesting coincidences, and research clues. I also began to develop a significantly better understanding of the entire family. And that is always a good thing.

    Do I Always Do This?
    While extended family chronologies are a good idea, I am not always able to create them for every family that I'm working on. Chronologies are more helpful when the research problem is not completely straightforward.

    Other Ideas?
    Maps. Between ca. 1900 and 1920, most members of this family moved to Chicago, Illinois, and the problem (at least on the maternal side) moves to an urban setting from its origins in rural upstate New York. I was able to map many addresses of family members using various records and city directories. This is not something easily done in rural areas, especially if people are not landowners as directories are not as regular or as common. This mapping of addresses was particularly helpful in studying and determining in what neighborhoods the family lived. The maps were helpful for locating any kind of record organized by location, particularly census records. Records from a local Catholic church may also be helpful in this case and a map will help determine churches likely attended by the family.

    In some cases, there was more than one individual with the same name living in the Chicagoland area. The residential addresses from the directories were helpful in trying to keep the distinct individuals separate. Urban research sans a map is not a wise move.

    Relationship Charts. Viewing the information with a chronology and with a map was an excellent organizational strategy. However, the relationships still confused me. Several people were married more than once and the number of step-relatives added to the confusion. To curb my confusion, I created a relationship chart including all the family members in the study.

    It is always helpful to view your ancestor within a space and time framework. However, if your ancestor really was dropped off by a UFO traveling faster than the speed of light, it might be helpful to brush up on your physics first!


    Copyright 2002, Used by the Author on his website with permission.

  • Other genealogy articles by Michael John  Neill