Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Family historians use a variety of forms, such as the pedigree chart and the family group sheet, which are very useful in helping to organize your information. But one of the most useful forms, which you can create all by yourself, is an individual timeline. It just takes a blank piece of paper.
Timelines are good to use at almost any point in your research. If you’re just beginning, they are a good way to set up the facts you know and add to them as you are doing more research. If you have hit a brick wall on an individual, setting up a timeline is an excellent way to see the summary of all of your research so far and to examine the gaps that require further research. Unlike a biography, a timeline is a fast and easy way to lay out the facts of a person’s life quickly and without having to d a lot of organizing, arranging and writing.
For my timelines, I use only documented, proven facts that I’ve discovered about a person’s life, and place them in chronological order. I usually don’t include speculations, theories or family legend (even if I believe it is true). Each entry on a timeline should include the date and location of the documented event.
Here is an example of the timeline I did for my 6x great-grandmother’s mystery child, Simeon Shields: I first encountered his name on an 1812 Henry County, Ky., deed in which Simeon is named as an “infant heir” of Patrick Shields, in the division of deceased Patrick’s lands. Now I had Simeon’s name as of one of Patrick’s children. By looking back on the 1810 census of Henry County, I found two males aged 10 to 16 living in Patrick’s widow’s household. I knew that one was William, who was born in 1794 and would have been 16 in 1810, so the other must be Simeon, a bit younger. Since his father Patrick died in 1797, and William was older, Simeon must have been 13 to 15 years old in 1810. I used this census as my first entry on his time-line. Simeon was there in the household in 1810. The second entry was the 1812 deed where he was named and the third entry an 1813 deed.
I couldn’t find evidence of Simeon on the 1820 census. He should have been over age 21 at that time. No marriage records could be found (as for his brother William) and no person of his age category was living with his then re-married mother. But he wasn’t dead. He was named in an 1824 Henry County deed as an heir of Patrick Shields. This was my next entry on his timeline. He couldn’t be found on the 1830 census. Still no marriage records. Where was he? Was he dead?
No. In 1839 the heirs of Patrick Shields got together to sell off the inherited land. Simeon was still on the list of heirs. As sellers, all heirs had to sign the deed. But Simeon didn’t. Instead, his mother and her second husband agreed to warrant and defend against the claim of Simeon Shields or any person claiming under, by or through him, and should the purchasers of the land be interrupted by any person claiming through Simeon Shields, the parents bound themselves to refund the money paid. Alive, but not present at the signing. What did this mean?
The next deed entry I had was one in 1844 showing the brother William named as an heir of Simeon Shields. So Simeon was dead by 1844. But he had never married or been enumerated on any census that I could find. Where had he been? I had several theories, but no evidence for anything. This was a brick wall for many years. Then, one day it was all explained when a fellow researcher was going through the Henry County court records and ran across the 1841 “idiocy” hearing of Simeon Shields. He had been under the care of the county, who charged his mother for his care.