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Creating Timelines – Organizing Your Information

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Courtesy of the Library of Congress

A few weeks ago I posted a tip of the week about using timelines to help sort out 2 or more individuals who could be the person you are looking for using the example of Rufus Mitchell and Rufus Mitchell, both of Guilford County and born a year or 2 apart. It got me thinking about other uses for timelines. I also realized that some people may be unsure how to create a timeline so I will use some examples of timelines I’ve created for my own research so you can see how I do it and hopefully that will give you some ideas on creating your own.

One of the best uses for timelines in my experience is to sort information you already have about a person to see what information you need to look for. Whenever I receive a request, I create a timeline of information that the patron has given me to determine where to start. Here is an example with John Doe and his wife Jane (fictitious):

John Doe (variations: Dough)
b. ~1806 Lincoln Co., NC
d. unknown
m.  ~1830 Lincoln Co., NC to Jane Doe

Children: James Doe (b. Dec 1839), Janet Doe (b. ~1842)
Parents: unknown
Siblings: Peter Doe (b. ~1803), Joseph (b. ~1800), Mary (b. ~1809)

  • 1820 census – he is not listed as a head of a household
  • 3 Nov 1826 – John Doe witnessed the deed between John Smith of Guilford County to James Johnson of Lincoln County 100 acres for $50
  • 1830 census – he is not listed as a head of a household
  • 1 Nov 1830 – marriage to Jane Mitchell in Lincoln County, Peter Doe as bondsman
  • 23 Jan 1831 – purchased 60 acres for $10 from Paul Doe in Lincoln County
  • 1837 Tax List – Lincoln County, Rutledge’s  Company with 60 acres valued at $50 and 1 taxable
  • 1840 Census – head of house of Lincoln County 1 male under 5, 1 male age 30-40 1 female age 5-10, 1 female age 20-30.
  • August 1847 – Will filed in Lincoln County for John Doe dated 1 Feb 1847 and proved in August court 1847

From the top portion, we see what we know and what we’re unsure about, but making a time line we can fill in the blanks. For example there is a will that was dated and proved in the same year so now we can fill in the death date as 1847. There is also a purchase of land from an unknown Doe – Paul. Who is this? father, uncle, brother?  Then we see 6 years later in the tax list he has the same amount of land but the value is more. Could that mean the 60 acres he purchased in 1831 was purchased for only $10 because it was more of a gift and really valued for $50? In this scenario I would next look into this Paul and see who he is. Remember this is just an example I created.

Now for a real one:

I created this during my own personal research. This is for a man named Edmund Pettiford who resided as an adult in Guilford County.

Edmund Pettiford (variations: Pettyford, Pittiford, Pettifor)
b. 8 Aug 1791, possibly Wake Co., NC
d. 30 Aug 1889 Grant Co., IN
m. 13 Dec 1816 Chatham Co., NC to Sarah Carter

Children: Willis Henderson (b. ~1820), Richard (b. ~1821), Beverly Daniel (b.~1822), Ransom (b.~1822), John Milton (b.~1824), Benton (b.~1826), Young (b.~1827), Clarinda (b.~1829), Franklin (b.~1830), Elizabeth (b.~1832), Mary Jane (b.~1834), and Sarah (b.~1836)
Parents: unknown
siblings: unknown

  • 13 Dec 1816 – married Sarah Carter in Chatham County (Source: Marriage Bond)
  • 1820 – I have not found him in the census yet, but believe he was in Wake County and the census does not exist for Wake County that year.
  • 1830 – Wake County, NC census Little River Township, pg. 473 line 16
  • 1840 – Guilford County, NC census page 229
  • 28 Sep 1847 – entry in Guilford County Deed book 30 states that Edmund Pettyfoot [sic] owes Stephen Macy $18.03 for a livestock and crops raised on the plantation of said Macy
  • 1850 – Guilford County, NC census, Southern Division with wife Sarah, p. 272a
  • 1860 – Grant County, IN census, Liberty township, p. 309

The information above is displayed in a way that it is easy to see at a glance what I have for him and what I need.

Just a note, for the information on Edmund Pettiford, I have been researching the Pettiford line in NC since 2000. The information above for Edmund comes from research right here at the Government & Heritage Library before I ever started working here. Using Ancestry Library Edition and census microfilm, I was able to search the census information. For the marriage bond, the library has a microfiche index of all marriage bonds filed in the State Archives of North Carolina. For the entry in the deed book dated in 1847, I first found mention of that in the book Abstract of Deeds, Guilford County Books 30 and 31 (1845-1850) by Dr. A.B. Pruitt. This book for deed books 30 and 31 is part of a series by the same author that abstracted deeds beginning in 1784 and ending in 1857! Dr. Pruitt has created deed abstracts for other counties as well and other types of abstracts for 96 books in our collection by this author.  Come on over to the Government & Heritage Library to take a look at them!

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