Once again, I find myself with some unexpected time to work on some genealogy and I decided that I would work on creating something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while.

Last year, I retired from teaching and I brought home a lot of teaching materials that I thought might be helpful in presenting or organizing my genealogy work. One of those things was a big stack of sentence strips. Elementary teachers use the 3” x 24” sentence strips to make games and flash cards and to help students practice handwriting, sentence structure and such.  I used mine to make labels around my classroom because they are very colorful. You can get these strips in packages of 75-100 for $5 – $10 depending on if you buy them online or at a teacher supply store. Even stores like Walmart carry them. (In fact, as I look at the website now, I see they have wipe-off strips. Hmmm…..)

Front and Back

I’ve looked at these strips for a long time and thought that they would be perfect for making timelines. The strips are different on the front and back and my vision was that the timeline would be on the multi-lined side and the side with 1 line only could be used for notes. So I played around with them last night and I like where this is going so far.


I decided to make the timelines in 10 year chunks – to go along with census records. I decided that the focus of my timelines would be locations. Could I discover an un-researched area that I should be spending more time looking at based on basic census information? Especially after comparing locations for various people at a certain time? Could I determine a migration pattern for various lines in my research?

5 familiesI made marks 2 ½ inches apart and left a little extra room at one end to write the name of the person I was tracking. After writing some examples on some scrap pieces, I decided that the strip would be oriented vertically.  I have a column for the year, location, type of record and short notes. If I want to include a longer note, for example – more details on a land grant location, then I write a small arrow to show that there is more information on the back.

I like the idea that I can line up these strips to look for patterns and information that I might not have noticed otherwise.  I don’t think this will be the first time that I’ve mentioned that I’m a very visual learner, so this helps me a lot. IMG_2737


When I am not using the strips, I can clip them together with a binder clip and hang them on the bulletin board near my desk.


Father and SonOne simple example I can show is how I can determine the potential birth location for a person. When I place the strip for one of John M. Smith’s son-in-laws (Thomas Simpson) next to HIS father’s strip, I can see that it is likely that Thomas was born in Wayne County, Kentucky. Because I don’t have proof of that yet, I put the location in parenthesis. I certainly could have figured this out without the strips, but it is an easy example to show.

I decided that my goal for today’s project would be to try to determine the most likely location that John M. Smith was living for the 1820 census since I believe there is literally a John Smith in EVERY 1820 census.

John M Smith


First, I made my strip for John. I have a lot of information for John, but it only spans a 9 year time frame. Because I have found John listed near 2 future in-law families in the 1826 and 1827 tax records, I decided to make strips for 3 generations for each of those families plus the other 2 sets of future in-laws who I haven’t done as much research on. I kept the color for each family the same. Luckily, the package of strips contains 5 different colors, so I can have John plus the 4 in-law families.



1820When I line up the strips for the key people in the 5 families, I can overlap them so that I am only seeing the year and the location. I find it quite interesting that all 4 of the in-law families were living in Wayne County in 1820. Would it be out of the question to think that perhaps John M. lived in Wayne County at that time as well?

I believe there are 4 different John Smiths in Wayne County around this time. I’ve collected deeds and tax records for every John Smith in Wayne County between 1815 and 1825 (when a portion of Wayne County became the area of Russell County that John lived in) but I have not had the time to transcribe and really analyze them. Before this, I didn’t know if I wanted to put that much time into a wild guess, but it seems like more of an educated guess now and I’m anxious to see what kind of information might be hiding in the records that I scanned, but haven’t read. I think I’ll also go back and collect deeds for each of the “in-law families”.

My next goal will be to see if I can match land records to tax records to see if I can rule out any of the John Smiths in the area because based on tax records, my John did not own any land at this time. I can see that for that task, it will soon be time to fire up the Excel program!!

Wish me luck!