Assembling Your Chronology

One of the burning questions I had, once I made the decision to start my biographical study, was how best to organize my research? While I still haven’t fully figured out a system that I can truly say is perfect, what I started doing – I guess instinctively- was to start a chronology and lay down the “known facts” of my subject’s life using the available primary sources. In this case, a baptism record, a certificate of citizenship, a receipt issued by the Commissioner of Emigrants, and some business letters.

I came across a free eBook called Story Based Inquiry, a sort of manual for investigative reporters, that advocates putting all your research into one Master File. As investigative reporting is very much like historical research – relying upon material mustered by the researcher’s own ingenuity – this treatise was eye opening and confirmed my suspicions that creating a Master File was the right way (at least for my brain) to collate all the data I was accumulating.

First I started using Excel with a page for each year but I soon realized that this was not the ideal format for keeping track of citations plus I wanted to see everything on one page. So, lacking a better system, I started using a simple Word document and for each notation of  “fact” including the full citation in a footnote – so as not to lose track of where my facts came from! I have the year at the top of the page, and underneath the month. Then each “fact” includes the date and time (if known) of the occurrence.

Here’s an example:

Though my Word file has now been split in two (roughly halfway through my subject’s life) and are about 75 pages each, I can now see where my research is thin and the patterns that are developing. These patterns will help me organize my research into chapters when the time comes.

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