Using Timelines to Break Down a Brick Wall

In the 1880 US Census, you’ll find my great-grandparents, Andrew Jackson Hadley (1836-1898) and Louisa Hines (1838-1918), living in Montgomery County, KY, with eight children. With the smallest amount of coaxing, all the childrens’ records fell into place.

All except for one, the precocious three-year-old Frankie, who had erected a tiny brick wall around herself. This lone daughter was holding onto her life’s secrets.

How can I learn more when all I have so little information? I needed a timeline to break down this brick wall!

Timelines are a useful technique for finding gaps in your family research. Gathering my few Frankie tidbits, I could determine what was needed and where to look. A genealogy roadmap of sorts.

Step 1: Create a Timeline Form

To start, I created a spreadsheet with three columns: Year, Age, and Notes. The census dates are used as guideposts, since these were taken every ten years without fail. Sometimes I add world events. These events may disrupt our ancestor’s lives. For instance, World War I could have taken her husband or the Spanish Flu may have claimed her. These are added below as examples with estimated time periods.

Tip: You can create a free spreadsheet using Google Sheets.

Example timeline based on Frankie’s possible lifespan.


Step 2: Add Frankie Hadley’s Data to the Timeline

My next step is to add what I know about her family. Then I calculated her age based on the birthdate in the census. While she could have married at sixteen, I estimated eighteen. This was to give me a starting date for a marriage certificate. Also, it reminded me of when she may have left home.

Basic facts for Frankie and family


Step 3: Looking for Clues about Frankie in the 1900 Census

The 1880 Census had the names and ages correct for the other eight children and parents. This gave me confidence that her birth year was correct. In the 1900 Census, her mother responded she had eight children, and all eight were alive. Ahh! Frankie was alive in 1900.

Since many siblings had moved to a larger city, the twenty-three-year-old, Frankie, might have gone with them. I looked through their census records and concluded she had not. She was of marriage age. It was likely she had started her own family.

My go-to genelogical resource for these cases is the newspaper. A quick search resulted in a maid named Frankie Hadley, who had died in Adair County, KY, in 1900. The paper guessed this lady as fifty-something years old. Was this her? How did she find her way there?

Quick check of the timeline – she’s too young to even be mistaken for an aged woman.

Adding clues to Frankie’s timeline


Step 4: Checking the Obituaries for Timeline Pointers

My next step was to check the family obituaries. Could these documents reveal some clues? They did.

Her father’s obituary confirmed she was alive in 1898. Her mother’s 1918 obituary listed the names of the six other children. It did not list her or her older brother, Edward L Hadley (1875-1918). Her older brother’s obituary lists all of his siblings except Frankie.

Now I have a timeframe for her death. She died after the 1900 census, but before her brother’s death in 1915. Since her parents died in the Clark County area, I could start there. The timeline targeted my search dates and locations.

Adding details to the timeline. I used red text so you can see what I did.


Finally—An Answer for Frankie Hadley Emerges

Kentucky’s death records were held by the counties until 1911. The Kentucky death records did not contain a Hadley for the timeframe. If she died prior to 1911, the record may be in the county. Also possible she had married and moved out of state, which would make this task more difficult.

Since her parent’s obituary was in Clark County, I would continue the search there. The Clark County Public Library compiled the obituaries from the local papers into several extensive PDFs listed by surname. When I arrived at the “S” file, I was thinking more about a cocktail than dead aunts. In moments, my attention would refocus. A Mrs. Charles Speelman, whose maiden name was Hadley, died in 1903. There are few Hadley families in Clark County, so it was a solid lead.

Hmmm, when exactly did Mr. Charles Speelman (1877-??) marry the shadowy Miss Hadley?

Timeline Solved Frankie’s Mystery

Using his surname, I checked the FamilySearch Kentucky marriage collection (a free genealogy resource). Just like magic, a marriage license for a twenty-one-year-old Lizzie F Hadley who married Charles Speelman in 1898 appeared. I checked the timeline, her age matched. The bride’s parents were Louisa and Jackson Hadley. Ah ha, Frankie was actually Elizabeth Francis Hadley (1877-1903).

Frankie is an “Elizabeth Francis!” Source: Author’s collection


Then I rechecked the 1900 census. The young Speelman couple lived with his parents near her mother’s home. Charles was a photographer and painter.  His parents, James Speelman (1848-??) and Medora Speelman (1848-??), were from Ohio. His father was a local photographer, which makes me think a wedding photo is floating around somewhere. The Winchester Sun listed an obituary for James Speelman in April 1913, but no further information was discovered about the family.

The Speelman family buried her in the Winchester Cemetery, near her other family members. My great-grandmother, who was her sister, Cordelia Hadley (1860-1930), is also buried there.

Final Thoughts on the Timeline Method

It was the timeline that helped me think through her life and determine not only where to look for her, but applicable timeframes. With the timeline, I could narrow down Frankie’s life and target places to look. I’ve used this method for a few other ancestors and by focusing, I found who I was seeking.

When it doesn’t work, I leave my timeline in the FamilySearch Notes tab for the next researcher to use. For instance, Mosella “Sella” Watkins (1893-??) is still an open mystery. I am keeping faith that someone knows the ending of her story.

This post first appeared in the Kentucky Family Stories blog.

Editor’s Notes

You are invited to share your family story that happened around a historic event and how you uncovered information. Review our guidelines and submit your story here.

About the Author

<h3><a href="" target="_self">Tricia P Aanderud</a></h3>

Tricia P Aanderud

Tricia Aanderud, a retired Data Science professional, lives in Florida with her husband and two bratty Siamese cats. She is a Kentucky native whose family arrived there in the early 1800s. In her free time, she is the editor of the Kentucky Family Stories blog.

Follow Us


Upcoming Events

Get Our Newsletter

Recent Posts

Loading Sixteen Tons: Tracing Your Kentucky Coal Mining Ancestors

Loading Sixteen Tons: Tracing Your Kentucky Coal Mining Ancestors

Here are tips for finding your ancestor’s coal mining records.

You May Also Enjoy

Become a Member

Whether you are just starting out in your journey or are so experienced that librarians and record clerks know you by name, we offer Kentucky resources and support you can’t get anywhere else.