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Genealogic Time Frame

This  page is to explain how Taylor Family Genes arrives at and uses its definition of "genealogic time frame", also abbreviated GTF.

If you are too impatient to read further, the bottom line is either

Which is meant depends on the context. For some specific families, the genealogic time frame may extend further into the past. For others, it may be more recent.

Basic Definition

The genealogic time frame is that period of time for which it is possible to identify one's ancestors by names, dates, places and other characteristics. It extends from the present to some time in the past.

General Concept

For most people, the genealogical timeframe does not have a definite boundary. It simply gets increasingly more difficult to identify our ancestors as we try to peer further into the past.

Imagine that your family's history is shown in the diagram on the left. You may already know the first generation or so; they're in the light green color. The next most recent generations are in darker green; they can be found without much effort. as you try to extend the circle of known ancestors, the colors shade to blue, yellow, red and eventually fade to black -- each area presenting more obstacles to overcome.

Most people find it possible (if not easy) to identify ancestors to 6 generations back; they're shown in the 1850 (1851 in the UK) and later censuses by name and age along with their households' members. To 8 generations takes a bit more doing; censuses list only the head of household by age category and sex. Additional type of records are needed.

Another demarcation is the beginning of British parish records in 1538, ~12-14 generations. An almost insurmountable barrier comes at the time of universal surname adoption; in England, this is roughly 1350-1400, ~20-24 generations back. (Some families had used surnames as early as 1100 but they were few.)

Use in Taylor Family Genes

We use a specific genealogic time frame as a cut-off; it represents the outer limit of possibility in most instances. We do not generally try to draw conclusions about events which preceded its beginning. It is a way to keep our focus on events and relationships which are knowable through a combination of genetics and documentary research.

We seek a more concrete definition than the basic one above. It should be broad enough to encompass what is possible to learn and narrow enough to eliminate what is impossible. We've decided on


In establishing what is meant specifically by genealogic time frame, there are a number of factors to be considered. They include;

  1. Calculation limits
  2. Time Units
  3. Record Availability

Calculation limits

The tools we use to evaluate DNA matches have limits as to how far back we can go. This is generally a maximum of 24 generations.

Time Units

We may count time using either or both of two units:

At best, we may estimate an average number of years between generations. Estimates for this average range from 25 to 35 years, with about 30 years receiving more acceptance. Whatever figure is used, it is a very rough abstraction and may not apply in a specific instance.

Analysis of trees submitted to Taylor Family Genes shows a very wide range in generation lengths; 40% of families have average generation lengths of 32 to 42 years; 22% were shorter than 32 years and 26% were longer than 42 years. 


Documenting one's ancestors is largely a matter of finding records naming them, fixing them in a certain place at a certain time, and associating them with an event. We rely on -- especially for the more distant past -- written records.

It's a fair guess that most Taylor families have their origins among commoners, rather than nobles or the rich. Firstly, the ancient social structure was pyramidal; commoners (the base) vastly outnumbered those on the upper layers who they supported. And, the name is occupational in origin; tailors may have served princes and lords, but were neither themselves.

So we are concerned with that time in which commoners were routinely recorded in writing. And, due to our name's origin in England (though also adopted by Scots and Irish) we are concerned with English records so far as defining GTF.


Does it surprise you to learn that surnames (i.e., inherited family names) are a fairly recent practice and universal surnames more recent? They were preceded by "bynames" which were not inherited, except as an occupational name might follow an inherited trade.

The first instance of surname use in Europe is found in Venice ~1000 AD. Some noble and/or rich Englishmen were using them by 1200 AD. However, feudal England valued the common people no higher than plows or the oxen who pulled them, certainly not enough to give them surnames. (This denial of surnames bears much in common with American slavery.)

The surname practice did not become universal (i.e., include everyone in the population) until 150-200 years later; it's generally recognized that surnames were standard practice for all in England by 1400 AD and the process seems to have begun only five decades before.

This results in almost no commoners having surnames to be recorded prior to 1350 and almost everyone having them by 1400. We take the earlier date for our cut-off.

Poll tax

A tax on every man was initiated in 1377. The detailed records from it, if available, would be a valuable genealogical resource.

Parish registers

A Royal decree of 1538 mandated local parishes to record baptisms, marriages and burials. The decree was slow to be complied with in all parishes, so some records might not begin at 1538.

There are other factors which adversely impact the completeness of parish records ─ war, mold, fire and human nature. Nonetheless, some parish registers do date back to 1538