Genealogists strive to
understand their ancestors and their lives beyond the
dates we note on a pedigree chart. Timelines can be
used to place our ancestors' lives in historical
perspective. Timelines provide us with an orderly,
encapsulated view of the past. They are clear and
structured ways to help us make connections, solve
puzzles, and interpret lives.
Family historians love
dates, facts, lines, and charts, so a "line of time"
is a natural device. There are a variety of ways to
use a timeline:
. Making sense of how
two families became one.
. Proving (or disproving) family stories.
. Understanding how historical events influenced an
individual or family.
. Interpreting migration patterns
One of the simplest
timelines you can create is not a line at all, but a
chronological list of written events. This would more
accurately be called a chronology, but it also
represents an outline of content, organized by date,
that can lead to a more visual timeline. Although
writing a simple chronology is a useful tool in and of
itself, it also serves as an outline toward creating a
more visual timeline. To develop a timeline, ask
yourself the following questions:
do I want to accomplish with this timeline?
Define the particular
question, personal or family event, or contradiction
you want to investigate.
is my audience?
Is the timeline for your
own research purposes, to share with family members,
or to publish in a book or journal? This will
determine the nature of your product.
will I present it? Graphs, text, linear
You can color-code or
otherwise format groups of related events, include a
summary of conclusions, and be done with it. Maps are
also a format to consider if, for example, you're
following two families migrating westward from
different parts of the east, and you want to
understand how their two paths merged. Graphs are most
common in genealogy because so many of the software
programs have companion programs that generate
timeline graphs once you select the parameters.
should I divide my timeline?
Longer time periods need
lengthier segments. If you cover a century, you may
want to break your line into decades. If you cover a
decade, you can separate it into individual years.
type of events will be important to add to the
Let's say you want to
trace two immigrant families. You'll need to include
events that impacted their decision to immigrate
(e.g., wars, changes in religious tolerance, poverty,
epidemics) as well as events in the United States that
drew them here and determined their final residence.
If you have already
compiled your family's events for a timeline, but you
need to add the dates that relate to your timeline's
purpose, you'll find plenty of historical detail in
almanacs, encyclopedias, and history books at your
local library. The Internet is also overflowing with
dates, timelines, facts, and nearly everything else
you could want.
One of our readers
contacted me with another option which replaces the
genealogy program mentioned in my last
column. That has been out of production for a number
of years. RootsMagic is its replacement. RootsMagic
is authored by the same person. Go to
www.rootsmagic.com to see what the new program
Bryan L. Mulcahy
Fort Myers-Lee County Library
2050 Central Avenue
Fort Myers, FL 33901-3917
Tel: (239) 479-4651
Fax: (239) 479-4634