The thing I enjoy most about writing family stories for my two blogs, Family Stories: Photographs and Memories, and The Other Half of my Tree - Stories of my female ancestors, is putting together all the different snippets of information that I have gathered. I love piecing together dates of birth, death and marriages with newspaper clippings and events of the day into a short story that reveals a little about a particular ancestor.
This is often a difficult task, especially when of writing about female family members. So today I thought I would share with you the tool I find the most helpful. A time line of events in their life!
There are many different programs and apps designed to assist you with this task, for example: Easy Timeline Maker, Timeline Builder, Capzles, Tiki-Toki and Timeglider to name a few. However, I have found the most useful form is to create a simple time line in Excel.
To show how I use this format, I will share with you a section of the time line I developed when researching Elizabeth Taylor (nee Rushworth). I wrote a series of blogs on Elizabeth's life, and it is my hope in "time to come" to will be able to write a short book on her fascinating story.
|Part of Time Line for Elizabeth Taylor (nee Rushworth)|
- birth, death and marriage dates (bdm) for the person with details of place etc
- bdm dates for their children, parents, siblings, grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, if they occur during the person's life time line.
- census dates, with details of where they lived
- dates they started and finished school
- dates of illnesses, or other life events that you know about
- details from any newspaper articles that you have been able to find on them, i.e.winning prizes in the local show for flower arrangement, being involved in an accident, receiving an award
- military service of the person or a family member
- immigration, travel
- land or business ownership
and the list goes on.
Then, on the same excel spreadsheet, I build another timeline of events that could have impacted on Elizabeth Taylor's life. This is, I think the key to putting your ancestor's story together and places it in context.
Examples of events that should be included into the supporting time line are:
- Start and finish dates of Wars, eg WWI, Crimean War
- Times of economic depression, eg start of the Potato Famine, cotton famine
- Launch of post office savings scheme, first postal service
- Establishment of Trade Unions
- Workers strikes
- Events in the town, ie Establishment of local Borough, or council, building of schools, starting of hospital or ambulance service, opening of Town Hall
- Women given the right to own property
- Laws passed to make it compulsory for children to attend school
- Visits from dignitaries, major sporting events, opening of local cinema, Circus comes to town
- Natural disasters such as disease outbreaks, storms, floods and droughts
Searching for this information can take time, however today with access to so many online newspapers, and historical sites there is a lot of information available to plump out the details of your ancestors life. I have even found it possible to go search the local newspaper on the date of an important event, ie wedding and found the weather forecast for the day.
Often, a small piece of information entered into the second part of the time line will give meaning to an event in your ancestors life. For example an outbreak of typhoid and the death of a number of family members at the same time, or trade union strikes or closing down of a local factory could explain why your ancestor decides to move to another village or district or even immigrate.
The development of a time line is vital to gain an understanding of the setting of your ancestors life and helps put life events into a clear frame of reference with the lives of their families, events in their community and outside influences. Do you use timelines when researching your ancestors? Do you have any other suggestions for the composing these stories?