Ancestry.com has rolled out a whole new look in its online family trees. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is worth exploring. You can always switch back to the old version if you don’t like it. The cool thing about the new family trees on this most well-known of online genealogy websites is that timelines have been added to them. The timelines include things like national and local events that were going on during your ancestors’ lives, at certain times in their lives. This helps put them in their real historical context. It’s an enormously helpful tool for understanding the times your ancestor lived in, how those times may have shaped who they were, and provides a good research tool if you are writing a biography or larger family history.
If your family tree is not on Ancestry.com, you can still make use of timelines. Research national goings on during the years of your ancestors’ lives. If you know where they lived at various periods of their lives, look at old newspaper records of those areas to find out what was going on of significance in the area when they lived there. Write these things down in as much detail as possible. It will take some research, but the benefits it will bring you are well worth it.
You can include these events in the notes section of your family tree for each ancestor for which you do this. Just include the events in order, and intersperse them with the important events of your ancestor’s life as an individual. If you have family tree software that allows it, you can add timeline events in as facts within the other facts of your ancestor’s life. This way, when you print out your family group sheets, you will have the timelines built-in already, making them an easy reference source.
You can also draw a line on a large piece of paper, or on several sheets of paper taped together and write out the timeline, including both personal, national, and local goings on for your ancestor. This is the old-school way to do it, but it still works.
While timelines are extremely useful as reference tools for writing books on your ancestor or their entire family line, they are good to use even if you don’t plan on writing something for publication. Just seeing the national and local events that may have affected your ancestors’ lives an/or personalities can help you understand them as people on a better, deeper, more personal level. It will actually help them become more real to you, which is part of the joy of genealogy.
You may think of timelines as something used in high school or even in basic elementary school projects and not as a valuable genealogical research tool. However, when you see a timeline used in a family tree, you will immediately see their value and be fascinated by the details about your ancestors they reveal. If you haven’t used a timeline in your genealogy research, now’s the time to do it and be amazed at the new discoveries it will bring you.