Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Timeline of Their Lives

Wednesday evening I will be a co-presenting a program at the local public library. The main focus will be timelines and their uses in genealogy.

I had been researching several years before stumbling on timelines as a tool. In fact it was during a series of webinars by Lisa Alzo, The Accidental Genealogist, I became aware of their usefulness.

During the series Lisa suggested using timelines to better understand events that impacted our ancestors. I must admit putting together family lines and locating possible relatives had been my main focus. Not until Lisa made this statement did I think about researching events affecting their lives.

Lisa went on to explain how using timelines can be a very effective strategy. They help in discovering clues to the events which influenced our family members lives. The chronology of your ancestor's life can prove to be a valuable asset. It can reveal holes in your research and bring together in one place all known facts.

The focus of the presentation tomorrow will be the benefits of using timelines. Ann, co-presenter, will discuss the merits of using timelines to discover gaps and explain how they can assist with cluster research.

There will be an overview about using both paper and online tools to create your personal timelines. My part of the evening will focus on the technological tools available.

One of the websites Lisa suggested during the webinar was Time Toast. Along with several historical websites I played with charting the lifespan of my husband's grandfather, Christian Wismer Ruth.

The websites Brainy History and Timelines of History have been very helpful in locating historical events to incorporate together with Christian's personal history. These sites have listings for a wide variety of events such as world conflicts, literature, famous and infamous figures and inventions.

Putting together the first decade supplied many interesting highlights and insights. Christian's life began with Reconstruction, outlaws such as Jessie James terrorizing the nation, conflicts around the world and a wide array of newfangled inventions.

While compiling the timeline for the second decade of Christian's life I started to wonder how he was reacting to events outside his small Pennsylvania town.

Highlights gleaned from the September 01, 1875 - August 30, 1885 timeline:
  • Alexander Graham Bell made what was, in effect, the first telephone call
  • Centennial Fair opened in Philadelphia
  • Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his telephone at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia
  • Battle of Little Big Horn
  • Electric lights were introduced on Market Street in San Francisco
  • First National League baseball game was played
  • Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire
  • The Nez Perce War began in the northwestern US
  • Thomas Edison recorded the human voice for the first time
  • Washington Post published its 1st edition
  • Lincoln County War began
  • John Wise flew the first dirigible in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • The 1st US store to install electric lights was in Philadelphia
  • President Hayes signed a bill allowing female attorneys to argue cases before the Supreme Court
  • 1st US sewage disposal system, separate from storm drains, was established in Memphis
  • U.S. census stood at 50,155,783
  • New York's Broadway was lit by electricity. It later became known as "Great White Way."
  • Hatfields of south West Virginia and McCoys of eastern Kentucky re-engaged in a feud that dated back to 1865. Some 100 were wounded or died
  • David Houston patented roll film for cameras
  • German scientist Robert Koch announced in Berlin that he had discovered the bacillus responsible for tuberculosis
  • Mary Todd Lincoln, the widow of Abraham Lincoln, died of a stroke
  • Alexander Graham Bell made his historic telephone call to the mayor of Chicago
  • 1st string of Christmas tree lights was created by Thomas Edison
  • "Buffalo Bill" Cody put on his 1st Wild West Show
  • Chicago's "El" opened to traffic
  • Sojourner Truth, former slave and abolitionist, died in Battle Creek, Michigan
  • The Statue of Liberty was presented to the United States in ceremonies at Paris, France
  • Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published
  • Leo Daft opened America's first commercially operated electric streetcar, in Baltimore
What a decade! Rarely did I stop to think how these various events shaped the man Christian later became. Several occurred just outside his Bucks County, Pennsylvania hometown.

Did Christian venture to the Centennial Fair and possibly see Bell's demonstration? Did he marvel as the dirigible flew above the pastures? Did his family visit Philadelphia to witness the first brightly light store?

Creating timelines can give a glimpse into your ancestor's life. Be it in their own backyard or on the world stage, these are valuable to your research.

Above is a timeline I created on the Time Toast website. Once they have been published you can embed or share them on any site you choose.  

Several great links to help with your timelines:

Blank Time Line for My Ancestor from FamilySearch

Cyndi's List - Timelines - How To

Using Timelines in Your Research by Donna Przecha


  1. Excellent article. I have been using timelines for several years. I use xtimeline.com myself and embed it into my family history website. I looked at Time Toast and it looks similar - but you might want to look at xtimelines if you haven't already.

    Thanks again for posting this. Timelines are a valuable tool, especially when family members moved around as they did in my family in the 1910s to 1940s to escape persecution. Timelines were helpful to "see" what was happening with my ancestors as they indicated their movements in many family letters that I have been able to translate.

    Kenneth Marks (www.marksology.com)

  2. Great post! I love timelines and have been using them for quite a while, but I usually have used them only to track where my ancestor was at a specific point in time. I haven't added world or local happenings on the timelines yet. That would be very interesting indeed! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Excellent post, Deb Ruth, thank you! Timelines are really the only way I like to do research on an ancestor. It just makes total sense and like you said, shows where there are holes in your research. I get such a sense of that ancestors life by doing it in a timeline fashion. I have even started a timeline on myself hoping that I can leave a trail for the next keeper of our family history.