Create a timeline

If you are keen to start writing the stories behind your family history research but are still at the lists of names, dates and places stage, then a good way to get organised is to create a timeline. Timelines are not only great for organising your research and identifying any missing information but, by adding references to local and world events, they can also help you to see your ancestors’ lives in a broader historical context.

Stick to one ancestor

If you have done an extensive amount of research, you will probably find it easier to create a timeline for just one ancestor rather than tackling a complete family line or surname. You could also choose to focus on a particular period or time frame rather than the entire life of your chosen ancestor.

Create a timeline

If you like to be creative with pens and pencils than you could draw your timeline on card or paper (wallpaper is good if your timeline is likely to be quite extensive). If you prefer to use a computer, then creating a table in a word processing document or spreadsheet gives you scope for developing and updating a timeline. You could also use free mind mapping tools such as or iMindMap. Also take a look at online applications for creating timelines – I have had a quick play with Dipity and timetoast and they both look like fun but do your own internet search to find out what else is available.

Start with the basics

Once you have decided which tool you are going to use to create your timeline, start by adding the basic facts – dates of births, marriages and deaths, locations, major events and milestones such as education, jobs, divorces, military service, moves abroad, purchase of property and land etc.. Don’t just do this for the ancestor you have chosen but also for any other people (for example, children, spouses) who were significant in their lives. Don’t worry if there is any information you don’t have. Either highlight the bits which need further investigation on your timeline or make a separate list.

Look at the broader picture

You can then look beyond the personal life of your ancestor by adding details about what was happening in the world at the time. For example, what do you know about the social, political, environmental and economic conditions both in your ancestor’s community or neighbourhood and in the world beyond and what impact (if any) did these have on the life of your ancestor?

You may need to do some additional research to fill in all of the details suggested above, but by looking at the broader picture you will be able to create a much more interesting and well-rounded story (or series of stories) which may even have an appeal beyond family and friends.

Related blog posts:

Putting your family history in context

Create a timeline to tell your family history stories

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