google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: September 2013

Four Steps To A Family History Timeline

Screenshot of a Timeline from Treelines Sample Wizard
Timelines are amazing tools for family historians. They have the ability to serve us on many levels. At the
most very basic level, they are a great way to organize our family history information. However, if done in detail and with much thought they can serve as a brainstorming device to help us unlock brick walls. They can help reveal gaps in our research and link world events to family history events. They are my first go to tool before writing any family history story. They are imperative in helping me structure and outline a family history for storytelling.  That’s a lot of heavy lifting in one simple tool.  Timelines allow you to layer a life, each layer adding to the depth of your ancestor’s story.  Below is a simple four step process to a creating a family history timeline.

Four Steps to Creating a Family History Timeline

      1. Identify the Ancestor you wish to plot.
Now you certainly can plot a family, or a surname but this becomes much more complicated. If you are new to timelines, I would suggest starting with one ancestor.

2.   Choose your tool.
There are many options available to the family historian today for developing timelines. You can go old school and scratch it out on a piece of paper; chalkboard and whiteboards are great devices. Mind mapping programs can make beautiful timelines my favourite program is iMindMap. Of course, you can keep it simple, using word or excel spreadsheets, not as pretty and creative but they get the job done. Then there are the online programs for creating timelines such as Treelines and Timetoast, two of my favourites.  Choose the tool that you are most comfortable with, any tool you choose should not be a hindrance but a help, use the one that works for you.

      3.   Create Your Categories
It’s important to make sure all the important events that occurred in your ancestor’s life are accounted for on your timeline. Here is my set of categories that I consider when developing a timeline. As you add each category to the timeline, you see the layers of a life come into focus.

Ancestor’s Vitals – births, marriage and deaths, not only of the ancestor in question but also of any relevant person in their lives. Don’t forget the effect the birth and or death of a child, spouse or parent would have on an ancestor.

Ancestor’s Life Highlights – in this category I include, migration, jobs, purchase of land and military.

World Events – in this category include political, social, economic and environmental influences. Think wars, famines, disease, depressions, etc.

Regional Events – much like world events, but these may only affect those living in specific part of the world, state, province or county. They still would include political, social, economic and environmental influences.

Local Events – again same as above, but now were pulling our focus in even closer to the town, village, neighbourhood or street that your ancestor lived on. What political, social, economic and environmental events would have affected them on such an up-close and personal level?

      4.  Identify Your Time Frame. Before you’re ready to get started, identify the time frame you want to address on your timeline. Perhaps it’s going to be an ancestor’s entire life, that’s fine, but don’t be afraid  to really zero in on one particular time in their life,  one decade even one year or a single day. All are options to use on a timeline to help draw focus to your ancestor’s life. It all depends on how you plan to use the information in your timeline. 
       Remember while timelines are lovely to look at they are a tool that can serve to breaking down brick walls, organizing your research, identifying missing information and organizing and telling a story. 

My Number 1 App for the Family History Traveler!

On Sunday, I returned from my most recent family history tour, some of you may have been following along over on The Armchair Genealogist Facebook page. I took my parents and along with my sister, we toured la belle province of Quebec. This is where predominantly all of my mother’s ancestry is situated. We toured the back roads linking the little villages along the way and followed the migration path of several of our ancestral surnames throughout the province.

I was the chief driver, navigator and tour guide and I have to be honest it was a little overwhelming at times.  While I thought I was pretty well organized, there were many moments I needed a little extra help. As we toured the province, I linked the information from the documents in my research, and helped piece together the stories of our ancestors.  I can honestly say admit with all I was trying to juggle, my mind sometimes would turn to mush. Particularly, as the day turned to dusk, I was not as sharp and as readily available with the answers as I was first thing in the morning. I had a lot of information readily available to me, and I had a binder of reference material sitting in the car, but the tool I found myself relying on repeatedly was..... my app.

Hovering under umbrellas outside 300-year-old churches, I was able to look up information to put time and context to the place in which we were standing. The small villages came to life with the faces of my ancestors. We could imagine them in these places going about their everyday business.  The app  allowed me the opportunity to pull up documents.  For instance, standing in the church where my first ancestor married in Canada in 1676, I pulled up the marriage certificate of my eighth great grandfather. I was able to show my family the document that was signed in this very spot that we were standing.  I could answer questions, like how many kids they had, when did they leave, and sometimes when census information allowed, where they lived and what they did for a living. On another occasion, we found ourselves at the church of our ancestral family, attached a small cemetery.  I was quickly able to identify who may be in this small cemetery and whether it was worth our time to wander the rows of tombstones before moving on.

My family history was always at my fingertips. I didn’t have to carry my heavy binder; it often remained in the trunk of the car. I charged my phone at every opportunity so that we were never without this lifeline of information. If you don’t already own a car charger, I can’t stress this enough for those of you touring by car. The combination of using the app, GPS and some picture taking quickly can be a drain on the battery of a smartphone.

I know many of you are very familiar with this app, like you, I’ve carried it around with me for years on my smartphone, but I can say with all honesty that I’ve ever used it as much as I did on this trip. It was my bible during my family history tour, and like no other device I packed, it served as the most valuable tool during this week long journey. 

Before you head out on your next family history research trip, download and or update your family history on the app and utilize this tool to help you enrich your traveling experience and carry your family history in the palm of your hand. 

Tuesday's Tip - Taking Stock

As the kids return to school, the leaves turn crimson and a cool breeze fills our homes on this beautiful September morning, there is no better opportunity than now, to take stock of our surroundings. At this time of change, the fall is a perfect opportunity to examine and adjust our sails.  

 Like January, when the year is new, the fall feels like an ideal occasion to start fresh. The breeze is bright and clean, sweeping away the hot and sticky summer. The autumn rains wash away all memory of those warm summer months and our mind turns to preparing for a new season, a change. That mental preparation for this new period sets us up ideally to access our yearly goals. Of course, I’m talking about your family history goals but feel free to evaluate all of your life’s goals at this junction in time.

Take a moment this week to assess what you have accomplished so far this year in your family history research, your writing and blogging.  Did you set some goals early this year? Are you on track to achieving them, or have you barely looked at them? Are their opportunities to advance your research, and do you have a plan for the rest of the year.  

It’s time to take stock of your research, make a plan and adjust the map based on your work thus far. Research plans are wonderful tools but work best when we utilize them to their full potential.  As we learn new information, we need to calculate and amend our plan for that recent knowledge.

Evaluating, adjusting and changing are life’s greatest opportunities for growth. If you apply that philosophy to your life and equally in your family history research, you’ll constantly be moving forward.

Take a few minutes this week, take stock, evaluate your research and adjust your sails as we navigate our way through these last few months of 2013.