Timelines can be an interesting supplement to your genealogy research. A timeline is a chronological listing of historical events, a sort of "history in a nutshell" as it generally is limited to one line or very short entries. A timeline can be general and cover the history of the entire world or a small area such as one county or it can be for a specific subject, such as art, music, literature or war. A timeline can also take many forms -- it can be in written form, either as a book or wall chart; it can be a list of events; or a database that can be used by itself or in conjunction with a genealogy program.
In school we usually study the large events and important people in world history. In genealogy, we are looking at individuals who usually had no influence at all on history but were deeply affected by it. A timeline can help you put the two types of study together. You may not know why your ancestors emigrated when they did, but a timeline may remind you that they left after a war had swept through their part of the world. We tend to compartmentalize study because we simply cannot comprehend everything at once. We study U.S. history and then we study Russian history or we study music but don't relate it to art which was happening at the same time.
It is sometimes startling to realize what events were happening simultaneously. In 1778 George Washington defeated the British at Monmouth, NJ, while Beethoven was being presented as an infant prodigy (at six, although he was really eight) and James Cook was discovering Hawaii. In 1642, the English Civil War began, Rembrandt painted The Night Watch, Galileo died, Isaac Newton was born, Tasman discovered New Zealand and Montreal, Canada was founded. While the American Revolution was occurring, Haydn and Mozart were writing music and Beethoven was beginning to compose. Also, Gibbon was writing Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Voltaire, Hume, Adam Smith, R. B. Sheridan, Schiller, Stendhal and Washington Irving were all writing and the Montgolfier brothers ascended in a balloon in France.
If you put "timeline" and "history" into your favorite Internet search engine you will see there are several timelines on the Web relating to various areas and subjects. Since the timelines from the Web are basically text items, you could also edit these and customize to include events that were significant to your family. For example, if your families were early settlers in Illinois, you might be interested in a timeline of the history of Illinois giving the dates of early settlement, wars that affected the area, statehood, important elections, etc.
Weaving Your Family into a Timeline
You can also create your own timelines by hand, but when a timeline feature is incorporated into a genealogy program, you can display timeline events in with the events in your ancestors' lives. While one timeline database may be fairly general, being able to select from different timeline databases allows you to choose a set of events that may have been of more interest to your family. You also want to be able to turn off a timeline as all those extra events can be quite annoying when you are simply working on your database. You may be able to incorporate a timeline into some of your reports also.
The following example shows how a timeline can add another dimension to a family history. All that is known of Johannes Christian N?chter is that he was a farmer, had six children that were all born in the same house in a small village and five of those children went to America. It sounds pretty dull until you add in a timeline of German history:
Johannes Christian N?chter
|Birth*||28 Mar 1771||Hessen-Nassau, Prussia.|
|Marriage*||__ ___ ____ ||Anna Katharina Wiegand |
|Son:||13 Dec 1803||Jakob N?chter (1803-); Unterstork, Hessen-Nassau, Prussia|
| ||__ ___ 1805||Napoleon conquered Germany.|
|Son:||26 Feb 1805||Joseph N?chter (1805-1854); Unterstork, Hessen-Nassau, Prussia; |
| ||02 Dec 1805||Battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon defeated Austrian-Russian army.|
|Son:||22 Aug 1806||Peter N?chter (1806-1868); Unterstork, Hessen-Nassau, Prussia|
| ||14 Oct 1806||Battle of Jena-Auerstadt. Napoleon defeated Prussian army.|
|Son:||24 Mar 1808||Bonifacius (Bonaparte) N?chter (1808-1891); Unterstork, Hessen-Nassau, Prussia|
|Daughter:||13 Jan 1810||Elisabeth Katharina N?chter (1810-); Unterstork, Hessen-Nassau, Prussia|
|Daughter:||30 Aug 1811||Anna Katharina N?chter Nichter (1811-); Unterstork, Hessen-Nassau, Prussia|
| ||__ Oct 1813||Battle of Leipzig. Napoleon defeated by Allies (mainly: Russia, Prussia, Austria, England)|
| ||__ Sep 1814||Congress of Vienna began.|
| ||__ Jun 1815||Congress of Vienna ended.|
| ||05 May 1818||Karl Marx born. Mainly known for his theory about Communism and Socialism.|
| ||28 Nov 1820||Friedrich Engels born. Together with Karl Marx, developed the theory of Communism and Socialism.|
| ||__ ___ 1830||German immigrants to America numbered 10,000 to 20,000 yearly from 1817 through 1830.|
| ||__ Mar 1848||German revolution. Liberals and Democrats were trying to overthrow the royal class. It had to fail, since it couldn't establish real political authority without the support of the military, which was loyal to the royal class.|
| ||__ ___ 1850||German immigrants to America totaled 587,000 from 1831 to 1850|
| ||__ ___ 1864||Prussian - Danish War.|
| ||15 Jun 1866||Prussian - Austrian war started.|
| ||23 Aug 1866||Prussian - Austrian war ended with Prussia's victory.|
| ||19 Jul 1870||France declared war against Prussia.|
| ||18 Jan 1871||Declaration of German Reich in Versailles (near Paris).|
| ||06 May 1871||French - Prussian war ended with Prussia's victory.|
What turbulent times those must have been! Napoleon's army must have swept back and forth across where he lived. (The family must not have received ill treatment from the French since one of his sons was known as Bonaparte throughout his life.) His poor wife must have worried that her children would get caught up in all the war raging around them. It was clearly an unhappy time for many Germans as can be seen from the number of immigrants. Five of his children were amongst those numbers. Perhaps he was glad they had escaped to American when the revolution came in 1848. We don't know when Johannes died but if he lived to 1864 he must have hated seeing all the wars start again. He was probably never aware of Marx and Engels but he shared the times with these men who had such an important impact on world history. Of course, Johannes may not have concerned himself with anything beyond his horse and pigs, but it does create interesting possibilities!
There is a different type of report that is also called a timeline. This is in the form of a chart with years written across the top -- 1700, 1720, 1740, etc. Below this are names of individuals, either from your database or historical figures, with a line extending across the years when this person lived. In this way you can see how your various ancestors in different geographical locations were contemporaries. You can also see what famous composers, writers or rulers lived at the time of your ancestors.
Timelines can make genealogy more interesting and meaningful. If you have an opportunity, try using them.
About the Author "I began genealogy in 1970 when we were living in Ogden, Utah for a short time. I was immediately hooked when, on my first visit to the local Family History Center, I found my great-grandparents in the 1850 Ohio census. I have been researching ever since on my own family and for others. I soon recognized the value of computer programs for keeping track of the data. I was a founding member of the Computer Genealogy Society of San Diego and editor of the newsletter. I have written a third party manual on ROOTS III and, with Joan Lowrey, authored two guides to genealogy software. Using ROOTS III and WordPerfect, I have written several family history books for others, but have yet to stop researching long enough to complete my own family history!" -- Donna Przecha