by George G. Morgan
Placing your ancestor into historical context is one of the most important means of understanding him or her better. Like you, your ancestors and their families did not live in a void. They were attentive to the news and events of their times. Information they received influenced their opinions and attitudes and helped them make important decisions. Hearing an announcement about a new tax was liable to cause them to become angry and to worry about how they would make financial ends meet. News of political or religious unrest or about the approach of a foreign army might cause tremendous stress and fear. Economic downturns, drought, famine, and disease all meant potential disaster for the people. Such news could also cause your ancestors to make the crucial decision to migrate elsewhere or immigrate to another country.
Genealogy involves the active study of history and geography, among other subjects. Some of us proactively seek written histories to read and gain insights into historical periods in specific places. We may seek to locate old maps, atlases, and gazetteers so that we can see and study the geopolitical boundaries of the places our ancestors lived so that we can better understand the governments and political forces that influenced their lives.
I enjoy reviewing historical timelines for the places my ancestors lived. You can find a vast number of these on the Internet, some more detailed than others. Locating these timelines is simple. Use your favorite search engine to find timelines of any geographical location. I prefer to use Google for timeline searches and youâ€™ll understand why shortly. Let me give you two simple examples to try.
Letâ€™s say that you want to learn more about the historical events of Scotland. Enter the following into Google:
Â Â Â Â Â Â timeline scotland
Your search results will be very extensive but you can explore some of the sites to see if one or two give you the detail you want. I located one called Scotlandâ€™s Pastâ€“-Scottish History Timeline that lists events from 8,000 B.C. to 1999, many of which have links to detailed descriptive pages at the site. For the period of 1274 to 1329, for example, Robert the Bruce is listed. The link for his name takes you to an extensive article and bibliographic reviews for other reading.
Letâ€™s now consider a multiple-word place name, such as North Carolina. To search for a timeline for North Carolina, you should enclose the two words in quotation marks in order to tell Google (or any other Web search engine) to treat this as an exact phrase. In other words, you tell the engine to search for instances in which both words are always together and in that order: an exact phrase. Therefore, enter the following in Google:
Â Â Â Â Â Â timeline â€œnorth carolinaâ€
The search results for this query include a number of different types of timelines. One is supplied by the North Carolina Secretary of Stateâ€™s website. Another, by SHG, Ltd. is a detailed, general timeline. For African American researchers, another site from the AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum is included, and the North Carolina Museum of History presents a historical timeline for the North Carolina American Indian populations.
One reason I use Google for timeline searches is that it offers the ability to specify a numeric range that can narrow your search to only Web pages that include these numbers. For instance, if I want to look for a timeline for France (or anything else, for that matter) on Web pages that include the years 1800 through 1899, Iâ€™ll use the same format I used for the search queries above but I will also add something else; Iâ€™ll add the beginning number (year) and the ending number (year), separated by two periods (and no spaces). I will enter it into Google like this:
Â Â Â Â Â Â timeline france 1800..1899
The search results will include only those Web pages that include at least one number between 1800 and 1899. While the majority of timelines are every-year inclusive, some have been divided into separate Web pages for a specific century or two. This may save you having to look through as many search results.
Try these timeline search examples for yourself and then try searches for other areas and times specific to your ancestors. Start learning about the historical events that may have influenced them, and then pursue other reading that can expand your detailed knowledge of those times.
Visit George’s website at http://ahaseminars.com for information about his company, speaking engagements, and presentation topics. You can also listen to George and Drew Smith’s “Genealogy Guys” podcast at http://genealogyguys.com/.
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