Timelining Your Ancestor

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 you’ll understand why shortly. Let me give you two simple examples to try.

Let’s say that you want to learn more about the historical events of Scotland. Enter the following into Google:

       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 Scotland’s Past–-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.

Let’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:

       timeline “north carolina”

The search results for this query include a number of different types of timelines. One is supplied by the North Carolina Secretary of State’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, I’ll use the same format I used for the search queries above but I will also add something else; I’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:

       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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18 thoughts on “Timelining Your Ancestor

  1. Excellent article that has added a new dimension to my research. (Too many dimensions and too little time, dang it!) Love your informative and entertaining podcasts too.

    Thank you!

  2. What a great piece of info. I did a ‘quick’ timeline and got so many responses! It will be fabulous to be able to get into the times of my ancestors by knowing what was going on around them.
    Thanks heaps, this has really rounded out the times my predecessors lived in and made them so much more real to me.

  3. Classic George Morgan; The Master piques interest then provides a clear, concise ‘tutorial’. Fantastic! Thanks George!

  4. I am the editor of our Quarterly called “Coryell Kin” for the Coryell County Genealogy Society in Gatesville, Texas. What a wonderful article to share with our club. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for this article. I have always been interested to find out why my ancestors came to Australia. I did not know about the timelinesbefore.

  6. This article about timelines is just wonderful. My website is pretty much devoted to writing biographical sketches of ancestors and so the timeline is very critical to what I do. When I did my first sketch which was on my husband’s great-great-grandmother who was born in 1825 I found (among other things) that there had been 19 different President’s in her lifetime!
    Susan Edminster

  7. I use time lines when trying to find information on my ancestors and appreciate your perspective. I also plan to use time lines in a genealogy class for our area.

  8. Thank you for such an interesting article. I tried “Googling” and came up with a lot of interesting and informative results.
    The British Broadcasting Corporation has a fascinating, and usually very accurate, Website for those interested in British history. It can be found at http://www.BBC.co.uk/history.With a little judicious cutting and pasting you can make an annotated British timeline from 6,000 B.C. The website also has useful information about Family History and British sources.

  9. Very interresting but I have one things to say. After five years of looking I still caan’t find my families parents.

  10. I am trying to contact Adrianne Harker I have some info on Paul tetzner which she may like to have

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