timelines and historical perspective
My kids used to love the book, “Tell me Grandma, Tell me Grandpa”. In it, the grandparents tell their grandkids stories of when their mom and dad were little. The illustrations reflect how the stories appear in the minds of the children. As grandma tells what the mom or dad used to do when they were small, the child imagines their full-grown parent doing the activities, from riding a tricycle naked, to throwing a tantrum. Reading this to my kids always brought giggles.
frankly, my dear…
We all do it. We imagine things from our own point of view. It’s hard to step out of our own frame of reference. This is true in our genealogy research as well. At best we try to imagine previous time periods based on what we learned in history class, or even what we’ve seen in movies or television shows. It’s hard not to think of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh’s characters in Gone With The Wind when someone mentions life in the South during the Civil War era.
One site I like to reference whenever I’m looking for family in decades past is ThePeopleHistory.com . It helps me get a clear perspective on the times that the folks I’m researching lived in, It covers the years from 1800 to the present, and gives examples of everyday life year by year. Included are examples and average prices of things like toys, appliances, music, autos, fashions, furniture, and homes. For example, in 1924 you could buy a brand new Chevrolet for $600. A new electric refrigerator would cost you almost half that, at $285.00. For $2200, you could buy a bungalow in Oakland, California. The decade page also gives a US dollar for dollar comparison from that decade to today’s money.
To truly appreciate your family history, it’s so important to think of it as more than names and dates. As you move back in your tree, look at the local and world history to understand what was going on around them. There are some awesome timelines available online that include a brief overview of various periods and places in the history of the world. I’ve collected lots of interesting and fun historical infographic-type timelines on a Pinterest board called (surprise) Timelines.
creating your own family time line
Creating timelines of your own, whether for a single individual or for an entire family line, can help you visualize your research chronologically. Comparing your family’s timeline to a timeline of local and/or world history at that time may give you clues to answer some of the “Why”s… Why did they move from that area? Why did so many of them die in a short period of time? etc.
Several programs and websites are available to help you easily create your own timeline. If you use Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint, you can easily create a timeline with these instructions. Many of the popular genealogy computer programs, such as RootsMagic , LegacyFamilyTree, and FamilyTreeMaker have timeline creation options built into them. Programs such as Genelines , merely need a GEDCOM file to create several different types of timeline charts. If you want to create your timeline online, the website OurTimeLines.com will lead you thru creating a very simple, text based timeline. The website Tech & Learning has a good list of other available timeline programs, “Top 20 Sites and Apps for Creating Timelines“.
and the winner is…
My favorite free online timeline creator site is called, simply, Timeline. It is an open-source program that lets users create a really beautiful and interactive timeline with a Google spreadsheet. You can see a sample timeline created with this site here, chronicling the life of Nelson Mandela. Be sure to check out the interactive functions, by clicking on the timeline below and watch the photos and text above slide into place. Imagine creating one of these lovely timelines as a gift for a birthday, holiday, or anniversary!
Take the time to understand the times that your ancestors lived in. It will bring their stories to life.