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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

The Only Outline Family History Writers Need

The fastest way to write a book or research report is using a timeline. Therefore, if you want to write a family history story easily and quickly, you should use timelines.

Why Timelines Help Genealogists Write Family Histories

Timelines help us to visually and succinctly organize information chronologically. This process helps us see connections between facts, allowing us to write better stories.

Do not add too much detail to the timeline. It would be best to spend less time planning and more time writing your family history.

Do look for hacks to speed up the timeline creation process.

How to Create a Family History Timeline

Follow These Four Steps to Creating a Timeline For Your Family History

1. Research Your Ancestor

This step may seem obvious, but the point is to research your ancestor beyond just when they were born, married and died. Search for when they moved, attended school, entered the workforce, lost a loved one, served in the military, bought land, or went to jail.

Once you have the personal events of your ancestor, add them to an online tree or genealogy software program.

You'll have a personal event-based timeline to get yourself started when finished.

2. Research Your Ancestor's Family

The births of siblings, cousins, children, ex-spouse's children, and grandchildren play in the emotional state of our own lives and, by extension, the lives of our ancestors. Likewise, the deaths of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, children, spouses, and so on do the same thing.

Therefore, research the lives of your ancestor's family members and add their life events to the overall timeline.

Do you notice a year when a grandmother, mother, and cousin died? Did you observe a year when multiple siblings had children simultaneously?

These patterns of events will begin to help you understand your ancestors' stories in a new light.

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3. Create a Spreadsheet

The next step involves utilizing your family data and overlaying historical context.

While there are timeline tools on FamilySearch, Ancestry, Twile, and History Lines to allow you to add family members and historical context, I recommend taking any initial information these websites suggest and creating a timeline in a spreadsheet.

You'll be able to label information, color code it, customize it, filter it, and so forth.

View the development of my timeline in this video

4. Choose the Social History

History is replete with important events that we can add to our timeline. Choose events wisely for the draft you will write. The following social history categories can help you search for fun facts to enhance your story.

Local History - If politics is local, so is our ancestor's world. What is happening in the schools, government, social organizations, ethnic groups, religious communities, and neighborhoods that might have touched the lives or hearts of your ancestors?

National and World Events - Where were you on 9/11? Where were you when Iranian students seized the embassy and detained more than 50 Americans? Of course, some world events impact people more than others. Select the ones that would definitely grace the headlines of the local newspapers or directly affect your ancestors' lives.

Technological Inventions - Be careful with this category. Just because inventors developed new technologies in a specific year doesn't mean they had widespread usage. However, you can include technology that changed your ancestor's life in time, such as the telephone, automobile, indoor plumbing, and refrigerators.

Pop Culture - Here's another category that can help us experience our ancestor's world. Add the most popular songs, movies, books, and other cultural fads to your timeline. For my parents, I would have to mention that they were hippies. But, on the other hand, my in-laws didn't like the hippies' music, which seemed odd to me (growing up with hippie parents).

Weather and Health Disasters - Cholera, earthquakes, and penicillin impacted the lives of our ancestors. Suppose you discover your ancestor lived in a town ravaged by a tornado followed by scarlet fever, yet your ancestor survived. Doesn't that make you think differently about said, relative?

Turn the Timeline into a First Draft

It's not enough to create a timeline. Move beyond the planning stage of writing and turn the details on your charts into sentences and paragraphs. Use the social history events and developments to help you enhance and understand the lives your ancestors lived.

For more tips on writing family histories, check out these posts.

If at any time you would like the assistance of an experienced heir hunter or forensic genealogist, check out our friends over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. and tell them Devon Noel Lee referred you.

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