Timelines

I recently picked up a copy of Judy Jacobson’s History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors. The first chapters discuss the relationship between genealogy and history, then describes how historical knowledge supports genealogical research. She goes on to describe how a timeline of historical events can help in your research effort. Most of the book is a presentation of an amazing number of timelines. She has timelines of military actions, migrations to and across America, disasters and epidemics, and social history topics like the Industrial Revolution. Each state has a timeline as do major regions of the world. The effort put into this book is awe-inspiring.

I am a firm believer that timelines are an important research tool which provide a quick view of history to put your ancestor’s life into perspective. And, while big events – wars, politics, disasters, epidemics and such – did have an impact on their lives, it’s the events closer to home that affected them most.

Where do you find those timelines?

Like most genea-research, the best solutions are collaborative ones. And, what platform provides a better place for collaborators to hang out than WeRelate? You will find that many of the Place pages for states and counties already have basic timelines included. Most are very simple and were generated by pulling Red Book information into a simple table format: date, event and source. It’s easy to add events to these existing timelines and you can use them as templates to create additional timelines on pages where they don’t already exist – like research guides or family pages. One great advantage over a printed timeline is the inclusion of hyperlinks. In this case, because the Red Book was used so frequently as a source, the WeRelate folks created a source page for it and linked to that. You may already have source pages for events related to your research that can be used in your timelines. You can also link to WorldCat pages for a book or other publication, online books in Google Books, Project Gutenberg or other online libraries, original documents, Wikipedia articles and any number of other online sources.

The wiki code used to build tables is much easier to manage than HTML table tags. Here’s an example:

== Timeline ==
{| border="1" cellpadding="5" cellspacing="0"
|-
! Date || Event || Source
|-
| 1824 || County formed || [[Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources]]
|-
| 1826 || Land records recorded || [[Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources]]
|-
| 1830 || First census || [[Source:Population of States and Counties of the United States: 1790-1990]]
|-
| 1837 || Marriage records recorded || [[Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources]]
|-
| 1840 || Probate records recorded || [[Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources]]
|-
| 1850 || Court records recorded || [[Source:Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources]]
|-
| 1930 || No significant boundary changes after this year || [[Source:Population of States and Counties of the United States: 1790-1990]]
|}

The {| characters identify the beginning of a table and |} ends it. The exclamation mark (!) says this is a row of column headings. Double vertical lines (||) separate columns within a row and a vertical followed by a dash (|-) identifies a new row. Notice the first column of a row only has one vertical (|) to start it. That’s the basics, but of course you can further customize your table in any number of ways. Wikipedia has a complete discussion on all aspects of table formatting on their Help:Table page.

So, using a county place page with its initial Red Book timeline as a starting point, can you add an historical event? If you’re contributing to a research guide, would a timeline add value to your page? Timelines aren’t just for places! They can support research guides for ethnic or religious groups, wars or battles and any number of other topics. Oh, and let’s not forget family pages either.

If you find timelines useful in your research, take a few minutes now and again to add an event or two on a WeRelate timeline. Each item, no matter how small, adds to the knowledge base for all of us.

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