A few months ago I visited my parents in California. While cleaning off dusty tools in the garage together, I asked my dad what he had thought of the Civil Rights movement. I knew my dad’s birth year, but I had never placed him in the intersection of world events. I was surprised to learn that he was in college in California during that time and wished he had flown east to participate in a civil rights march.
Plotting out the events of an ancestor’s life on a timeline can help you gain a fuller picture of them as a person. You may notice different locations they have lived, how old they were when their parents died, or which significant historical events took place during their lifetime.
There are several digital tools available to help you create these timelines.
FamilySearch builds a simple timeline for you. Every time you add a census record, for example, you can choose to add the information about where a person lived during that year to the respective family record. This information is immediately added to the person’s profile on FamilySearch under “Other Information” in chronological order. A sample is shown below.
Ancestry.com has a similar feature on their new interface. A timeline of life events you have added to their personal page is featured on the left-hand side of each individual’s profile, conveniently including the person’s age beside each event.
HistoryLines is the easiest way I found to create a timeline that integrates life events with historical events. HistoryLines uploads your family tree or gedcom file (.ged) from FamilySearch, Ancestry, or MyHeritage. You can also manually enter data from an ancestor’s life right into the program.
One click later. you have a beautiful timeline of your ancestor’s life juxtaposed with significant historical events. A small Google map shows you different places your ancestor lived, with pins you can click for details. Below the timeline, the site adds a detailed narrative describing aspects of daily life at that time (everything from diet, commerce, and entertainment to politics) as well as historical events (“Clarence was 4 when the case of Plessy v. Ferguson was heard before the United States Supreme Court.”).
These timelines and stories can be shared in a variety of ways:
- Embed in a blog
- Save as a pdf
The easiest way to attach the timeline to your ancestor’s FamilySearch profile is to save it as a pdf and add it as a document to your ancestor’s FamilySearch Memories page.
You can create two timelines from HistoryLines for free. If you would like to continue using the site, you can subscribe monthly for $9.99 or yearly for $59.
If you have the time and want the freedom of customizing content, adding pictures, and personally designing your timeline, there are several options for you. Here is a small sampling of free timeline-making websites:
- Pinterest – Create a board for an ancestor’s life. See this blog post, Creating an Ancestor Timeline on Pinterest, about creating this example board.
- TimeToast – Create a free account; manually add events and pictures to timeline. Timelines with TimeToast appear as a line with dots representing events; when you hover over a dot you see a picture with brief text. If you click the dot you can see an expanded explanation of the event. With TimeToast, you can publish a public timeline with unlimited media, and share drafts with others. With an easy-to-use interface, it’s a great site for beginners!
- Tiki-Toki – With Tiki-Toki you can create one free timeline or pay for a subscription. This site allows for greater customization, with the ability to display multiple ancestors’ events on one timeline, categorize and color code events, and even add 3D elements. Events can be enriched with audio, video, and text. If you want a more aesthetic timeline and aren’t afraid of figuring out settings, Tiki-Toki could be for you.
- OurStory – Create a free or paid account, and post rich media and family history information on a personal or collaborative timeline.
Whichever tool you choose, creating an ancestor timeline will breathe life into the dash between your ancestor’s birth and death dates
This article was submitted for publication by Sabrina Huyett, a freelance writer working in Provo, UT.