Turning Genealogy Data into an Interesting Story 2: Create a Chronology

by Memoir Mentor on December 3, 2008

Want to know the best way to start thinking of your subject’s life as a story? Put any information you have about her into a chronology, or timeline, similar to the one below I created for my great-great-grandmother. It’s fairly simple to create one in WORD or WordPerfect using the Table tool. Once you build your chronology, you’ll suddenly be able visualize the shape of your subject’s life, from cradle-to-grave. You’ll notice where the gaps are, where you need to find more information to account for your subject’s activities during that period of time.

A chronology gives you a better sense of elapsed time. You may notice, for example, that your subject moved often, or added a child to the family every two years, etc. You may also pick up on trends or themes in the person’s life you can use to shape your story. Was she sick often? Did he change jobs frequently? A chronology allows you to see these things better than you can from the pile of notes you’ve collected.

I make chronologies for all the ancestors I’ve researched. Notice that the chronology below includes three columns. While the first two columns are a given, that third column is also essential. As your subject was living her life, events occurred around her that may have shaped her thinking or behavior—economic fluctuations, wars, severe weather, epidemics, etc. This is what I call “life context.” When we write the story of someone’s life, we’re also writing about the times in which she lived, particularly those events that may have influenced her in some way. Where do you find this kind of information? The fount of all good things nowadays—the Internet. And it’s all so much easier than poking around in a library the way we used to do. I’ll share some of the how-to’s with you on a future date because it requires a separate post of its own. Meanwhile get building that chronology. And if you’re writing your own personal history, build one for yourself. You’ll find it’s a lot of fun!

–Memoir Mentor

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 DianaR January 1, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Can’t wait for another post on this subject with some “how-to’s”. I’ve created a mock up of this in Excel because I think it’s an excellent idea, not just for writing a family history, but also for showing gaps in my research. Thanks!!

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