Types of Narratives: Timelines

Here at The Family Yarn we encourage you to pursue Narrative Genealogy – recording in written form the unique story of your family so that future generations can read with interest about where they came from.

Narratives can take a number of forms, and throughout January, we’re talking about different types of narratives and how they can contribute to your family’s story. Catch up with our previous posts on autobiography & memoir, journals & diaries, and vignettes.

While not narratives per se, timelines can be invaluable in helping to craft a narrative for an individual or family.

When creating a timeline for an individual, start with the basic facts: birth and death. Draw a line and note the subject’s birth date and place at the beginning of the line and their death date and place at the opposite end.

Add a marks along the line for additional vital statistics such as marriage and childrens’ births. Write down the marriage dates of children – typically the parents were present. Identify which Censuses (federal and state) would have occurred during their lifetime and add these to the timeline. All of these bits of data provide dates and places.

If you are research-averse, write down what information you know or can remember from your own life, your childrens’ lives, and your parents’ lives (extra-credit for grandparents!). Look back through old calendars and planners, yearbooks, even resumes. You’re looking for anything associated with the life of your subject that might have a date attached to it – from there you can begin to build a picture of their life.

If you are really, really averse to research, at least leave the next researcher something to start from! “Interview” yourself (perhaps using 52 Questions in 52 Weeks as a catalyst) and ensure your own information is compiled for someone else to build on later.

Once you get your timeline filled in, go back and start to write your ancestor’s narrative, using the frame of the timeline to give the story structure. You’ll likely have to do more digging for historical context than if you have recorded memories or vignettes to work from, but timelines give you a solid base to craft stories that go beyond names, dates, and places. Remember, our goal is to write our history so that someone will want to read it later!

Here's a link to a (slightly-technical) tutorial on creating a timeline using Excel. I haven't tried this out yet, but it would certainly step up my timelines game! AnceStories has another useful guide for creating timelines with your family history data.

Have you used a timeline in your writing before? What other events (baptism, graduation, moving house) would you include on a timeline for your ancestors?

Image Credit:
"The timeline Mum and I drew of Dad's life" by Tim Regan (CC-BY)

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