NOTE: This post applies to genealogy and to writing.
On one of the genealogy blogs I follow, they mentioned timelines. While this blog isn’t solely genealogy oriented, it does pretty much cover any subject that strikes my fancy. Also, many of the skills/lessons learned in doing genealogy can be implemented when writing.
In my case, I use a desktop genealogy program called Personal Ancestral File (PAF). It was discontinued some time ago, so there is no longer any tech support for it (other than a community of users sharing information), but as it still works well for my needs, I continue to use it. There are many other genealogy programs out there, some for the desktop, some for mobile and some in the cloud; this was simply my preference.
I’ve been using PAF for a lot of years, and over time I’ve revised my recording methods. At first, I put some information I found in the Notes section and some in the Source section. The info in the Notes section was pretty much in the order that I found it, but I began to see that wasn’t ideal, so I started arranging it in rough chronological order (some things don’t fit neatly into order). That allowed me to see the progression as I went along, and also I could readily see what I was missing. Below, I’ve pasted a sample from the Notes of one person in my file. (The *** replaces personal information, concealed for privacy sake.)
The first line is simply a note. It gives me some idea of what I don’t acutally know and need to try to find out.
Putting entries as summaries of information, I know where I got information: a death certificate, a census record, a city directory, etc.
Where I have put “[see image: _____] it indicates that I have an image of the document on my computer, and tells me the name of the document if I need/want to go look at it again for some reason.
Near the beginning, you see “1850-1870”. Sometimes you get differing information from different records, but I believe the family immigrated in the 1860s. The census for 1850 through 1870 are available. It is doubtful that they are on the 1850, and maybe not even the 1860, but I have noted that those are possible sources to check (if I find info to make me think they came to the US earlier than the 1860s).
These notes walk through the life of Amelia/Emilie Wirth. Any further information I find will be inserted in the proper location.
per *** Amelia Matthews was born 5 Nov 1835 in Posen, Poland or Germany, or Bromberg County, W. Prussia (source is the knowledge of ***).
parents names/bplaces for Clara Bertha Wirth were obtained from her death certificate
1880 United States Federal Census
Name: Clara Wirth [304 W. Division St] [see image: 1880 C_IL Chicago Cook_ED 150.jpg]]
Household Members: Name Age
Carl Wirth head, 55, b abt 1825 in Prussia, par b Prussia, Carriage Maker, sore throat
Emilie Wirth wife, 45, b abt 1835 in Prussia, par b Prussia, Keeping House
Carl Wirth son, 23, b abt 1857 in IL, par b Prussia, single, Tinsmith
Emilie Wirth dau, 21, b abt 1859 in IL, par b Prussia, single, Domestic Servant
Louis Wirth son, 15, b abt 1865 in IL, par b Prussia, Apprenticed to Painter
Anna Wirth dau, 13, b abt 1867 in IL, par b Prussia, At School
Clara Wirth dau, 11, b abt 1869 in IL, par b Prussia
Auguste Wirth dau, 9, b abt 1871 in IL, par b Prussia
Louise Wirth dau, 6, b abt 1874 in IL, par b Prussia
Source Citation: Year: 1880; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 196; Family History Film: 1254196; Page: 437C; ED: 150; Image: 0514.
1900 United States Federal Census
Name: Fritz A Matthews [893 West North Ave]
Household Members: Name Age
Fritz A Matthews head, 52, b Jan 1848 in Germany, par b Germany, Wd, immig-1862, Hardware Dealer
Emilie Worth sister, 63, b Nov 1836 in Germany, par b Germany, Wd, 5 kids/5 living, immig-1860, House Keeper
Henry Hoop roomer, 48
Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Chicago Ward 15, Cook, Illinois; Roll: T623_264; Page: 16A; ED: 470.
1910 United States Federal Census
Name: Louise Fryar
Household Members: Name Age
Augusta Fryar head, 39, b abt 1871 in IL, par b Germany, Wd, 2 kids/2 living, Dressmaker, At home, Rents home
Emily Worth mother, 75, b abt 1835 in Germany, par b Germany, immig-1860, Wd, 6 kids/5 living
Louise Fryar dau, 18, b abt 1892 in IL, f b Germany, m b IL, Single
Source Citation: Year: 1910; Census Place: Algonquin, McHenry, Illinois; Roll: T624_304; Page: 13B; ED: 0123; Image: 420; FHL Number: 1374317.
1920 United States Federal Census
Name: Clara Gordon [6013 Dorchester Ave]
Household Members: Name Age [enum. 9 Jan 1920]
Clara Gordon head, 51, b abt 1869 in IL, par b Germany, Wd, Designer, Millinery, can read/write, rents home
Thomas Simons Gordon son, 31, b abt 1889 in IL, f b PA, m b IL, Di, Accountant, Steel Pipe Manufactory
Amelia Wirth mother, 75, b abt 1845 in IL, par b Saxony (Ger), Wd, no occupation
Anna Matthews sister, 52, b abt 1868 in IL, par b Saxony (Ger), Wd, Trained Nurse, Hospital
Source Citation: Year: 1920;Census Place: Chicago Ward 7, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_315; Page: 6B/53B; ED: 384; Image: 111
on 1930 Census entry for her daughter Augusta, it indicates she was born in Posen
from newspaper clipping in *******’s Bible: [paper and date unknown, clipping not labelled]
Mrs. Emelia Matthews Wirth, for sixty years a resident of Chicago, died while visiting a daughter in Wichita, Kas. Although 87 years old, almost totally blind, and a native of Germany, she did her bit towards helping America win the war by knitting for the soldiers.
Emelie E Wirth [see image of stone from FAG: Ancestry_12.21.13.doc]
Burial: Old Mission Cemetery Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas, USA
Find A Grave Memorial# 34933982 http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=34933982
*** supplied full ddate and dplace, mdate and mplace; provided names of her parents
Now, this may be useful to anyone who is a genealogist who is wondering how to organize their information. Know that it doesn’t have to be done in a genealogy program. If I wanted, I could set up Word document for each person and create a timeline for them there. Indeed, on a couple of my direct line ancestors I have made more barebones timelines in a chart form. Here is a portion of one of those:
|15 Nov 1840
|birth of wife||Mary Elizabeth Van Wyck (adopted, was a Skinkle)||in Columbia Co., New York
dau of Henry H. Skinkle & _________
|15 Apr 1841
|birth||Charles A. Wright||in Newtown, Queens, New York
son of Julius C. Wright & Elizabeth Powell
|census||Mary E. Van Wyck or Skinkle||poss with Van Wyck family still as a Skinkle in Columbia Co., NY
|census||Charles – age 9||w/parents: Newtown, Queens, NY, pg 111
|census||Mary E. Van Wyck or Skinkle||poss with Van Wyck family now as a Van Wyck in Columbia Co., NY|
|census||Charles – age 18||w/parents: Newtown, Queens, NY, pg 236
|KS state census||not found, but didn’t marry until 1866 so poss not in KS yet||
In this case, the red text indicates info for someone else (or something I haven’t found), but that has bearing on the individual. It helps me track where people were at any given time so that I know where to look for records about them.
So, if you aren’t a genealogist, how can this help you? The same principle applies for writing. You can create an outline, or maybe a timeline, of your story. It can help you see where the gaps are – where something is missing. You can insert notes of where you have information saved (an image, a web address of site with useful info or details, etc.), so that you can readily refer back to that while filling in the gaps. Sometimes, in my stories, I even insert some of the information I find in researching a subject, at approximately the point where I will need to use it. (Usually, I save that information as a whole by itself, but then copy parts of it into my outline/timeline. When I no longer need it in the story outline/timeline, I can delete it knowing that it is still readily available if I find I removed it too soon and need to check something else.)
In my own case, I sometimes create a story timeline so that I know what else is happening concurrently. It helps me track the seasons, the weather, the locations, etc. I can’t put someone outside enjoying a sunny swimming hole in the dead of winter. If a woman is 8 months pregnant, it will have an effect on what activies she can pursue. (Can you see Natasha Romanov/Black Widow doing the things she does while 8 months pregnant? Not likely.)
No, I don’t always do timelines. Sometimes I don’t need to, but they can be useful. One more tool in our toolkit, whether for genealogy or writing or however else you can find to apply it.