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]

Birth:  1834

Death:  1921

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:


DATE EVENT (Wright_Charles A_time)   PLACE   
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.


Creatively Speaking

Uninspired Writer today posted a new blog entry about using creative hobbies to inspire our writing.

(see:  https://uninspiredwriters.com/2017/11/12/finding-inspiration-in-creative-hobbies/ )

Reading, the first thing on her list, is a big one for me. A well told story often will fill me with the urge to write something, anything. And even watching tv or a movie can do it.

But, oddly enough, so does working on genealogy. It teaches you to notice details, and how to research about places and things that are outside your experience. Those ancestors we seek each had their own story, and sometimes the details you pick up (names/dates/places) make you wonder what was going on – why did they go there and do that? What’s the story here?

I’ve also written stories based on something I saw at church or work or elsewhere in public, and many times a single picture will inspire something.

Her point is well made, though I would argue that inspiration can come from even the non-creative pursuits as well.  Travel isn’t particularly ‘creative’ as such, but seeing new places and exploring them (or finding new things in a familiar place) can also provide a spark.

Even just everyday habits, like washing dishes or cleaning the house, can be used.  Sometimes characters do those things, too.  How many times have you seen a movie, tv show or book with a scene in a restaurant?  In a store of some kind?  In a parking lot?  At a Christmas tree lot or in a pumpkin patch?

If your story is set in the here and now of wherever you live, the details you picked up while doing those things can be worked into a character doing them in a story.  And if your story is set on a distant planet or a non-existent world, the question becomes how do they do the everyday things that a person needs simply to exist?  We know what airport security is like in 2017 in Detroit, but what might it be like in 1763 Old Standard on Aldebaran?  (Okay, Aldebaran is a star and probably not inhabitable, but you get the idea.)

Uninspired Writer’s blog post is a good reminder that writing and “other stuff” don’t have to be entirely separate in our lives.  With the end-of-year holidays coming up (at least for the U.S. and to some degree in other countries), each of us may be in different places and situations than we encounter on a regular, daily basis.

Don’t let that inspiration and fodder for detail go to waste.

Let’s Get Real

Regardless of what you write, there must be an element of truth to it.  Even in fantasy or science fiction, you can’t simply write anything you want that involves humans without any regard to the facts of life.  For example, humans need oxygen to breathe.  They just do.  So plunking them down on a planet with an atmosphere devoid of oxygen and having them walk around on it without any sort of breathing apparatus providing oxygen simply is ridiculous.

And it is things like this that often trip up writers.  Stories that might otherwise be exceptional are undermined by the reader sitting back and skeptically considering the details.  “Sorry, I’m not buying it” they think, and when that happens, you’ve lost them.

In the Harry Potter stories, J. K. Rowling didn’t simply have a lot of humans underwater doing stuff without taking this into account.  Since hers is a world of magic, she provided several reasons for how they could function underwater without scuba gear.  Granted, all her ‘reasons’ were based in magic, but she did have a reason.  The reader could not honestly dispute what was or was not possible with the magic of her world, so few questioned that.

But in stories with worlds that are, or are very similar to, Earth, you have to acknowledge the rules – gravity, oxygen, and so forth.

In one story I read, set in Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth (which is essentially our world but in Medieval times), the writer had a couple kissing passionately.  Then she wanted the man to lift the woman (during the kiss) and the woman wrapped her legs around his waist.  So far, so good.  That could happen in our world, right?  But, wait – this ISN’T precisely our world.  What sort of clothes did women wear in Medieval times (and Tolkien’s world)?  Long dresses, to the floor.  Few wore pants of any sort.  Which means what?  That woman would have a devil of a time wrapping her legs around the guy without a whole lot of shifting of fabric in some way to free her legs.  Oops!  As a reader, you’re going along, wrapped up in the romantic scene and then you slam into that wall of reality.  “Wait, how is she managing that?”  The reader is yanked out of the moment trying to work out the inconsistency and the romance is spoiled.

Now, that isn’t an insurmountable obstacle, but it does need to slightly be addressed in some way.  Though not common, find a reason to put the woman in pants.  Build into the story the premise that many (or at least some) women ride astride their horses (not sidesaddle) and so have split skirts for riding; therefore this woman happens to be wearing such when she has the romantic encounter with the man.  Problem solved.

Other issues are a little trickier.  A recent romantic comedy was essentially a Jane Austen/While You Were Sleeping hybrid.  An amusing premise, but it entailed a man injured and unconscious for weeks.  He was put in a bed, completely unconscious, and all that seems to have happened in the way of care for him during that time was his being read to and having his brow wiped with a cool cloth.  Ummm, yeah, but what about food and water?  What about the potential for bedsores if his position never changes in all that time?  What about the expelling of bodily wastes?  Even if you don’t want to go into great detail about such things, you can’t simply ignore them.  Further, after not eating, drinking or moving, the man fully recovered his health and strength in a very short period once he became conscious, without any ill effect.  Not likely.  The biggest problem alluded to was that his injury/recovery might have impaired his returning to being a soldier, though it is never clear why that would be since he seems to make a full and complete physical recovery.  A few vague memory problems were all that resulted, and they were not so appreciable that they should have compromised his being a soldier.

Details like this are sometimes tedious to consider.  You just want to “get to the good stuff” in your writing, but you have to keep it somewhat grounded in reality.  In a completely fantasy world or on other planets, you have a little more leeway for creating animals and people who look and function differently than humans.  In fact, you might not include any humans at all, which allows far more rewriting of the rules.  But if humans show up, then human considerations must be made.  You can fudge some stuff, maybe allude to a solution without being specific, and the reader will give you a pass, but they won’t be so forgiving if you simply ignore anything you don’t want to bother with considering, researching or resolving.

Don’t let reality overcome your story.  Keep it real.

Writer’s Block, Right?

At one time or another, it seems like every writing blog tackles this issue.  BUT, they don’t have the super-duper-miraculous-writer’s-block-cure-of-the-millenium that I do!

Okay, no I don’t have that – at ease.  I get “block” just like everyone else.  There’s really not a whole lot of point in looking at why (unless you think that will help you resolve yours – then go ahead).  And, truthfully, I don’t always smash through it to finish every story that I start.  I have at least 6-12 (or more) unfinished stories.  Some only have a line or two, some only have a basic idea sketched out and some fill numerous pages before they stop.

On the off chance that it helps you with yours, here are some of the things I do:

  1. I try not to go off into another world.

For instance, if I’m writing Lord of the Rings stories, I try not to read Harry Potter.  It shifts my focus and makes it all the easier NOT to knuckle down and finish the Lord of the Rings story.  If you aren’t writing in a specialized universe like I do, it would be easier for you, I would think – it would be harder to get pulled off course, and there would be more likelihood of ideas that might spur something in your story.  That would apply to anything:  if you’re writing romance, getting wrapped up in reading mysteries may not fill you with usable ideas for your romance.  Reading other romances, might spark something, though you need to be careful about snitching ideas.  If you keep it “vague” enough, however, it is acceptable.  No one has the copyright on “love at first sight”. 

While you are reading or watching these other things, whether they be classics of the genre or mediocre, consider what does and does not work in the storytelling.  Does that book have a great plot, but it’s poorly executed?  Do you have instances in your story where you do something similar?  How does the storyteller pace their story?  How, and how well, are the characters developed?  If you can’t connect with the characters, why not?  (One of the things about the movie Thor – I never really believed the romance in it.  I wasn’t sold that these two were all of a sudden desperately in love with each other.)  Does your story have the same or similar problems to those you see elsewhere?

  1. If I’m not writing the actual story, I try to stay in the story by doing supplemental research.

Geography, climate, how to correctly use a bow and arrow (really, not much like you see in most movies), effects of certain injuries, and so forth.  Sometimes in the course of researching one or two things, I get ideas of more to do with them.  In the story I am currently working on, I wanted to map out a route for something, but since I play in Tolkien’s world I found that realistically it simply wouldn’t work.  BUT, I could still use some of that research to have the character trying to find a route, and using my failure to find what I wanted as part of her failure to find what she wanted.

  1. I keep reviewing and editing what I have written.

Sometimes that sparks new ideas, and if nothing else I make progress on the editing side of it.

  1. I try to ask myself questions.

What else needs to happen?  How do they get from here to there?  What happens along the way?  Why didn’t they just…?  You get the idea.  Anything to keep me working the story.  I have to get them over that mountain to a different city?  How far is it?  How rough is the terrain?  What are the options for travel?  How long will it take?  Does something slow them down so that they are in danger of not arriving to the other city by a certain time?

Don’t worry if you think you’re writing junk.  Just write it.  You can edit junk.  You can’t edit a blank page.  Something is better than nothing.  If you have a trusted friend who will read it for you, they may ask you questions (since it is unfinished) that will help guide you in knowing what more you need to add. 

Hopefully some of these things will help you keep plugging away.  Good luck!


also see in Category “Writer’s Block”:

Spell It Out, January 21, 2017

Choices, January 27, 2017


Gotta love ambiguity.  I was reading one of my genealogy blogs this morning, and there was a ‘news’ segment that gave links to other articles.  The title of one was:  “Digital Panopticon: London convicts database project”.

My first reaction was, ‘Why?  What did they do wrong?’  The problem arose from the word ‘convicts’.  There is a noun and a verb form of that word, with different meanings.  In this instance, the article is referring to ‘London convicts’ (noun), aka criminals.  But my reading the word in its verb form suggested that Digital Panopticon had been found guilty of some wrongdoing and were to be punished.

Words are beautiful things, but they can also be tricky.  In this case, the headline didn’t make sense to me (I couldn’t think of what a digitization project might be guilty of), so I reconsidered and realized my misinterpretation.  But that isn’t always the case with readers.  Often they merely take the words at face value, with whatever meaning they initially perceive.  Only if someone challenges them on it do they give the matter more thought.

That can make a difference in our writing.  We want our readers to understand what we are saying (and what we mean to say), and so we have to choose our words carefully.  That is one of the reasons writers are often counseled to have a trusted friend or beta reader go over their manuscript.  New eyes may see things that were missed because we knew what we meant.

While there may be times when you as the writer, or a character in your story, wants to obfuscate words or meanings, most of the time that isn’t so.  Clearly clarity is needed.

Say What?

I worked with someone once who did not have strong English/vocabulary skills.  Our boss would dictate memos about his client meetings, and she or I would transcribe the tape.  (Yes, ‘in the old days’ people dictated stuff onto tapes that got transcribed.  Imagine that.)  The problem was, our boss had an excellent vocabulary and used it when he spoke, but she couldn’t always recognize the word he was using.  When she heard a word unfamiliar to her, she would take her best guess at how it was spelled and let the computer ‘suggest’ possibilities.  But the computer was limited – it had no way of knowing the context or what word was wanted, so it just offered anything spelled similarly.  She would choose one at random, assuming it was correct.

When she would type up tapes for him, I always proofread them before they got filed, to hopefully correct any errors.  She would get so mad at me for laughing, but truly some of the word substitutions were hilarious.  Could you not laugh at “historical performance” being transformed into “hysterical performance”?

People are fond of relying on their computers to catch mistakes of spelling and grammar, and over the years the machines have become better at the job.  Even so, they don’t know what you mean to say, only what you seem to be saying.  Then they give you a ‘best guess’.  As the writer, it is your job to know you are using the correct words.  If you have any doubt whatsoever, look it up.  Does the definition given match what you meant?  If it doesn’t, then possibly you have a word that sounds or is spelled similarly, but not the word you mean.

Try variations of spellings until you find the one that matches.

You can also look at synonyms to sometimes find alternative words that more closely describe what you intend.  Just be careful, since not all synonyms are created equal.  They are ‘similar’ in meaning, but not necessarily identical.  You may need to check the meaning of the synonym before you use it, to be sure it expresses what you want.

Good luck, and may your next hysterical drama…er, historical drama be a bestseller.

Write What You Know, or Knew, or Find Out

You may have heard the writing advice ‘write what you know’, and you may have heard arguments for and against that idea.  But, perhaps, we need to look at the advice with a more inclusive eye.

Most writers are at least 18 years old before they fully start ‘working’ at writing.  They may have dabbled with it before then, but as they grew to adulthood, they began to realize that it was something that was a part of them, and that they wanted to be an active part of their lives.  That being the case, they have had 18 years (or more) of experiences in their lives.  Of course, not all are remembered, but many are.

This doesn’t mean just the experiences they personally had, but also the ones they witnessed.  Why is this important?  Those experiences can provide fodder for the writer’s story.  Some experiences can be plucked from our history ‘as is’ and presented as belonging to a character.  Some will require tweaking to make them fit into our story scenario.  Either way, they can provide nuance to a character, and make them a little more real.  This doesn’t mean write about yourself or pretend the character is you.  The character just happens to have an experience that you’ve had, making it easier to describe how the events play out and what the character feels before, during and after it happens.

Many people have been in a romantic relationship, and many have broken up with someone – or been broken up with by another person.  That helps give the writer perspective on the deep feelings and thoughts a person has at a time like that.  It wasn’t the same for every single couple who broke up, so it shouldn’t be the same every single time you write it in a story.

Similarly, we can get ideas for creative events to include in stories.  A writer can always use activities in their stories that every other writer also uses, but why?  If none of us are living exactly the same life as the billions of other people on this planet, then why should our characters?

Are you really into video games, but you also are an avid gardener?  Use that.  It can give your character more depth.

Did you once have a mouse die in the wall of your home, and the smell drove you nuts for over a week until the problem could be found and resolved?  Use that.

As a child, did you or your brother or sister decide to cut your own hair, to less than spectacular results?  How did the adults/your parents react?

Did you see someone fall asleep in class and witness the embarrassment when the teacher awoke them?

Did you try to fly home for Thanksgiving one year, but end up spending the entire holiday stuck in the airport without ever making it home?  Did you go on a long-planned trip to Disney World only to be sick the entire time and unable to enjoy it?  Did your weekend of planned sun and fun at the beach involve gray skies, high surf and a steady rain?

Don’t know much about 6-year-old kids?  Look around you and find some to observe (not in a creepy way – we don’t want to get you arrested).  How do they talk – how well has their vocabulary developed?  How do they move – what are they physically able/unable to do at that age?  How do they think/perceive – do they ask questions when told to do something, though you think the instructions were clear?  If you’re, say, at a park, and there are parents with those kids, talk to them and ask them questions.  Most parents enjoy talking about (or venting about) their kids.  Reading about 6-year-olds online as research can be useful, but even better is to actually see examples in person.  Many times research gives you generalities about things, not the specific details you might want.

Look at your past for stories or incidents that happened to you or someone else.  Then start looking around you at other people.  Notice physical traits (hairstyle, a limp, a mole on their cheek, their build), notice what they do and how they behave, study the way they move or talk, watch the choices they make.  There are people everywhere – on the street, in stores, in the car next to us on the road, on the train, at school, at work, sitting in the doctor’s waiting area, in elevators.  If the opportunity presents itself, maybe strike up a short conversation and learn a little more about them, or what you are seeing them do (maybe a teenage girl is sitting in the doctor’s waiting area and knitting – why?).

Depending on what you write, not all of it will be of use to you as source material, but you might find unexpected nuggets of gold if you keep sifting.  Just because you aren’t sitting at your computer/desk doesn’t mean you can’t work on your writing.

How To Be Inspired When Writing

  1. Try to go to bed
  2. Be incredibly busy with other stuff that must be done
  3. Need to go to school/work right now
  4. Be driving in your car so that you are unable to write anything down
  5. Decide to write on something other than your WIP (work in progress) [to get inspiration for your WIP]
  6. Plan to spend the entire day with family or friends
  7. Be trying to ‘sleep in’ on the weekend or a day off

See?  Easy.  Whenever it’s inconvenient, inspiration comes.

Kindle Scout, fyi

Blogger Mladen Reljanović, on his Writer to Writers blog, posted an interesting article today about the Kindle Scout program.  For those of you who publish, or hope to publish, you may find it of interest:  http://writertowriters.com/kindle-scout-kindle-publishing-option/

NOTE:  I have no personal knowledge of Kindle Scout, so I can offer no encouragement or warning with regards to it, only make you aware of it if you weren’t already.