Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wisdom Wednesday - Expanding your Ancestor's Timeline

Near the end of last year I posted on the Worldwide Genealogy - A genealogical Collaboration  a blog on Using Timelines as a Family History Tool.  This article outlined how to set up a timeline in an Excel using all the important dates and events of your ancestors life. 

Ideally, dates for other family members would be included as well, e.g. birth of children, births/weddings/deaths of siblings, parents and grandparents, moving house etc. This timeline becomes a wonderful tool, giving you a visual picture and reference point of what was happening in your ancestor's life at any individual time. 

The second section part of the blog covered the additional section of the timeline which is placed adjacent to your ancestor's timeline. This timeline depicts events that occurred during your ancestor's life time and that may have influenced the course of their life.  This part of the blog received a number of comments asking for suggestions and resources that would assist with filling out this section of the excel sheet. 

This first part of the timeline depicts the important points in your family member's life, however, the section part helps to put your ancestor's story into context with what is happening around them. It helps you identify the external forces that may have influenced them or perhaps even changed their life. Events such as war, famine, closing down of a mill, changes in law can explain why an ancestor moved town, took up another trade, moved into the poor house or immigrated to another country. for example the "Irish potato famine" in Ireland or "The Enclosure Act" in England. 

In response to the inquiries on "how to source information for the second section of the excel sheet", I am following up on my first blog with details of some of the sources that can be use to build up the information I enter into the excel sheet. 

Part of Annie Shepherd (nee McDonald)'s timeline

Above is a timeline, recently developed to depict the events in the life of my great grandmother Annie Shepherd (nee McDonald) (1869-1955). Here are some of the resources that I have used to build up her story. 

One of the most valuable resources for researching the social history of your ancestors are the online Newspaper's and we are blessed with a number of excellent online Newspaper resources, eg TROVE, the British Newspaper Archive and Free Newspaper Archive for US papers. These sights provide a rich source of information, for example:
  • Obituaries - family names, where they lived, occupations, sickness, and if they died in an accident.
  • Accidents - if your ancestor died in an accident, it is quite likely you will be able to find an article about the death and the coronary inquest, for example Ralph Shepherd.
  • Search newspapers that were published around a major event in your ancestors life i.e. birth, death, wedding, enables you to see what else was happening in their village or district at that time, it can provide an idea of what the weather was like at that particular time or if their family was living in a time of famine or plenty.
  • Searching for details on the ship they traveled on, can give you information on the day they arrived at their destination, any troubles that were experienced through their trip, if there was any diseases on board, how many died on the trip, stories of other people travelling on the same ship and what happened when they arrived. 
Some events from Annie McDonald's Timeline 

Another valuable group of records are soldier's War Records. These provide information on enlistment and embarkation dates, the ports they stopped at on their way, where they were stationed, when they were ill or wounded, the hospitals they were treated in.  This information can in turn lead/link you to further discoveries, for example by searching the battles they fought in, the commanders of their battalion, the hospitals they were treated in, the ships they traveled on, diaries of other soldiers in the same battalion and so on.  For example, Private Roy Denning's published Diary, details the days before the landing at Gallipoli, and mentions Annie McDonald's brother Alexander McDonald. His account describes how Alexander was shot while he helped his troops disembark at ANZAC Cove.  

If your ancestor was a teacher the Public School Records can provide information on Public Service Records, school records for teachers, give details of where they taught and a short report on their appointments, complaints by parents and inspections. 

In Australia each state has an online site that provides information of mining leases and land ownership records. These records not only provide information and maps of the land leased or mined but also give details of others people they may be in partnership with or who their neighbours are. By researching these partners or neighbours you can find more information on the people living around your ancestor and events that would have impacted them as well.

Careful examination of  Census Records can be very rewarding, providing details on your ancestors social position, land they own, occupation, number of men they employed, the occupation of other family members. Also, look at their neighbours -  their occupations, did any of the family marry anyone in the same street, were there children the same age living next door,  it is possible that they went to school together, worked together? 

Council websites can also provide background on the history of the area your ancestor lived in. Many council websites have time lines attached outlining important events e.g. opening of buildings, introduction of tramlines, opening of picture theatre, establishment of council. A good example of this is the Leichardt (or Balmain) Council which provides a well resourced historical timeline.

Genealogical and Historical sites also provide wonderful resources on the social history of their district and the events that have impacted on the lives of the people who lived there. A good example of this is Burra History Society in South Australia.

Books and Diaries written about the industry your ancestor worked in, the town they lived in, events they took place in can be a wonderful source of information on the social conditions that your ancestor lived in and experienced. A wonderful example of this for me was when I was researching my husbands great great grandmother Elizabeth Rushworth, I discovered "Memories of Colne - by Margaret Cryer".  This book provided me with a wonderful sense of what the town of Colne was like in the time that Elizabeth was alive. 

Another resource that should be explored are Cousins.  Researching your ancestor's cousins can often lead to further discoveries about the family history, remembering families often lived in close proximity and they shared many experiences and life events together.

Finally, a resource that should not be forgotten are Cemeteries. These are an important part of our past, in fact you could think of them as a social museum providing insight into the times of our ancestors. Not only do they record the birth and death dates of our ancestors, they can enlighten us on relationships, and other family links, other surnames to be researched and sometimes their epitaph will provide you with a clue to an ancestor's personality.  Cemeteries provide clues to the development of the district your ancestor lived in, the cultural and ethnic influences, the dominant religious group and often times of troubles are highlighted when numerous burials are recorded around the same time.

These are just some of the resources that can be used to "plump" out the life time line of your ancestor.  Please share any others that you can think of!

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