Monday Genealogy Tip: Timelines


You don’t live in a void. Current events impact your everyday life, whether it’s the price of gasoline or searching for a new job. Although your far-back ancestors didn’t have to worry about buying gas, the events of their time impacted their lives just as much as yours do today. That’s why creating a genealogy timeline is a must if you want to understand more about the times in which your family lived.

Think about this. What do the think the difference might have been for your ancestor who lived during the presidency of George Washington versus your ancestor who lived during the Jefferson years? Do you know the events than spanned the beginning of Washington’s term (1789) and the close of Jefferson’s (1809)? Here are a few things to think about:

During the Washington years:

  • First Congress met in New York
  • James Fenimore Cooper was born
  • Louis Daguerre (pioneer of photography) was born
  • Mutineers of the H.M.S. Bounty settled on Pitcairn Islands
  • A German astronomer calculated the orbits of comets
  • First copper pennies minted in England
  • Washington, D.C. was founded
  • Jews in France were granted civil liberties
  • Benjamin Franklin died
  • Alexander Hamilton introduced his Funding Bill
  • Kentucky became a state
  • Louis XVI was executed
  • Denmark abolished the slave trade
  • Beethoven became a pupil of Hayden
  • Dollar coin was minted in the U.S.
  • Whiskey Rebellion took place in Pennsylvania

During the Jefferson years:

  • Federal offices are moved from Philadelphia to Washington D.C.
  • Sir Walter Scott wrote Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
  • Goya painted The Two Majas
  • Paris had 550,000 inhabitants
  • Ohio became a state
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson was born
  • 12th Amendment added to the Constitution
  • Alexander Hamilton killed in a duel with Aaron Burr
  • Louisiana Purchase was completed
  • Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explore the new territory
  • U.S. prohibits importation of slaves from Africa
  • U.S. Embargo Act passed against Britain and France
  • Napoleon abolishes Inquisition in Spain and Italy
  • Robert Fulton’s paddle steamer navigates the Hudson River
  • Men’s pigtails go out of fashion
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born

Obviously tens of thousands of other events were happening, but for me, these reflect a growing country and expansion in all fields.  But don’t stop with national or international events, research local histories to discover what was going on in your ancestor’s neighborhood.

Timelines are critical when understanding an ancestor's lifeClick To Tweet

Links to Help in Your Genealogy Search

  1. Google Books (search for place histories or biographies)
  2. Newspaper Archive  (search historical newspapers)
  3. Your genealogy software probably has a timeline element that will show your ancestors lifespan
  4. Search Google, i.e. “history of england” or “what happened in 1857 Indiana”
  5. This Day in History

If you’re as much a history geek as I am, you may enjoy this lengthy article (PDF)

Presidential Difference in the Early Republic:
The Highly Disparate Leadership Styles of
Washington, Adams, and Jefferson
Princeton University

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  1. I think that timelines are great! I keep intending to create one for the various branches of our family, but have yet to do that. I do have a mental picture of it, but that, obviously, isn’t the best way to keep it. 🙂

    One of the big events in my family’s history was the Long Cane Massacre in South Carolina. You can read some about the massacre here:
    Catherine Montgomery Calhoun was the grandmother of John C. Calhoun (7th vice president of the United States). His grandmother was my 8th great-grandmother. He descended from her son Patrick Calhoun, a patriot in the American revolution. I descended from her son Ezekiel, through his daughter Rebecca, who was married to Andrew Pickens, a Revolutionary war general and patriot. More about Grandpa Pickens here: What I find very interesting is that Grandma Pickens’ grandmother was massacred by the Cherokee, but her husband was a friend to the Indians and did business with them. I wonder often what ran through her mind as her husband traded with the peoples that killed her grandmother only about 5 years before they were married.

    This is such an educational adventure for me. I have always loved history. I love all the more knowing my family’s place in it. But, it always brings out even more questions. More adventures ahead. 🙂

    Thank you for your great posts!.

    1. Suzanne,

      You’ve got enough information here to write an entire book – true stories OR used as a basis for a novel. We definitely share a love of history – for me knowing the history makes it far easier to understand my ancestors’ lives much better. And understanding their lives makes it easier for me to track them down!

      Good luck in your adventures – and I hope to see you writing about this Long Cane event. (By the way, I know exactly what you mean about things changing over time – being killed by Cherokee and then trading with them. Strange world).


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