“Genealogy – I Am Doing It…”: Family Activities in Genealogy and Family History
by James W. Petty, AG, CGRS, BS (Genealogy)

This series of articles “Genealogy – I Am Doing It…” are intended to provide families with activity ideas they can use to introduce genealogy and family history to one another as an interesting and enjoyable family experience.

Everyone who searches for their ancestors’ names in genealogy and family history, hopes to discover new information each time they visit the Family History Library, or go on a research trip. But not every genealogy effort produces fruit. Fruit comes only after weeding, clearing, digging, planting seed, nurturing, and pruning – then comes the harvest and fruit. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaking about our responsibility to do genealogy, states: “You might say that our effort is not to get everyone to do everything, but to get everyone to do something.” (Church News: Mar. 26, 1988). Our goal then is to help you discover the “somethings” you and your family can do, and enjoy it at the same time.

Do you remember time lines? I think everyone who attended elementary school has had to prepare a time line some time in their childhood. Time lines were for telling about a summer vacation, or a trip the family went on. Special time lines were made about your life, all seven or eight years of it, at that point, which were consequently quite short. The purpose of these exercises was to teach children to think about details in an event, and then be able to write about it. You remember the annual assignment… “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” The time line was a simple way to help students think and remember, and communicate that information.

Time lines consisted of a straight line drawn vertically down the middle of a page of pager, or horizontally, lengthwise, across the middle of a page. Marks are then made at regular intervals at which to note events that took place at that point. For instance, on a time line about your life, you would put your birth at the first mark. If you were a girl, you probably illustrated it with a little picture of a baby, wrapped in a lacy pink blanket. If you were a boy, birth was a couple of marks down the line, and the first mark was the War In Heaven, depicted with a drawing of you in full battle gear and a sword or blaster attacking the Forces of Satan! …then you were born. Marks further down the line noted when you got your first doll, or truck; when Dad brought Spot home in a box, the time the family visited Old Faithful, with a drawing of a volcano of steaming water covering your page. Toward the end of the line, was your school picture indicating that you had been thrown in jail…uh…started a new adventure, that would last the rest of your life, if you didn’t die of boredom first. And that was IT! You can see why we don’t make time lines as adults.

Making a time line with your family can really be a fun experience. Tying it in with genealogy will help your family get interested in who their ancestors were, and teach them how they relate to history. There are several ways to do this.

First, the family time line, you and your spouse and children (or whichever person in your family “you” represent). You can start your time line with the birth of you and your spouse, or with your marriage when your family began. You can follow one time line combining everyone’s experiences, or have several lines branch out that illustrate each person in the family. As you can see, this can either require really tiny writing, or very big paper, so you want to be either as brief and as simple as possible, or get a long roll of butcher paper that will give everyone room to add their two bits. Another approach however, is to make a scrapbook, or binder, or compose your record on the family computer. Computer word processing programs, or some genealogy computer programs allow you to combine narrative history with pictures, and even audio to go along with it. I won’t tell you how to do all of that stuff — I don’t do computers, I do genealogy.

If you want to do a scrapbook, or just a binder, I recommend the “line down the middle of the page” method. It looks more interesting than just using the left margin line on lined paper, and looks lopsided if all of the information is off to one side or the other. Use separate pages for each period of time that you illustrate. If a time period was particularly active you can then add pages to represent that time period in more detail.

Illustrate your time line with family photographs or drawings, pictures of awards, or other decorations that relate to special events in your families lives. As an added bonus, include pictures or notations about historical events that had special meaning to you. These could include pictures of a new president after an election; a favorite sporting team winning a championship; the dedication of a temple, an illustration of important church events in your life. This family time line scrapbook or binder can be added to by all members of the family and will become a treasure. Eventually as children marry and move away, each family member will want a copy of the family time line, and it isn’t hard to simply photocopy the pages of your record (even in color), or scan it onto a computer disk, and give every person in the family, their own copy to build on with their own families.

If you can make a Family Time Line, you can also make a Family History Time Line. There are several different ways to approach this idea, and it really is up to your own imagination to figure out how you want to do it with your family. For my example, have a single line chart, but instead of working from the past and bringing it to the present, do it in the other direction. Work from your birth and go back. Again use family pictures to illustrate special dates and events, but add notations, pictures, and other illustrative materials to represent events in church history, American history, and world history. This wa,y as you identify ancestors and place them on your time line, your family will be able to relate them with those famous events that you and your children learn about in school.

For instance, great grandpa may have been born in 1903, the year the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. A picture or notation about the early airplanes might be on the same mark as a picture of great grandpa. An ancestor married in the Salt Lake Temple, might be shown with a reference to the dedication of that temple in 1893. Ancestors born in the 1840’s might be illustrated with information about the arrival of the saints in Utah in 1847, or with the Civil War in 1861. These events are markers in history that we are all familiar with because of our history classes in school, and relating them to the lives of our relatives and ancestors re-enforces our memory of family history.

Time lines are actually a very important tool used by genealogists in their research. Relating ancestors with historical events, teaches us to look for records about those people in relation to the records of those events. Our ancestors then become “people of history”, and we are able to learn new information about them and their families.


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