Since most genealogy software can now generate timelines, I thought it would be fun to dig a little deeper into the current events of my ancestors’ lives.
For example, my great-grandmother, Ella Snow, was born on March 19, 1857. She shares her March 19 birthday with artist of the American West Charles Russell (1864), lawman Wyatt Earp (1848) and orator William Jennings Bryan (1860). Ella’s husband, James Hendrickson, died on her birthday in 1929.
On March 6, not long before Ella’s was born, the US Supreme Court handed down the Dred Scott decision—effectively excluding Blacks from the rights of citizenship under the US Constitution. I bet that was a topic for discussion around the dinner table. And, on Ella’s eighth birthday, Confederate General Joseph Johnston made a last-ditch attempt at the battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, to stop Sherman’s drive through the Carolinas. Clearly, the end of the Civil War was at hand.
During Ella’s lifetime, Queen Victoria ruled England, the Homestead Act opened the west, the Russians sold us Alaska, General Custer was killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn, a hurricane killed 8,000 people in Galveston, Texas, and Wilbur and Orville Wright climbed into their little plane down at Kitty Hawk, NC. Halley’s Comet appeared, the Titanic sank and millions died in a flu epidemic. What history my great-grandmother saw!
As 21st-century genealogists, we need an understanding of the forces that impacted our ancestors’ lives—and how better to do that than by tracking down the current events that would have been their topics of conversation?
To begin building historical timelines for your ancestors, start with these sites:
• This Day In History
• Our Timelines (will generate personalized timelines)
• Today in History
• Anyday in History
• Major Events in World History in the 19th Century
Nancy Hendrickson is a contributing editor for Family Tree Magazine. She also is a family historian, freelance writer and the author of the new book Finding Your Roots Online. Visit her Web site or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org