Friday, December 15, 2006


Timelines can be an interesting way to help people understand their genealogy. In the past year I've come across several interesting efforts to build community sites which use a timeline metaphor. and are two interesting examples. These sites are both focused on building timelines surrounding stories and events happening today and in the very recent past (from a user's own memories). BBC has also done some interesting timelines. Two that I think are extremely interesting from a design perspective are Timeline: Persecution and Genocide Under the Nazis 1933 - 1945 and Kings and Queens Through Time.

One of the focus areas for some prototyping we plan to do in the near future is an effort to allow users to explore timelines of their ancestors that combine a richness of data into an easy to understand format. This is really hard to do. To give you an idea, here is the type of content we'd like to pull together automatically for any random ancestor a user would like to learn about.
  • Genealogical events and associated records for an individual
  • Genealogical events and associated records for an individual's family (parents, siblings, spouse, children)
  • Modern day and historic maps showing the geographic locations of these events (think Google Earth or Google Maps)
  • Historical events that would have impacted people in that place and time
  • Historical events that might not have impacted the person but which have impacted their ancestors
  • Historical texture (fashion, sports, transportation, entertainment, etc.) throughout the ancestor's life

What would you like to see in a timeline like this?

Have you seen any interesting timelines that would be worth looking at before we start?


Anonymous said...

>>> What would you like to see in a timeline like this? <<<

Not sure how you'd find the information, but tidbits that could give ideas of how they lived: When the area got wired for electrical power, city water installed, telephones installed, first local radio station, local TV station, first car, first railroad station, mines open and closed, etc.

Frankly, this is a big enough project to be as big as genealogy in it's own right. Perhaps the best plan would be to create an infrastructure that would allow local historical societies to link in. To do for history what GEDCOM has done for genealogy.

Dan Lawyer said...

I think some of the data sets required could be pulled from sources like wikipedia or Google Maps. Other data could be provide by historical societies as you've suggested. I also think that if done appropriately, users could provide ample content for such an endeavor.

I really like your historical society concept. Great idea.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, the thing I'd like to see is some kind of data schema to allow the computer to match time and location of different files. That way you can compare your file against any other coded database looking for matches. A schema like a Google Earth + date or GIS + date.

This could allow two historical societies to match their data. Allow you to match newspaper stories against your data. You might find out your g-g-grandfather had the farm next to where the Wright Brothers did some of their later flight experiments. Or that the Mormon Handcart pioneers went though your g-grandmother's town. The possibilities seem endless. Ultimately it's going to help, because history is about people. It will allow indexing and matching of non-traditional sources to find out more about one's ancestors.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and another thing this would help with is to find ancestral neighbors. I'm sure I've got some things on my ancestor's neighbors from the letters they've written, but the names alone are not enough to help me match them up with any other researcher. This would be a major help in resolving some mysteries in matching people.

Anonymous said...

Nice (Dutch) use of timelines in genealogical website, for example:

Annie OG said...

This is my greatest need. I spend a lot of time trying to find the historical/social events going on for ancestors at a certain point in history. For instance, why did they suddenly move from one state to another? Land lotteries, oil fields opening? what was going on? I haven't found anything that helpful yet.