Adding historical events to your ancestor’s time

Now that the timeline of personal information such as births, marriages, deaths,military service, job history and family moves has been created, it is time to look for external events to add to the timeline. Wars, major historical events at both the national and local level, and disasters and epidemics are all examples of external events.

Let’s start with historical events.There are several websites you can use that will help generate this list. Also use your own knowledge to add historical events to the timeline. This is one website that I like: Let’s look what was going on during Levi’s lifetime (1820-1910). The generated list is very long. You can go here to see the entire list. Timeline for Levi Savage for historical events

Below I have listed the events that may have either directly or indirectly affected Levi or his family. As with any information pulled from the internet, the dates listed below need to be backed up by other sources.

1817-1823: cholera epidemic
1824: Erie canal completed
1828: 1st railroad in US
1829-1851: cholera pandemic
1830: Mormon church founded
1837: Michigan enters the Union
1837: Depression and panic-inflation & speculation
1846-1848: Mexican-American War
1850: Utah organized as a territory
1852-1859: cholera epidemic
1861-1865: Civil War
1862: US Homestead Act
1869: Trans-continental railroad completed
1873: Color photographs invented
1885: Automobile invented
1893-1897: Financial panic & depression
1893: Movies invented
1896: Utah admitted to Union as a state
1903: Airplane invented

Other interesting tidbits
1821: US population reaches 9.2 million
1828: 1st Webster’s dictionary
1850: US population reaches 23 million

Whenever you are thinking about your ancestor, you should be asking yourself questions. Did anyone in Levi’s family contract cholera? Do any color photographs exist of Levi and his family? Did he own a car, or did he ride in one that may have been owned by his children? How was he affected by the financial crises? I hope to be able to answer some of these questions in my research.

Let’s look briefly at some important events during Thomas Sumner’s life. The full list can be found here. Timeline for Thomas Sumner of historical events

1231-1808: Papal inquisition
1736: English statutes against witchcraft repealed
1752: Britain and its colonies adopt Gregorian calendar
1754-1763: French and Indian War
1770: Boston Massacre
1773: Boston Tea Party
1774: 1st Continental Congress meets
1775-1783: Revolutionary War
1786: The dollar is adopted
1788: US Constitution goes into effect
1812-1814: War of 1812
1824: Erie Canal complete

This timeline seems to focus more on the US and selected European events. Since he was living in Canada for about the last 50 years of his life (I think), I should find a timeline for Canada and add that.

Notice that during his lifetime the Inquisition was ongoing. It was starting to abate during the 18th century, but was not abolished until 1808. Also note that convictions for witchcraft were still possible until shortly after his birth. This is a reminder that he was born in a time when more enlightened and progressive ideals were coming about, but that much superstition still existed.

See here for more information about the history of the Inquisition.

5 thoughts on “Adding historical events to your ancestor’s time

  1. I totally agree with your comments about the importance of local history, and forgot to mention that a future post down the road would cover local history. Thank you for bringing this up now.
    Lori Lyn (Bridging the Past)

  2. Lori, so glad you are doing a blog about this! Setting my ancestors in their sociohistorical context is what makes doing genealogy so exciting to me. Including national and local events of importance on an ancestor’s timeline is such a great way of immediately setting that context. I haven’t tended to use timelines in this way but you can bet I’m going to now.

  3. Phantastic subject and right up my alley! The theme of most of the genealogy classes and lectures I present is “Pulling the People out of the Paper” which, of course, forces a look at the historical context. For example, I’ve been looking forward to the year 2013 as I have a diary kept by my grandfather as he worked on the Grand Truck Pacific Railway in Western Canada in 1913. He “blogged” every single day and it’s my goal to transcribe his words every single day!
    I include some photos that came to me taken during the course of the construction. Take a look at While I follow “Bridging the Past”, you can follow my grandfather as he works his way from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Prince Rupert, British Columbia

  4. This is exactly what I have done in a local way. National events are always interesting to read about but what was going on in the town or village where my ancestors were living? This can be really fascinating as our ancestors would have actually been present when a Church was being renovated, a Post-Office was built or a major disaster was going on. By reading about such local events in local newspapers, we may even find details of our ancestors’ involvement! Who knows?

    My own interest is in Norfolk, England, but the way I go about researching local history can be used anywhere.

    Don’t forget, if your ancestor lived in a town or village for any time, he/she was part of local history. Some of my ancestors have lived in the same village since the C16th, they are local history. Local History and Family History are just about the same thing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s