Friday, March 06, 2009

Putting History in Perspective

The kids have a great-great grandmother (my mother’s grandmother) who was born seven days after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. My son looked her up in our timeline book, a family project we have been assembling, off and on, for the past two or three years.

Of all the projects we have embarked on over the years, our timeline book has been one of the most enjoyable, as well as one we reference again and again. There have been times when we have actively and aggressively added pages to our book and times when it sits on the shelf for months, untouched. A question will come up that makes us want to put whatever history we are studying into perspective, so we’ll pull out our timeline book and see what our family members were doing at that time or just try to connect an event of current interest to its place in time with something we’ve talked about in the past.

Genealogy wasn’t originally part of our book, but it is the addition that I have found the most helpful. Last year we sat down and combed all the family records we have, inserting a page for each grandparent listing birth date and location, as well as which branch of the tree they are from. On my husband’s maternal grandmother’s side, the kids can trace their roots to a man named Robert Stockton born in North Ireland in 1688.

Family pages now make up almost more of the book than other historical facts and incidents. It has been especially interesting during our recent review of the founding fathers to see where our relatives resided and take a guess at what they might have seen, for instance, during the War for Independence.

Other pages have been added as we explore topics of interest, read books, or watch movies. We have pages for people (Abraham Lincoln, Henry VIII, King Tut) and events (the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, Edison’s demonstration of the light bulb at Menlo Park, and the legendary founding of Rome).

If you are looking for a project that the whole family can be involved in, a personalized timeline book is as fun as it is useful. More importantly, it can grow with your family year after year.

Make Your Own Timeline Book

All you need is a large 3-ring binder, some tabbed dividers, and a three-hole punch.

We started by marking the divider pages with the following designations:

  • 2000s

  • 1900s

  • 1800s

  • 1600s

  • 1500s

  • 1000s

  • 500s

  • 0

  • 1000 BC

  • 2000 BC

  • 5000 BC

  • 10,000

  • 100,000

From there you can treat your timeline book like a scrapbook. Sometimes we clip articles we read in magazines. Sometimes we make notes on a page summarizing an event or a person we find interesting. Often we add pages as we go, and sometimes we’ll sit down after we’ve neglected the book for a period of time and brainstorm all the topics we can think about that we should enter. Many of our entries have related photos, and many are just text.

What goes into your timeline book will be a unique record of your family’s interests. Have fun with it, and watch your very own book grow in time.


A look at Some Pages from our Timeline Book

Most Recent: Birth of my son in November 2000 (I expect that to change soon as I hear the kids talk frequently about recent events that deserve pages in our book).

Oldest: Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia 200,000 to 27,000 years ago.

Ancient Egypt: The oldest pyramid is the step pyramid in Saqqara built around 2630 BC. It was built by Imhotep for King Djoser.

Famous Names: 5xGreat Grandfather George Washington Bell was born in 1770.

2xGreat Grandfather Benjamin Franklin Million was born in Indiana in 1865.

Not so long ago: June 12, 1929, Anne Frank was born. The next page in our book is the page with the kids’ grandfather (my father). He was born only 5 years after Anne Frank.

So long ago: 1984 – the kids have pasted a picture of the original Apple Macintosh computer.

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