Tracking Your Past

Doris Green

On July 4, 1852, 5-year-old Per August Peterson landed in Boston with his family during Independence Day celebrations. The boy went ashore with his father and other immigrants. When they stopped at a saloon, the young Per August, curious about the celebrating throngs, went out to the street to explore. He became lost, could not find the ship in the harbor, and began to cry. Finally, his father found him. P.A. would grow up to become Rockford, Illinois’ father of industry.

National and global events can provide context; they can put a frame around ancestor stories. Just ask my friend who discovered her ancestor became a naturalized citizen in October 1860 — in time to vote for Abraham Lincoln. A war, famine or plague may help explain the timing of an immigration, a marriage or other key decision. National, community and family history intertwine to create the stories that bring genealogy to life.

Once you have a general timeline of an ancestor’s birth, death, residences or other basics, you can build their story by incorporating information from a variety of available timelines. A free web resource, www.OurTimeLines.com, enables users to combine personal and U.S. timelines, as well as identify famous people with the same birthdays. When I plugged in my father’s name, birth and death years, the site generated a broader national timeline. Sound came to movie theaters when Dad was 12. Penicillin was discovered when he was 14. Herbert Hoover shared my father’s Aug. 10 birthday.

Type https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_United_States to see timelines of periods encompassing political, economic, scientific and social history. For more U.S. timelines, check out https://americasbesthistory.com/ and https://www.infoplease.com/history/us

The Wisconsin Historical Society offers timelines of state history from 1622 to 1999, plus benchmarks along the road to Wisconsin women voting, Great Lakes shipping, executions and other news over the centuries. There’s even a coffee mug for purchase featuring key dates in women’s suffrage. Visit www.wisconsinhistory.org and search for “timeline of Wisconsin history.”

Google searches can yield other sources. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (www.dhs.wisconsin.gov) offers a history of American Indians in the state, and the Swiss Historical Village (www.swisshistoricalvillage.org) provides a New Glarus History/Timeline. Old issues of community newspapers can contribute news of local elections and other events that might have impacted your ancestors’ lives. Chances are you can find timelines to illuminate your family’s history, regardless of when they arrived in the Driftless Region. 

Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines, and Tunnels.” Now available: “Minnesota Underground: A Guide to Caves & Karst, Mines & Tunnels” co-authored Greg Brick. Contact http://henschelhausbooks.com, Amazon or your bookstore.