We have all heard the saying that timing is everything. In many ways it is. Even Family Tree Maker (FTM), which is the genealogy software I use, recognizes this with their timeline feature. There are different ways to access an ancestor’s timeline in FTM, but I prefer to view the timeline as a report. To do this, select the ancestor you are interested in, then go to the Publish workspace. (Just a note before I give further directions, I use FTM 2012.) Once in the Publish workspace, select the Person Reports, then Timeline Report. Once you have selected this feature and create a report, you can select various types of information to include on the report. Selecting family and historical events for inclusion in your report can greatly aid your research, especially if you are just getting started. Noticing that your ancestor lived during a particular war and was of age for participation in it could trigger you to start researching particular military records. A post at the Family Tree Maker User blog gives a good example regarding the usefulness of including the family events. You can find that blog post at http://ftmuser.blogspot.com/2012/05/ftm2012.html?m=1.
Alas, timing is not everything. As realtors often vehemently state…Location! Location! Location!
Knowing where significant events in your ancestor’s timeline took place is key to directing your research. Although the timeline report states the location with events, it does not give you a visual representation. When I first started researching, I was unfamiliar with many towns in states from where my ancestors hailed. Knowing what part of a state a town is in can help you better understand your ancestor. Seeing the various places they resided or passed through will help you hone in on where to look for records. To see this, I use the Places workspace of FTM 2012. Once in that workspace, I select Person in the drop down box labeled “List by.” I choose the person I am interested in, then select the events I want to map. As long as you keep in mind what states and counties you are actually looking at, based on the time that the particular events occurred, this will greatly help direct your search for records in the likely locations once you get a visual perspective of your ancestor’s travels.