History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors by Judy Jacobson

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book to review. My opinion is still my own!

Are you just a name, date and place collector or, as a genealogist, would you rather have ancestors of flesh and bone with stories to tell? Most of us would much prefer ancestors who are lifelike, living in their times. Since most of them aren’t here to share their stories in person, family historians need to place them in time and place AND social context to understand their lives and maybe even why life choices were made.

Time lines are an important tool for tracking one individual or even one family through their lifetimes. However, that time line is still just a list of facts.

What brings the ancestors to life is knowledge of the historical and social contexts of their lives. Judy Jacobson’s book, History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors is a new-to-me reference resource that provides historical time lines covering many aspects of the founding and growth of not only the United States as a whole, but also of state history and some limited international time lines that tie into immigration periods in U.S. history.

This book is packed full of historical dates and events. I can’t imagine the research hours that it took compiling all these facts. My favorite parts of the History for Genealogists, though, are the two case studies, short as they are. The first told of a Londoner, born in the 1600s, who emigrated to Massachusetts, built a successful life for himself and then was sentenced to hang. The time line of his life painted a bare bones picture, but when a historical-political time line was superimposed, it brought his story to life.

Reading that, my first reaction was to begin thumbing through the book, checking out the scope of time lines that Jacobson chose to include.

Jacobson begins by outlining a simple method to create a chronology of events. The chapters introduce time lines covering military actions, epidemics, religious activity, slavery laws and migrations, immigration, state by state historical timelines and even a section covering a limited number of international event timelines.

Chapter 8, Social History and Community Genealogy, is a bit different, as touches on ethnic and cultural changes that were created as each new wave of immigrants settled in America.

I love the section on “associations, brotherhoods, societies and unions” as Jacobson includes a list of organizations that our ancestors might have joined – everything from African Blood Brotherhood to Workmen’s Circle and the Grain Dealers Association.

This book is a little known gem with tons of information about political and societal happenings during our ancestors’ lives. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this book on display at any genealogy conference that I’ve attended. If I had seen it, I would have bought it for my reference collection!

I highly recommend this book, but be sure to purchase the Revised Edition with 2016 Addendum. Contact the Genealogical dot com, parent company of Clearfield Company, which published the book, for further information.



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