ScrapMoir #29 How-To: Timeline Resources for Scrapbooking and Writing Memoir

by Bettyann Schmidt on April 21, 2011

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #87 – Women’s Memoir Writing, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

by Bettyann Schmidt

To give the gift of your story, you need to understand dramatic structure and how to apply it to your life. Why dramatic structure? Because dramatic structure is the essence of myth, and through it you bring the mythic into ordinary, temporal life.~Tristine Rainer, Your Life as Story

A Timeline River

Timelines are popular additions to family history stories, and a great many of them are available for writers to use. The past week I’ve been researching and using timelines for recording historical events to go along with the structure of my family memoir. A golden nugget surfaced when I stumbled across the following:

…Form, Structure, and Plot
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn consists of 43 chapters and is told in the first person with Huck Finn telling the story. The book divides into three sections. The first sections has Huck living [with] Miss Watson and her sister in civilization. During the second section, Huck travels down the river with Jim. In the last section, Huck returns to civilization and lives with Tom in Uncle Silas’ farm. An organizational object in the book is the river which serves as a timeline for the book.
~ From

Mart Twain, aka Samuel Clements, used something from his books as “an organizational object,” a timeline.

Lisa Dale Norton also uses the object of a river in Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir. Her river appears in the “mountain-top experience” section, where she has her readers envision themselves standing while they look down upon the winding river of their lives with its inlets, curves, and bends.

It seemed natural that adding events in the greater world along my river banks would add structure, thereby giving an important “story” element to my writing. After all, if my story is not interesting, my family will probably not read it. If my own family doesn’t read it, who will?

A River of Resources

I want to offer you some of the free resources I’ve uncovered this week for recording world history to stand alongside my ancestors’ life stories.

The first, and a fun one to play with, is an interactive timeline I found on Cyndi’s List, one of the most known and used online genealogical sites on the web. Among the many resources she lists, Our Timelines is one I liked.  This gadget allows you to insert your own family events alongside real history and either see it online or print it. I actually copied the data the site generated for me and pasted it into my book manuscript.

Below is a portion of the timeline I created for my great great grandfather, Valentine Wehrle, beginning with his birth in Baden, Germany. I liked the idea of listing events taking place in Germany together with events taking place here in the U.S., and especially my hometown, where the Wehrle Family finally settled.

For Valentine Wehrle
1829 to 1914

1829: Born in Baden, Germany /U.S. Inauguration of President Andrew Jackson

1833 U.S. National Road transports families in covered wagons over Allegheny Mountains, “America’s first gateway to the West and a pathway for dreams.”

1845 Erie Canal finished in Cincinnati, running to and from Toledo.

1847 Newspapers report 6,000 Germans immigrating at ports of Breman, Harve and Antwerp.

1848 Baden part of uprisings throughout German states in spite of liberal reforms

On February 27, 1848, in Mannheim, Baden adopts a resolution demanding a bill of rights. Similar resolutions were adopted in other German states.

The March Revolution in Vienna caused uprising throughout all of Germany.

The continuing revolutionary upsurge in Baden causes fear within Baden government, which then began to increase the size of its own army and to seek assistance from neighboring states.

Baden government arrests Joseph Fickler, a journalist, and the leader of the Baden democrats.

Apr. 12, 1848 Full-scale German uprising breaks out.

Apr. 20, 1848 The “Hecker Uprising.” Baden government suppresses revolutionary forces led by Friedrich Hecker with aid of federal troops.

Aug. 1949 Prussian troops crush German uprising

1853 Wife, Maria, arrives in New York on ship “Amelia,” having boarded at La Havre, France

1855 Findlay Public Market House built in Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine.

1865 American Civil War Ends

Apr. 3, 1866 Cincinnati’s Pike Opera House Fire, which burns an entire city block

Jan. 18, 1937 Cincinnati Great Flood, leaving 100,100 homeless.

This next resource is probably my favorite, and not only did I add a lot of content to my story by using it, I got hooked in the process.

Eyewitness to History is an interactive site which lists some of the most interesting first-person accounts of world history. A menu is supplied for choosing an era or topic of interest. The first story I read was that of a minister, or chaplain, being aboard a slave ship as it was stopped while crossing the Atlantic, after U.S. and British laws passed against slave-trade.

The story was horrifying to read, though I already knew the particulars…or thought I did. I couldn’t put the story aside, however, as the telling of it was masterful. The author painted in my mind the very pictures he described.

What I like best about the Eyewitness to History site is the richness of the stories that I can impart with feeling into my own writing. Any copy I use, I’ve footnoted and documented, but just reading the stories begins to give you descriptive words of your own to use in your writing.


Microsoft has a Word Timelife Template, shown below, which was surprisingly simple to create.  However, it wasn’t as easy to copy here, and I could only change my timeline into a PDF which looks wonderful in my book. 

word timeline

Below is my Timeline in the form I was able to get it to copy here.  The above template is as it looks in my book. I’m still working on this timeline, and it will probably span several pages in the book.  This is just a sample I quickly created for this week’s blog post.

 BettyAnn [Dean] Schmidt

memoir writing, memoir, journaling, scrapbooking is a wonderful site with a broader area of topics from which to choose for your chronology historic events.  I used this timeline to add detail not found elsewhere.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, scrapbooking, writing, autobiography

That’s it for this week. I’m back to working on my memoir. In the meantime, I hope you’ll download a free copy of my e-book here on Women’s Memoirs: ScrapMoir: 7 Steps to Combining Your Photos, Your Memories, Your Stories. You can sign up for this informative e-book near the top of the right column on this page, or, click here.

Bettyann Schmidt

Be sure to join me on my blog, CraftWriter’s Journal

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