Since I published the book, I’ve had numerous requests for information on how I prepared. Writing a family history book, especially one that is narrative, required research and ways to analyze the information found.
I spent over two years researching the book. I gathered my main character’s information, reviewed what I already had, and searched for her FAN Club (her friends, associates, and neighbors). Still, making a timeline was one of the most essential parts of this research. It included dates, events, places, and occupations.
In the end, I had several different timelines: one for the family (dates of births, religious dates, marriages, deaths, etc.), one for local events (Monticello & Jefferson County), one for state events (Florida), and one for national. There were two more for the Civil War and for the Second Seminole Indian War. I added nothing to a timeline without a good reference, and I immediately added the reference to my bibliography.
I used timelines to illustrate how things changed over time and to draw connections between the people and events. I also used them to check my work, especially the chronological events. Sometimes, it helped me add more dialogue since it is obvious the residents of a town would converse about important changes happening to them.
My timelines brought together elements of my character’s history, the people they may have known, the places they may have frequented, and the events that might have brought them to town.
The timelines were formatted with bullets for the dates and events. Sometimes, it was for a full date and sometimes only a year was given.
I eventually did a spreadsheet for the Civil War, showing the men from the family who fought in it, their units, and the places they fought. I could add a line anytime I needed, and I could sort the date, event, or place. This was especially helpful. I added their regiments and companies and could sort them according to such. This way, I could see them as a unit for questions like who else served with them, who was wounded in a particular battle, and who didn’t return home.
Initially, I didn’t cite sources for the individual events within the timelines, but I realized later I should have. It would have made it easier for me to check a reference when I noticed that the order of some events was duplicated. For example, I discovered conflicting dates for events in the Indian and Civil Wars. They conflicted because people’s memories aren’t always the same. A person’s diary written on the spot is better than a person’s memoir, especially when that person’s memoir was written fifty years after the event.