Helpful Hints Organizing research Personal History Research

Use Historic Events to Tell Your Story, Write a Chronicle Account Based On Historic Events

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Written by Marge Bitetti

Writing a chronology of your life can help you get organized when you are writing your story. A chronology is a timeline that lists specific dates and events in a logical chronological order.  The best place to start is at the beginning.  As you list events in your life or the life of a relative, you will have a clearer picture of how everyone’s life is intertwined in world history.

Start by making a list of major US or world history events. Perhaps begin listing events by decades; such as 1920s, 1930s. 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s.

The list will help the major events stand out in your mind more clearly. After the major events are listed, then begin to explore how this world event effected your life story or your family’s story. The timeline will also show you what events will be key to your story and what events are not that significant.

How to Start

A good way to do this exercise might be by listing three columns on a sheet of paper.  In one column list the year and the next column list what happened to you or your family members and in the third column list a significant event in world history.  Here is an example:

Date of Event What Happened to You World Event
Dec. 7, 1941 Tom was born Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii. This started the USA in WW2.
Nov.19, 1963 Jane was in high school getting ready for Thanksgiving break President John F. Kennedy was assassinated

Dallas, Texas

Dec. 8, 1980 Mary was Christmas shopping when she heard the news flash on the television set in the department store Singer, peace activist and one of the founding members of The Beatles John Lennon was shot and killed in front of The Dakota Building in Manhattan, New York
September 11, 2001 Joe was driving to work on a Los Angeles freeway The September 11 attacks were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaeda. 2,996 people were killed, and over 6,000 were injured. The terrorist attacks caused close to $3 trillion in property and infrastructure damage.


Doing a timeline gives you a clearer picture of your life or the family member that is the subject for your history.  It also shows the relationship of that person to the world.  It opens up the discussions such as; where were you when Kennedy got shot?  How did you learn about the death of John Lennon?  What do you remember about Pearl Harbor?  How did the news of these events affect you?  Where were you on September 11, 2001? How did the news of the terrorist attacks affect you?


How World History Shaped Your Own Story

Besides relating to these or other historic events when the historic events first took place this also provides a way to include major historic events in your personal timeline.

After major events occurred, did you or your family member visit any of these historic locations? How did it make you feel?  When the location was visited, who was with you? What was their reaction?

Visiting Hallowed Ground

A few years ago I visited Pearl Harbor for the very first time.  I was moved by the stillness and somber mood of the location.  Being a native to Southern California, I have made many trips and visits to the Pacific Ocean; however on my visit to Pearl Harbor the mood was different.  I do not come from a military family so I could not personally relate to the loss or relatives like so many people who lost family members in this war or others. It was the first time that I can recall seeing the ocean as a deep watery grave. The somber stillness of the water made this monument a shrine to lives loss in World War II and reflection on lives lost in other wars. The stillness and sacred setting echoed the grief buried deep in the ocean.

How has the world events touched your own life story?  Do you have similar circumstances that are important in your life? What major events seem to stand out to you as you think about your history, or the life story of your family member?

Why not begin to write the chronology of your life.  You can easily include it as an opening or final chapter in your own personal history.  What has been your place in history?  Your timeline is an excellent family document that can be shared with your loved ones.

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