Using Timeline Technologies in your Family History Research

If you were lucky enough to catch some of the workshops at Who Do You Think You Are? Live last week, Ron Arons spoke about ‘Technologies for Timelines’. It was a great presentation and we’re delighted that Ron agreed to do a guest blog post for us!

Twile and Mind Maps: Two excellent choices for building genealogical timelines, Ron Arons.


When it comes to Timelines, there are many technologies that fit the bill; I can tell you about two dozen different products and services which come in all shapes, sizes and prices. The good/bad news is that there are so many options. It can be confusing to decide which one(s) to use.

The really good news is that you don’t have to select just one approach, even if you are under a limited budget.

One way of deciding among the many choices is to consider how you want to use a timeline.

  • Do you want to create a beautiful report for yourself and others to show off what you have discovered as a result of all of your research efforts?


  • Do you want to use a timeline for analysis purposes?

The really good news is that there are products and services which fall into each category.

Twile’s product/service falls into the first category. It is a unique product in that it allows you to build visually stunning timelines with superior graphics, including images (think family photographs, etc.)  The Twile folks make it easy to add family members to the timeline, whether you type information in directly or, better yet, import a GEDCOM (industry standard genealogy database) file. While relatively new to the market, Twile’s product is very capable and I know that they have great plans for the future with feature enhancements, e.g. video, on the drawing boards.


By contrast, a mind map is a different animal altogether. The notion of mind maps has been around for centuries and software programs to create them have been around for nearly twenty years. Mind maps are used in companies of all sizes for brainstorming and creative thinking. In the education field, teachers use them with their students. Attorneys use them to layout their cases both for their clients as well as for juries. Writers use mind maps to plan their stories.

If you are a visual (or non-linear thinking person and have never tried them, you should really give them a shot.

Mind maps are radial outlines that start with a central theme or concept, e.g. a person or a question. From the centre, you expand the mind map with several branches. Each branch can be expanded with more specific details in sub-branches, sub-sub branches, etc. For example, the following mind map provides information about my great-grandfather, a criminal and consummate liar.

Isaac Spier1iMindMap

Better yet, you can make connections across the map using connector arrows/lines. It is this latter capability that I found so useful in my own personal research to help analyze two very difficult problems that haunted me for more than fifteen years.

The themes for my various mind maps were individuals. I created a first level of branches which represented the many different genealogical documents that I found for that individual (or other related individuals). I then organized the documents in clockwise, chronological order, effectively creating a timeline. Next, I populated sub-branches with details of each document. Finally, I used connector arrows of different colors to connect specific “facts” I saw in common across the various documents. I found that this approach “lit up” my brain, allowing me to “see” things that would have been much more difficult to notice and comprehend if I just looked at the original documents, comparing two at a time. You can see an example of a timeline mind map (without connector arrows) about my great-grandfather on my website here:

So, you CAN have your cake and eat it, too!

You can use mind maps to help with the analysis portion of your research and a great product like Twile’s to spruce it up and make it look pretty to share with your relatives.

Regardless of which direction you take, I wish you the very best of success with your family history research. Happy hunting!

Ron Arons, lives in Oakland, California and  is a veteran genealogist, speaker, and author’
Ron Arons, lives in Oakland, California and is a veteran genealogist, speaker, and author.

We’d like to thank Ron for this insightful blog post. If you like this mind map approach to timelines, consider Ron’s book, Mind Maps for Genealogy, which discusses using mind maps for timelines, using the Genealogical Proof Standard, and implementing the FAN (friends, associates and neighbours) technique (also known as “cluster” research).

Making the Most of a Genealogy Conference

We are really looking forward to Who do You Think You Are? Live!,  the Worlds largest family history show opening on April 7th 2016. This year is the show’s 10th year – so it is going to be the biggest and best show yet and it is now approaching fast! We asked the lovely Tami Osmer Mize from to give us some helpful tips on how to make the most of the event!

Tami recommends that you ask yourself the following questions: 

1. How are you going to get there?

There is never enough time in a genealogy day, so make sure you don’t waste a minute of it with mundane details, starting with your trip. Plan your transportation to and from the event. If you’re taking public transport, determine which stop will put you closest to the registration area of the venue. If you’re driving yourself, map out your route and know ahead of time what and where your parking options are.

2. Where do you want to spend your time?

Waiting in lines? Looking through schedules? Trying to locate certain classrooms or vendors? Don’t spend your precious conference-day time with tasks that can easily be done well ahead of the event. Take advantage of all of the conference information available on-line, from pre-registration and class schedules, to maps of the venue classrooms and vendor halls.

  • Review, print, and highlight the schedule of events and classes that you’d like to attend. Check to see if any of the particular events you’re considering will be video-taped and available to watch later. If so, consider skipping those and attending another instead.
  • Print out venue floor layouts and highlight the rooms for the events you’re interested in. Consider numbering the locations in order of the classes, so that you know how much time you have in between. You might have time to peruse the vendor hall, or you might have to sprint across the entire convention facility to make the next class!
  • On your floorplans, highlight the restrooms and refreshment/food areas. Do be sure to take some snacks and a water bottle with you, but often the food areas offer a generous seating area if you just want to rest your feet for a few minutes. (Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes!)

3. What do you need to bring?

As little as possible. Pack your conference bag with only absolute necessities. You’ll probably be taking in much more information than you will need to give out, and with all of the walking you’re likely to be doing, you’ll appreciate having as light a load as possible.

  •  If you use electronic devices (i.e. laptop, tablet, phone) put your family tree in an easily accessible digital format such as Twile, rather than lugging around your cumbersome paper research notebooks. Just don’t forget your device chargers!
  • Be sure to bring business cards or name & address labels to be able to easily enter drawings or exchange information with new acquaintances. Reserve a pocket in your conference bag just for collecting cards from other people and businesses as well.
  • Use your phone’s camera as much as possible. Take photos to remember the event, but also to remember interesting products and booths that you find, or new friends that you meet. A picture is worth a thousand words, and often makes it easier to remember just why you thought that vendor was so special. Be considerate in classes, though, and do not photograph the presentation slides unless the speaker gives express permission to do so. Chances are good that they are available in the syllabus, either printed or on-line already anyway.

4. What do you want to discover?

Chances are good that you’ve got a genealogy question you’re looking to answer. Or maybe two. Or maybe twenty. Write them down. Be specific. When asking questions in a class, networking with others, or just meeting new people, be considerate of their time by being as succinct and direct as possible. Consider the bare minimum of information needed when asking a question – your family history is absolutely fascinating… to your family. Genealogists do appreciate others’ stories and are generally always eager to help answer questions, but most anyone starts to nod off when your question about locating your grandmother’s birth certificate starts five generations back.

However, while you may think you’re going to a genealogy conference, workshop or event to gain insights and information for your personal research, I guarantee that your best takeaway will be the people you meet and the new friendships you make. Introduce yourself to everyone: Talk to vendors, the people in line for lunch with you, the person in the seat next to you, the guy in the elevator… everyone! Genealogists are friendly, helpful, kind and sharing folks for the most part. Perhaps it’s because they realize that you might be a new cousin. But whatever the reason, take names, share your contact information, and add folks to your social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and your conference fun and education will continue long after the day is over.

We asked Tami, What are you packing in your own conference bag?

  • I will have electronic devices and chargers, a small tablet, a pen, business cards, snacks, a water bottle, aspirin, ID and money. I guarantee you, though, that by the end of the day it’s crammed full of handouts, giveaways, purchases, and more!

To find the next genealogy event in your area, check the calendar and location pages at, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter (#confkeep) for regular updates on genealogy conferences, workshops, seminars, contests and more.

We were delighted to meet Tami (Centre) at RootsTech 2016.
We were delighted to meet Tami (Centre) at RootsTech 2016.

Tami Osmer Mize has been attending genealogy events for the past 10 years, as attendee, presenter, and vendor.

Currently as half of the team, she shares her passion for genealogy events with others by continually updating the website and social media outlets with genealogy and family history-related event information. We’d like to thank Tami for her advice!