Jumpstart Telling Your Story: Creating a Timeline

Jumpstart Telling Your Story: Creating a Timeline 1024 576 Reader Views

by JoAnn Vega, Award Winning Author and Memoirist

You’ve gathered and reviewed mementoes of your ancestry to get an overall picture of you and your family through the years. (See my previous blog at: https://www.readerviews.com/jumpstart-telling-your-story-getting-started/ ) Gathering, reviewing, and sorting through the material unlocked memories and likely produced some Aha! moments.  Additional memories, fleeting thoughts, and perhaps surprising emotions occurred spontaneously as you went about your daily activities. You took the time to jot down observations, insights, and questions into your notebook. Maybe you shared your efforts with family, friends, and associates. Now what?

Create a timeline

Do what any good detective or investigator would: Create a timeline to:

  • Visualize and condense a large volume of information.
  • Add new information in a convenient and simple format.
  • Maintain momentum without all the effort/tedium of writing it all out.
  • Spot patterns, see what’s missing, and where there’s lots of notations.

If you are looking for examples, turn on any detective show and notice the large white board or bulletin board covered with dates, times, photos, documents, notations, and lines drawn depicting relationships that takes shape as the investigation reveals clues and unearths evidence. Then notice how often the LEAD DETECTIVE STEPS BACK TO TAKE IN THE WHOLE AND STARES INTENTLY FOR MINUTES, then moves slowly away, still thinking or quickly as a NEW REVEALING INSIGHT, CONNECTION, LEAD,  or AHA! MOMENT quickens their step. Use your own preferences/style to create your timeline. A hint: Purchase a pad of large newsprint or a poster board at your local Dollar Store.

Organize your timeline

Post the large newsprint or poster board in your room or sanctuary so you can SEE IT AND CONTINUE TO PRIME THE PUMP and further your investigation into you. Organize by decade and start with the first decade, ages 0-10 and the years the decade represents. Identify when, where, and to whom you were born. Include your birth order, family events, favorite television shows, and activities. Describe your home, dinner time, holidays and celebrations, relatives, friends, siblings, first love, and so on. Jump around the timeline as thoughts occur.

Jot down phrases; do not attempt to write out all the material or to edit. Starting the timeline is like the creative problem technique called brainstorming. The purpose of brainstorming is to generate ideas before evaluating them and cutting off further options; in this instance to unlock memory. I went to a Roman Catholic School from first through fifth grades, then we moved to the suburbs, and I continued in public schools. During my first decade I wrote St. Adalbert’s, the first day of school, making a list for my First Confession, winning the Spelling Bee, and the incident in my older brother’s classroom.

Periodically review and update your timeline

When I took a step back from my growing timeline, it was evident there were numerous entries from my early years, less from my second decade, and little about how my immigrant forebears experienced immigrating to the US in the early years of the 20th century. The gaps in my background and the research that I needed to conduct became more obvious. I also began to zero in on the impact my first decade in the cocoon of my extended family had on me before we relocated from the city to the suburbs. The glimmers of my narrative arc began to take shape.

Building and using a timeline, your source document, is a process and learning experience. You want to capture and store your insights, observations, questions, and memories as you review and update, look it over for repeated themes, select anecdotes, share with others, and discover or reacquaint yourself with you!  

All the best to you on your journey!


Jo-Ann Vega is a published author and dynamic speaker with 30 years of experience designing, presenting, and evaluating learning programs for academic, business, and community groups. She has twenty years of experience as an adjunct, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on management and leadership. She wrote a column on career management for EEO Bimonthly, a national magazine, for five years. She is the author of “Navigating the New Job Market”; and co-author of “Workforce 2000: A Challenge for Business & Education.”

She has 10 years of experience delivering ancestry and history programs as part of a University Lifelong Learning Institute and to community members. She incorporated what she learned about history and the Italian character into her memoir. She inaugurated a Celebrating Italian Americans Series program at a local library two years ago.

Recent publications include “Wolf Woman & Other Poems [2022];” “Moments in Flight: A Memoir [2021].” “Lifewriting essays, Serendipity, and Empathy in the Time of Covid [Volume 21 and Volume 22 of Story Circle Network’s Annual Real Women Write Anthology, 2021-2022].” Several poems published: “Musings,” “Then & Now,” “Awaken,” and “In Remembrance.” “Awaken,” a poem, was published September 2023 in “Wild Crone Wisdom, Poetry and Stories,” by Wild Librarian Press.

Jo-Ann Vega lives with her life partner and canine companion.

I invite readers to visit my author websites 
www.outskirtspress.com/wolfwoman and www.outskirtspress.com/momentsinflight
and send queries to mezzo148st@gmail.com

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