It's amazing to me that ten years ago, there was no iPhone and no Facebook. These days, it seems, everything has become much more immediate, and much more ephemeral.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately, and Memorial Day last month brought to mind my father's death in the military when I was a baby. That was very long ago, in another century, but it got me to remembering specific events in my life, reminding me that it's time to update the timeline I began several years ago, also in another century.
I learned from Jim Croce that you can't catch time in a bottle. But I also learned that I could create a spreadsheet, indexed by year, starting with the year I was born, and then flesh out my personal history in separate columns for things like the car I drove, where I lived and at what address, what school I was going to and what grade I was in, who in the family died that year, or had a major illness, who my significant other was - you get the idea. An Excel spreadsheet has an almost unlimited number of columns for you to drop in as much information as you require.
When I built my personal timeline, I added things like my wife's age, my kids' ages, which pets we had, where everyone worked, where we vacationed, things like that. And as more and more details accumulated, I began to get a pretty detailed and comprehensive picture of what the year 1982 (for instance) was like.
I have done quite a lot of work on ancestry.com, tracing our family heritage back more than two hundred years, and that has been an exciting process of discovery for me. But the timeline adds flavor and texture to the broader picture that Ancestry can create.
One of the things that always seemed to be lacking when I studied history in school was context. There was always a push (even more so now, I gather) to remember and be tested on discrete names, dates and events, but very little time learning what else was happening simultaneously with these things. I can re-create any specific year of my life now, with all of the detail I've layered into my timeline, and almost feel like I'm reliving it. And every visit and re-creation suggests more details.
I'm not planning to write an autobiography, but if I ever did, my timeline would be a great place to begin.