The stories we write to annotate our scrapbooks and family trees might be timeless, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t benefit from the addition of a date or two. Genealogists in particular love dates, with good reason. It’s not simply the fact that they eliminate the blank spots on our cascading pedigree charts—they also give us historical perspective.
Awareness of the time periods in which ancestors lived can fill in details between the bare facts provided by comparatively bland church, military, and government records.
However, genealogists are not the only ones that benefit from the inclusion of dates. Writers of both fiction and non-fiction use historical perspective to give their readers insight into characters lives, allowing readers to infer or “fill in” details based on the circumstances of time and place.
When writing about the past, time can be as important as place in providing a setting. For instance, my husband’s grandfather was a linesman for the telephone company. Without any historical context, you’d imagine him to be like linesmen you see working today. However, with the additional information that he was a linesman in the 1920’s, your imagination takes a different turn. You might see him more as he perhaps saw himself—a trailblazer, making the way for the inevitable progress of technology.
Including even a brief amount of historical context not only helps orient your reader, but also lends a deeper understanding of why events may have happened as they did.
You might not remember exactly what year something took place, but by adding such information as “when the twins were still in diapers,” or “back before cell-phones, when you could actually find a working public phone,” you’ve given your readers a wealth of additional information on which they can base their visual images.
(c) Laura Hedgecock.