Auto-Creation of Timeline Files

The following article was originally written for the newsletter of TMG News, Volume 2, Number 2, Autumn 1995.  At the time it would apply to TMG/DOS v1.x.  While TMG has had numerous changes over the past eleven years, the essentials of the article remain the same.  Some of the details have changed and I have updated the article for TMG v4.x to that extent.   Note: The principles in the updated article below is still valid although some details may be different for TMG v5.x and TMG v6.x.  For a version of the article written for TMG v5.x, v6.x and v7.x, click here.

Creating a Timeline File

A timeline can be instrumental in helping your genealogy research. TMG allows you to create new timeline files as you wish using your own data. However, you must create the file and enter each timeline date and event one at a time. This may be alright for information such as county and state formations; but for data that you have already entered in your dataset, you hate to enter it through your keyboard all over again.

Take heart, a custom timeline can be created from your own dataset and used to see who else in your ancestry (both direct and indirect) was doing what at the same time. The custom timeline can be as simple or as complex and can include or exclude as much or as little as you wish. Naturally, the more you include in the timeline, the more work it will involve. On the other hand, it may provide that extra research tool that may help you find that elusive piece of information you need.

There are three major parts to the procedure. The first part requires the creation of a List of Events (LOE) file based on the criteria you select from TMG. Part two uses an editor to re-arrange the report file. Part three creates the actual timeline files (there are three files for each timeline).  The following process combines part one and a portion of part two and also combines the remainder of part two and part three.

1. Generating the List of Events (LOE) report is the easiest part. You may already have done many this times; but with output going to your printer and/or in a different sequence. I wanted a timeline of all Hoffman births, so I created one this way:

2. After the file has been generated, it must be edited to convert it to the proper format for use as input to your favorite xBase language. You can use any editor for this step. The TMG editor, and the Windows NOTEPAD editor are two possibilities. You may use your favorite word processor if it will not embed 'print formatting' codes in the file (e.g., you must save the file as text only).  Be sure that your editor will work with the size file that you have.  Some older versions of NOTEPAD will not handle large files.

The input to your database manager will need to be a file with four "columns" of data:
        Data                    Data           Data      Decimal
     Column    Data     Type           Length    Places
        ----     --------   -------       -------   ---------
        1.          Year     Numeric           4              0
        2.          Month  Numeric           2              0
        3.          Day      Numeric           2              0
        4.          Event   Character      160              -
The data length in column four should be adjusted to the length of the longest amount of data in the event field that you will have.

Below are some sample data lines as they might appear in the LOE file as generated by TMG using the criteria shown above in step 1:
T,"1821","06","25","Birth","(Judge) John Stringer HOFFMAN"
T,"1758","00","00","Birth","James HOFFMAN"
T,"1712","09","22","Birth","Hans Henrich HUFFMAN"

Note that this data appears to have six fields or columns and must be edited for input to your database management program so that it would appear something like:
1821,06,25,"Birth of (Judge) John Stringer HOFFMAN"
1758,00,00,"Birth of James HOFFMAN"
1712,09,22,"Birth of Hans Henrich HUFFMAN"

Thus the data now appears as four fields or columns for each record.  The "T," at the beginning of each line has been removed as well as the quotation marks around the date information.  The "T" is not needed and the removal of the quotation marks helps your database manager to recognize that the date information is numerical and not alphabetic.

Because the information in the Event field of a timeline is often in a sentence format or partial sentence format, you need to edit the text information into a single "field" or "column" into a clause or sentence of sorts to better explain the event. Note that I removed all quotation marks except for those at the beginning and end of the sentence or clause. Insofar as the sentence is concerned, you may or may not wish to take the pains to create sentences that are grammatically correct. This all depends of your intended use of the timeline. If the timeline is one that you might wish to share with others, you might want to take more time and create grammatically correct sentences or phrases. On the other hand, if you just want something quick and dirty just for your own use, you might just remove the extra quotation marks leaving only the ones at the beginning and end of the Event field.

Remember at this point that you must have three fields for your date information, and in the order specified. So if you generated the date with Date(thin), you must edit the data accordingly. You may also need to remove other commas within the sentence depending on your database management program and the information that appears in your LOE file.

3. After editing the file, go into your favorite xBase database manager, create the final files, and import the edited file into it. While each XBase database management is slightly different, many will produce a dBase III compatible file. I used FoxPro v2.6 to create the files as follows:

At this point you will have created four files - a .DBF file and an .FPT file with your temporary filename, and a .DBF file and a .DBT file with your final filename. You may now delete the two files with the temporary filename as they are no longer needed.

Copy or move the .DBF and .DBT files named with your final filenames to your TMG directory/folder where the rest of your Timelines are located.   This may be the TMGW directory/folder depending on the entry for Timelines in the Advanced tab of the System Configuration Screen in TMG.

Now enter TMG as usual and select your new timeline file. TMG will create the third file (the index [*.CDX] file) as needed. If you are on the Person view, you will see entries from the new timeline appear based on the rules of TMG as you have selected them. You now have a new timeline file that you can use.

Many Timelines have a fourth file while is text of your choice describing the Timeline, discussing the origin of the data, giving the author's name and address, etc.  You may create this file within TMG by editing the Timeline.  Select the menu item Tools=>Timeline=>Edit.  Highlight the timeline, and click on the Select button. Then in the Edit a Timeline window, click on the Memo button to display the text editing window.  Enter the information that you wish and save it by selecting File=>Save (or pressing F10) when finished.  This will create the fourth file as a *.DOC file.

Congratulations and have fun!

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