The HistoryLines website bills itself as “Instant Personal History.” Those of us who love family history get really excited when we think we can get a lot of valuable information quick and easy. So at first glance HistoryLines can seem a little disappointing. Instant personal history may be overselling it. But, like any good tool, the more you put into it the more you get out. And on second glance, HistoryLines is a good tool.But since they offered a free trial, I thought I'd have a look, and, as I suspected, it offered a time line and some boilerplate text.
The first one I chose was my great great grandfather John Bagot Cottam (1836-1911). He was born in Salford, Lancashire, England, and emigrated to Natal in 1863, with his wife Adelaide Herbert (1831-1909) and three daughters. They had more daughters in Durban where he died in 1911.
Now it's possible that the paid-for version offers a bit more, but the free version asks for the first name and surname, date and place of birth and death, and sex of the person and that's all. If it asked for a couple of residence dates and places, or an emigration date and place, it might have been able to come up with more relevant boilerplate information, but it didn't.
It did have the First and Second Anglo-Boer Wars, but failed to mention the Union of South Africa in 1910. It also failed to mention the American Civil War. But why should it, if he was born in England and died in South Africa and was never in the USA?
In the case of John Bagot Cottam, however, that was probably a relevant fact. He emigrated to Natal in 1863 to be accountant to the Natal Cotton Plantation Company. Cotton planting never took off in Natal, but in 1863 the cotton mills of Manchester were desperately looking for alternative sources of raw cotton, since the US Civil War had made the American supply dry up.
If HistoryLines had come up with something like that, I might have seriously considered paying for it. But one can probably get more relevant results by doing your own Google searches using the dates in your family member's time line.
The second test was not a direct ancestor, but a relation who lived in the USA. I thought that as HistoryLines was an American project, it might do better with people in the US, so I thought that to be fair I should try one.
The one I chose was William Nelson Growden (1893-1979). He was born in Tennessee, died in Los Angeles, but spent most of his adult life in Alaska. He lived in Ruby, Alaska, and was in government service, and was at one time a member of the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives.
Again, perhaps if HistoryLines had correlated residence information it might have come up with more relevant boilerplate text, but as it was it did not mention the earthquake and tsunami in Valdez, Alaska, in 1964, which killed William Nelson Growden's youngest son and two of his grandchildren.
So no, though it sounds good in the blurb, I'm not tempted by this one.