Knowing what was going on at key points in your ancestor's history can add depth and interest to your family history story. It can also help you locate records that you may not have considered yet in your research. For instance, knowing that war broke out the same year an ancestor married would lead you to check draft, enlistment and pension records for that war.
Timelines is a website that has compiled important dates of historical and cultural events. You can search by date to find out what important days your ancestor shares. You can also browse timelines of wars, assassinations, deaths, sports moments, the Civil Rights Movement, disasters and famous individuals.
To find out what happened on a specific date, scroll to the very bottom of the page and click on the "what happened on" link. It will take you to a page that lists all the days of the year. Select the one you want to know more about and the next page will list all events related to that date.
For example, today is November 6th. On this day in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States. One year later on this same day in 1861, Jefferson Davis was elected president of the Confederate States of America. Other events of interest include the 1913 Great Lakes Storm, the 1977 Kelly Barnes Dam failure and Ronald Reagan's 1986 signing of the Immigration and Reform Act, just to name a few.