If you have relatives like I have which seemed to drop off the face of the earth and there were no cemetery records, it might be a good idea to crack open a few books about the time and place where they disappeared. Was there a cholera epidemic or did small pox spread through the county at the time? Zeroing in on local history as well as state and national history can be very important to answer family debates.
There are a few different types of timelines which can be created, depending on what medium is used and its purpose and your imagination. For example, if you are a teacher, you have the luxury of involving your classroom with the "Clothesline" style timeline. It can actually stretch from one wall to another with information and photos held to the line with clips. In this manner, the line can be used over and over again as the segment of history is changed.
I used a timeline in my Smith family history book: "I don't know you from Adam." I took the period of the family from early 1700s to 2003 and researched some of the major events in this 200-year period. Then I salted various family events throughout the same period in and around the major incidents of history. It really made my grandfather's moving to the West Coast match up with the important dates of the Depression in the 1930s.
There are many sources of historical timelines which can be mined on the web. Many local genealogical websites also have links to historical time lines connected to a specific geographic region, like a city, a state, or a region of the United States. Broader and more comprehensive timelines can be found online. A few examples are: http://www.history.timelines.org|http://www.history.timelines.org]], and [[http://www.animatedatlas.com/timeline.html|http://www.animatedatlas.com/timeline.html]]. You can also do your own surfing and use a variety of historical topics to see what sites have a timeline available.
You can also use some genealogy software which already has basic timeline potential. You can use Excel spreadsheets and word processing programs to create a timeline. However you decide, a timeline can be a great graphic example which helps bring family history to life. It is kind of like the difference between a city map and a full scale model of the city. All the ups and downs of our ancestor's experiences are illustrated. It might be the best way to introduce future generations to their family's past.