The Clues Line: Where Do I Start?
by James W. Petty, AG, CGRS, BS (Genealogy)

Every month, The Clues Line at Meridian Magazine, will respond to a question from one of our readers pertaining to some aspect of Genealogy Research and Family History. The Clues Line invites readers to submit questions, or research problems, and we will select one to evaluate and respond to it in our column. We look forward to hearing from you.

Question: Herbert L. Gleason, St. George, Utah, writes:
I’m not a genealogist, but I want to do something to help my family with their genealogy. I sure enjoy your articles. I just always need help with simple things..all the detail just befuddles me…so, for me, just keep articles simple and to the point. Everyone just seems to get into so much detail right off the bat… can’t it be made more simple, like listing steps to follow, 1 2 3, etc.? Of course I know there is no easy way, but I sure look for it.

Brother Gleason, there is always something that can be done, even if you aren’t a genealogist. Let me give you an idea, with some easy steps to accomplish it.

Pictures – Every family has a drawer full of old family pictures. Photographs, portraits, snapshots, drawings; and nearly all of them of people and events that the younger members of the family have no clue about. This is a gold mine for family history and genealogy. However unimportant some of these pictures may seem to you, they may hold the key to solving a genealogy question, or they can tell or add to a family history story. Organizing and identifying these items will provide an important tool for your family history, and it can be a lot of fun to do in the process. My own father recently gathered many of his old photographs and put them into several multi-picture frames, illustrating the individual pictures with names, dates, and anecdotes. These decorate a whole wall of his home, illustrating his memories of his family history in their own unique way, and entertaining every family member and guest that comes into his home.

The following are a few steps to help you compile and prepare your family pictures so that everyone in the family can share in your memories of family history.

First, gather all of the photographs together in one place, such as a box, or a suitcase or something where everything can be kept, and easily gotten to. If it is difficult to get to, you won’t.

Second, go through the pictures and separate out, all of the pictures that you don’t recognize or know, and put them in a separate box or file. Don’t get rid of them, at least not yet.

Third, at your nearest office supply story or photography shop, get a good supply of:

1. Manila envelopes – 9″ by 12″ size for sorting groups of pictures.

2. Plastic sleeves for individual pictures – These can be pages with multiple sleeves, or individual sleeves. Find the cheapest sleeves available.

3. A package or two of small stickem labels (I use 1″x3″ labels).

Fourth, put your pictures in the photo sleeves, and in the envelopes. You can organize the envelopes chronologically, or alphabetically, depending on how you want to arrange your photographs.

Fifth, identify your photographs on the labels, and attach the labels to the sleeves or envelopes that you put your pictures in. Never write on the picture. If you want to add notes or anecdotes, do so on one of the labels.

If this seems like a lot of work, just say to yourself: “Thank Heavens, I don’t have to do the Genealogy!” Seriously, though, it can be a lot of work; but it can be a lot of fun too. If it is more work than you can handle, get your family together for a Family Home Evening, or even a series of them, maybe one each month or so. Assign one member of the family to take notes, or write the information down, and take out one of your envelopes. Only take out one; you don’t want to scare anyone away. Then go through the pictures one by one, and tell the stories the pictures bring to mind. Let the kids and other family members ask questions. In doing so you will be sharing family history with your family. Have someone tape the session with a recorder. In the end you can share your testimony with them, and imprint on their minds and souls how important family pictures and history can be in their lives.

Oh, and those pictures no one remembers who they were? Put them in a big bowl and set it out on special occasions such as Christmas, holidays, birthday parties, Sunday dinners, family reunions, or even funerals, and let family members and guests rummage through them. They can use them to make up stories, or play guessing games. Someone might even recognize a face, or a place that was previously forgotten, and discover a lost treasure… that is no longer lost.


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