Author’s note: I found out for sure I’m not alone in being organizationally challenged – and neither are you! I received more than 400 responses to my offer for the PDF file of family history and organization checklists. If you haven’t received your PDF file after you requested, please try again. A few of my emails to you have bounced back.

I decided to aim this article at aspects of organization not covered in either my last article or the PDF file because several people asked for help in this specific area.

My mom spent most of the last four years of her life in my home. We spent a lot of that time creating two big picture history books of her life. In the process I learned a bunch about gathering and organizing ninety years of pictures and memorabilia and am now applying those principles as I organize my own. I’m still not finished (remember the principle that organizing is an ongoing process) but I’m a lot further down the road than I was ten years ago!

Begin at the Beginning

For those of you just starting this process, I’ll walk y.ou through from the beginning. I’m well aware that each individual situation will be different, but you can pick and choose what will apply to you.

When Mom moved in, she brought with her many old photo albums that were literally falling apart, boxes of slides, pictures, and memorabilia of all sorts. Some of the albums were somewhat chronological, so we had a head start there – knowing what time period they fit into. Here’s how we proceeded:

  1. We gathered all these materials together into one place. (You may want to do Step Two and Three concurrently. Certainly don’t wait until you know you are through gathering. Ten years down the road I’m still running into things now and again that I think should be in Mom’s books.)
  2. We made a timeline of Mom’s life. Although we were going to include my Dad’s stuff and family stuff too, we were focusing on her life.
  3. Here’s an idea of what that timeline looked like:

    1909 – Fern’s birth. Her childhood and large nuclear family, summers on the farm

    1915-1926 – School days, her father’s untimely death in

    1923, move to Mantua the next year and newfound popularity.  Dating, dances, plays, graduation.

    1927-1931 – Becoming a maid in Salt Lake City. Unpleasant dating experiences, fear of never marrying, meeting Arland, courtship, engagement.

    1932 – Marriage, settling down in Logan, living in Preston with Arland’s folks.

    1933 -Arlene’s birth. Health problems, several moves.

    1935 – Bob’s birth, sharing daily life with friends in Logan. Buying ice cream store in Blackfoot, having to work.

    1939 – Delray’s birth, joy of staying home with children.

    1942 -Delray’s death, loneliness, expecting another baby giving her hope.

    1943 – Darla’s birth, World War II, Arland drafted. You get the idea. This time line outlines the major time periods and events of a person’s life and needs to be kept on the wall where you are working, or in a notebook close at hand. Referring to it will help you immensely in your efforts to organize everything chronologically.

    (Note: I learned not to drive myself crazy being a perfectionist about chronology. While birth and death dates are important, the exact date of the trip to Yellowstone is not!)

  4. Next, we made hanging files for each time period. For extensive histories you might want to have a file for each year, or a file folder for each year.
  5. We started sorting the material into the appropriate time period.
  6. We purchased acid-free materials: two big binders, page protectors, stickers, different color of paper, and so on. (Those of you who will be doing your picture histories on the computer can, instead, choose and purchase the computer program.)
  7. We began working on one time period at a time. Sort according to what you want on a page and put those pictures, certificates, and other treasures in a separate sheet protector. If it seemed important, I labeled each one with a post-it note telling the year. Many times we didn’t know for sure and just approximated.
  8. Design pages. By getting several pages sorted and decided on ahead of time, we were able to grab a page and work on it whenever we had a few minutes. This was the single best thing I learned to keep me from procrastinating. When I looked at the whole project I just wanted to cry, but when I could take one page and know I had already decided what went on that page, I could easily design that one page in a small time slot.
  9. Type and paste or write the words you want to describe that page – or in the case of the computer format, type it into the page. For Mother’s books, we had a lot to refer to – the script from a two-hour video we had done of her life, excerpts from journal she kept sporadically, etc., so she didn’t have to remember everything. Along the way we included several pages of written history when it seemed appropriate and needful.
  10. Keep doing it!

Passing Along the Materials You Are Not Going to Use

As we were sorting all of Mom’s slides, we had the ones made into prints that we had nothing like. Then, after we sorted Mom’s pictures, slides, and memorabilia, and decided which ones we wanted to use in her history, we took all the rest and sorted them into file folders to give to he children. We soon had some pretty hefty collections to give each child. And I was happy to get them out of the house and lighten my load!

The Satisfaction of a Well-Documented Life

Over a period of months and years the book of finished pages grew into two books. One of the joys of my Mom’s last days was looking through her books and knowing that her life was well documented. It was part of her legacy and gave her great satisfaction.

Moving Ahead With My Own Picture Histories

After Mom’s death I became more serious about moving ahead with my own books and soon realized I had some major decisions to make. Before you can begin gathering for a book, you have to decide what you want the book to be and how you are going to divide your life chronologically or categorically. Here are the divisions I’ve chosen – and I list them only in hopes that you may find some of them helpful in your own categorical decisions. There is no doubt I’ll be working on some of these books until the day I die:

  1. A separate book for each child’s early history from birth to marriage.
  2. Two books of my life from birth to marriage (remember the old Treasures of Truth? I finished those before I left on my mission, so I just had to renovate them).
  3. A smaller book of my missionary experiences.
  4. A book of the first ten years of my first marriage, including living in Spain.
  5. A book of middle married years as the children grew up.
  6. A book of my marriage to Doug, our trips together and other highlights.
  7. A book of Doug’s life history – up to his marriage to me
  8. A book for Doug containing most of the pictures of when his children and parents have been with us over the past 18 years
  9. A book of my later years with my grandchildren
  10. A book of my writing, editing, speaking, and professional life

Counting the books for each of my five children, that makes 15 books.

Three of them are completed, the rest mostly in the stage of material gathered chronologically – some put in page protectors labeled with each year or time period. Why am I not further along on this project when it’s been in process for years? Because when I have nothing scheduled and am doing it on my own, I can find a million other things to do and rarely work on it.  Hooray – I’m happy to report that this year I’ve found a solution to that dilemma.

How I’m Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time

Now I’m making regular, even though slow, progress on this never-ending project. When the Relief Society changed from monthly enrichment nights to quarterly, supplemented with interest groups, I was one of the ward family history consultants. I got together with the ward enrichment leader and we organized family history interest groups – temple attendance, family history library attendance, and two scrapbooking groups.

For a couple of months we had an organization group and we met together and worked on organizing our family history materials.  One scrapbooking group meets on an ongoing basis at my house weekly for two hours. I can be pretty sure at least a couple of ladies will show up, and while they are here, I am captive to my picture history projects! I can’t get distracted or decide to do the laundry! Consequently, I’ve made some pretty good progress in the past few months – and have had such fun getting to know these ladies better. We’ve become real friends – and one of them is my nonmember next-door neighbor that I’ve wanted to know better for years!

Find What Works for You – and Do It!

You might be able to decide other ways to work your picture history project into your life. Even buddying up with one other person and setting a definite time each week – or each month – an help tremendously. For awhile my sister had a scrapbooking date with her daughters monthly and they all enjoyed it. Whatever works for you – do it!