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Getting Started on Your Genealogy – Scanning Photos

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On the North Carolina Genealogy site I’ve done a writeup about interviewing your relatives. I’d like to work into a slightly different angle here. So many of our older relatives have wonderful old snapshots of family, family Bibles with handwritten information, yet copying it down to paper in our own hand seems a disservice. This doesn’t even consider the family letters or other papers which might have been saved in clipping boxes along with old obituary notices, or marriage notices from newspapers. That’s one thing about the electronic age that’s so good, it’s easy to scan such things. But would your relatives let you borrow their clipping boxes, photos and or family Bibles? They don’t really have to.

With portable technology, here is all that you need: a laptop, a small flatbed scanner and maybe a digital camera (we’ll talk about that in a minute.) I remember very well going to my wife’s grandmothers house about 7 years ago with a laptop and a scanner. We spent a couple hours scanning pictures of her family and getting the descriptions for each, who they were so I could label them after the scanner copied the image. Today’s scanners are so much faster I bet we could have got twice as many scanned in the same amount of time.

Of course, some things might be a bit fragile for a flatbed scanner and for this things I suggest maybe using a high quality digital camera (3 megapixel or more) to try to capture the content. I know my 3megapixel Sony handycam has enough resolution to get a historical marker with readability from 500 feet, so I would think that a page from an old family bible should be fairly easy to accomplish. The key here is lighting, experiment with the right amount of flash and a good distance to keep things from being too washed out. (You might try having GOOD room lighting/sunlight and NO flash as well.)

Make sure in your session to document who is in the pictures and label your files appropriately, don’t trust it to notes to go back and label later, make sure to label as you go.

Another thing to keep in mind, just the same as when interviewing your relatives on your family history, try to keep from having a marathon session. You can always ask to come back and finish another time.

When you get home be sure to make copies of the treasure trove for backup and for your cousins!

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