Table of Contents
By Mary Harrell-Sesniak
Combining photography and genealogy offers unique challenges.
To enhance photographs, we rely on popular software tools, but most aren't ideal for genealogy, since they are based on assumptions that do not apply to family history. Take auto-fixing, filters, and color correcting, for example.
When presented with extreme values in lights and darks, the auto-correct algorithm tends to pick a happy medium. Old photos and cemetery shots present limited color ranges, so darks become a little lighter and lights a little darker, and results can be undesirable.
Filters have their use, but some, such as blurs, swirls, and softeners, go awry with genealogical photos. Perhaps a wedding photographer might find these useful, but not a digital genealogist shooting historical settings and tombstones.
And color correcting addresses RGB values (red, green, and blue), unlike the human eye, which perceives HSB characteristics (hue, saturation, and brightness). To complicate matters, historical photographs are typically in monochrome yellow and grays, so RGB correcting is awkward.
So what can you do?
First, learn to take better pictures and apply software techniques to isolate issues. Also keep in mind that there is no easy solution, as each image will present its own challenge. Your camera or computer probably came with specialized software, so try it, but if it doesn't work, invest in popular software such as Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. I have some tips to offer, but please note, these are guidelines only and not step-by-step instructions.
1. A well-focused image saves editing time, so stabilize images and invest in a transportable tripod.
2. Vary angles and take multiple shots. Try face-to-face shots, low-to-the-ground shots, and take advantage of the angle where the light is generated.
3. Experiment with backlighting and flash settings. External sources such as a slave flash, mirror or infrared lighting, may be used to direct light to specific areas.
4. Shoot in raw format for more important pictures. This format allows images to be resized (larger and smaller) without deterioration. Supply yourself with extra memory cards for storage, as images will be larger. You may prefer converting to a .png format afterwards, which offers a similar advantage.
5. Choose the time of day carefully. Dawns and sunsets offer long lighting, but if taken from the wrong angle, they produce shadows. Close-together objects may benefit from midday reflections.
6. Take your time. When photographing a person, pause to look the subject in the eye and smile; the gesture will most likely be returned, allowing for a more relaxed pose. And let street traffic subside and passers-by move along, so the result is less cluttered.
1. After transferring images to the computer, make backups to avoid overwriting originals.
2. Crop images to reduce distractions from extraneous objects. This is especially useful if you use auto-correct. When deciphering inscriptions, break the image into several smaller ones and work on each one separately to minimize variants in light values (darkened portions will respond differently than lighter areas).
3. Some photographers find it helpful to divide images into several smaller ones, either manually or with an extractor. To avoid multiple cropping isolate issues with selection tools, rather than working with an image in its entirety. Your program may have a number of options including lassos, ellipticals, freehand tools, and magic wands.
4. Set up layers, which are like duplicate copies of one image stacked on top of itself. Layering allows for changes to be made to one layer, without affecting others. In general, the bottom layer acts as an anchor and cannot be changed.
5. Try applying a contrast mask, which sharpens details by increasing contrast between light and dark areas. Create a duplicate layer and invert it over the original, with the blending mode set to overlay.
6. Work with the leveling feature, which produces a histogram (graph) of where peak light and dark colors fall within the image. Underneath the histogram are three sliders in RGB or black, gray, and white (BGW) for monochromes, which range from 0 to 1.00 to 256. Avoid moving all to the center, but move separately and away from each other to make adjustments where the center points of these shades fall.
7. For blemishes, try the healing, clone, and dodge tools. For example, if there was a fold in a photograph, copy another area and use it to heal the defect. Healing blends the pixels within and around the brush. A small brush size may be desirable (e.g., 16 pixels), along with a reduction (e.g., one-half) in the hardness of the brush. The hardness controls the size of the brush's center.
The healing and clone tools are useful for removing blemishes.
Cloning is similar, but makes an exact duplicate of one area to copy onto another, without the blending of the healing tool. Dodging allows you to lighten areas of the photograph (recommended to start with an exposure less than 10%).
8. Concentrate on color palettes and opposites. You may have success enhancing and reading an inscription by reversing colors.
This dark image from the California Death Index was inverted and enlarged, thereby allowing me to read that Mary O. Stanton died on March 5, 1914 (line 4).
9. Remember, this guide is just a series of suggestions, so if you crave more, enroll in a photography course—preferably taught by someone with a genealogy interest!
Laura Pickering, an artist from Oklahoma City, contributed to this article. We regret we cannot respond to questions about individual photographs.
By Joan Young
As you research your family history, you may learn that your ancestors were Huguenot settlers in America (http://huguenotsocietyofamerica.org/), Colonial American tavern keepers (http://www.flagonandtrencher.org/), American Revolutionary War patriots—(see: http://www.cyndislist.com/soc-lineage.htm#DAR and http://www.cyndislist.com/soc-lineage.htm#SAR), Mayflower passengers (http://www.themayflowersociety.com/), slaves (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ilissdsa/), pirates (http://www.piratesprivateers.org/), first settlers of Australia (http://home.vicnet.net.au/~firstff/), or perhaps even Magna Charta barons (http://www.magnacharta.org/).
While it is interesting to uncover this information, it can be even more rewarding to join a lineage or heritage society. Joining a society means having your application given an official stamp of approval by a society genealogist. This verification process indicates that the evidence you have used to support your application is sound and well-documented.
Joining a lineage society can be especially rewarding when the society has a local chapter where you can meet others with whom you share a common background and interest. Many societies have newsletters and educational programs.
How do you go about joining a lineage society?
1) First, locate a society you'd like to join. A good place to look is the "Societies and Groups--Lineage" section of Cyndi's List (http://www.cyndislist.com/soc-lineage.htm). There you will find a linked index that provides access to the websites of various organizations whether your ancestor qualifies for an early American society, a first families and pioneers group of a specific locality, a military or war-related society, or some other interest group.
2) Check the requirements for membership for the society of interest to you and follow the procedures for applying listed on the society's Web page.
3) If you have questions pertaining to your eligibility write to a contact person listed on the Web page. Societies may have message boards where you can post a query or lookup request to learn whether your ancestor is already on a qualifying ancestor list. Some societies maintain a message board at RootsWeb: http://boards.rootsweb.com/topics.organizations/mb.ashx
No matter whether your ancestors were pirates, tavern keepers, or nobility, you may find that pursuing lineage or heritage society membership will prove educational and offer social opportunities to join with like-minded genealogists.
After beginning my genealogy odyssey in 1978, I traced my maternal family back to a set of third great-grandparents. By 1986 I had funeral home records for my second great-grandfather, giving his mother's maiden name as Sharp, and a microfilmed copy of the 1838 marriage record for Mark Alexander and Emma D. Sharp, my third great-grandparents. I was very proud of the fact that I had great documentation of this connection and the wife's maiden name. Imagine my surprise later in the 1990s when Internet research became more prevalent and I found that all the trees for this family and all the contacts I found on the mailing lists had Emma's name as Emma Davis—not Emma Sharp. As I tried to discover the source of this erroneous name I kept coming across the name of a distant cousin who had published a book on the family history. He was supposed to be a young man who had visited with members of my family. They all remembered his name but no one could find how to reach him. Did he have some proof of her maiden name that I hadn't found?
Turns out his book stated that his aunt just "thought" her name was Emma Davis. He had no proof that that was her actual name. Other researchers saw this, skipped the "thought" part, and used the Davis maiden name in all their trees. The assumption was made because the aunt knew that Emma's middle initial was "D" and a granddaughter was named Emma Davis Alexander. By this time I had also discovered that Emma D. Sharp's mother was Narcissa Davis, leading me to believe that the "D" in Emma's name probably did stand for Davis.
So after about 10 years of looking for this young man, we found each other thanks to the message boards and mailing lists at RootsWeb.
I own an heirloom that came to me in a round about way. My father died in 2001. He and I worked together on family history with none of my younger brothers or sisters showing much interest. The last time I visited my brother George, a lawyer in Texas, he wondered if I would like a couple of items he had located. They were a small spiral notepad and a small notebook.
What a treasure for the family. One contained travel notes written by my grandfather when he went to New Jersey from Mc Allen, Texas, and then on to Kansas. This took place in the early 1940s, before there were interstate highways. The other was from 1901, when my grandfather was still attending school in West Virginia. It included the autographs of classmates. I figured out who they were and then started tracking them down in the census. Many of them lived and died in the same area.
These two books gave me a look at a grandfather I knew little about. You never know what will show up in a little book.
Bruce C Young, III
Years ago I found a centennial book at a garage sale: "Hooves to Wheels," a Rock River, Wyoming, bicentennial publication. The book was published in 1975. It has stories of many families from that area. I would like to have it find a home with someone who would also share the stories with the other families.
For several years, I had researched my ancestors in order to join the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I had documented all the necessary generations except for final proof that my ancestor had served in the Revolutionary War. I had found his name on a list in a book written in the 1930s by a local woman as having served, but could find no further documentation to back that up. Believing wholeheartedly the DAR would not accept this as proof, I lost interest in the matter for a while.
Last spring, a friend who was already a member of the DAR went online and low and behold found where another person had joined under the same ancestor. So she sent for the application papers of this person and we discovered she had used the exact same listing in the previously mentioned book as proof of service, and the DAR had accepted that. I immediately sent in my application and was accepted into membership within two months.
My point is this: don't be as quick to jump to conclusions as I. Dip your toe in and test the waters. You might already have everything you need.
Amy Martin Wilson
Have a story, question, genealogy resource, or tip you'd like to share with RootsWeb Review readers? Send it to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the editor or of RootsWeb.com.
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GEORGIA, Ogelthorpe County. Mattox Family Cemetery, 37 records. Contributed by Jennifer Gaulding Low, Ted Low, Amber Low, and Lindsay Low—descendants of David and Sarah Hail Mattox and Richard V. and Mary Virginia Mattox Gaulding.
These databases have come online recently. They are searchable, but not browseable.
Our Maternal and Paternal Ancestors: 350 Years of History in America, features three separate family sub-sites as follows: (1) DELLINGER, KNECHT, PFEFFER, SILAR, and allied families; (2) BOZARTH, PEIFFER, QUIGLEY, RHUBART, and allied families; (3) MORELAND, MCVICKER, PINNELL, SCRUGGS, and allied families.
Barnhill Families of Pender County, NC & their Connections, a family website for the BARNHILL, HENRY, HORRELL, SHERMAN, WALLACE, and WOODCOCK families living in Pender County, North Carolina, and their connections to folks in Bladen County, North Carolina. It includes cemetery records, headstones, photos, census data, military data, marriages, land records, churches, and much more.
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Charles Cooper Morris was my great-grandfather. The 1880 census lists him as a railroader in Racine, Wisconsin. He worked as a baggage handler and conductor for the Western Union Railroad.
Could the others in the picture be A. Keep, president; M.M. Kirkman, secretary and treasurer; Arthur A. Hobart, superintendent of the Milwaukee Division; or R. Trist, freight and ticket agent?
For a chance to see your ancestor's photo in the RootsWeb Review, send it to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com. Make sure to include your name and a brief description of the photograph.
When searching the International Genealogical Index for a relation, I came across a Margaret Cant Reid!
Thanks to Kate MacGlashan
One day I was sitting in the Salt Lake City Family History Library and the woman across the way laughed out loud. I went to see what caused the merriment and she had a census film on the reader. The occupation listed for the head of household was "town drunk." I could just see his wife sitting home alone when the census taker came by and finally getting even with her wandering husband. I'm sorry I never got the citation for that film.
Thanks to Vaughn Simon
While researching the 1850 census for Vermont, I came across a "Peter Putterhead." What a name to go through life with.
Thanks to Cindy Lupole Drage
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