Digitization Options for Family Photos Including Slides, Film Negatives, and Home Movies

Confused when it comes to scanning family photos? What about slides, negatives or even home movies? GeneaBloggers has a guide to get you started . . .

One of the focus areas for Week 7 of the Genealogy Do-Over is scanning and digitizing photos. There are various approaches you can take to get this done: send them out to a service or scan them yourself. Many of us don’t feel comfortable sending our precious photos out so we take the “do it yourself” route. However, the DIY approach requires making the right choices when it comes to purchasing equipment and actually scanning items so that the resulting digital files are useful for genealogy research.

The process becomes more complicated once you discover that you need to digitize items such as film negatives, slides, oversized photos, home movie film and more. Do you purchase one scanner to handle all of these items? Or must you spend money for specialized scanners that you’ll only use a few times?

Here are some tips regarding digitizing items, with some sound advice on developing a comprehensive scanning program for items in your family archives.

A special discount of 34% percent off the new book How to Archive Family Photos by Denise Levenick - here's how to get the special coupon code!

Tip: Purchase How to Archive Family Photos

Even for a tech guy like me, it isn’t easy to stay on top of the latest strategies for digitizing various types of items. I can spend hours searching the Internet for articles that may have tips and tricks or I can simply go to an authoritative source such as the new book How to Archive Family Photos by Denise Levenick. Click here to read my review of this book which is available in paperback as well as e-book format.

The author provides a basic outline of digitization strategy and also reviews terminology such as TIFF vs. JPG file formats and 300 dpi vs. 600 dpi. The most valuable chapters give a step-by-step approach to digitizing and archiving specific types of media including photos, slides and more.

Tip: Create a Digitization Strategy Plan

Most readers know I am big on plans. I believe that my ancestors had a motto: “Make no small plans.” I carry this thinking through to everything I do in terms of my genealogy. I figure that I should take time to do something the right way the first time, rather than redo it years later.

As genealogists many of us make research plans, so why not create a Digitization Strategy Plan. Here are the basic elements and you can create this on paper, in a digital file, on a spreadsheet or even in Evernote to track your progress:

  • Take Inventory. Create a list, either simple or detailed, of items needing to be scanned. Include all photos, slides, negatives, movies etc. Also list photo sizes as well as media formats; remember that negatives can be 110 and other sizes! The same goes for slides and you don’t want to purchase the wrong type of slide scanner, right?
  • Evaluate equipment. For those taking the DIY approach, research available technology in terms of types of scanners, storage media, etc. Collect information and determine which device is best for your project.
  • Set standards. Research the base minimum standards for each media type and list them. Use these to set standards and preferences for equipment such as a flatbed scanner.
  • Create a Tracking Mechanism. One you’ve done your inventory, it should be simple to track digitization projects from start to finish, whether you scan them yourself or send them out to a service. Also tracks costs of equipment, cost of outsourcing projects and even time spent scanning items.
  • Data Management and Backup. Once items are scanned, you’ll need to focus on file naming standards, keeping items organized and, of course, backing up your data!

Tip: DIY or Send It Out? How to Decide on a Scanning Approach

Everyone has a different approach not just to scanning photos and documents, but also opinions on how to best use their time for these projects.

If you feel overwhelmed by the scanning technology and spend too much time just choosing the right scanner, sending your items out to be scanned might be a better choice. However, if you want more control over how items are scanned and you want to save money, the “do it yourself” route is likely your best bet.

Take time to determine the overall cost of a digitization project including money spent on technology, time spent just researching technology, and time spent actually scanning and organizing digital files.

Tip: Selecting a Scanning Service

If you do opt for outsourcing your scanning, either for every project or a specialized project involving slides or film, make sure you thoroughly research the service provider you select.

Here are some of the questions you should be asking or research on the company’s website:

  • What equipment is being used for scanning? The company should be using professional quality scanners.
  • What resolution is used for scanning items? A quality company will list their minimum resolution for scanning. Beware of companies that aren’t up front about their scanning resolution. They may be using high-speed scanners that focus on rapid scanning of large amounts of photos, saving the company time and money.
  • Is there an additional charge for large photos? Some companies will have a standard price per photo up to a specific size, such as 5×7”.
  • Do you offer free shipping? Most companies charge you for the return of the photos unless you have an order totaling $50 or $100 or more.
  • What happens if my photos are lost in the mail? Make sure you read the Terms of Service for the company and purchase insurance if available.
  • Do you offer standard features such as color correction? Some companies will “nickel and dime” you for services that are standard such color correction.
  • Do you offer a free sample scan? Many companies will allow you to send one or two photos for a free sample scan. You’ll receive the original photos returned in the mail and the digital files sent via e-mail or accessed via a download service. You can then judge the quality of the scan, the scan resolution and the file format used.
  • What about customer service? How accessible is the company when you have a question or want to track the status of a scan job? Is the customer service based in the United States or handled overseas?
  • Where is the digitization work performed? Is it done in-house by the company or is it further outsourced? Many companies send materials overseas for scanning, so make sure you understand where your items will be scanned.

15¢ Photo Scanning to Digital Format - Exclusive Offer for Fans and Friends of GeneaBloggers: Converting photos to digital has never been easier! Just send in your loose photos to Larsen Digital and they will put them on a disc for just 15¢ per photo! Now is the time to stop procrastinating and pull out your boxes of photos and finally get them all converted to digital. All you need to do is get them to Larsen Digital and they will take care of the rest- creating high quality digital images from all your photos.

One of the best scanning services for genealogy and family history items is Larsen Digital, located in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have used them for numerous projects, including photo restoration, and they understand the needs of genealogists when it comes to scanning.

Visit https://www.slidescanning.com/geneabloggers.html and use promo code Thomas2015 to save 10% on ALL conversion services including negatives, film, photos and even audio and video tapes!

Tip: Develop a Multi-Device Approach to Scanning

In over 20 years of using various types of scanning technology, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is not one device or one approach that will do everything. Especially so many different types of media to be scanned, you simply can’t rely on just a flatbed scanner or a scanning app.

For me, I need four different scanners to cover different situations;

  • A flatbed scanner in my home office for photos and documents up to 8.5 x 11 inches in size.
  • A portable scanner, such as the Flip-Pal mobile scanner, for research trips and scanning photos when visiting relatives.
  • One or more scanning apps, such as Shoebox or CamScanner, for times when a repository won’t allow the use of my Flip-Pal OR using my iPhone is just more convenient.
  • A multi-media scanner, such as the Jumbl, to scan negatives, slides, film and more.

flip pal  mobile scanner

Tip: Why the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner is a Valuable Tool

I’ve been a fan of the Flip-Pal mobile scanner for years now. I own one and travel with it all the time, from genealogy conferences to family visits. I never know when I’ll need to scan something!

Some would argue that the Smart Phone and scanning apps are soon to render items like the Flip-Pal obsolete, but I don’t agree. Here’s why:

  • Using a hand held device to take a photo of a photo or document can be tricking due to overhead lighting. Many times I get a glare on glossy images.
  • As I get older, my hands are not as steady as they used to be. I’ve had scans from a Smart Phone that are blurry.
  • For larger items, I usually have to scan in sections anyway, so why not just use my Flip-Pal and then stitch the sections together with the free stitching software?
  • When I am at home watching television or listening to music, I can sit on my sofa and scan 100 photos an hour using my Flip-Pal. I even have a wireless SD card which lets me scan the image then sends it to my desktop computer automatically – no need to take the SD card out and transfer photos manually!
  • And finally, the Flip-Pal is easy to use. Recently at a family reunion, I managed to convince some of my younger cousins to sit and scan photos while the adults talked and swapped family history stories!

Click here and use promo code gb2015 for special savings from Flip-Pal!

scanner app

Tip: Scanning Apps Can Save the Day!

Yes, I prefer my Flip-Pal for mobile scanning, but there are times when I need a backup scanner for road trips. Not every librarian or archivist can be convinced as to the merits of the Flip-Pal; often, they are concerned about possible damage to the item being scanned. Or I have even had situations where I’m encouraged to use the photo copiers instead, since the library makes money from those copiers.

For times when a portable scanner just won’t do, I make sure I have at least two scanning apps on my Smart Phone. For me, the choices are Shoebox by Ancestry and CamScanner.

  • Shoebox: With more genealogists using mobile devices, it makes sense that Ancestry would have a free app to scan photos. Shoebox works with both the iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android (Windows) platforms and allows you to correct the photo position and color as well as date and tag photos.
  • CamScanner: Another scanning app for smart phones is CamScanner offering basic scanning capabilities. A big plus is the ability to scan a document of typed text and then convert the text via OCR (optical character reading) to a text file.

Tip: Is a Multi-Media Scanner Worth the Price?

There is a growing awareness in the genealogy community as to the immediate need to scan and digitize items such as negatives, slides, and film. Each week, genealogists discover that these items don’t last forever and that the materials actually degrade over time. Colors fade, coatings disintegrate and even entire images disappear.

Outsourcing various types of media can be expensive since most companies use specialized scanners for each type of item. In addition, these items cannot be “rapid scanned” and require quite a deal of manual handling. And one down side of sending items out to be scanned: you’re not sure what images are on the media and whether you really want to keep them. So you pay for unwanted scans . . .

Taking the DIY approach does offer more control over the process but digitizing these types of media on your own can be even more challenging than scanning photos and documents. Should you purchase a different scanner for each type of media? Are the scanning standards for film different than those used for photos?

Lately, more and more “multi-purpose” media scanners are appearing in the marketplace. One exceptional item is the Jumbl All-In-1 Film & Slide Scanner available at Amazon.

Are you sitting on a collection of old 35mm slides, 8mm or 16mm home movies, or perhaps boxes of photo negatives? I hope you realize that the material breaks down over the years . . . that’s why it is so important to scan and digitize those materials as soon as possible. The Jumbl High-Resolution Scanner handles many media types and does not require a computer or software – you can scan right to its internal memory or memory card! Right now the Jumbl, which has high ratings, is 50% off at Amazon – only $99!

The Jumbl allows you to scan 33mm slides and negatives, 110 and 126 film as well as Super 8 slides and negatives. Scan resolution is amazing with a base of 14 megapixels and with the Jumbl software you can even scan up to 22 megapixels. In addition, everything you need to scan is in this device meaning there is no need to connect it to a computer. You can view images once they are scanned and then save scans to a SD card (not included).

Right now the Jumbl is on sale for 50% off at Amazon – just $99 USD and free shipping for Amazon Prime members. Click here for more information.

technology for genealogy group on facebook

Tip: Spend Time Learning How Your Flatbed Scanner Works

I spend quite a bit of time reading posts over at the Technology for Genealogy group on Facebook and many of them involve scanning and scanners. I’ve come to the conclusion that most genealogists have some type of flatbed scanner, whether it is a stand-along scanner or part of an all-in-one device such as a printer/scanner combination.

Most users don’t spend time reviewing the settings for their scanner or scanning software. They simply accept the factory defaults and start scanning. Then after several weeks or months they realize that they’ve been scanning hundreds of photos at a low resolution and/or using a non-standard photo format.

Once you have a Digitization Strategy Plan (see above), note that standards you’ve developed – such as 300dpi and TIFF file format – and then set those standards on your scanner under Preferences. This way you won’t have to check the settings each time you embark on a scanning project!

flatbed scanner

Tip: Recovering the Cost of Purchased Scanning Equipment

One of the frequent questions I receive via email is this: “What do I do with a specialized piece of scanning equipment once I’m done using it?” For example, if you purchased a slide scanner and you’ve completed your digitization project with over 1,000 slides, what should you do with that scanner for which you’ve paid good money? It is unlikely that you’ll come into possession of more slides, right?

One option is to donate the equipment to your local genealogical society or public library. Many organizations are willing to set up “do it yourself” scanning stations for patrons. And you could get a tax deduction!

Another option: trade in the equipment for Amazon.com credit. Click here to learn how you can mail in your equipment (Amazon even pays the postage!), and get a credit to use on any Amazon.com purchase including genealogy books. Visit http://www.geneabloggers.com/amazontradeincomp to learn more on how you can trade in almost any piece of technology – even if you didn’t purchase it at Amazon!

* * *

Digitizing Photos and Documents Is Easier Than Ever

There have been so many advances in technology used to scan and digitize family photos and documents that there are no more excuses to put off those important projects. Whether you take your items to a scanning service or embark on a DIY project, it all comes down to making smart choices. If you do decide to scan items yourself, make sure you have the proper equipment and use the best standards to ensure quality scans and the need for “do-overs.”

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Do-Over – Week 7, Cycle 3: 14-20 August 2015

The Genealogy Do-Over - Week 7 Topics: 1) Reviewing Genealogy Database Software and 2) Digitizing Photos and Documents

Click here to to download this article in PDF format.

Previous topics in the Genealogy Do-Over:

[Editor’s note: Much of the text below is unchanged from the original Week 7 posting on February 13, 2015, except for my personal updates.]

Topics: 1) Reviewing Genealogy Database Software and 2)  Digitizing Photos and Documents

Can we really be more than half-way through the Genealogy Do-Over? This is Week 7 with six more weeks remaining. At this point, many of us who started on Cycle 3 on 3 July 2015 are still doing research and hopefully we’ve settled into a groove in terms of search methodology, citing sources and evaluating evidence. Remember  . . . the more you repeat these new habits, the more it becomes an integral part of your genealogy research. Hopefully your descendants, as well as your ancestors, will thank you!

And here’s some news: When the current Genealogy Do-Over cycle ends, on 1 October 2015, I’ll be restarting with Cycle 4 Week 1 on Friday, 2 October 2015.

* * *

Reviewing Genealogy Database Software

By now, many Genealogy Do-Over participants have been tracking their research and then evaluating the evidence to prove or disprove dates, names, relationships and more. The next step: enter proven data into a genealogy software program or on a genealogy website in order to share results and produce reports.

When I first started with genealogy, I purchased the latest version of Family Tree Maker from Banner Blue software (remember them?) and simply entered whatever I found (without evaluating evidence) into the program.

Then when I decided to pursue genealogy as a profession, in 2008, I opted to use a variety of programs, all at the same time. These included Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker. I also had my data in Ancestry.com on a public tree and on WikiTree. Why did I have my data in all these programs? Then, as now, I am often asked by vendors to beta test new versions and new features, so I had to keep my data in those programs.

Genealogy Database Programs – Are You Being Served?

I selected Family Tree Builder from MyHeritage since I have a MyHeritage subscription that I use and I like. MyHeritage is great for connecting with other European researchers and my German lines (Henneberg, Pressner, Herring) are where I need the most help.

I did a thorough review of available options and listed the features that were most important to me and my research. Every genealogist is different in terms of how they research so your choice should suit you and not work against you. Also, before moving to any new program, make sure you a) read the Terms of Services and b) understand how to import a GEDCOM file (that standard genealogy data file format. Some programs will not import notes, sources and other items. Make sure you don’t lose data when moving to a new program!

Wikipedia has an up-to-date Comparison of Genealogy Software chart listing specifications. In addition, check out GenSoftReviews which includes actual reviews, many by genealogists and actual users of the programs.

  • What I Plan to Do: Although I’ve used Family Tree Maker in the past, for my Genealogy Do-Over, I’ll be working with Family Tree Builder from MyHeritage. I plan on entering the data that I’ve been able to prove using evidence tracked in my Genealogy Research Log.
  • “All-In” Participant Options: Review all the different genealogy database possibilities, including software which stores data locally, and online programs such as WikiTree. Select a program that meets all your needs including source citations, linking to scanned photos and documents, etc.
  • Modified Participant Options: Also decide if your current method of recording your genealogy research results are working for you instead of against you. If you decide to stick with your current system, make sure you’ve downloaded the latest upgrade and understand any new features.

Digitizing Photos and Documents

Understanding the correct way to scan and digitize your family photos as well as your research documents is an important part of genealogy. I can’t stress this enough and I knew I had to include the topic in the Genealogy Do-Over.

Photo Digitization Best Practices

  • Set your scanner to a high resolution, such as 300 or 600 dpi.
  • Use the TIFF format and then copy TIFF files to create JPG or PNG files.
  • Clean the scanner with a microfiber cleaning cloth. Remove dust, lint and fingerprints so you can achieve the clearest possible scans.
  • Make sure the photo is in contact with the scanning surface or as close as possible to the surface; however, often you can get a good scan right through a plastic sleeve, matt, or glass. Don’t move the photo while scanning.
  • Keep the photo lined up with the edges of the scanner to reduce editing later on.
  • When transferring digital images to your computer, always save an original scan of the photo and then make copies of the file to be used for editing. Also export to multiple file types.
  • Use Photoshop Elements or your favorite graphic editing software to resize digital images for use with your favorite project.
  • Remember to periodically backup your scans of photos and documents.

Photos: DIY or Use a Professional Service?

There are many different ways to handle digital preservation of family photos. You can take the DIY (“do it yourself”) approach or use a service that will scan the images for you.

So what is the difference? The DIY approach may require you to purchase a scanner, learn the specifications and correct scanning settings, and then scan each photo. Once scanned, you’ll need to rename the file, save it and then move on to the next one. The process can be time consuming to say the least. Using a service tends to be hassle free, usually guarantees a high-quality scan, but can be expensive if you have many items to scan.

A special discount of 34% percent off the new book How to Archive Family Photos by Denise Levenick - here's how to get the special coupon code!

If you decide to take the DIY approach, I highly recommend the book How to Archive Family Photos by Denise Levenick (use promo code SFT2015 to save an extra 10%). It has excellent advice on how to select a scanner as well as the best way to scan all types of photos. I also recommend Denise’s handout from her RootsTech 2014 presentation, How to Scan an Elephant: Digitize Your Family History from Artifact to Zombie. Click here for the free download.

Eye-Fi 16GB Pro X2 SDHC Class 10 Wireless Flash Memory Card

One aspect of my current scanning regimen is the use of a wireless SD card by Eye-Fi in my Flip-Pal mobile scanner. I have the 8GB version, but I just noticed that Amazon is carrying the Eye-Fi 16GB Pro X2 SDHC Class 10 Wireless Flash Memory Card on sale for 40% off! Click here for more info.

So why is having a wireless SD card so special? I can sit in my living room and through my wireless router, have the scanned image sent to my desktop computer or even to my Dropbox account. Also, many of the newer flatbed scanners have a slot to read SD memory cards!

If you decide to use a service, please take my advice: review their services and make sure they are using the best equipment and providing you with the best high-resolution scan. Many of the services, including superstores like Costco and Wal-Mart, outsource their scanning to vendors who are more focused on speed and quick turn-around rather than quality. Do you really want to take shortcuts with your family memories?

larsen digital

That’s why I use Larsen Digital for my scanning needs: I’ve been extremely happy with the results. By using Larsen, I know I get expert results AND spend that scanning time researching my ancestors. Click here to learn more about Larsen Digital and to get a 15% off coupon on scanning services!

Documents: How to Convert Image Text to Searchable Text

The digitization of documents is different than photos due to this challenge: how do you convert the text in an image to text that you can search, copy and paste and use? The process employed to convert image text is called OCR or Optical Character Recognition.

Again, just like scanning photos, you can take the DIY approach or use a service. Keep in mind that the quality of the document will impact the OCR results. So if the document is old, faded and hard to read, the OCR process will certainly need review and correction. And, currently, handwriting OCR is basically unavailable.

If you have a flatbed scanner and it came with software, look to see if that software will OCR your scanned text documents. Another option is to purchase a program such as Adobe Acrobat Standard that can quickly OCR scanned documents.

Or, consider using a service for scanning documents; a good local option is your closest FedEx Office store.

  • What I Plan to Do: Over the past few months I’ve been using my Flip-Pal scanner to scan photos while I am watching television each evening. Going forward, I’ll likely be using Larsen Digital for my photo scanning needs. As for documents, right now I use a flatbed scanner, but I don’t have a process for converting the image text to searchable text. I may consider purchasing Adobe Acrobat but due to the expense, I may consider other options such as Google Drive.
  • “All-In” Participant Options: Spend some time reviewing how you want to scan your photos and documents. If you decide to take the DIY route, research scanners that work within your budget and technical expertise. And remember to thoroughly check out any scanning service you decide to use if you don’t want to scan items yourself.
  • Modified Participant Options: There is no real difference in practices from the “All-In” participants; however, if you are sitting on digital scans of photos and documents you’ve done previously, review the quality and consider instituting the best practices listed above and “re do” those scans!

* * *

And that’s all I have for this week’s topic of the Genealogy Do-Over. Get ready for next week when we start looking at the meaning of “collateral” genealogy research and how to use it, as well as review the various “in person” programs available for genealogy education!

Next Week: Week 8, Cycle 3 – 21-27 August 2015

  • Conducting Collateral Research
  • Reviewing Offline Education Options

Thanks for being a part of the Genealogy Do-Over and your feedback is always appreciated. You can leave a comment on the blog post at GeneaBloggers, email me at geneabloggers@gmail.com or post at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group.

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Using Amazon for Genealogy

Amazon is the most popular e-commerce website in the United States; did you know that Amazon can also be used to assist in your genealogy research?

I use Amazon almost every day it seems; my house and business just can’t run without it! I’ve been a loyal Amazon users since the first started, and I also have an Amazon Prime membership which offers benefits such as free 2-day shipping, streaming music and video and more.

The typical genealogist uses Amazon as a source for purchasing genealogy books, software and even gift items. But have you tried using Amazon to search for other items related to actual genealogical research?

Genealogy Research Items on Amazon

I stumbled upon several items relevant to genealogical research by accident. Usually, when I enter the word “genealogy” the first items to appear are books. Amazon ranks search results based on the most relevant items, and those items appear first.

To look at some of the more “uncommon” or lower ranking items, in the left sidebar, click “See all _____ departments.” Then select departments that might have items related to genealogy. One of the best is Collectibles & Fine Art. Why? This is where vendors sell old family photos – some identified and some unidentified. You may find photos of your ancestors or from the same town as your ancestors.

amazon for genealogy

The Product Description is FILLED with valuable information: “1870’s Bertha Twiss Family CDV Photo, Manchester, Iowa, Delaware County, Vintage Victorian #150: On front: Bertha Twiss is clearly handwritten in period ink. Photo type: CDV Carte de visite Photo. Photographer: Walter’s Photographic Studio, Manchester, Iowa, Delaware County. Note: very ornate and fancy backmark. (This is known to be photographer Harry L. Walters or Walter) We found in public records: 1880 US Census about Bertha Belle Twiss Age: 7, Birth Year: abt 1879, Birthplace: Iowa, Home in 1880: Delhi, Delaware, Iowa. Father’s Name: Thomas A. Twiss, Father’s Birthplace: England, Mother’s name: Amelia Twiss, Mother’s Birthplace: Iowa, Household Members: Name Age: Thomas A. Twiss 40, Amelia Twiss 24, Bertha Belle Twiss 7, John Poor 68, Mary Poor 69. NOTE: Bertha Twiss Married Arthur Howell Denmark. Father: Thomas A Twiss born 1838. Mother: Amelia Permella Poor 1854-1922 .Sibling: Walter J Twiss born 1883. Unknown family member: Marbelle Twiss born 1907. Possible daughter: Bertha Belle Denmark who married Henry Grady Rushing in 1897. 1920 US Census Bertha Denmark [Bertha Luke] Age: 42 Birth Year: abt 1878 Birthplace: Iowa Home in 1920: Fitzgerald Ward 4, Ben Hill, Georgia. Spouse: Arthur H Denmark. Mother’s name: Amelia Luke. Household Members: Arthur H Denmark 47, Bertha Denmark 42, Marjorie Denmark 12. Frances Denmark 11, Alice Denmark 7, Amelia Luke 62, Clifford L Sanders 38, Minnie Sanders 33. A stunning image of an impish little girl with a beautiful and ornate photographer’s advertising backmark, artist palette, camera. One of our favorites! Do you know this Iowa and Georgia Twiss family? Size 2.5 x 4 inches”

Also, make sure you click on the Seller’s business name since it is likely they have photos and related items from the same location.

Don’t Forget Surname and Place Names!

In addition to using the terms “genealogy” and “family history,” I spent quite a while browsing items related to specific surnames and place names that I research.

When it comes down to it, any site that has a search engine has the potential to offer clues about your genealogy research. The best way to find out: enter one or more of your unusual surnames or place names and look at the search results.

* * *

Check out Amazon today and see if it can’t help with some of your research!

©2015, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.