Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Revisiting the ethics of photo manipulation or "restoration" Part One

From time to time, and the present time is no exception, I get into difficult conversations with fellow genealogists about the issue of photo "restoration." This issue affects me on several levels since I am both a dedicated genealogical researcher and a photographer. I have been taking photographs since I was a child and have been more than casually involved with photography for over 50 years. At the same time, I have been directly involved in the entire history of digitizing these photographs. I have been working with computer programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, at the time they were first made available back in 1989 or 1990.

Since those early years, the manipulation of photographic digital images has become pervasive in our society. I would venture to guess that there are almost no commercial images today that have not gone through some alteration process using photo manipulation software. In fact, the word "Photoshop" has become a common verb in our language. We often speak of "photoshopping" an image. Of course, this may technically violate the copyright and/or trade name rights of the owner. However, the definition now appears in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary. The verb is defined as follows:
Definition of PHOTOSHOP
transitive verb
: to alter (a digital image) with Photoshop software or other image-editing software especially in a way that distorts reality (as for deliberately deceptive purposes)
Well meaning genealogists often use Adobe Photoshop or some other program to alter original, historic photographs for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with "improving" damaged or unsightly images. In fact, a cottage industry has arisen with the objective of copying and enhancing faded or damaged photographs.

The question arises as to when the alteration of an original, historic photograph (including all the historic methods of photography from daguerreotypes to the present digital images, surpasses mere "restoration" and impinges on the issue of photo manipulation? I certainly do not have to go far to see photographs that have been substantially altered from the original. Does the fact that I have made a "digital copy" of the original image give me license to alter the image to suit my own personal sensibilities? I have had recent discussions on this topic where the genealogist in question takes the position that they are the ultimate arbitrator of what is and what is not acceptable alteration.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to illustrate some of the more egregious examples of what I am talking about. Here is a selection of photos from the Family Tree Memories photos. My examples are directly from the images placed online by various contributors. Where available, also on, I have included a more faithful copy of the original image. I will comment where appropriate.

The first examples are of cropping an image. My position is that the original image should not be cropped at all. We are representing an historical artifact. Anything that changes the original format of the image becomes our interpretation of the original and the information contained in the original image has been lost. Even the most rudimentary photo manipulation program can crop an image. Adobe Photoshop, in this instance, is overkill.

This is a highly cropped image and also a very poor quality reproduction. Here is another image of the same person showing where the cropped image originated.

It is very common among genealogists to crop out a headshot of an ancestor. However, the context of the image is completely lost. This type of cropping was (and is) extremely common on the pedigree charts I used to see as a youth. Here is an example:

In making these collages of photos, often, the original photograph was destroyed when the smaller, mostly rounded images were physically cut out of the original. Here is an example of that process:

It is now impossible, practically speaking, to determine who was cut out of this original photo now that they have become separated. I do not have a copy of the uncut original. I am fully aware that many original photos from the past, were printed as head shots. But I always speculate how much more interesting and historically accurate the photos would have been had they included more of the subject. The tagged images in the program give the appearance of these "cut" photos and the old cut heads on the pedigree charts. It is interesting that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The new version of the Family Tree is still showing "head shots" on the pedigree. Only the method has changed.

The process of extreme cropping is not limited to one example. Here is another with the assumed original.

Here is the original, or what is left of it.

Even this more complete image is more than likely cropped. We use the background, clothing and props to date these old photos. All this is lost with an arbitrary cropping for a head shot.

Here are two more examples where the "original" has yet to make an appearance.

I would suggest that simply because a tool exists, it does not mean it has to be used. There is a blurred distinction between restoring and rewriting the past.

This was not at first intended to be a series. But it looks like now that I have gotten started, there is a whole lot more to say. Tune in for another installment.

Genealogy and frying an egg on the sidewalk

When I was growing up in the Phoenix, Arizona, one of the things I heard about was the fact that it was so hot, "you could cook an egg on the sidewalk." One day, in the middle of the summer, I went outside and tried this. I can't really say I was very successful, and I certainly did not feel like eating the egg, but I have measured temperatures on the sidewalks of over 150 degrees fahrenheit. A closed area, such as a car with the windows closed can quickly exceed this temperature. See "Phoenix Fire Department: Cars heat up fast in summer."
The Phoenix Fire Department urges people to use extreme caution during the Valley summer's extreme heat. 
When temperatures outside reach 100 degrees, the temperature inside a car can reach 138 degrees in five minutes and 150 in 15, even with a window partially open. Having the windows down even 1 inch causes only a slight temperature drop. 
Read more:
Now, what has this got to do with genealogy? Back at the end of November, 2014, the Mesa FamilySearch Library was closed for remodeling. About this same time, I had finished moving out of state to Provo, Utah. Unfortunately, I have lost my close contact of over ten years, with the Mesa FamilySearch Library. In January, 2015, the Library's Newsletter stated:
As you may know, we are in the process of a total remodeling of the first floor of the Library with some minor changes on the second floor. We closed the Library on the 24th of November with plans to reopen on the 5th of January, 2015. We have had some major complications that will delay our opening date. We are not certain at this time, but anticipate opening in late February. If you will call 480-964-1200, our Library phone number, we will include the new opening date in our message as soon as we have a firm date. We will also post it on the entry door of the Library as soon as we have the date.
The telephone message, now in April of 2015, still says to watch for the reopening date "in the near future."

Now, this is my concern. When I last visited the library at the end of December, 2015, there were several large metal storage containers in the parking lot. I understood that these containers housed the entire collection of books and microfilm of the library. I have heard, from friends, that the microfilm portion of the storage has been moved back into the uncompleted building, but that the rest of items are still in the metal storage boxes. Since it is now April in Mesa, the temperatures are already well into the 90s. Very soon, they will have temperatures outside over 100 degrees. I have become concerned about the contents of those metal boxes. Can the contents survive temperatures over 150 degrees, because that is what is going to happen very shortly?

I am completely unaware of the circumstances delaying the completion of the remodeling effort and the reopening of the Library. But whatever the reasons may be, I would think it advisable to take care of the books and other records stored in those metal containers before they are damaged by the heat. Just my opinion, which I have been known to express on occasion.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Marriage Statistics Forebode Genealogical Crisis

Jane Seymour (left) became Henry's third wife, pictured right with Henry and the young Prince Edward, c.1545, by an unknown artist. At the time that this was painted, Henry was married to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr.
Marriage records are one of the fundamental cornerstones of genealogical research. The main reason for this importance is the fact that the marriage relationship affects property rights and inheritance. Even if we ignore the long term social and cultural implications of a declining marriage rate and an increasing divorce rate, as genealogists we cannot ignore the difficulties researchers will have in determining any sort of lineage from a lack of marriage records. Recent news stories that claim some courts will allow the service of divorce actions by means of should also be a cause for alarm. See the recent Time magazine post entitled, "You Can Now Serve Divorce Papers on Facebook." See also the JSTOR article entitled, "Divorce in the U.S.A."

Even if the laws in the United States are restructured to accommodate the increase in out-of-wedlock unions, the reality is that the lack of a formalized relationship will make discovering lineage very difficult for the offspring. This same situation has existed since antiquity, but the scope and scale of the changes in U.S. society are unprecedented. In a recent Pew Research Center post entitled, "Record share of Americans Have Never Married, stated as follows:
The dramatic rise in the share of never-married adults and the emerging gender gap are related to a variety of factors. Adults are marrying later in life, and the shares of adults cohabiting and raising children outside of marriage have increased significantly. The median age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960. About a quarter (24%) of never-married young adults ages 25 to 34 are living with a partner, according to Pew Research analysis of Current Population Survey data. See also U.S. Census Bureau table MS-2. ( and Analysis is based on March 2013 Current Population Survey.
Documenting a population that has no formal marriage records may become impossible.

DPLA Hydra-in-a-box to impact record availability

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is a portal that delivers students, teachers, scholars, and the public to incredible resources, wherever they may be in America. It presently links over 10 million digital items. The Hydra-in-a-box initiative will dramatically increase the resources available through this valuable portal. The program is described in a blog post dated 15 April 2015 entitled, "Far-reaching “Hydra-in-a-Box” Joint Initiative Funded by IMLS."
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), Stanford University, and the DuraSpace organization are pleased to announce that their joint initiative has been awarded a $2M National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Nicknamed Hydra-in-a-Box, the project aims foster a new, national, library network through a community-based repository system, enabling discovery, interoperability and reuse of digital resources by people from this country and around the world. 
This transformative network is based on advanced repositories that not only empower local institutions with new asset management capabilities, but also interconnect their data and collections through a shared platform. 
“At the core of the Digital Public Library of America is our national network of hubs, and they need the systems envisioned by this project,” said Dan Cohen, DPLA’s executive director. “By combining contemporary technologies for aggregating, storing, enhancing, and serving cultural heritage content, we expect this new stack will be a huge boon to DPLA and to the broader digital library community. In addition, I’m thrilled that the project brings together the expertise of DuraSpace, Stanford, and DPLA.”
Many of the resources already on the DPLA are of value to genealogists. This is a good time to check out this fast growing portal service.

Protect your genealogy files with data migration

Data migration is the process of moving data stored in older programs to newer formats. For example, you may have failed to upgrade your genealogy software and are still using an older version of some program. The data created by that older program is at risk because the newer versions may not always be able to read the old files. Suppose your old computer finally dies and you have to buy a new computer. You have been diligent in backing up all your files and think you have nothing to worry about. Except for one thing, the old version of your genealogy program no longer runs on the new operating system of the new computer. So, you buy a copy of the latest version of your genealogy program and find out that the new version does not read your old files.

This scenario seems to happen more frequently with people who only use their computer occasionally for genealogy. Those of us who are immersed in the online computer world have hopefully learned to keep up with the updates. In fact, as I write this post, my laptop is downloading yet another Microsoft update.

There is a cycle to the updates to the various programs. Genealogy programs are no exception. The computer chip manufacturers are constantly developing newer, faster and smaller chips to run the computers. New chips generally require new operating systems. New operating systems further require the various developers to upgrade their programs. These upgrades are different from the ones the companies do to correct bugs in the programs and add new features. But regardless of the reason, there is a constant pressure to upgrade programs. When you buy a computer and start using it, you, in essence, buy into this stream of upgrades.

Many people resent the fact that they have to upgrade their programs constantly. They view computers as a one-time static investment. In fact, computers are more like paying rent. There are constant costs associated with ownership and use of a computer. These charges have increased with the advent of the Internet and subscription software services. With many programs, you have to pay a periodic fee (subscription price) to use the program. In this case, the company usually supplies the upgrades as part of the subscription price. For example, this is how I currently use all of my products such as Photoshop. I pay a monthly fee for access to all the programs and the upgrades come automatically with no added cost. This is essentially the same as using an online genealogy database such as or The benefit is I get to use the programs without worrying about paying for upgrades because I am already paying.

If you have stored away copies of your old files on floppy disks or CDs or some other media, you may find that the hardware has changed and the old media is no longer recognizable. This turns out to be one of the more common problems. I finally threw away all my old boxes of floppy disks. There is a slight chance that I lost some data in the process, but because I was constantly moving my files to new devices and computers, I am pretty confident that everything is still on my computer and hard drives today.

Data migration is not just a personal issue. It is the subject of major concern to libraries, archives and anyone stores data from computer programs.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Three Grandmothers

While I was tagging photos from the Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson Photographic Collection, I came across this unusual photo that remarkably has three of my grandmothers in the same photo. At the left is Eva Margaret Overson Tanner, my paternal grandmother. Above to the right is my great-grandmother, Eva's mother, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson. Sitting on the front row is my maternal great-grandmother, Mary Ann Linton Morgan. Mary Ann Linton Morgan was the widow of my great-grandfather John Morgan and had remarried David King Udall. The photo was likely taken before 1920 in St. Johns, Apache, Arizona. My parents, all four of my grandparents, and all but one of my great-grandparents lived in St. Johns at some time or another. This is the first and only photo I have of Mary Ann Linton Morgan while she was living in Hunt, Apache, Arizona, outside of St. Johns.

More Irish Genealogy Resources

One of my good online friends in Australia, Wayne, sent me a list of links to Irish websites in an email. I asked his permission to expand somewhat on the list and include his list with my additions in a blog post, to which he graciously consented. 

There are several half-myths that circulate in the genealogical community in addition to the long list of full-blown myths. Some of those half-myths address the issue of record availability in various parts of the world. In the U.S. we have the "burned county" or "my ancestors' records were lost in a courthouse fire" half-myth. While there are records lost in courthouse fire, it is ridiculous to suppose that all of the records in a county were kept in the courthouse. Likewise, there is a half-myth that records in Ireland have been destroyed. Yes, there are some notable instances of record loss, such as the destruction of the Public Records Office (PRO or PRONI) on 30 June 1922. If you want to see why this is a half-myth go to the Irish Genealogy Toolkit post entitled, "All Irish genealogy records were destroyed in the 1922 fire: Myth or fact?

Rather than moan and groan and wring our hands over the loss of records in the past, how about simply moving on and taking advantage of the huge numbers of records that are still available?

Here is the consolidated list of websites:

You might first want to see the long list of websites from the National Archives of Ireland which includes many of the following links. Some of the links below also have extensive lists of additional websites. I have not, at all, tried to include every website so listed. - has an extensive collection of Irish records including Ireland Census 1821-1851, Ireland Census Search Forms 1841 & 1851, Griffith's Valuation 1847-1864, Landed Estates Court Rentals 1850-1885, and the The Elliott Collection - See the FamilySearch Catalog for both online and microfilm resources.

Emerald Ancestors at

Ulster Historical Foundation at

Society of Genealogists Northern Ireland at   with this note from my friend in Australia: "this one I found the link below to a French site Gallica that has a ton of info on some of my ancestors in the way of PDFs etc , in French of course but I send them via translate a document (google translate) or google docs."

Gallica at  Again quoting: "I say give this a try for some info you just never know."

Ballymoney Ancestry at

Belfast Family History at

Church records listed by the Irish Genealogy website at

Irish Ancestral Research Association at