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

Monday, September 14, 2015

Scanning Your Family History

"Scanner.view.750pix" by Users Boffy b, Arpingstone on en.wikipedia - Taken by Adrian Pingstone in November 2003 and released to the public domain.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -
Twice a month, at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, the Library is open on Sunday afternoon from 10:00 am to 7:30 pm (the second and fourth Sundays). On those days, the Library is very busy with people using a bank of scanners. The Library has some of the most up-to-date and useful scanning equipment available. There are scanners that scan large format, photos, microfilm, and slides. There is also a book scanner. All this is free to those who come to the Library.

There is both good news and bad news about the upsurge in interest about scanning your documents to upload to an online family tree or for preservation or simply to get rid of a lot of paper. The good news is that many of the documents are preserved and become more available to other family members, the downside is that the scanned images must be curated and maintained like any other historical artifact and in many cases, this is not happening. The recent huge wildfires in California point out that home-stored paper documents can be lost almost instantly. But the reality is that so can digitized documents. Those fires destroyed computers and computers files, just as completely as they did the paper copies. Only those digitized documents that had been shared with others, either online, or by physically providing a digital copy were likely spared. Digitizing changes the format of the documents, but does not eliminate the need for conservation and curation.

I have been scanning documents since computers and scanners were hooked together about thirty years ago. I have scanned hundreds of thousands of documents. The technology has gone from bad quality and cranky operation, to very high quality and simple operation. The prices have dropped from high to ridiculously low. Every so often, I review the prices and models of good scanners.

Scanners fall into distinct categories and vary in price by size and speed. The main categories of scanners are the following:
  • Photo Scanners
  • Film and Negative Scanners
  • High Speed Document Scanners
  • Mobile or Portable Scanners
  • Microfilm Scanners
  • Book Scanners
Photo scanners are just that, scanners built specifically to scan photos. They are either flat bed scanners or sheet fed. The scanner shown in the image above is a flat bed scanner. This one is shown scanning a 3D object, which, I suppose can be done. Here is a sheet fed scanner, same idea but faster and more expensive.

"Fujitsu ScanSnap fi-5100C tray open" by Zuzu - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -
Here is an idea of the price range of some types of scanners:
Flat bed color scanners $60 to well over $500
Sheet Fed Scanners $350 to well over $5000 depending on speed and paper size
Large Format Scanners (11 x 17 or larger) $1,500 to well over $5,000
Mobile or Portable Scanners $50 to what ever you want to pay
Microfilm scanners from around $5000 on up
Book Scanners $500 on up

You can buy a perfectly adequate flat bed scanner for the $60 price. If you want a film/negative scanner you will spend about $250. The brands I would consider include Kodak, Canon, Epson, Fujitsu, HP and perhaps a Brother. As far as document reproduction is concerned, you could just walk into your local electronics supplier and buy whatever is on sale. But I can assure you that after scanning a few thousand pages, you will have some definite opinions about what you need and want. For example, a small, portable, mobile scanner may seem like just the thing for onsite research, until you actually use one for scanning a lot of pages. Then you might realize the advantages of a hand-held digital camera to accomplish the same level of quality. As an alternative to purchasing a scanner, you can use a digital camera with, at least, 10 Megapixels (MP) of resolution. If you want to use a camera to scan (duplicate or copy) photos, you will not get to the quality of the cheaper scanners until the camera has at least 20 MP of resolution.Here is a digitized document made by a hand-held camera in a library, with permission of the library, of course. This photo is unaltered from the original.

You might have to zoom in or click on the photo to see the detail. Here is a screenshot of part of the same photo enlarged to 100% in Adobe Photoshop. This photo was taken with a Sony HX400V/B 20.4 MP Digital Camera that costs around $400.

Here is the same image at 200% magnification:

Here is the same image at 400% magnification:

At 400% you can start to see some pixelation, but the image is still highly readable. Of course, you could spend a lot more money and buy a camera with even higher resolution. I can assure you that making digital copies with a camera is a lot faster than almost any scanner in the same price range. For these photos, I was standing beside my wife who was turning the pages and holding them as flat as possible.

From a legibility standpoint, a flat bed scanner would not do much better, but from the standpoint of making an archive copy, you would have wanted to use a high quality book scanner for the same document. Of course, unless you want to spend thousands of dollars, the book scanner is likely not in your budget and the library would not have allowed me to bring in a book scanner, without special permission and some negotiation. In this case, I did obtain permission to do the photos, but a tripod or copy stand would not have been allowed.

I have a couple of flat bed scanners, I have a very nice sheet fed Epson Sheet-Fed Scanner, A DS-520 (now a DS-520) and of course, my cameras. I do have a box of photographs that I intend to haul down to the BYU Family History Library and scan on their high-speed scanners however.

More about preserving your digital images in a subsequent post.

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