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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Traveling and offline

My wife and I are talking some time to travel at the end of summer. We will be off and online and not getting much published for a while. Watch for photo updates.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Ten: The Importance of Image Quality

When faced with a pile of old photos, the genealogist must make some important decisions. Of course, there is always the challenge of identifying the people and places represented in the photos, but sometimes we are faced with just really poor quality photos. Here is one example.

With the digital photographic manipulation tools, we have available today, this photo could be improved but the problems with focus, lighting, and exposure are not particularly correctable. In addition, this particular image is a generational copy of the original and much of the detail of the photo has already been lost. Here is a quick edit of the photo for comparison.

When taking a photo or when preserving one through using either a scanner or a camera the most important issue is making sure the images are focused. This image has a soft focus and further manipulation will cause some parts of the photo to look improved but others to look worse.

Manipulating or enhancing photos creates a whole list of ethical and historical issues. Whenever you elect to "fix" an old historically important photo, be sure and keep an unmodified copy of the original. When I manipulated this image, if I had spent more time, you probably could not easily tell that the image had been altered. The danger here is when the altered image replaces the original as the historical reality. You might dismiss the original as "damaged" but do you really know that the image was damaged and that the part of the image I removed do not add important information? One thing removed was a piece of an iron support, probably used by the photographer to help the person hold still.

Should something like this support be removed to "improve" the appearance of the original? This is a real question that needs to be answered by the person doing the "preservation."

After numerous discussions with genealogists who insist on improving the photos, I realize that my efforts to preserve the originals are being largely ignored. Here is an example of a series of photos that show what happens as people improve on the originals. By the way, can you tell which one is an accurate copy of the "original?"

All of these copies are duplicates uploaded to the FamilySearch Memories App. It would be nice to have the original photograph so that a better copy could be made.

Stay tuned for more of this rather endless series.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:
Part Nine:

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Expanded Commentary on the Rules of Genealogy: Rule Four

I published the first six Rules of Genealogy back on July 1, 2014. See "Six of the Basic Rules of Genealogy." This short list included the most famous and basic rule of genealogy: "When the baby was born, the mother was there." I added four rules in a post back on August 11, 2017, entitled, "New Rules Added to the old: The Rules of Genealogy Revisited." One more Rule was added to the list on August 2, 2018, in a post entitled, "A New Rule Added: The Rules of Genealogy Revisited Again." Again, on May 25, 2019, I added Rule Number Twelve in a blog post entitled, "What is "Your" Family Tree? A New Addition to the Basic Rules of Genealogy."You can go back to these original posts to see my original comments and the entire list of Rules. 

In this series, I am reviewing each of the Rules and expanding on the reasoning and background of each.

Rule Four: There are always more records

This is the one rule that you could argue about for hours if you were inclined to so so. So many genealogists claim that they have reached a "brick wall" and that there are no more records for their particular ancestor. What this really means is that is all the records that this particular genealogist has searched. Before I go too far with this commentary, I need to point out that there really are people who cannot be found in the records that do exist such as people who lived in extreme poverty and people who intentionally dropped out of the society where they lived. It is important to distinguish between individuals who are left out of records or managed to avoid being recorded from the concept of somehow the records are not available.

Let me explain what I mean with an example from the U.S. Federal Census. There are a multitude of reasons why any particular individual may not be found in a given Census record. There are also a multitude of other records that may contain information about that missing individual. The idea that there are always more records refers to the fact that it is highly unlikely that any individual researcher will have the time and resources to look through ALL of the records that exist and may contain information about a particular individual. For example, when was the last time you researched utility records or irrigation records? How many times have you looked at local parking violation records? Have you ever searched farm coop records or government subsidy allotment records?

One of the common complaints is that the county courthouse burned. The real question is what kinds of records survived the fire? Were all the local church records burned? If you want an extensive discussion on burned counties, see "Burned Counties Research."

In my experience, most researchers look at less than a dozen different types of records. Rule Four points out that superficial research is far from complete. Here is another example.

Herber, Mark D, and Society of Genealogists (Great Britain). Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co., Inc, 1998.

There is a second edition, see the following:

Herber, Mark D. 2008. Ancestral trails: the complete guide to British genealogy and family history. Stroud, Gloucestershire [England]: History Press.

This book has 873 pages listing and explaining hundreds of different types of British records. Most of these records are probably unknown to all but the most expert and dedicated British genealogists.

One of the best places to begin to see how many records there are in the world is to look at the Research Wiki. There are currently 90,418 articles listing records from all over the world.

Rule Four is more of a challenge than it is an absolute statement about the availability of records.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Nine: More about file formats

For most of the history of photography and document reproduction, it has been a basic tenet that no copy can be any better than the original and copies of copies always degraded in quality. When digital images came along, all that changed. Theoretically, some digital images can be copied an infinite number of times without any degradation. However, this can only happen when the digital image is entirely reproduced. Many of today's digital image file formats are "lossy." That means that when the file is saved the saved copy has discarded some of the information (detail) of the original image. The most common of these lossy file formats is the ubiquitous JPEG file (.jpg, .jpeg, etc.).

At this point, it is important to realize that there are hundreds of different digital image file formats out there. If you find an image cannot be opened in some strange file format, I suggest doing a Google search on the applications that support that particular file extension. I will only be able to discuss some of the more commonly used file formats. You can usually tell the type of file format from the file extension (the letters after the file name following a dot or period). You can find a fairly complete list of file extensions in Wikipedia: List of filename extensions.

The reason that JPEG or JPG files lose information or detail is that the original file is compressed and the compression process discards some information. Now, if you use a camera or scanner and save the file in JPEG or JPG format, you will get most of the information from the device. It mostly when the original digital image is copied or edited that the image loses additional information. Some cameras and a few scanners will allow you to save images as RAW images. This file format preserves all of the original information from the device. When you edit a RAW image, you can save your changes in many other formats and the original RAW image is not altered. The RAW image is not so much a file format as it is a complete dump of all the information gathered by the camera or scanner's sensor.

An alternative to saving images as .jpeg or .jpg files is to use the .tiff or .tff format. TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) is a file compression format that does not lose any information; it is a lossless file format. Files saved from the digital devices in this particular format are much larger in size than JPEG and RAW files, but few cameras have the ability to create images in the TIFF format. There are a very large number of other file formats out there in common use. Here are a few more:

  • HEIC - currently used by newer Apple iPhone operating systems. Here is a link to an article entitled, "HEIC JPG Comparison: What’s the Difference between HEIC vs JPG?"
  • PNG - "A PNG file is an image file stored in the Portable Network Graphic (PNG) format. It contains a bitmap of indexed colors and uses lossless compression, similar to a .GIF file but without copyright limitations. PNG files are commonly used to store graphics for web images." See
  • .GIF Again quoting A GIF file is an image file often used for web graphics. It may contain up to 256 indexed colors with a color palette that may be a predefined set of colors or may be adapted to the colors in the image. GIF files are saved in a lossless format, meaning the clarity of the image is not compromised with GIF compression.

The scanning software that comes with your scanner may or may not have the ability to save files in all the different file formats

In the past, the file size was a huge issue. Most of the commonly used file formats such as JPEG and TIFF were either used or not used when memory storage was limited. Presently, file size is not as much of an issue. If your computer is old and you do not have external storage, you may still have some concerns about file size but even if that is the case, you can purchase sufficient external storage for a very reasonable price. See The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Eight -- Technological Challenges: Scanners. If you have the option, store your images as RAW images. If not, then use TIFF. In event you have neither, JPEG will do. One more option is storing the images in PDF format. This is acceptable to the Library of Congress and is another alternative. Technically, PDF files are not an image format, but images can be stored as PDF files.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:
Part Eight:

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Ultimate Digital Preservation Guide, Part Eight -- Technological Challenges: Scanners

If you are at all serious about digitizing a significant quantity of records, you need to have access to a scanner. In modern commerce, there are still vestiges of paper records but nearly all of my interaction with the outside commercial world is now on the internet in digital formats. For example, I have been involved in purchasing and selling real estate. Depending on the state in the United States, I can do the entire transaction online except for the physical property examination but in some states, the process is still very paper-oriented.

How does this translate to genealogy? Obviously, many of the records we now search are online in digital format. Some of those records are even indexed. As more records are digitized we will have less and less need to refer to paper records. Do not misunderstand my comment. It will be a really cold day in Phoenix, Arizona before all the paper records are digitized, but for some countries and during some time periods, the basic records are generally available online.

Unfortunately, that huge number of online digitized records does not help those of us with our own pile of paper. But, we should be aware that if our personal records are photocopies of records that are now online, it will not be our responsibility to assure that these records are digitally preserved. Those records that are truly personal such as journals, photographs, certificates, letters, and other similar documents are our responsibility to digitize and preserve.

Even within the past week or two, I have had another question come up about how and what to digitize. In this case, the person wanted to get rid of the clutter and open up space in their house. As long as we and others view the products of genealogical research as clutter or trash, we will continue to lose a huge amount of valuable genealogical information every year.

The main objective of this series is to motivate and assist those with paper collections of documents and records to share those with the greater genealogical community through digitization. Right now a huge number of documents and photographs are being uploaded to the Memories section but these contributions are only a small part of the paper out there in the world.

Scanners, photocopiers, and digital cameras have light-sensitive electronic sensors or photosensitive elements although the actual process is different for each class of machines. All three convert light rays into electronic signals that can then be printed or stored. Scanners and photocopiers shine a bright light on the documents being scanned and then use a photosensor to copy a reflected image of the document. Digital camera sensors create the image directly from light entering the lens of the camera. Many scanners available today are multifunctional and work as scanners, photocopiers or printers, and FAX machines although the fax function is rapidly disappearing with the ability to send digital images by email.

Here is a generalized diagram of how the most common flatbed scanner works.

By Scanner_a_plat_fonctionnement.png: User:Jean-noderivative work: Pluke (talk) - Scanner_a_plat_fonctionnement.png, FAL,
All other types of scanners follow the same general pattern. Rather than rewrite many of my previous blog posts, here is a list of the ones most pertinent to this issue.
Flatbed scanners are inexpensive. An Epson Perfection V39 Color Photo & Document Scanner with scan-to-cloud & 4800 optical resolution is presently about $70 on (you can designate The Family History Guide as you selected charity) and there are others that range up to $300 that have larger scanning surfaces or can also scan film slides. Scanners that automatically scan multiple pages with a sheet feeder and/or scan photos automatically can run into the thousands of dollars.

Some Family History Centers and libraries, such as the Brigham Young University Family History Library have scanners available for free public use.

If you read some of the posts linked above you will understand that using a very high level of resolution, such as the Epson's 4800 optical resolution, does little to enhance the final photo. The Library of Congress, Preservation Directorate recommends 300 or 400 dpi.

The scanner will either be connected to a computer or have its own USB connection and all your images can be stored on a flash drive or hard drive.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:
Part Four:
Part Five:
Part Six:
Part Seven:

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Technology Changing Rapidly for Cameras and Hard Drives
In a major technological shift, stand-alone digital camera sales are dramatically falling. Over the past year, according to an article on entitled "Worldwide Camera Sales Take Another Tumble,"
CIPA, the Camera and Imaging Products Association, which tracks global camera and lens sales by major manufacturers, has released their report for June 2019, and it shows another significant drop in sales as compared to past years. 
More specifically, the report shows that as compared to June of last year, camera and lens sales are down across the board by large amounts, with DSLRs dropping by 37% (in shipped units) and mirrorless cameras by 14%. 
This dramatic drop is being attributed to the widespread move to using the cameras incorporated in smartphones. Meanwhile, the competition among smartphone manufacturers continues to drive advances in the quality and features of the images produced by smartphones with the soon-to-be-released iPhone 11 incorporating a triple rear camera system. To illustrate this shift in usage, here are three photos: one taken with my iPhone 8 Plus, one from my 20 MP Sony HX400V, and my Canon 5D Mark II Full Frame with a 21.1 MP sensor. 

Image #1 with my iPhone:

Image #2, a similar photo taken with my Sony:

Image #3 taken with my Canon:

Of course, the subject matter differs but in this context, viewed on a computer screen, there is no significant difference for the viewer. A professional photographer would find some significant differences, but the average viewer would not see those differences as justifying spending up to $6000 for a DSLR camera body. I did not choose these examples because I thought they were the best photos I had taken, but because they are average. 

When the newest round of smartphones hit the market, I am guessing that the sale of stand-alone digital cameras will also drop. For genealogists, this means that the camera you need for doing research is probably your phone. 

Meanwhile, the competition between Solid State Devices (SSD) for storage (think flash drives or thumb drives) and traditional spinning media drives commonly called hard drives has continued to force the creation of larger and larger capacity hard drives while prices for flash drives continually drop with a 500 GB external SSD for well under $100. The price of a 128 GB flash drive has dropped to just over $20. Meanwhile, the Seagate 8TB hard drive has dropped in price to $140 and the prices on 10TB and even 12TB hard drives continue to drop. Most of the new computers are being shipped with internal SSD drives. 

The drop in memory storage costs directly affects the ability of genealogists to store more of their digitized files for less money. With memory costs falling, the large online genealogical database companies can expand their online collections for far less cost. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Ancestry® Unveils Two Unique Holocaust Record Collections made the following recent announcement:
As those who joined our call last week heard, these new records will be accessible globally to the public – members and non- members alike – on on a permanent basis. 
Copies of these records will also be donated to Arolsen Archives and to the 11-nation International Commission of digital copy holders of the archives including Yad Vashem in Israel and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to post on their website as well.  We plan to continue digitizing documents from the Arolsen Archives into our database in 2020.