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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Using a camera to take notes

Recently, I was in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and was searching for an ancestor in some British Parish Registers using one of the old manual microfilm viewers. In the old days, when I found the entry I needed, I would have copied out the information by hand. As an alternative, I could take the film out of the viewer and go to one of the few ScanPro machines and then find the entry again and make a digital copy. I can now bypass all that. I pull out my iPhone and take a photo of the page. Granted, it is not the best photograph I have ever taken, but it is sufficient to read and use the information. It also a media attachment to my file for this person.

How good is the image above. Here is an enlarged image of the entries.

This is certainly a very usable image directly from the projected microfilm. I also make sure that I take images of the information about the roll. Here are a series of images that go along with the entry I found about my ancestors.

All of these were taken with a hand-held iPhone. I could have done better in centering the last photo, but I am interested in the information, not so much the photographic aspects. This last photo shows that this is a standard British Parish Register and the Priest has not even taken the time to write in the parish or the country. However, that information is contained on the microfilm information included when the film was taken.

Obviously, I can take photos of books and other documents where they are allowed by the Library. I also know the film number, so I can go to the Catalog and get the citation. Now, with an inexpensive tripod or other steadying device, the camera in the iPhone will take perfectly adequate images for almost any purpose except strictly defined archive copies.

The real advantage here, in addition to the image itself, is the time savings. This entire operation took only one or two minutes. I still have to utilize these images in my files on my computer at home, but I can gather information at the Library so much more efficiently.

I could get even higher resolution photos with one of my other cameras, but I will be updating my iPhone to a higher resolution camera model in a few months and soon, the photos will be essentially equivalent to those taken with more sophisticated cameras.

Time to rethink the issues of scanning?


  1. Good job. I've been doing that the last two years at the FHL, coming home with hundreds of images to rename, save in a file folder, source in RootsMagic, transcribe on my blog, add as Media to my database, etc.

    I occasionally find a blurry shot, but it's rare with my iPhone 5. The iPhone 6 is even better. I don't use a tripod, but brace my hand against the top of the microfilm reader and try to avoid shadows. My view is that it's good enough for what I'm doing.

  2. great post, this is one of my most used method of collecting information. using my camera, phone or ipad, whenever I find something of interest. When I was travelling in UK a couple of years ago and visiting cemeteries, I would take a photo of a street sign and the church/cemetry sign before starting to take pics of the gravestones. Same for house/buildings of interest, always take a photo the street sign as part of your record keeping , and for later reference.

  3. I've also found iPhone is great for this especially when combined with an app like GeniusScan that you can use to crop and re-orient your picture and also save it as a pdf and export to a storage service like Google Drive. I use this tool in conjunction with Arkiver, an app I created that helps you curate photos, video, pdfs and add notes and quotes that all get saved to your Dropbox and you can privately share your genealogy discoveries privately with other family members. Thanks for your post and all the best!

  4. Indeed, using a camera is the easies way to take notes, however it is not just taking notes, but saving the whole information, which may be not so useful, as you need to find key words. When you are taking notes, you write the key words in some order, so it is easier to refresh your memory. Also here is a good post by customwritingcompany where you may find a good tips on taking notes. There are also good ways of taking notes by just structuring your text.