Category Archives: Tuesday’s Tip

Tuesday’s Tech Tip – Record it!

Back when I was first starting to gather up our family history for a school project for my daughter, we made the 2+ hour trip to visit my husband’s grandmother. I briefly (very briefly) considered bringing a video camera, but thought the better of it. I was afraid she would find the camera a distraction or maybe even a little uncomfortable. I know that I personally am very self-conscious when someone points one of those my direction! So we relied on taking notes the old fashioned way – by hand.

Unfortunately, this was not ideal. It’s hard (for me anyway) to take comprehensive notes as someone is speaking at a normal rate. Plus, I found myself so focused on the note taking that I didn’t get to ask some of the questions that I would have liked. So a couple of years later, when I had the opportunity to interview my Aunt and Uncle, I decided to use a digital voice recorder.

Digital voice recorders are essentially tape recorders without the tapes – and they are considerably smaller than most of the old tape recorders. As with most all electronic gadgets, the price range on digital voice recorders varies widely, but you can probably buy a decent quality one for under $50.

Before you buy, however, check your existing gadgets. I had an inexpensive mp3 player that was capable of recording, so I used that. It was small – just slightly larger that a pack of gum and could sit very unobtrusively on the coffee table while we talked. Later I connected the mp3 player to my computer and uploaded the recording to my hard drive with my other genealogy data files. And this set of interviews was much easier on me as I didn’t have to focus on note-taking the entire time! Just make sure to familiarize yourself with how the recorder operates in advance — and, of course, make sure the device is fully charged before you start.

Would it be nice to have a video recording? Well, sure. But you have to weigh the factors for your situation. In my case, I thought the camera’s tendency to inhibit and distract out-weighed the benefit. The digital recorder is easier to forget about. Also, it’s a lot easier to toss a small device like that in your pocket or bag. In the case of the camera, I would have also probably needed to bring a tripod and the whole setup would have gotten a lot more complex.

So there you have it – record it! And while having a video is nice, consider an audio-only recording too. That’s my Tuesday Tip this week.

Tuesday’s Tip – Scrap the Tombstone

It’s time for another Tuesday’s Tip – a blogging prompt suggested by members of Geneabloggers.

So you want to make a digital scrapbook (or maybe even a traditional paper scrapbook) of your ancestors. The problem is that you don’t have any photographs of some of them. One solution is to include tombstone photographs with your journaling. It’s not as morbid as it might sound at first. Here’s a page I made for my 3rd great grandparents Issac Youngblood and Sarah Whitesides. They are buried in the cemetery at Brownback’s Reformed (now UCC) Church in Spring City, Chester County, Pennsylvania. As you might be able to tell, their tombstones are pretty worn and may not be legible at all in a few more years. So this could really be a nice way to preserve them for future generations.

Youngblood Tombstone at Brownsback's Cemetery

Credits: the tombstone photograph as well as the church/cemetery photograph were taken by me a few years ago. The scrapkit is one of my own.

Tuesday’s Tip – Suggestions for Photographing Tombstones

With the recent Memorial Day holiday, I’ve been thinking about heading back out to the local cemeteries to get some more photographs. The last few weeks have been very rainy, so hopefully we’re due for some nice days soon! So in that vein, for today’s Tuesday’s Tip (a prompt suggested by members of Geneabloggers), I thought I would post some suggestions regarding tombstone photographs.

My goal with tombstone photography is to try to get the best photos that I can without introducing anything that may possibly cause damage to the tombstone. So I don’t bring chalk or shaving cream or anything like that. (Although, in one case, I did pour a little of my drinking water on the stone to try to bring out the very worn inscription.) I also don’t really like to carry around lots of photographic equipment (including my DSLR), so typically I just use a digital point and shoot camera. Mine is a couple of years old. It’s 7 megapixels with a 5x optical zoom.

In looking over the photos I taken, I would have to say that I tend to get the best results in mid-morning and mid-afternoon. I’ve found that these times have the least amount of glare and shadows. I have also found that I can pull out better details on slightly cloudy days versus very bright sunny ones. And I also try to avoid using flash because of the glare, but depending on the amount of shade, it sometimes can’t be helped.

Since my camera has a lot of megapixels, I don’t really take a lot of tight-in closeups, but I try to take stand back a bit to get the context — so that I can see adjacent graves. This really helps sort out family members, especially in the case of photographing tombstones of people with common surnames. And because of the high megapixels, I can crop out the individual tombstones and still have good quality images to upload to sties like findagrave. Also, by capturing some of the adjacent tombstones in the image (or just taking a few extra pictures of the area) you just may find that the next plot over is an married daughter and her husband or family!

One of the things I haven’t done previously, but plan to do next time I’m out photographing a cemetery, is to bring along my hand-held GPS and put it in the photograph with the gravestone . I probably won’t do this for every tombstone, but maybe for some of my closer relatives and direct ancestors. That way if I ever need to go back for any reason, I’ll have the lat-long location of the grave to within a few feet. Of course, this will require closeup photos in order to be able to read the coordinates on the GPS unit.

Another tip is that when I first drive up to a cemetery, I usually try to get a photograph of the sign – or the church sign if the cemetery is attached to a church. This way I know in which cemetery the photographs were taken, particularly if I am visiting more than one that day.

Oh, and one last tip. Bring extra batteries if possible and also make sure you’ve cleaned off your memory card so that you have enough free space. There’s nothing worse that getting three quarters of the way through the cemetery and having your camera batteries die. Unfortunately, since my camera uses a non-standard rechargeable battery (and I don’t own a spare) this has happened to me more that once!!!

Well, I guess that’s about it for now — just a few suggestions for cemetery photographs. If you have any others, feel free to leave a comment!

Tuesday’s Tip – Scanning 35mm Slides

It’s time for Tuesday’s Tip, a blogging prompt suggested by members of Geneabloggers. Last week’s tip was to review the information found on the website scantips.com in order to help you decide on optimal settings for scanning photographs based on your intended use. This week I wanted to build on that information a little and discuss scanning 35mm slides.

I don’t know about your family, but mine went through a phase in the late 1950s and into the 1960s where many of the pictures they took were in the form of color slides rather than prints. When my Mom passed these along to me, some were in little boxes but many were mounted in metal trays. (Apparently, there were at least two types of slide projectors, some that used carousels (rounded trays) and others that used straight trays. My family obviously owned the type that used a straight tray.)

Now even though my flat bed scanner can handle slides, I knew that scanning them was going to be much more of a hassle than scanning photographs, so I first wanted to see what they contained to see if it was going to be worthwhile. The slide projector was long since gone, so the first step was to remove the slides from the trays and then remove the little metal sleeves. In holding the slides up to a bright light to view them, I was able to get an idea of what was on them. As it turns out they contained  photos of my parents’ wedding and other various family events that were worth scanning.

In order to scan the slides, light needs to shine through them much like it does when they are viewed with the projector. I have an Epson Perfection 4490 Photo Scanner. It’s a flat-bed scanner which I purchased several years ago. Like many models of home scanners, it is designed to scan slides as well as printed photographs. However in order to scan slides, you need to remove the white panel on the lid of the scanner and use the appropriate plastic guide to line up the slides. Since I had no idea where my scanner manual was hiding, I brought up the online version to read the instructions. As it turned out, it was pretty easy to remove the panel and position the plastic slide tray.

The next step was to determine the scan settings, most importantly the scanning dpi. Since I wanted to be able to create decent-sized print quality pictures from the scans, I chose 3200 as the scanning dpi. In essence this means I could generate prints of at least 8 by 12 with a print dpi (or ppi) of 300. (Here’s where I would recommend going back to the scantips site for a discussion of dpi and ppi.). Just a warning, scanning at this resolution is agonizingly, mind-numbingly sloooowwww!! However if the slides are good quality and not blurry or otherwise damaged, the resulting scans are amazing. I have been able to open them in photoshop, zoom in to full scale and the detail and clarity is awesome! In the end, all of the time and effort has definitely been worthwhile!

Tuesday’s Tip – Know the Facts Before you Scan

This week’s Tuesday Tip (a blogging prompt suggested by members of Geneabloggers) deals with learning about the pros and cons of various scan settings before you start to scan your old photos. This is actually a topic that I originally researched back in the fall of 2009. At that time I was preparing to scan ancestor photos that my Mom had come across and passed along to me.

I decided to post about the subject now since it has been discussed quite a bit recently on the Legacy Family Tree User’s Group mailing list. It is also a timely topic for me personally as I am in the middle of another round of scanning. This time it is my own collection of pre-digital photos. Most of them are about 5-15 years old. (Okay, maybe some of them are even older, but they haven’t quite made it to vintage yet!)

In any case, scanning a large batch of photos, regardless of their age, most likely isn’t a job that you want to tackle more than once. So you want to make sure you have the settings “right” the first time. Back in 2009, when I was scanning my vintage photos, I started out having a few ideas about what would be good for scanning resolution, file format, etc. But as is typical, I searched the web to make sure I was on the right track and to get a feel for what other people were doing in this regard. As it turns out, the “right” settings are, at least in part, dependent upon the intended use of the scanned image (i.e. printing, posting to web, etc). [For my purposes I decided to use 600 ppi (or dpi) for the majority of photos and snapshot that I scan.]

When I first started round two of scanning I didn’t bother surveying the web again as I still remembered the information I gathered back in 2009. But then one of the posters on the Legacy mailing list mentioned a website called scantips.com. So I went to that site and, sure enough, it was one of the ones that I had checked out before.

It’s a great site, very well-written and very easy to understand. I actually wound up reading quite a few of the articles – some which seemed familiar and others which I think may have been added since I checked it out before. Anyway, if (or when) you decide to start a scanning project, scantips.com is definitely worth a read. The author of the website has a great discussion on photo resolution as well as the advantages and disadvantage of various image formats. So that’s my Tuesday Tip this week — get informed before you start scanning – and a great place to get that information is the scantips website. Hope it helps!!