Five Tips For Scanning Your Old Photos

If your family is anything like mine, you have hundreds or thousands of photos that will never be seen again.  We have boxes filled with old photos (typically hidden in the attic); everything from black-and-white pictures from the early 1900s through to colour photos of me and my brother growing up.

Even if we open up those boxes and look through them occasionally, that doesn’t help the family who live elsewhere.  I have cousins living around the world who, of course, share the same grandparents – of whom we have a lot of photos.  The only solution is to scan the pictures and put them somewhere we can all access.

Scanning in old photos is a BIG job – especially if you have as many as we do – so I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned while working through our old photo collection.  Here are five tips for scanning in old photos…

1. Choose your device

The first decision is whether to use a flatbed scanner or your camera (or smartphone) to digitise your old photos.  Using a camera is certainly the simplest option – it is far easier and quicker to snap, snap, snap your photos than it is to load them one-by-one into a scanner and wait while it scans.  It probably takes an average of 60 seconds per photo using a flatbed scanner, versus maybe 10 seconds using a camera.

But the quality of the scan from a scanner is far superior to what you’ll achieve using a camera.  Scanners are designed for scanning flat documents, while cameras are designed for taking photos of 3D things in the real world – and the difference shows.

With a camera, curled paper edges, lighting glare and lens angles can all diminish the quality of the final output.  With a scanner, these problems are all removed.

Whether you invest in a scanner and spend the extra time it takes to use one depends on the quality you want in the digital versions of your photos.  I’d suggest you try a camera first and see if the output is good enough for what you need.

2. Don’t aim for perfection

With the choice between scanner and camera in mind, it’s worth noting that any digital version of your photos is better than nothing at all.  Your family and your future self will be delighted just to see the photos, even if they’re a little skew or there’s a little glare in the top-right corner.

It’s tempting to spend a lot of time perfecting the scanning process, but your main aim should be getting your paper photos onto a computer.  The longer it takes to arrange photos, align them, adjust lighting and everything else, the less likely you are to finish the job.

It takes a little experimentation to see what you get from different methods, so have a play and find a compromise that you’re happy with between speed and quality.

3. Sort the photos first

It’s a lot easier to organise the paper copies of your photos than it is to do it on a computer.  It’s also a lot more enjoyable – you’ll find yourself spending a few moments on each photo, either enjoying your own memories or trying to solve the mysteries therein.

I suggest grouping photos by date primarily.  In some cases you’ll have an exact date written on the back of the photo (or imprinted in the photo itself in some more recent pics).  Otherwise, you might need to make a best guess on the month or year or maybe just decade.  

Organising your photos before scanning makes it much easier to store them in appropriate date-based folders on your computer later. For example, you could scan photos in date batches, so that all photos from 1973 go into one folder.

It’s also an opportunity to remove any that aren’t worth scanning in. Underdeveloped shots or the seventeenth photo of the same anonymous landscape might not be something you want to spend time scanning in.  

4. Check your scanner settings

Most scanners, cameras and smartphones will offer some level of customisation for the resulting image.  You’ll want to get this setup correctly before you start.

There are three considerations: image settings, resolution and file type.

The image settings include options like brightness, colour levels and contrast.  You may find that the default settings are perfect, otherwise you may want to adjust them until you get the image output you’re looking for.  I found that my colour photos looked a little too blue by the time they reached the screen, so I adjusted the colour balance to fix that.

The larger the resolution of your scanned-in photo, the higher its quality (and file size).  Bigger is always better, but there is a maximum to the quality you’ll actually be able to use.  It may be tempting to reduce the resolution to save disk space, but if you go too low you’ll end up with photos that aren’t good enough to print – and you may regret that one day.  I’d recommend a resolution of 300dpi (dots per inch), which will give you more than enough for viewing on a screen and emailing and plenty to produce quality prints if you ever need to.

You can often select the file type that you want to create during scanning, such as JPEG, TIFF, PNG or PDF.  For most purposes you’ll want to choose JPEG, which is a good compromise between quality and file size.  It’s the most familiar type of image file and can easily be used for viewing, emailing or printing.

5. Scan multiple photos together

Whether you’re using a scanner or a camera, you can save time by scanning more than one photo at a time.  A typical flatbed scanner can accommodate at least 3 typical photos and you’ll probably fit 3 or 4 into the viewfinder of a camera at a reasonable distance.

The downside of scanning multiple photos together is that you need to crop the resulting image into 3 or 4 photos.  Fortunately, there are a number of software solutions and apps that will do this automatically – and many modern flatbed scanners come with appropriate software as part of the package.

We’ll be reviewing apps and photo software in the future, so watch this space!

Add your photos to Twile

Once you’ve digitised your photos, don’t just leave them hidden away on your computer – upload them to your Twile timeline so that the rest of your family can explore and enjoy them.  Twile is totally private, which means only the family members you invite will be able to see the photos you share.

Click here to create your Twile Timeline

 

Twile supports #CreateUK

This week we have been supporting The Department for Culture, Media & Sport’s campaign #CreateUK, a week long celebration and showcase of the creative industries in the UK.s300_CREATE_UK_GOV.UK

As a tech startup in the UK, we’re delighted to be amongst a community of fellow creatives who are generating almost £10m every hour for the UK economy!

When asked why we create, many reasons sprang to mind and it reminded us of an article that Paul Brooks (Twile co-founder) wrote to TechCityInsider earlier this year:

“When we first started Twile in 2013, we had dreams and expectations of quick success, exponential growth and big investment. As it turns out, building a startup is a lot more than that. Along with my co-founder Kelly Marsden, I launched the company as part of the first Dotforge accelerator in Sheffield and quickly managed to close a small seed investment round from local angel investors.

We soon found that growing a consumer userbase with a small budget and an early product is not easy. We regularly worked 70-weeks with very little to show for them except a little more understanding and gradually improving product. We managed to maintain the confidence of our investors and they put more money in to two more rounds over the next two years, giving us the runway we needed to experiment, pivot and chase product-market fit. There were many times when we didn’t think we’d last long enough.

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Based in Yorkshire, it has been difficult to attract big investment and raise our profile in the tech community. While there are initiatives such as Tech North , to address the challenges faced by entrepreneurs outside of London, the capital is still very much the centre of the UK tech community.

To secure investment, you need to meet as many investors as possible and work to build long term relationships with them, keeping them updated on your progress and successes. With limited budget, it hasn’t been possible for us to travel to London regularly or spend large periods of time there. The fact that everyone involved in the business has young children has made this even more difficult. Of course, there are investors in the North, but from our experience most of them are lacking an understanding of the tech industry, especially web software. For example, it is fairly typical for a consumer app to prioritise growth over revenue at the start, but most investors we have met in the North East, for instance, expect to see a healthy turnover and strong balance sheet before they’ll even glance at the cover of a business plan.

Despite these challenges, our perseverance and hard work is paying off. In 2015 we started to gain recognition as an innovative visualisation tool for the family history market and started to acheive real growth.

We attended the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City in February and won two of the four innovations awards as part of the innovator showdown competition – returning to the UK with $16,000 in cash and another $10,000 in “in-kind” support. We are looking forward to returning to RootsTech in 2017.

On our return, we learned that we had secured investment and a partnership deal with Findmypast, one of the leading names in family history. This gives us the resources and support we need to grow Twile into a global brand.

In under three years, we have evolved Twile from an early concept into a robust, fully featured product that solves a real problem for our customers. We have made a point of talking to our users as often as possible and we’ve used their input to intelligently prioritise development. We’ve put a huge amount of effort into every phase of the business and we’ve acknowledged our failures as essential steps to success.

If there’s a moral to our story, it’s that our own hard work is going to deliver the results. It’s easy to blame market conditions, geographical location, lack of government support of any other external factors for the failure of a start-up, but we’ve seen a number of early stage businesses (including Twile) succeed in recent years and every one of them has put a lot of effort in to overcome the obstacles they’ve been faced with.

Fortunately, recent investment in the infrastructure for start-ups outside of London is beginning to amplify the hard work that entrepreneurs are willing to put in.

Organisations like Creative England, (who have been hugely supportive in our journey, backing us from the beginning) and Tech North and accelerators like Dot Forge and Ignite are making it easier to start and succeed. If this can be matched by investors with an appetite for opportunities outside of London, I believe we will see many more successful northern startups in the near future.”

The #CreateUK campaign this week reminds us that with hard work we can continue to thrive and take advantage of the new opportunities which are opening up to do business across the world. Why do we create? Because it’s our dream, our passion, our mission to succeed.

Relevant articles:

 

Fun Facts about Father’s Day

Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, is a worldwide celebration of dads. Many countries will be celebrating Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June including the US and UK. Australia however celebrates the occasion on the first Sunday in September.

Here are a few more interesting facts…

  • Father’s Day was invented by American Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd who wanted to honour her father, with the first celebration on June 19th 1910.
  • Father’s Day is the fifth-largest card sending holiday in the US, with almost 100 million Father’s Day cards sent annually.
  • In the UK 7 million Father’s Day cards are sent each year, compared to 13 million Mother’s Day cards.
  • Traditionally fathers should be given white or red roses as a gift. The rose is the official flower for Father’s Day and wearing a red rose signifies a living father, whilst a white one represents a deceased father.
  • The average dad in Britain spends four hours a week as a taxi driver!
  •  The word ‘Dad’ was first recorded in English in the 1500’s but it’s ancestry isn’t clear. It’s likely that ‘da’ originated as baby babble and entered adult vocabulary from there!

Whatever you might be doing this coming weekend, have fun and record those precious memories with your Dad. Recording current events in your family is just as important as recording things that have happened in the past.

Relevant articles

 

Invite family to explore your Twile timeline

Twile is designed for sharing. The timeline is a great way of letting your family (especially the younger ones) explore their family history and recent events online. You can invite your family to view everything easily and for free!

In our last blog, we spoke about the The power of pictures and how a picture can ignite emotions and spark a conversation that you otherwise wouldn’t have had! So share your stories and record new ones with your family now… remember that Twile is totally secure and private – only the family members you invite will ever be able to see your content.

How to invite somebody…

  1. Click the ‘Family Tree’ tab to load the family tree
  2. Move your mouse over the person you’d like to invite – a popup menu will appear
  3. Click ‘Invite Them’
  4. Enter the person’s email address
  5. Click ‘Send’
  6. We will send them an email with a link to join your family tree

It’s so simple…give it a try!

Click here to go to your Twile Timeline

For every member of your family that you invite, we will give you a free month’s subscription.

Watch the video…

 

Related articles:

 

 

The power of pictures

In our last blog post, we spoke about how adding words to your photos makes a story interesting.

Maureen Taylor, known as the Photo Detective, has been using Twile with her Mother to build their family timeline and found that uploading photos to the timeline and the conversations that followed became quite emotional. Thanks to Maureen for sharing her experience…

I believe that each photo is a story worth telling.

My work as the Photo Detective is proof positive of that fact. I find the family history in family photos by studying the details in a picture.

Images can help someone remember their past. For some looking at a photo is life changing. A picture can reveal where they come from and whom they look like. For others it’s the collection of images that fit together to tell the tale of their family’s past.

A research timeline is a great way to organize your information, but don’t overlook the storytelling possibilities that extend beyond the lifetime milestones to the photo memories. Pictures of ancestors (living and dead) expand our understanding of our family history. All you have to do is “listen” to the stories they are trying to tell.

A Living Example

I uploaded pictures and details of my mother’s life into Twile. I know her story (or so I thought) and since it wasn’t the first time I’d looked at the images, it was easy to arrange her pictures by date and occasion. Then I sat with her while she looked at them.

Her first reaction at seeing her life on the screen was, “Oh my, I’m old.” Looking at her baby picture through her wedding photos made her feel all of her 86 years. She’s a forward-looking person, but her wedding group portrait gave her pause. She whispered, “I’m the only one left.” She stared at it for a few long moments and then with a sigh she began looking through the other photos. The power of those pictures transported her (and me) into the past.

She focused on one in particular. Maureen

She’s the little girl in the white socks and beret crouched down in front. Flanked by her brothers with her parents in the back right. Center and to the back left is her oldest sister leaning her arm on her future husband. A simple question about her cute beret and the memories started flowing:

“Oh that’s me in the center. My sister Lauretta (to the back and left) and her future husband in the (center in the fedora) loved to dress me up and take me to the movies.”

“We saw everything. There wasn’t a Shirley Temple movie they didn’t take me to.”

When asked how old she was in that photo she said 5. That one picture was a door into her life at that time. She talked about a lot more of her life than just that moment.

Her relationship with her older sister: “Because she was so much older she was like a second mother to me”

Recollections of the first day of school: “I didn’t like it so I walked home. My mother took me back saying I’d just have to get used to it.”

And her parents: “There was a family gathering at our house every Saturday night with music. My mother played the piano and she and my father sang.”

All these jumbled memories from ONE picture. We still had a lifetime of pictures to go.

What will your pictures reveal?

Before it’s too late, add pictures to events in a living person’s life using Twile and sit with them while they reminisce. You might hear tales of bravery, lost loves or stories about warm summer days. I guarantee those pictures combined with the simple facts of that person’s life will be mesmerizing.

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maureen-taylor
Maureen Taylor, known as the Photo Detective, finds the family history in your picture mysteries. She’s been featured in top media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Today Show. To discover some stories behind your favourite family photos visit her website

 

 

Also: Family Tree Magazine – Photo Detective Blog:

Related Links:

Adding words and documents to your photos

A good storyteller uses words and images to make their story interesting. By adding photos (old or new) into Twile, you capture each moment and help to piece together the story of your family history.

Quite often though, when looking through photos, we wonder who was there, where it was taken, why it was taken? This is where words become so important. Without them, family stories can become distorted over time and important details are lost.

To help you tell your stories, we’ve added a feature that lets you include words and documents (such as birth/marriage certificates, census records, etc.) to each event.

Click here to go to your timeline

  1. Click on an event on your timeline
  2. Beneath the ‘Add something’ title, click ‘Words’ to add a comment/memory.
  3. Click ‘Document’ to upload a document in JPEG or PNG format (we’ll be adding support for PDFs soon)

We’d love to hear what you think of these new additions.  Please get in touch at any time by emailing us at help@twile.com.

 

Related articles

Importing a GEDCOM file

Will your family preserve your genealogy legacy?

Getting the kids interested in genealogy

Family History is about the Living too

A Twile Account for the Whole Family

 

 

Mother’s Day US – Why is it celebrated on a different day to the UK holiday?

In the UK Mother’s Day has been and gone, however in the United States Mother’s Day is always held on the second Sunday in May. This date was formalised by President Wilson in 1914, whereas in the UK the holiday is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent every year.

We wrote about the history of Mother’s day back in March (https://twile.com/blog/2016/03/things-you-didnt-know-about-mothers-day/). The celebration began in the US and traces it’s roots to the creation of mother’s groups, consisting of women whose sons fought in the Civil War.

Over the years Mother’s Day has become more and more commercial, with the National Retail Federation estimating that this year Americans will spend an average of $172.63 on their mothers, an increase of $10 since 2014 and the highest amount in 12 years.

 

 

Using Citations and References in Family History Research

When researching your family history, there are many types of information available, such as parish registers, tax records, census forms, wills military service records, electoral rolls etc., and although their interpretation is often not at all straightforward – they are very useful if you are looking to share your findings with other members of your family.

We asked Professional Genealogist Anne Sherman, for her advice on how to cite your sources and why this is important. We often receive questions about citations and referencing sources on Twile and it is something we are working to build into the site in the near future. We are delighted that Anne agreed to write a helpful guest blog article for us.

Referencing your Sources: Anne Sherman

 

A little time spent now can save hours of work later.

Imagine the scene – you have been researching your family history for years and you finally share it with a member of your family, who turns around and says “but John did not marry Jane, he married Elizabeth!“. Okay, so now what do you do? How do you prove that John married Jane? Where did you find that information? Was it from physical evidence (birth/marriage certificate, census return) or did someone tell you, in which case who told you and when? If only you had spent 2 or 3 minutes noting down where you had found that important piece of information, you would be able to quickly prove your information, instead you spend days trying to find it again. You might be lucky, if the information was on a certificate you purchased – it is just a case of finding it again, otherwise you have to start your research again.

You may think that this will never happen to you – but can you be sure? It has happened to me on several occasions. Fortunately I had referenced my sources and could quickly prove the details of the marriage, whereas my detractors only had it as a family story. One spent weeks trying to prove me wrong, but to no avail.

It is so easy to do.

There are no right or wrong ways to reference your sources. Academics generally use a version of the Harvard Referencing, but there is no overall system for genealogical records and different organisations will use slightly different systems. The main thing to remember is that it should help you (or someone else) to find that record again.

An easy citation will include:

  • The type of record – Birth, Marriage, Death (BMD) registration index/certificate, Census return, diary, audio/written interview with Uncle Joseph etc.
  • Place the event took place.
  • The date or year of the record/interview.
  • Name of the main person – child, married couple (give both names) etc. For Census returns you can either give the Head of the family, but if your ancestor is a lodger then give his/her name
  • Any reference number for the record – archive reference, GRO reference for indexes, Census reference and enumeration district & page number.
  • Location of record – name of the Archive Office, website or if held privately, by whom?
  • Date accessed – although most people only use this for websites as they can change over time, although it is also useful for interviews.

Example of citation – Marriage Index. RD: Islington, Middlesex. March Qtr. 1876 WIEDHOFFT, Frederick Augustus & HUNTSMAN, Emma. Vol. 1b. p. 456. Available online: www.freebmd.org.uk Accessed 17 Oct 2012.

If you hold copies of some of your records, you will also need a simple but effective filing system, so that you can quickly and easily find the record that you are looking for – not just an old shoe box with piles of other documents. Remembering to reference your sources may be a pain, but it is better than the hurt and tears you may suffer if you don’t.

Anne 2010
Anne Sherman

To learn more about referencing and other research tips, Anne runs an online course as part of Leaves Family History Research Services, where she not only researches family histories, but will teach you how to do it yourself. Anne is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) and the Register of Qualified Genealogists (RQG) having completed a 2 year Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies with Strathclyde University.  Anne has undertaken some research for the Who Do You Think You Are? Television programme and recently had an article published in the Your Family History magazine.

We are working closely with Professional Genealogists to understand how we can best build citation functionality into Twile.

Further useful links:

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Header Image citation www.freebmd.org.uk.

Twile is now even faster!

You asked, we delivered: How your feedback improves Twile

In April 2016 we made some big changes to the invisible parts of Twile, which means that the whole website now runs faster and can handle any size of family tree. You will hopefully notice that everything loads more quickly, especially if you have a large family on the site.

Now that this work is complete, we thought you might be interested to have an insight into the challenges of building a website like Twile and keeping it running smoothly.

We build Twile in a ‘lean’ way, which basically means that we build new features as quickly as we can to get your feedback on them sooner. We don’t try to make everything perfect straight away – we could spend a very long time getting a feature just right, only to find that nobody wants it! Instead, we will build a simpler version of a feature and then make some changes and improvements to it over time, based on the conversations we have with customers like you.

The family tree is a good example of this. When we first built the tree in 2014, it was only designed to display 10-20 people (and GEDCOM was but a twinkle in our eyes). It couldn’t show multiple marriages, often displayed siblings in the wrong order and it didn’t look anywhere near as pretty.

But, it allowed us to collect feedback and prove that we were heading in the right direction. We’ve since improved the family tree gradually, adding new features. tweaking the design and allowing it to handle much larger and more complicated families.

The performance work we’ve done in April is the latest in a long and continued line of work on the family tree. The site can now comfortably handle any size of tree (we’ve tested it with 100,000 people so far).

All of this comes from the conversations we have with our customers. Some of the changes we’ve been asked for – and are still planning to build in – are support for adopted families, multiple trees and admin controls for the tree owner. These are all on their way.

The challenge of building a product like Twile is deciding what to work on first. We have a lot of customers asking for lots of different things, so we have to prioritise the ones that will improve Twile the most for the largest number of people. It is for this reason that we encourage you to give us your feedback – the more people that ask for a particular feature, the more likely we are to build it soon.

And in between the launch of new features, we’re always working on the hidden aspects of Twile – making it faster and more reliable. This is a never-ending task, as we have more users and more complex features every single day.

So we hope that you will be patient with us while we make Twile as amazing as we can. Our team is expanding, with two new developers joining the Twile team in May, which will mean that progress on some features will be accelerated. We ask that you keep telling us what you like, dislike and would like to see – in that way you’re helping us build the perfect tool for you.

Image by Freepik 

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Using Timeline Technologies in your Family History Research

If you were lucky enough to catch some of the workshops at Who Do You Think You Are? Live last week, Ron Arons spoke about ‘Technologies for Timelines’. It was a great presentation and we’re delighted that Ron agreed to do a guest blog post for us!

Twile and Mind Maps: Two excellent choices for building genealogical timelines, Ron Arons.

 

When it comes to Timelines, there are many technologies that fit the bill; I can tell you about two dozen different products and services which come in all shapes, sizes and prices. The good/bad news is that there are so many options. It can be confusing to decide which one(s) to use.

The really good news is that you don’t have to select just one approach, even if you are under a limited budget.

One way of deciding among the many choices is to consider how you want to use a timeline.

  • Do you want to create a beautiful report for yourself and others to show off what you have discovered as a result of all of your research efforts?

Or

  • Do you want to use a timeline for analysis purposes?

The really good news is that there are products and services which fall into each category.

Twile’s product/service falls into the first category. It is a unique product in that it allows you to build visually stunning timelines with superior graphics, including images (think family photographs, etc.)  The Twile folks make it easy to add family members to the timeline, whether you type information in directly or, better yet, import a GEDCOM (industry standard genealogy database) file. While relatively new to the market, Twile’s product is very capable and I know that they have great plans for the future with feature enhancements, e.g. video, on the drawing boards.

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By contrast, a mind map is a different animal altogether. The notion of mind maps has been around for centuries and software programs to create them have been around for nearly twenty years. Mind maps are used in companies of all sizes for brainstorming and creative thinking. In the education field, teachers use them with their students. Attorneys use them to layout their cases both for their clients as well as for juries. Writers use mind maps to plan their stories.

If you are a visual (or non-linear thinking person and have never tried them, you should really give them a shot.

Mind maps are radial outlines that start with a central theme or concept, e.g. a person or a question. From the centre, you expand the mind map with several branches. Each branch can be expanded with more specific details in sub-branches, sub-sub branches, etc. For example, the following mind map provides information about my great-grandfather, a criminal and consummate liar.

Isaac Spier1iMindMap

Better yet, you can make connections across the map using connector arrows/lines. It is this latter capability that I found so useful in my own personal research to help analyze two very difficult problems that haunted me for more than fifteen years.

The themes for my various mind maps were individuals. I created a first level of branches which represented the many different genealogical documents that I found for that individual (or other related individuals). I then organized the documents in clockwise, chronological order, effectively creating a timeline. Next, I populated sub-branches with details of each document. Finally, I used connector arrows of different colors to connect specific “facts” I saw in common across the various documents. I found that this approach “lit up” my brain, allowing me to “see” things that would have been much more difficult to notice and comprehend if I just looked at the original documents, comparing two at a time. You can see an example of a timeline mind map (without connector arrows) about my great-grandfather on my website here: http://www.ronarons.com/isaac-spier-mindmap/

So, you CAN have your cake and eat it, too!

You can use mind maps to help with the analysis portion of your research and a great product like Twile’s to spruce it up and make it look pretty to share with your relatives.

Regardless of which direction you take, I wish you the very best of success with your family history research. Happy hunting!

Ron Arons, lives in Oakland, California and  is a veteran genealogist, speaker, and author’
Ron Arons, lives in Oakland, California and is a veteran genealogist, speaker, and author.

We’d like to thank Ron for this insightful blog post. If you like this mind map approach to timelines, consider Ron’s book, Mind Maps for Genealogy, which discusses using mind maps for timelines, using the Genealogical Proof Standard, and implementing the FAN (friends, associates and neighbours) technique (also known as “cluster” research).