The Easy, Low-Tech Way to Label Scanned Photos

You’ve scanned some family photos. Great! But who is in them? With file names like IMG_1092.jpg, it isn’t readily apparent who is in the photo. How can you label scanned photos? You can embed the data into the metadata of the file, but there are two problems with that: time and access. It takes time to type all that up. And what happens when you email that photo to a cousin? Will they figure out how to read that metadata?

Fortunately, there's an easy, low-tech way of labeling those photos while you're scanning.

Getting Started - What You Need

An easy, low-tech way to label scanned photos

This is a photo of my grandpa with his mom. When I scanned it, I ended up with a file name SCAN0115.jpg. I can enter the data within the metadata using a program like Photoshop, but that takes time and my cousin probably won’t be able to find it.

What I need is a piece of paper and a pencil. (I told you this was low-tech.)

Labeling

Next, I write my “label” and lay it down on the scanner with the photo.

Scan both at the same time.

An easy, low-tech way to label your scanned photos

Lay the photo and your label on the scanner, close the lid, and scan at the same time.

This makes one image. (I did crop the one below so it would fit on the blog better.) I have the photo and the label together.

An easy, low-tech way to label scanned photos

Scanned photo with the label, all in one image. If I knew the date and place, I would add that, too.

NOTE: This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use your photo software to tag your photos. You still want to do that. But this step of writing out the label and having it as part of the visible image makes things easier down the road.

If you're wondering, "Why not have all of that information in the name of the file?"...  glad you asked. Not all scanners give you the option of changing the file name when you scan. Also, if you're using your phone or other camera as a scanner, you can't change the file name when you take the picture. 

Advantages

You might be thinking, “That doesn’t save a lot of time.” Actually, it saves time and frustration.

  • I can send the image to my relatives and they can see in an instant who it is.
  • I can embed metadata at my leisure later, without worrying that I’ll forget who was in the photo. (Yes, I’ve had that happen. Very embarrassing to have to go back to my mom and ask, “Who did you say this was?”)
  • Having the label visible also makes it easier for me to rename the file and to arrange into albums/folders on my computer. Having that information in front of me – literally – means I don’t have to go searching for that data, which saves me time and effort.

Disadvantages

  • Yes, it takes time. So does any method of labeling. Sorry.
  • You need to have handwriting that is at least half-way legible.
  • You relative could crop off the label. But that’s their decision. Besides, you still have your copy of it.

Tips for Labeling

It seems weird to call our ancestors by their full name. (What do you mean Grandma’s name isn’t “Grandma”?!) But that’s what you need to do when you label your photos.

If I had labeled this one “Grandpa with his mom” and I give it to my daughter, she could wonder, “Whose grandpa? My grandpa or mom’s grandpa? And which side of the family?” When you list people by name, it takes out that ambiguity.

Add the location and a date if you know it. I don’t know either the date or the location in this photo.

Make It a Group Activity

You don’t have to do this all by yourself. One person can write the caption, one person can scan, and one person can then write the information on the back of the photo. (Use a pencil and don’t press down too hard!) This would be great for Thanksgiving evening or Christmas night. (Just be sure to get all of the food off the table first. Family photos and food DO NOT MIX!)

I hope you’ll give this suggestion a try. When you do, let me know how it goes!

Also, for tips on how to preserve those old family photos, check out this interview I did with Denise Levenick, the ​Family Curator.

Scanning is easy. It's the labeling that's a pain. Here's an easy, low-tech way of labeling that will save you time and frustration.

Preserving Stories on 1000memories

In the past couple of years, there has been an shifting emphasis in genealogy/family history. Momentum has been building around capturing not only the names, dates, and places — the cold, hard facts — about our ancestors, but also capturing their story. As Lisa Alzo put it in her presentation on writing your family history at the recent Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, “You may have a family tree as long as this hall, but what do you know about any of those ancestors?” Curt Witcher talked about the importance of story in his keynote at RootsTech 2011. It’s the story that engages people.

In this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Skype, and texting, it’s easier than ever before to share our stories. But how do we preserve them?

That’s where a new website called 1000memories comes in.

At 1000memories, the emphasis in on sharing and preserving stories of ourselves and our ancestors. It’s a place “to remember everyone,” as co-founder Jonathan Good describes it. It’s free to register and free to use. If you can type, you can post photos, stories, documents, sound clips, movies — anything that will tell a bit about who that person was.

You might be thinking, “Hey, I can do that on my blog or on Facebook. Why do I need 1000memories?” Unlike your blog or Facebook, 1000memories is working to preserve the material forever. (And as Prince sang, that’s a mighty long time.) They’re serious about this. 1000memories takes extraordinary measures to keep these materials safe. (One thing that isn’t mentioned on that page is their partnership with Internet Archives, the group that gives us the awesome Wayback Machine among all sort of other preserved digital material. I told you — these folks are serious!)

So how easy is it to share photos and stories? At the FGS conference, I stopped by the booth for a brief demo. I had not tried to post anything prior to talking with Michael Katchen, so I was starting from square one. Michael showed me how to login via Facebook, which took all of about 10 seconds. I could see all of my Facebook albums. All I had to do was choose which album and then click the photos I wanted to import into 1000memories. I chose this photo of my grandparents:

Grandma and Grandpa Johnson, Easter 1965

Within a couple minutes, I had imported that photo, created a page for Grandma, a page for Grandpa, and started the frame of a family tree. It really is that easy. I was hooked. That afternoon, I skipped sessions at the conference, and went back to my room so I could upload more photos from my laptop. I added more photos, and typed up a quick story about my great-uncle Harold.

Since then, I’ve gone back through some older family photos that had just vague identifications on them. “Great-Grandma Young and her children.” Considering that she had 10 children, I needed some help on the specifics. I emailed the photo to my Dad and he identified everyone. I cannot wait to get more photos and more stories uploaded.

The top part of the page I created for my grandma.

Pages can have different privacy levels. For example, you can make pages for deceased family members open to everyone (only registered users can add to or edit the page) , but set pages for living people so that only invited people can share content or even set it so only invited people can view the page.

1000memories makes it so easy. All of my cousins can go on any of the pages I’ve created and add their own photos and stories. I’m the youngest of the grandchildren, and I know that my stories of Grandma and Grandpa aren’t the same as those of my older cousins. Now we have a way for all of our stories to be shared and preserved.

I plan on writing more about 1000memories in the near future. But the site is so easy to use, you really don’t need a lot of tutorials to get started!

Learn more:
Michael Katchen of 1000memories will be a guest on GeneaBloggers Radio this evening at 10:00 Eastern.

You can also watch co-founder Jonathan Good’s presentation at the 2011 TEDxSF.


Disclaimer: I attended the “Engaging Your Family in Genealogy” breakfast panel at the FGS conference. However, I can honestly say that the free (small) glass of orange juice and the rather dry cheese danish did not influence this review. 

Treasures in a Random War of 1812 Pension File

Footnote.com recently released the first 1,400 images of the War of 1812 pension files, as part of its partnership with the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Archives. (You can read the full announcement here.) As promised, these images are free — no subscription required!

What’s so great about War of 1812 pension files? They can contain details not only of the veteran’s service, but his marriages, children, residences, and more. I decided to pick a random War of 1812 pension file and see what all I could glean from it.

Veteran: James Abbott of Ohio. You’ll notice on this page that many of the details contained in the file have been summarized. (No, I didn’t read this page and then choose him for my subject!) Even if the pension file you’re interested in has a summary page like this, read the entire file. You never know what else is in there (or what mistakes might have been made when that summary sheet was created).

Service: Captain Patrick Shaw’s Company, Ohio Militia. Enlisted 6 February 1813; discharged 6 August 1813. (page 6 and page 47). Drafted at Lebanon, Ohio (page 14)

Pension: Granted a pension of $8/month, 18 November 1871 (page 6), certificate number 8404 (page 2)

Bounty Land Warrant: 10713-160-55 (page 8 )

Residences:

  • Warren County, Ohio (page 21)
  • Miami County, Ohio (page 21)
  • Niles Township, Delaware County, Indiana “for 24 years” (stated 21 March 1871) (page 14); Moved to Delaware County, Indiana in 1846 (page 21)
  • Delaware County, Indiana (Granville post office), 25 March 1871 (page 6)

Born: circa 1794 (was 77 in 1781) (page 14) in Clermont County, Ohio (page 21)

Died: 14 October 1874 (page 8) at Delaware County, Indiana (page 21). See also page 52.

Physical Description (age 18): 5′ 9″, dark hair, blue eyes, light complexion (page 21)

Occupation: “Carpenter, and farming until within the last fifteen years he could not farm on account of age,” 21 March 1871 (page 14)

Widow: Rosa, received $8/month pension, certificate 13344 dated 19 December 1878 (page 5)

Marriages:

  • Rosa Keenan, near Lebanon, Warren County, Ohio, 19 June 1824, by Mahlon Roach, JP (page 21 and page 33)
  • According to Rosa, neither she nor James had been married previously (page 21)

Children:

  • Son William, age 44 (stated 27 March 1878) residing in Muncie, Indiana; his wife is F. Martha Abbott (page 22)

Witnesses:

  • John C. Matthews and William H. Stewart, both of Delaware County, who had known James for 20 years, 21 March 1871 (page 14 and page 15)
  • William and F. Martha Abbott (page 17)
  • Thomas J. Sample and William Abbott (page 21)
  • William H. Stewart and Amos L. Wilson, stating that James Abbott never aided in the rebellion (Civil War) (page 23)
  • Jacob F. Peterson and Henry Shaw, testified to death of James Abbott and that Rosa Abbott had not remarried (page 52)

Preserve the PensionsSee what a great resource War of 1812 pension files are?! These pension files, which had never even been microfilmed before, are being digitized thanks to the Preserve the Pensions project. This project seeks to raise $3.7 million to digitize and post online the 7.2 million pages of War of 1812 pension files.

You can help! Each dollar donated will digitize two images. Please visit the Preserve the Pensions page for more information. Preserve the Pensions is also on Facebook and on Twitter.

Digitizing War of 1812 Pension Files

From the 12 April 2011 press release by the Federation of Genealogical Societies and iArchives:

iArchives today announced a collaboration with the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) to digitize 180,000 pension applications, or an estimated 7.2 million pages of War of 1812 Pension Applications and Bounty Land Warrants. The collection will be available on iArchives’ military records website, Footnote.com, home of more than 72 million historical records.

The multi-year project will consist of scanning the pension files at the National Archives in Washington D.C. and creating a searchable index to the digital images. FGS has targeted the War of 1812 Pension Applications as a high priority project based on the value of the content for genealogists as well as the importance of preserving the fragile records.

“Our goal with any collaboration is to honor our nation’s heritage by preserving the records of our past,” said Patricia Oxley, President of FGS. “In the specific case of the War of 1812 pension records, there is an added priority due to their frail state where not acting may mean sacrificing these for future generations.”

With the burden of proof on the applicant to qualify for a pension, those applying proved participation in the war by including dozens of vividly descriptive pages.  Details recorded include military battle stories, service dates, mentions of fellow soldiers, family relations, marriages, widows’ maiden names and many other clues significant to researchers. The breadth of information allows the pension files to tell the richest story of that time period.

“The most popular database on Footnote.com today is the Revolutionary War Pensions which is very similar content,” said Brian Hansen, General Manager at Footnote.com. “Our users have been asking for the War of 1812 pension records for some time, and I expect this collection to be very popular based on the rich war time detail it contains.  We are pleased to make these records available for free on Footnote.com as a result of FGS fundraising efforts to subsidize the production cost.” [emphasis added — ajc]

FGS is proud to be leading the national fundraising to support this project and is actively seeking donations from genealogical and historical societies, patriotic and military heritage societies, as well as interested corporations and individuals.  iArchives is providing a dollar-for-dollar match of each donation through a provision of services. To learn more and contribute to the project, visitwww.fgs.org/1812.


Page from War of 1812 Pension of Henry Lightner, Pennsylvania. Image at ACPL Genealogy Center.

That’s pretty exciting stuff! I’ve used War of 1812 pension files and they can be fabulous resources. There are two things I’d like to point out:

  1. Did you catch that part about the images will be free on Footnote? Free. As in you won’t need to pay to see them.
  2. FGS is raising funds to pay for the production.

According to the “Preserve the Pensions” page on the FGS website, each dollar raised will digitize two images.

That’s already a good deal, but you can make each dollar of your donation digitize four images! How? Donate through the Indiana Genealogical Society. IGS will match donations between now and June 30, 2011 (up to a total of $10,000). So if you donate $10 through IGS, they’ll match it — making the total donation to Preserve the Pensions $20. Donate $100 and IGS will match it, for a total donation of $200.

Working together — it’s a wonderful thing!

We Don’t Need to Make It Last Forever

Last night, I had the opportunity to participate in the first #libchat, a Twitter chat for people in the library field. There were several intriguing questions, including this one:

How can libraries store and preserve digital works over the long term?

Blefurgy summed it up best: “No simple way for this yet; best option is to keep multiple copies and actively mange content to make sure it remains accessible”

Digital preservation is not a simple, one-shot deal. The “benign neglect” strategy that tends to work well for paper-based materials is simply not an option for digital resources. Digital preservation is a continuing process of refreshing media, converting formats, migrating files — all while trying to keep the file and its metadata intact.

Digital resources present a host of preservation challenges. You need to be concerned about the media. Is it stable? Is the media itself still accessible? (Do you still have an 8-track player for those tapes you still have in the back of the closet?) On top of that, you need to be concerned about the accessibility of the data. Is it in a format that can still be read? This includes not only the file format itself, but also the version. (How many versions back can the current software read?)

This continual process of preservation isn’t something we’re accustomed to. We’re used to stabilizing the paper, putting it someplace safe, and calling it a day (or century). So it is very tempting to look at higher-maintenance digital resources with a bit of distain. “We have scrolls that are over 2,000 years old. No digital file is going to do that.” Take that line of thought a step further and you can end up wanting to convert digital materials to paper.

A digital-to-analog conversion is a far-from-perfect solution. First, not all digital materials are suitable or even usable in hard-copy. Obviously, sound files can’t be converted to paper, but even something that is strictly data isn’t always suitable for analog. Relational databases, for example, would be difficult or impossible to make usable in paper form. Second, a conversion to paper results in the loss of embedded metadata. Even if you extract it, the effort to somehow connect it to the data would be incredibly labor intensive. Third is the issue of space. Do you really want to print out and store several thousand photos or a dataset with a few million records?

With paper not being a viable solution, we’re back to the lamentation that no digital file lasts as long as paper. “There’s no file that will last forever.” That’s true (at least to the extent of our development of digital resources.) But that doesn’t matter.

The files we have now don’t need to last forever. We just need to preserve them for the next generation, so they, in turn can preserve them for the generation after that.

It’s akin to the solution of how to eat an elephant. (Answer: One bite at a time). If we keep fretting about a lack of a forever-lasting file format, we can end up dismissing or discounting the things we can do.

We don’t need to have the magic file format that will keep that file complete and accessible from now until the end of time. We need to take responsibility for our files for our lifetime and keep them in good condition so that the next generation can continue their preservation for the generation that follows. By seeing the longevity of digital resources as being a process, we can concentrate our efforts on being responsible stewards.