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© 2002-07 AFHS
18 Jul 2002



GenSoft: Sit 'n Scan


Gensoft - March 2000

by Elizabeth Rodier

A few updates from November 1999 presentation at the Computer Special Interest Group meeting, subject to change depending on questions asked March 25 at GenSoft Workshop (GenSoft has now merged with the WildRose Seminar to become "FamilyRoots". Questions welcome by e-mail.


  • soft pencil for marking photos lightly, archival sheet protectors from an office store, color coded binders to hold items and printouts like books-in-progress, wide dividers with tabs to fit between groups of individuals or time periods.

Plan for a growing collection

  • identify individuals in each picture if possible, or previous owner of photo
  • snapshot album may need pages numbered and photos listed
  • large items (rolled map) represented by a paper note with location of the original
  • photos of keepsake items and gravestones with location
  • oldest pictures first
  • Consider one binder for each potential book or branch of the family. If ancestors came from the same country you might want them in one file or binder in the early stages of research. Direct descendants plus siblings for each main surname are easier to organize than ancestors of a starting person.
  • If ancestors came from different regions, consider one binder per research area. If descendants hold separate reunions, consider one binder for each area of residence. Descendants of brothers may have separate reunions in the same area because there are too many people to get together at the same time.

Pictures on a computer

  • Inserted pictures are used in Family Tree Maker, keep the smallest possible image with acceptable quality. One data files contains pictures. Video clips use Object Linking (OLE) and have to be backed up in addition to the data file.
  • Scanning directly into a program may be possible but harder to control image size. Better to organize photos for each family group in Windows folders so they are ready to share with relatives who use a different system.
  • Linked pictures are often in one folder. Total size of a backup set must be considered.
  • Multiple copies of pictures may be needed
  • archival scan of a photo borrowed from a relative, full page document about 600 pixels or larger, scrapbook or slide show size about 480 pixels high, e-mail size under 200 kb, web page size about 35 kb.
  • Edit at the time of scanning if possible, using the exact area of a photo wanted. An image received by e-mail and re-edited to straighten a source document or remove distracting edge may end up much larger than the original even if the pixel size is reduced.
  • Heads for family trees look nice as ovals and can have a feathered edge to reduce distracting background when selected from a group picture. In Paint Shop Pro software, use Ellipse and feather. Select a color used in the photo for a border if a small image file needs a frame.
  • Most scanner software has quality settings. Use best quality JPG if there is any chance an image might need to be edited. Use compression as the last step to get a smaller image file in the desired size. A JPG loses quality each time it is edited, though not each time it is viewed.

Pictures on the Internet

  • Web page pictures need to be small enough to display with a variety of screen settings. Test a sample picture with the computer screen set at 640x480, 800x600 and 1024x768. Also check the look of a web page with different browsers and different kinds of Internet services.
  • Those with a fast connection can view and download picture files more easily.
  • Identification of a picture can be on top of the image or in a frame using the options in a full-featured image editing program.

Naming image files

  • Date first 1899-01-01NameTopic.jpg, 50 per folder by family groups
  • Reference number assigned may be confusing.

Printing pictures

  • Directly from a genealogy program with photo charts and scrapbooks
  • Word processor file started from a genealogy report in rich text format
  • Word processor file started with memories
  • Index may be automatic or require advanced word processor skills


  • CD recordables, view data files directly or copy to hard drive
  • Uncompressed copies of images with meaningful file names in folders
  • Progressive backups saved during a project

What to do with early family pictures that are unmarked?

Never throw away an early picture just because it is unmarked. Collectors value old photos for clothing and hair styles styles, especially if location of the photo is known. The early portrait photos have clues that may be helpful for location of family members. A photo marked "Charles Tupper's sister" with the photographer's name and location in the US resulted in contact with the author of a 1400 page book published a few years later. The provincial archivist used to keep lists of researchers working in the same area or interested in the same surnames. The 1880's portrait was used in the book and it also contains information about the photographer's career.

Links from the city-gallery web site may help with dates because photographers used cardboard styles and photo methods in different time periods. There is a mailing list, way to post small copies of "problem" photos for discussion and links to helpful articles. Steve Knoblock, popular history of photography and genealogy.

Early snapshots show much more about the daily life of family members than studio portraits -- farming vs. city life in the 1920s, a country school teacher's pupils and neighbors, a young man's self-portraits taken with the help of a tripod and self-timer feature on a folding camera in the 1930s. Sometimes contact prints the same size as the film were made backwards, not obvious unless there was a sign like the name of the train station.


Identify every photo with the family surname of the previous owner, guess at the dates and distribute scanned copies or photocopies to other family members who may have similar pictures. The back of a photo or note on a postcard may have additional details. A family picture with 7 young girls could only belong to one household in our family history. The half page of typed notes about them in the 1970 grew to two or three binders.

One of the sample pictures displayed at Gensoft showed a street scene in Springhill, NS. It was mailed with no street address to a boy in Calgary. August showed but no year for the postmark. "Willie Shields drowned in the lakes last Sunday" turned into William Shields son of ___ and ___ died Aug 8, 1909 when someone on the Cumberland mailing list was able to combine family details with the clues from the postcard. In contrast, an envelope with an unclear house number in 2000 was returned to sender even though it had the correct postal code. Calgary is a big city now. Elizabeth.