Episode 305 - Records That Survived The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Downsizing/Decluttering- What to Keep Ask Us Anything- The Best Way to Digitize A Ton of Pictures

podcast episode Nov 10, 2019

Host Scott Fisher opens the show on his own this week as David Allen Lambert is in post-RootsTech London. He will return next week. In Family Histoire News, Fisher talks about the Million Letters Project. It’s a project that began decades ago with a few letters home from various wars dating back to the Revolution and coming forward all the way to 9/11. Hear how many letters are in the collection now, the organization behind it, and where they’re being housed. Next, if you liked Halloween, you’d love sleeping in a truly haunted castle. Fisher points you to a list of the top ten haunted castles, and shares details on number one. Then, Masonic Temples are being abandoned and often burn at a rate higher than other buildings. Hear the reason behind this strange fact and why your ancestor’s gathering place may not be around today… or at least not much longer!

Fisher then visits with Amy Johnson Crow, well known blogger, lecturer and genealogist. Amy recently had to join her sisters in moving their very senior parents out of the home they’ve lived in for decades. This forced a number of decisions concerning heirlooms, what to keep and dealing with the emotions of the process. Amy lends some great advice for managing parental moves, cleanouts, or even decluttering in your own life.

Melanie McComb from NEHGS then joins the show talking about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Yes, it was the cause of the burning of another courthouse, meaning countless priceless records were lost. Melanie will tell you what was destroyed, and what records survived as well as how to find alternatives for the documents of your ancestors that no longer exist. Fisher’s grandfather was in the earthquake and he shares a little of his story.

Then, Nancy Desmond, co-founder of MemoryWeb, fields questions on how to best manage (at a reasonable price) the digitization of negatives and slides, as well as a slew of old photos. It’s a lot of information!

That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 305

Host: Scott Fisher

Segment 1 Episode 305

Fisher:And welcome to another spine-tingling edition of Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. My name is Fisher. I am your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. And this episode is brought to you by BYUtv’s Relative Race, another episode coming up at Sunday night at 8 Eastern, 5 o’clock Pacific time. Boy, we’ve got a loaded show for you today. Coming up in about ten minutes we’re going to start off with Amy Johnson Crow, the great blogger and genealogist. She’s going to be talking about down-sizing and how she’s doing that with her parents and how that all ties in to family history. And it is amazing how much it does, especially when you get into the psychological side of things and also the value side of things. So, we’ll get into that in just a little bit.

Later on, in the show, Melanie McComb will be back from the New England Historic Genealogical Society talking about survivors and surviving records of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. And my grandfather was in that one, so we’ll have a little to talk about there. With “Ask Us Anything” later today, Nancy Desmond will be here from MemoryWeb answering listener questions about photographs and preservation. And speaking of “Ask US Anything,” thanks to Kitty from Anacortes, Washington. She sent a little email saying, “Now I know why I find different military info when I search Ancestry.comversus my private Fold3 account.” She said, “I had no inkling that there was more than one index to Civil War pensions. T289 is fascinating. I spent hours yesterday wandering through that resource. This is the sort of thing that keeps me humble and listening to your show. I’m still learning after 50 years of researching.” Thanks Kitty in Anacortes, Washington. Kitty, thanks so much for the note. We appreciate it and glad we can be of some use to you.

Hey, don’t forget, if you have not yet signed up for our “Weekly Genie Newsletter” we would love to have you as part of that. I give you a blog each week, links to past and future shows and links to stories that you will find            interesting as a genealogist. Well, David remains on the road this week after RootsTech London, but he will be back next week, and we will find out all the things that happened there. I’m hearing nothing but good stuff by the way, so a pat on the back and a tummy rub for FamilySearch. Apparently, it went great and there’s some great speakers and a lot of new connections made, and hopefully, it will be one of those events that goes on for many, many, many years to come.

Well, in Family Histoire News there’s a great article in the Smithsonian and you can find the link to it at ExtremeGenes.com. It’s about a man named Andrew Carroll and this guy has been on a mission now for decades and he carries around this portfolio wherever he goes to give talks and he calls this thing “the football.” And he actually handcuffs this to him wherever he goes because it contains more than two dozen original letters and they’re faded and they’re bullet-torn and they’re tear-stained, blood-stained in some cases and they go all the way back to the Revolution, all the way forward to 911, and each page is in a plastic sleeve for protection. And what he’s been doing is going around collecting letters written home from the war, and all kinds of insight from all these different wars. So, what began as a small collection within his own family because of a fire at a relative’s house, he’s now up to 150,000 letters written from the war. And each one of these things is digitized and read, looking for interesting information. For instance, they came across one letter from about a Red Cross lieutenant named Hemingway, yeah Ernest Hemingway in World War I. And the letter talked about that he had been in the hospital for four months and that he had received 247 wounds from mortar shells and machine guns, and how lucky he was that not one of them hit him in the vital spot. So, historians and family historians are going to have an amazing asset with this as it continues to develop. He’s up to 150,000 letters now in his collection, covering virtually all the wars. And he says, “You know, that’s nothing. There are millions out there.” And his goal is to collect a million letters. In fact, he’s calling it The Million Letter Project. And you can find out all about it through the link to the Smithsonian article at ExtremeGenes.com.

Well, Halloween may be behind us, but that doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about travelling to our ancestors haunted castles. [Laughs] Yeah, in Condé Nast website cntraveller.comthey list the top ten most haunted castles in the world. And the number one castle is Leap Castle in Ireland and you read about this all over the place. It was built between the 13th and late 15th century and they say it’s seen more gruesome deaths than a Game of Thrones wedding. They have a part of this castle called the “Bloody Chapel” and word is that there may be a priest that is haunting the church in the evenings. Back in the early 1900s there was some renovation going on at this castle, and workmen found a secret dungeon there with whole bunch of human skeletons. And this is a very creepy dungeon by the way. It was put together in a way that the prisoners would actually slip through a trap door and wooden spikes would puncture their lungs, and they would die a slow horrific death. And members of the O’Carroll clan who also enjoyed poisoning dinner guests could hear the whole thing. Yeah, it was all within earshot. I mean, it’s a fascinating article, and there are nine other castles for you to read about, so check it out.

Well, Atlasobscura.com has a fascinating article about old masonic temples. And of course, membership in that particular fraternal organization has been dropping off for decades, but many of us have ancestors who belonged to these organizations, so they talk about the old temples themselves. Many of them are abandoned, and they say because of the way they’re designed, where they rarely have a window to the outside world, especially from the rooms in which their rights were performed, these places go up in smoke far more often than other old abandoned buildings. And this is a great article because it not only talks about the buildings that have been lost, but about how some of them have been repurposed. So, some of the buildings your ancestors actually may have participated in masonic rituals in, may still be standing. So, you can read all about it at ExtremeGenes.com as we’ve linked to the articles. It’s good stuff.

Well, coming up next, we’re going to talk to Amy Johnson Crow. And of course, Amy’s been on the show before, and she’s been going through some changes lately with her senior parents moving out of a four-story house, and that means downsizing. And boy, there are a lot of connections to family history involved in that process and I can tell you that firsthand myself. We’ll talk to Amy about this and much more, coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 305

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Amy Johnson Crow

Fisher: And we are back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, with my very good friend Amy Johnson Crow. You can visit her site at AmyJohnsonCrow.com. That’s Crow without the “e” at the end by the way. It’s like the bird. And Amy is a lecturer and a writer and a genealogist. And Amy, you’ve been talking lately about downsizing, and this is something that really hits home. And people may wonder well, what has that got to do with family history and genealogy? It has a lot to do with it, doesn’t it?

Amy: It sure does. On the one hand downsizing can be very difficult. On the other hand it could also be very easy. You know, just get a dumpster and toss everything in it and you’re done. But I don’t think that that’s really the approach that we want to take, especially when you are understanding family history. There’s so much, well, I want to save that, and I want to save this, and I want to save this other thing.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Amy: So it rapidly snowballs into something that is very big physically and also very big emotionally.

Fisher: Yeah. I think you’re right. I’ve gone through this in a couple of different ways. My mother passed away in 2010 and she had Alzheimer's for several years and so we had to move her out of her place in Portland, Oregon, and then start moving her stuff around. And wow, what an experience that is because you know, there is a sense that somehow there is a betrayal of somebody if you’re throwing things away that they valued, right, especially when they’re living.

Amy: Yeah.

Fisher: I kind of came up with a list. It’s like five things you can do with any one thing. Okay. So, the list is: you can keep something. You can throw something out. You can give the item away. You can sell the item. Or, you can donate the item, right? That’s about all you can do with anything.

Amy: That’s about all you can do with it, yeah. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs] I don’t know how much it cost just to haul a lot of her stuff from her home in Oregon to our home. And we had these things and it’s like, “Oh, these are mom’s. These are the better things, because we’d thrown all the other stuff out in the goodwill stuff.” Well, now it’s been many years and it’s like, “What did we bring this home for?”

Amy: Right.

Fisher: And then I came to realize it’s really a process to let go of something. A lot of it you cannot do all at once at first. You have to wait.

Amy: Right.

Fisher: And then it gets a little easier. Was that your experience?

Amy: Yeah. It’s been my experience. Just as a little bit of history of where I’m coming into this, my parents recently moved from their house of 35-years into an independent living community. They went from a four-level split with so many stairs, into an apartment that’s all on one floor. So, it’s been fabulous for them.

Fisher: They’re happy.

Amy: Yeah they are happy. But the problem is, they’ve had this house for 35-years, they’ve been married for 66, so they have a lot of stuff.

Fisher: Yeah.

Amy: So, my sisters and I were working through the process because you know, putting the house up for sale we need to get the house emptied. We need to figure out what mom and dad are going to take with them to their new apartment and things like that, so just this whole process. It was exhausting physically. It was exhausting emotionally. But some things that really helped us was, for one, we started working with a company that specialize in elder moves. It was wonderful. She taught us, and it took a while to accept it, but getting rid of an item is not the same as getting rid of the person.

Fisher: It feels like it sometimes thought doesn’t it?

Amy: It sure does.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Amy: But she said something else that also helped, that it isn’t the item per say that’s important, it’s the story that that item represents.

Fisher: Right.

Amy: And when you talk about story, that’s family history, right there.

Fisher: There we go. Bingo. And so you wind up really keeping the best things that you really have a story associated with that somebody might want to have somewhere down the line.

Amy: Exactly. It really forces you to take a look at okay, what do we really know about x, y, or z? What do we really know? What good connection do we have with this item? Because let’s be practical, you cannot save everything.

Fisher: No. I had a cousin recently who offered me a chair that belonged to my grandfather who died in 1956. She wanted to know if I wanted to have this chair, very, very, very old chair. No interest in having that, you know? Even though okay, he sat on it, you know? But still. [Laughs]

Amy: Yeah. It’s like George Washington slept here, you know.

Fisher: Yeah. 

Amy: Really the more that you have the less that you’re able to really tell the story of any of it.

Fisher: Yeah. I figured that too. Because what you’re left with, first of all, it’s easier to find it because it’s not part of clutter.

Amy: Right.

Fisher: Each item kind of stands out a little bit more. And then you can hopefully find a home for it.

Amy: Right. And that’s something that we really worked with too. I have two sisters, not only thinking about the three of us, and who’s going to take this, but thinking about our kids, thinking about our cousins. You know, we found some things that really had more of a tie to some of our cousins. So, it’s like, “Hey, do you want this? Do you want this?” and thinking beyond just our immediate family.

Fisher: Yes. And I’ve gone through the same experience, because there are a lot of things. A lot of things my kids have no interest in at all. And it’s like well, I just can’t throw this out. This is too important a piece of family history. But I will find a cousin who will just go nuts over the idea that they could actually own that piece. And I’m thrilled to give it to them.

Amy: Right. And one thing that I really started embracing was, what can you do to better tell the story of that particular item? So, let’s say that you have this set of 24 tea cups, okay that’s nice and they’re old, but just because it’s been in mom and dad’s closet for 50-years does that mean that we need to keep it? No, not really. On the other hand, there was on mom and dad’s dining room table several pieces of pale pink glassware. It was like a little candy dish. There were just small little pieces of glassware like that.

Fisher: Sure.

Amy: I always thought, and my sisters always thought mom and dad had just picked these up as they were antiquing because mom and dad have always collected glassware. Now, I’d never saw them buy anything pink, but I thought well, it’s on the dining room table they probably just bought this at some antique shop at some point. Well, as we were packing it up, it turns out that that pink glassware belonged to my mom’s mother.

Fisher: Oh.

Amy: And my grandmother died when my mom was just a little girl. So, we have very few things that belong to my grandmother.

Fisher: Wow.

Amy: Mom had never told us, until we started packing it up, that yeah, this was my mothers. It was like, “Oh, really? Hello.”

Fisher: [Laughs] Yeah that changes the perception, doesn’t it?

Amy: That changed everything about this pink glassware.

Fisher: Yes, of course.

Amy: So, what are we doing with our own possessions in our own houses you know, even if you’re not thinking of downsizing, what are we doing with our own possessions that yeah, it’s special to us but have we told somebody else why this item is special? Why is the cookie jar on my kitchen counter so special to me?

Fisher: Well you know, I’ve gone through this too because we’re decluttering. And so I’ve got for instance this whole big mantelpiece filled with little league baseball trophies from when I was couching my kids growing up. And it’s like, what are we supposed to do with these? So, I took photos of them and then I donated them because they can be repurposed. And it was great. So we got the pictures, we’ll put them in a book maybe about how history together, look at all the trophies, but we don’t have to have the trophies.

Amy: Exactly. And you still have those stories, you still have those memories, and you still have it in a tangible form. You have the photographs, you know, you know, maybe a little blurb that you’ve written to go along with it, but you don’t have to have the item.

Fisher: That’s it. That’s exactly right. And you know, this is the thing too, I think a lot of younger people now, younger adults, are not that interested in stuff. I do believe they will be interested in those things when we’re gone, more so than ever before. Because they’re going to feel the same way about connecting with us as we do with our people before us when the time comes. But right now as they’re busy raising their own kids and going about their own lives and start their own family war chest of heirlooms, I don’t think they think that far ahead you know, as to what they will value later on.

Amy: Well, I think that that’s true. I think that there is a generational difference. I don’t mean that in terms of baby boomers, GenX, millennials, I just think it’s where you are in a certain stage of life.

Fisher: Yeah. Exactly.

Amy: But one experience that I think is universal is that people will only save what they care about

Fisher: That’s right.

Amy: And the best way to get someone to care about something, in my experience has been to tell them the story of it. It’s just that pink glassware on the table, okay, well that’s nice. But suddenly learning that this was my grandmother’s and it’s one of the very few things of hers that we have. Suddenly, that becomes a lot more special.

Fisher: I have actually gone through and photographed the priceless heirlooms in the family. And then told a little story of it and created a little book. Because I figure that the time could come where you know, we’re gone and suddenly it’s like, oh, what’s this? Gone. Oh what’s that? Gone. But if they have this ahead of time, it’s almost like a guide to this maybe what you’re interested in and here’s why.

Amy: Exactly.

Fisher: And I can’t help but think there will be, you know?

Amy: Right. And I think that that’s a treasure that you have given and it doesn’t take a lot of time to do this. And you don’t have to do it all at once.

Fisher: Right.

Amy: You know, just an hour on a Saturday afternoon. Get out the camera, and take a few pictures, and you don’t have to write an entire book, just write a little blurb, why is this thing special.

Fisher: I have maybe a paragraph on each item and then I’ve added to it over time, over maybe a year and a half. And so you know, it’s always a work in progress especially if you run into something new. But it makes you also think about these things so that when you run across something it’s like oh, I’ve got to add that to the book so that they have that in here. So, there you go. She’s Amy Johnson Crow. She is a fabulous blogger and an excellent genealogist. You want to follow her at AmyJohnsonCrow.com. Amy thanks so much for coming on. I think this is just a really important conversation for many people whether they’re downsizing for themselves or for their loved ones.

Amy: Well, thank you for having me.

Fisher: And coming up next, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. What records survived, where can you find them, Melanie McComb from NEHGS has some answers for you coming up when we return in five minutes.

Segment 3 Episode 305

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melanie McComb

Fisher: Back on April 18th of 1906 the ground began to shake in San Francisco, California, and the history of that area was forever changed. Hey, it’s Fisher. It’s Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. My grandfather was a part of that, as was his first wife and my half-uncle who was born just the year before. And it’s interesting now because Melanie McComb, my good friend, the genealogist from the New England Historic and Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org, just brought up the fact that she has been getting questions about records that were lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. And Melanie, you’re telling me there are lots of records that survived that whole thing? First of all, welcome! Great to have you back on the show. 

Melanie: Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me. Always wonderful to talk to you and you’re right there are so many records that were lost but there’s also quite a variety of records that did survive. So, you can learn more about your ancestors that were living in San Francisco County.

Fisher: So, tell me about this at that time. There were fires. There were buildings that went down. I think we got a little taste of what it may have been like when we saw the 1989 earthquake that took place during the World Series. I remember that, and a lot of buildings went down at that time as well. We lost a courthouse as I recall, right, in 1906?

Melanie: Correct. Right. We lost the San Francisco County courthouse where it just got completely dissolved in the fire and a lot of the records were completely lost.

Fisher: What records were in that courthouse?

Melanie: So, the main records that were lost were some of the vitals, some of the birth, marriage and death, probate, so if your ancestor had a will or any kind of letters of administration, and naturalization partitions as well. So, if you had any immigrants coming into the area a lot of naturalization partitions were lost.

Fisher: So, this is as bad as many of the fires in courthouses in Civil War stories we hear about in the past, right?

Melanie: Absolutely. So, different organizations had to resort to alternative repositories and different record sets to recreate some of what was already done to help document some of the citizens of the area.

Fisher: Wow! So how did they do that?

Melanie: So, there are other things that were being done. So, the first is with the vital records is newspapers were actually being used to help recreate some of those records since a lot of times a birth, a marriage, or a death notice would usually be included in the newspaper. So, even if you didn’t have a full-on obituary, maybe they at least mentioned that someone died and there was a little bit of detail on where that person lived. Those who would have been included in newspapers like the San Francisco Examiner, which has been indexed by different groups especially like the San Francisco Genealogical Society and the public library, they’re trying to put together more of these clippings from the newspapers.

Fisher: What did the people do back at the time though? I mean, were they told to go out and get a newspaper clipping of their birth or their marriage to recreate some of the lost identification papers that they needed?

Melanie: So, from what I recall though, and this is very common with a lot of courthouses that burnt, you’re right, there was a time period where they would put out a notice in the paper and ask people to bring their copies of the records to them so that they could start writing down in their ledges to help recreate the documents.

Fisher: Ah!

Melanie: And that was very important especially for naturalization because, you know, if you needed to prove your citizenship and you didn’t have your copy and your original is gone up in smoke, and you don’t have other ID indicating you’re a citizen, that’s going to create a problem for you, you know, when you’re trying to vote. So, that was really a key one, is they wanted to go if you have your papers, please bring them in and let them copy down, so that they could prove that you did go through the naturalization process.

Fisher: Wow! That is fascinating. I had no idea that was going on. So, what are some of the records then that survived this disaster?

Melanie: Sure. So, a lot of the records that survived are going to be more on the private side. So, for example, a lot of the funeral homes had a lot of their collections that were intact.

Fisher: Oh, wow.

Melanie: The San Francisco public library actually has a large collection from the Halstead Gray-Carew, an English mortuary collection, and this funeral home company actually acquired several ones in the area so it was kind of a conglomerate. Their manuscript materials are actually at the library and they’ve been actually put on microfilm by FamilySearch. So, you can actually search them for free and you can look at all the registers and they even include where people are buried, the account books, sometimes they might even have a death certificate or an obituary included in them. So, it’s a complete goldmine when you look at these collections.

Fisher: Wow. So, you say FamilySearch has them. Have they been indexed?

Melanie: Yes, they have been indexed.

Fisher: Wow! I mean, talk about a grand slam that sounds like an outstanding way to go. What other records survived this whole thing?

Melanie: Sure. So, other records that also survived include coroners’ records. If a city coroner, county coroner needed to be involved in the cases of death, their records survived and those can also be consulted to examine a person’s death and the cause of death usually would be noted and there might be other details including legal funeral home they’d sent the body to after they did their examination.

Fisher: Boy! You know, you think about what the officials had to do after something like this once obviously, they got everybody safe again and reconstruction had gotten underway but the record reconstruction had to have taken years and obviously was never complete. I mean, when you talk about coroners’ records, I mean, there are just not that many deaths that are investigated by the coroner that only affects really a pretty small number of individuals, but I bet you that they got the public involved in that at the time.

Melanie: Oh yes. The public has actually been crucial to helping crowd source there. And there’s actually a new collection been coming online on FamilySearch, “victims of the earthquake.”

Fisher: Oh wow!

Melanie: It talks about anybody that might have died in the earthquake, you know, who treated them, what they died of, any details they could find on them. So yes, there was definitely a crowd that came to help make sure we document everybody that unfortunately succumbed to that awful disaster.

Fisher: Yeah, it was something. My grandfather was 19 years old at the time. He was a newly-wed with a baby and they were living in Oakland.

Melanie: Wow.

Fisher: And of course, it shook Oakland pretty hard too, but they’re really needing a lot of help over on the San Francisco side. So, he took a ferry across the bay to help put out the fires there. And one of my cousins actually has a little rock or something that came from one of the collapsed buildings in San Francisco at the time from my grandfather.

Melanie: Oh wow.

Fisher: But he used to tell the stories about how everything started shaking and they were very fortunate that they weren’t hurt or injured in any way. He never wound up staying there. He wound up in Oregon, but nonetheless, one of those life experiences you would never forget.

Melanie: Yes, absolutely. It was the worst loss of life in California’s history. I think they recorded a magnitude of 7.8. It ruptured along the San Andreas Fault and thenthey had the aftershock for a while as well, so it just created so much chaos.

Fisher: Yeah, absolutely. I’m sure a lot of people said, “Hey, I’m not staying here after all this. And they’ve moved on to other locations. So, are there any other records that we should be aware of? Obviously, you’ve got to know that there are ancestors that are part of this thing

Melanie: Yes. There actually are cemetery records and these are freely available, and there’s a wonderful website that was put together called sfgenealogy.org and it has all kinds of alternative resources that we’re looking at today. So, it has some of the cemetery records, some of the newspaper indexes. So, one of the databases they have for the cemeteries is they highlight a lot of the ones for Holy Cross and Calvary.

Fisher: Hmm.

Melanie: Now, a lot of these burials in Calvary were moved to Holy Cross, so you’ll find Holy Cross has got a bigger collection there. And they’re really very detailed registers, so they list the name of person that was deceased. They even list the parish church. Sometimes they would receive information who they married, cause of death. It’s just a wealth to really recreate, you know, when you can’t find that death certificate that go into the registers of some of these major cemeteries.

Fisher: Wow. And when you mention that they have the parish listed in there, that means there could be church records awaiting you as well.

Melanie: Absolutely. I was working with one consultee, and we actually were lucky enough that the parish was listed right by their entry. So, now she could reach out to the Arch Diocese, it’s the Holy Cross of the Catholic Cemetery and she can then go ahead and, you know, give the documentation and try to release the church records, since the church records survived as well.

Fisher: Thanks, so much Melanie. I love it. I think it’s really interesting. I might start peeking around there myself and see what might be found relating to my family at that time. Thanks for coming on. We’ll talk to you again soon.

Melanie: Oh, you’re very welcome. Have a good one.

Fisher: And coming up next, we’re going to talk to Nancy Desmond. She is a co-founder of MemoryWeb. We’re going to take your questions for “Ask Us Anything” when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 305

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Nancy Desmond

Fisher: And welcome back to America's Family History Show, Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And it is time once again for Ask Us Anything. And I’m very excited to have my good friend, Nancy Desmond on the line with us from Chicago!And she of course is one of the cofounders of MemoryWeb, one of our sponsors. AndI thought it was appropriate, Nancy to get your thought on this question, because it’s from Robert in Detroit. And Robert wrote about recently finding a box of photographs and negatives and slides and wants to know the best way to go about developing these and then ultimately digitizing them, and I think that's a really great question for somebody who's well versed in the photograph field as you guys are.

Nancy: Oh, that's a great question and its one that we actually get all the time, Scott. So, really, our first recommendation is, if you get photos or a box of family photos and slides and negatives, first of all, don't throw out those negatives or the slides. Those are actually gold and I'll tell you why in a second. But the first thing is, grab the photos and either scan them yourself or take them to a place that can scan them for you and scan them at as high a resolution as you possibly can.

Fisher: Yeah.

Nancy: Just because that gives you the freedom to, if for some reason in the future you want to take like a smaller photo and use it at a family reunion and be able to blow it up much larger, the higher the resolution, the more freedom you have to make a bigger print and it’s also just crisper. Then, the other thing is that, actually having negatives or slides,you can actually get a much higher resolution when you scan those. So, when you aren't able to scan the negatives and slides, then you would have to go to a professional company for that. You can get an output as high as 4000dpi, compared to like 300 or 1200dpi when you're scanning a photo on a scanner.

Fisher: Yeah, I think it makes a big difference also if you want to, say, take a picture of an individual within a picture and blow that up as a separate image, right?

Nancy: Oh, that's a really good point. People do that all the time.

Fisher: Yeah, I do it all the time and I'd want to do that. But I haven't thought much about finding the negatives of the old photos. I mean, I've got plenty of those around the house, because I've got all these prints and it’s like you just, "Okay, we get them all scanned and they get all digitized." And then you think, "Wait a minute, if I'd done it with the negatives, maybe we could have done better." And it’s also easier to clean up, right, if you're going to do something with, say, Adobe Elements.

Nancy: Absolutely. So, you could take things then and you'd be able to change resolutions and colors and all kinds of things. There's really no limit to what you can do these days with online editing tools especially with the Adobe suit of products.

Fisher: Yeah. Then the other question for you would be, what kind of format do you like them in? I mean, I've always thought jpeg is just fine, especially if you do it, say, at 1200dpi. I'm told that, okay, if you open and close it, you know, 100, 200 times, you lose a little bit of resolution, but if we're going to use that to, say, make prints or put these images strictly in a book, how many times are you going to open it anyway, right?

Nancy: [Laughs] And that's a great question, too. And jpeg is a great format. If you are actually looking to preserve something to last for the long haul, a TIFF is the best file format, because it has the least opportunity to lose bits, which are those pieces of information that make the picture really crisp. And so, if you scan it in a TIFF format, it tends to hold up a whole lot better than other formats like jpegs.

Fisher: Right.

Nancy: But jpegs are great if you want to put something online and have it look really nice and not take up a lot memory.

Fisher: Right and they don't deteriorate, you know, very rapidly. Like I said, you'd have to go through that, open and close it many, many times for you to start to ever notice any change in that quality. But TIFF has got to be the way to go. But it’s a much larger format, right, in terms of space?

Nancy: It is, it is, it can definitely take a lot more space. You can also selectively look at your photo collection and say, "You know what, this group of 100 photos are the ones that are really the most important that I like." The older, older ones tend to be far rarerand those would be the ones that you would definitely want to have the higher resolution version of, but there are going to be fewer of them.

Fisher: All right, she's Nancy Desmond. She's one of the cofounders of one of our sponsors, MemoryWeb. And thanks Robert for the question. We'll have another one for you, coming up next Nancy, when we return in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 305

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Nancy Desmond

Fisher: Back at it for our final segment this week of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. We're doing Ask Us Anything with Nancy Desmond. She and her husband, Chris are cofounders of MemoryWeb, one of our great sponsors. And I'll tell you what, Nancy, I sure love hearing your advice that we've gotten already on some of these questions. Here's one from Chloe in San Jose, California and she says, "What tips do you have for scanning a ton of stuff?" That's a really good question, because we'll often run into 1s, 2s or even 10 or 12 that we can do at home or whatever, but boy when you wind up with maybe 100s of photographs, what would you recommend is the best way of going about managing that without getting overwhelmed or overpriced?

Nancy: That's a great question, Chloe, and that's one we get all the time, too. We actually have had a recent thing where we inherited a whole bunch, actually a suitcase full of photos from a relative recently and had to get them digitized. So, it’s something you could do if you have a scanner at your house. And do them one by one, that certainly gives you lots of control. But if you have 100s and 100s of photos and other things, maybe newspaper clippings, it can take quite some time. So, a lot of times what we would recommend is that you can use an outside resource. And there's a bunch of different ones that you could use. If you are near a family history center from FamilySearch, you would be able to go there and many of those centers, and I believe that they have a listing online that will tell you which one's do, which ones don't, but many of those centers will have state of the art scanning equipment that does really high resolution and also really quickly. So you can get 100s and 100s of photos scanned at a fraction of the time that you think it would take.

Fisher: And free! [Laughs]

Nancy: Yes, oh, and free. Oh, it’s free. Yeah, thank you, Scott. Yes, that's the most important part. So, speed and it’s free and of course everybody there is extremely helpful. And you can get some research done while you're there as well if you like. Another option is, if you're fine with sending in your photos to one of the large volume scanning companies, there are companies like Scan My Photos in California that do a really great job and they have fairly reasonable pricing. And if you're one of the people who are a little bit hesitant to send things in, you can actually take things in a lot of times to your local camera shop. A lot of times they will have offerings to try to be very competitive to larger companies to scan photos and also local and you don't have to worry about shipping. So, if that's a concern of yours, that's an option as well.

Fisher: I'll tell you what, I would rather do that than deal with a Big Box company, you know, where the teenagers are trying to run these things through and they don't necessarily know what they're doing. And you know, I think the local guy, if you can develop a relationship with him or her that could work out much better.

Nancy: Yeah, it just depends on what your preference is. Just get those things scanned, because you just never know what might happen that could destroy them or just make them not legible. So, get them digitized so that they're protected and also they're shareable then.

Fisher: Well, and they're fixable too. Prints especially and even old negatives and the like, they are all subject to heat and expansion or cold and contraction or back and forth, back and forth and then you don't have much to share or you have a lot more to fix.

Nancy: Good point, Scott. There's another tool that can very helpful when you have really delicate photos where you may not want to take them out of an album.There is a tool called ShotBox,and using that, you're able to position your album or photos or anything that you're just worried about protecting, and you're able to place a camera, it can be your phone, it could be a regular camera and you're able to take really great high resolution photos and with great lighting and it makes a really clear print. But you do not have to take the photo out of the album, even albums that have plastic covers on the front of the photos.

Fisher: Well, I'm glad you brought that up, Nancy, because we haven't talked about ShotBox in a long, long time. So, it is a great tool and very useful. And thank you so much, Nancy Desmond from MemoryWeb. And thank you for the question, Chloe. And for anyone who wishes to ask any kind of question about family history and preservation or research or whatever, you can email your questions to [email protected]. Thank so much, Nancy. Talk to you soon.

Nancy: Thank you, Scott.

Fisher: Hey, that's it for this week. David is back next week. We'll hear all about what happened at RootsTechLondon from him at that time. Don't forget to sign up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter this week when you get a break, on our Facebook page or through ExtremeGenes.com. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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