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Archive for the ‘Technical Know-how’ Category

Meet today’s Guest Blogger – Denise Levenick.  Better known as The Family Curator, I first met Denise at the St. George Family History Expo last March, and soon came to appreciate both her expertise and her practical approach to preserving family memories and memorabilia.  Add to that her generous, affable disposition and there you have it – the perfect Guest Blogger!  Denise has made it her mission “to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their family treasures.”  It is a privilege to welcome her to Above the Trees!

Was your mom like mine, insisting that you include all your siblings or classmates when you played a game or planned a party? Did you really want to cross the class bully’s name off the guest list, but Mom made you include everyone? Take heart! When it comes to creating a first-rate photo collection, “It’s Okay to Play Favorites.”

Professional photographers have to master the business end of taking pictures. This means that photos cannot languish away on memory chips. They have to be uploaded to a computer, sorted, minimally touched-up, and then presented to a client for selection and (hopefully) purchase. Customers also want to see only The Best, after all that’s why they hired a Pro.

When the family photographer begins to think like a Professional, it becomes easier to realize that Playing Favorites is not only Okay, it is necessary to building a quality photo collection. Of course, the family historian has other considerations as well. An out-of-focus or poorly framed shot of Aunt Mildred may be the only photograph of her at all. By all means, this one is a Keeper.
These same techniques are useful if you are working with a shoebox of family prints. Any photo collection will benefit from judicious sorting. As a bonus, your family will come to thank you that the slide show features minutes of fabulous photos instead of hours of marginal memories.

So, your images are in front of you – either in a software program like iPhoto, PS Elements, or Lightroom, or spread out on the dining room table. How do you select The Best?

First, pull together the “Photo Shoot” or set. This would be the Rehearsal Dinner, the Birthday Party, or your walking tour of Paris. From this set of photos you want to choose the best, which also means dumping the worst. Why waste time and effort with bad photos? Some photo programs tempt you to use Star Ratings, but why? As Photo Pro Scott Kelby notes, do you think you will ever want to look at one or two star photos? Those should be the ones that are out of focus or have heads cut off. Even three star photos? The Star selection system is slow; pros would never earn a living if they spent their time deciding if a photo was worth two stars or three stars. If you think you might want the picture some day, there is a way to keep it without inviting it to the party. Read on.

Lightroom2 Compare Window Select Left or Right as Keepers

How to Play Favorites with your Photos

1.  Assemble Photo Shoot pictures

2.  Ignore typical Star Ratings; instead quickly select the Best, reject the Worst. Use stars (or flags) to assign one star Keep and five stars Reject. That’s it; two choices. Keep or Reject. (Using stars or flags allows you to create a group which can be easily selected later.)

3.  Can’t decide which of six is the best? Place two similar photos side-by-side (Lightroom2 and PS Elements allow this comparison view.) Choose the best of the two, reject the other. Bring a new photo in to compete with the winner. Audition each photo against the winner. Try to move quickly; don’t let yourself get bogged down in selecting; go with your instinct.

4.  Make a New Collection Set and drag all the Keeps into this set. Label it Rehearsal Dinner. (You could call it Rehearsal Dinner Keeps, if you like).

5.  Now, you have to make one more decision. If you want to get rid of the bad photos, select the Reject group and Delete. If you just can’t throw them away, make a second New Collection Set and drag all the Rejects into this set. Label it clearly Rehearsal Dinner Rejects. There, you saved them, but no one has to look at them ever again if they don’t want to!

Playing Favorites will eliminate bullies from your photo collection and give you the best and the brightest to work with for your slide show, album, or web page. You may even gain a reputation as the Family Pro Photographer.
For more ideas on organizing, editing, and sharing your photographs, visit The Family Curator.

Further reading –

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Every day, I go out there on the Social Network highway – Following, Tweeting, Linking – all in an effort to learn as much as I can about what’s happening in the world of family history so that I can bring back home and share it with you.  (Aww. That’s nice.)

Social Networking is a GREAT tool for family historians, but it can be a little intimidating for some.  Recently, I joined Genealogy Wise – a very non-scary social network created specifically for family historians.  After kicking the tires for a couple of weeks, I feel confident in my endorsement – if you are involved in any way with the genealogical community, Genealogy Wise is something you should consider becoming a part of.

After a somewhat bumpy launch in the summer of 2009, this extremely active community has grown exponentially, and as of today supports:

  • 18, 374 Members
  • 3, 509 Groups
  • 476 discussion forums

The site itself is very user-friendly and easy to navigate. I’ve spent a good deal of time reading posts and discussion threads, I’m especially impressed by the collaborative spirit and professionalism that I’ve experienced.  The Chat Room offers scheduled chats, hosted by some of the best in the field.  (Click here to read my post about the Genealogy Wise Chat Room.)

What about you?  Are you out on the highway with me?  Are you on Genealogy Wise?  Are you a Friend or a Tweeter?  How do you use social networking to help you with your family history?  Or are you avoiding the whole thing?  I would love to hear your perspective.

P.S.  I haven’t spent ANY time on Genealogy Wise “friending” people, so I only have a handful of friends right now.

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Both as the host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast and in real life, Lisa Louise Cooke is warm, inviting, and full of interesting conversation.  An expert genealogist herself, Lisa is always well-informed and genuinely interested in what her listeners want or need to know.

Lisa’s offers family historians a multitude of great (intangible) Freebies through her podcasts:

  • Family History:  Genealogy Made Easy – The BEST deal around, as far as I’m concerned!  Lisa walks fledgling family historians step-by-step through the in-and-outs of family history research.  By the end of the series, you’ll feel as though you have wings to fly to the top of your family tree and beyond.
  • Genealogy Gems Podcasts – Regular free podcasts are published about twice a month, and included updates from the world of genealogy, answers to listener email, and interviews with movers and shakers in the genealogy community.
  • Family Tree Magazine’s monthly radio show/podcast – Each episode features interviews with genealogy experts and Family Tree Magazine (FTM) editors.  The current show, for example, carries a Census theme, and includes interviews with FTM editor Allison Stacy on “Secrets of the Census,” and researcher/writer David Fryxell about his article, “Everybody Counts” which highlights the evolution of the census.

Watch Lisa’s interview with Photoloom President Scott Huskey.

But Free Stuff Friday isn’t about Intangibles, is it?  (The correct answer here is “No, Renee, it is not.  It is about free Stuff.”)  Which brings me to this week’s…

Freebie o’ the Week: Genealogy Gems Toolbar

What it is/does: This toolbar links to the best of Genealogy Gems and delivers the freshest content directly to your browser – including the Genealogy Gems website, Facebook, Twitter, blog and videos, as well as links to Lisa’s top choices for the best free genealogy websites, a webpage highlighter feature, and a search box.  Once installed, you can customize it with any of thousands of free apps from the App Marketplace.

How to get it: Just go to http://thegenealogygemspodcast.ourtoolbar.com/ and click the download button. Installing was amazingly simple, and took me less than a minute. 

Downside? The toolbar takes up about a third of an inch of screen real estate, but other than that I can’t see a downside.

Why it’s cool: Are you kidding?  Look at it – slim, sleek, and busting out with focused family history information at the click of a mouse.  I like that it doesn’t invade my screen, but instead sits there politely, just waiting until I need it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that when I was at the St. George Expo, Lisa gifted me with one of her beautiful Genealogy Gems pins so I could sport some bling.  (Most people recognize that I am somewhat Bling Challenged.)  However, that in no way influenced my opinion of her or her podcast, because I already thought they were both great!

Family Photoloom is always FREE. Click here and join today!

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This Sunday, I attended my first scheduled “chat” in the GenealogyWise Chatroom.  Never having even entered a chatroom before, I have to admit that I was a little intimidated, but it ended up being a surprisingly great experience. The host of our little discussion was Jean Wilcox Hibben, of Circle Mending, who “spoke” on breaking into the genealogy lecture circuit.  I attended for a number of reasons, none of which had anything to do with becoming a genealogical lecturer.

First, I was curious about the chatroom.  At the St. George Family History Expo last week, I sat next to Gena Ortega at the Friday night banquet.  (Gena, by the way, has a wicked sense of humor, and she is now my new Geneablogger Princess-BFF.)  Gena, who manages GenealogyWise, was one of the banquet speakers, and the heart of her comments focused on the GenealogyWise Chatroom.  Turns out, the Chatroom is not the seedy underbelly of the genealogy world that its name might imply. (Please, no angry comments from seasoned “chatters.” I know that many chatrooms are the wonderful, joyful places full of rainbows and unicorns, and I am in no way implying otherwise.) Nevertheless, the GW Chatroom, Gena assured us, is a genuinely useful, entertaining means of getting to know some of your fellow family historians and learning a few things while you’re was at it.

My experience at Sunday’s chat bears that out.  Jean had prepared material which she delivered by typing one or two sentences at a time, and offered ample opportunities for “listeners” to ask questions.  The forum seemed to lend itself very well to the process, and the visual learner in me appreciated seeing all the comments in print.  Jean was thorough, without being pedantic, and offered additional help to anyone who emailed her.

The second reason I attended the chat was a bit more personal – I’m kind of trying to figure out where I fit in this world of researchers. Jean’s area of focus, outside of genealogy, is folklore and music history.  It is a passion that I share, and I like to get her take on things.  I’ll leave the data gathering to Scott, who loves it, and I’ll focus on the pictures and the stories that go with them. I want to know those people, and understand the “life” that happened between those birth and death dates.

Finally, I wanted to be able to share the Chatroom experience with you, here.  And the only way to do that was to go there and find out what it is all about.  The process is VERY easy.  Login to GenealogyWise and click “Chat” on the main menu.  You’re there!  If you are shy, or just want to “listen,” that’s fine.  But I encourage you to join the discussion.  The folks on the other end of the cyberwire are just like you – looking for a community they can trust, receive help from, and be apart of.  Give it a try – and maybe sometime I’ll meet you in the chatroom!

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Digitizing Your Family History
By Rhonda R. McClure (Family Tree Books, 2004)

In her introductory acknowledgment, author Rhonda McClure invites the reader to “Remember to grasp technology.”

This resonates well. Computers have revolutionized genealogy research, and in this excellent guide, McClure extends the boundaries of this revolution to encompass the larger circle of family history.

Digitizing Your Family History offers an easy, interesting read; McClure weaves relateable personal narrative and relevant technical information, and the reader receives an education and appreciation for the way things used to be (and how far things have come) while getting up to speed on the latest technology.

Beginning with a chapter focusing on the new horizons that digitizing offers to the family historian, this practical how-to reference provides a good introduction to image editing, working with vintage photos, and digitizing audio and video tapes. Chapters are logically sequenced, and well thought out icons in the margins call attention to tips, techniques, and online resources.
Scanning photos, paper documents, slides, and negatives are covered in great detail, and an entire chapter is dedicated to helping the reader choose the scanner or digital camera that is optimal for his needs. Another chapter focuses on the “Imaging Road Warrior,” and provides all the essential information needed for digitally preserving history on the road.

A highly-experienced genealogy researcher, McClure takes pains to emphasize the importance of keeping research journals, and offers practical advice for doing this with the tools at hand. She also addresses the challenges of organizing, printing, and sharing digital family history, and provides insightful tips and advice for meeting those challenges. All in all, Digitizing Your Family History is an excellent choice, particularly for beginning and intermediate “Digital Family Historians.”

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Digital Pictures 101: Part 2 – Compression

Awhile back, we explored “resolution” in digital imaging, and discussed tips on how to choose optimal scanning resolution. We also identified the problem that optimal scanning presents, especially in the case of creating a digital archive: image files can be huge – and can easily fill up your hard drive. And although hard drives are getting larger and cheaper every day, the limiting factor might be your backup media – which in this day and age tends to be CD’s DVD’s or online internet backups. Image compression can significantly reduce this burden. As the name suggests, “compression” technology results in smaller file sizes. There are two major types of compression: Lossless and Lossy:

LOSSLESS compression (PNG, TIFF, BMP file formats)

  • Reduces file size with no loss in image quality.
  • Does not compress to as small a file size as lossy. (See Table)
  • Use when archiving and editing images.

LOSSY compression (JPG or JPEG file formats)

  • Reduces files size with some loss of image quality.
  • Allows for variable levels of quality (compression) to be
  • selected by the user.
  • Use when sharing images.


Popular Digital Image File Formats

  • JPG or JPEG – Joint Photographic Experts Group. Most digital cameras use this by default. Lossy compression.
  • TIFF – Tagged Image File Format. This flexible image format allows for many color depths, and can use Lossless or Lossy compression
  • PNG – Portable Network Graphics. Handles 24-bit (true) color, Lossless compression.
  • BMP – Windows bitmap. Not compressed.

The following MB Comparison Shart is based on a sample image that is 5400×3600 pixels:
The main point to take away from all this is that JPG (pronounced jay-peg) is simply amazing at compressing file sizes with very little loss in image quality. This is especially true when scanning images at very high resolution (300 dpi or higher) and saving files with high quality settings (about 90% of the maximum setting). JPG compression allows you to store and share hundreds of high quality images on a CD instead of dozens.

In these examples, the three cropped images above, cropped from the original, shown are (1) Low-Quality JPG, (2) a High-Quality JPG, and (3) TIFF file (no compression).

Another factor to consider is color depth. Color depth is the number of bits (or bytes) per pixel. More bits per pixel result in more available colors in the final output. Color depth also effects file size, so pay attention to scanner settings.

Generally an uncompressed image will be 1/3 the file size if it is scanned in 8-bit per pixel gray scale instead of True Color— a good thing to remember if you are scanning a lot of documents or black and white photographs and need to save hard drive space.

  • Typewritten or handwritten documents should be scanned with 8-bit per pixel gray scale.
  • Black and white photographs should be scanned with 8-bit per pixel gray scale unless you want to preserve the subtle sepia or yellowing; then choose True Color.
  • All other color photographs or color documents should be scanned using True Color.

Doing the right thing with image compression:

  • Archive using lossless compression. (Please!)
  • Experiment before picking a compression: Zoom way in to your compressed files to see how the lossy-compression is effecting the quality.
  • Choose a compression that allows your project to fit on the media provided.
  • Share excellent quality copies using compressed files.
  • Use 8-bit gray scale color depth for documents and black and white photographs to save disk space.

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Digital Pictures 101: Scanning Resolution

Do you have old family photographs that you’d like to bring into the 21st Century? Imagine the fun and excitement that would come from being able to share such treasures with your family, using today’s digital computer tools and networks.

To do this, you’ll need a scanner. But fear not; these days, a good quality scanner can be had for as little as $100. (This is fantastic, given that my first scanner, purchased in 1995, cost $1000.00!)

In order to use your scanner, you’ll need to understand “resolution,” and you’re in luck, because that’s what this installment of Digital Pictures 101 is all about.

Images scanned at low resolution (like the one on the left) often appear relatively clear and crisp when viewed as very small images or on a computer screen. Unfortunately, things aren’t always as they seem.

The reality is that printing images that have been scanned at such low resolutions will result in fuzzy faces and much frustration—print out a 5×7 copy of the photo above and all you’ll get is a sea of little gray squares (like the large image above).

So what is the best resolution to use for scanning family photographs?

Here’s a simple rule of thumb — if you are scanning an image to make a same-size printed copy of that image, scan it at 300 dots per inch (dpi). However, beyond same-sized copies, determining optimal scanning resolution gets a lot more complicated. One trick is to have in mind the final device or medium that will display your image. (See Table 1, below)

Table 1 – Suggested Resolution based on Final Destination

This works great when you wish to reproduce the item you are scanning at about the same size as the original being scanned. However, it all falls apart when you scan a tiny picture that you wish to display much larger. However, a better way of choosing the correct resolution is to have a target uncompressed file size in mind.

I like to think of my final destination medium as a storage device. Do I plan to view the image on a still TV, a computer screen, or a high-definition screen? Is the largest image I plan to print 5×7, or will I be printing a 10×14? And yes, a piece of paper is a storage medium—it holds 19 MB of color information at 300 dots per inch. Take a look at the following table:

Table 2 – Suggested Resolution Based on File Size of Popular Media*

It’s ironic that just when we’re starting to get used to the metric system, where “kilo” means 1,000, and “mega” means 1,000,000, those computer geniuses/ hackers/ nerds go and turn everything upside down!

After looking over the file size requirements listed in Table 2, you may be thinking, “Are you crazy? If I scan my photographs at the high resolutions that are needed to produce quality print images, it’s going to take up a huge amount of memory space on my computer! Where am I going to store all that image data?”

The first part of the answer is compression — which greatly reduces the amount of space needed to store a high resolution picture, albeit at some cost to quality. Compression will be the subject of the next installment of Digital Pictures 101.

The second part of the answer to the question of where to store all that image data is — Family Photoloom™ of course — the best place on the Internet to store and share your photo-history!

Coming Soon: Digital Pictures 101: Compression — A brief comparison of file types (TIFF, BMP, JPEG, and GIF); tips on scanning documents, including using digital cameras.


* Math Wiz Notes for Table 2
• It takes 3 bytes to store a color pixel (one byte for each of red, green, blue).
• There are 1024 bytes in a KB (read Kilobyte)
• There are 1,048,576 (1024×1024) bytes in a MB (read Megabyte)
• And a Gigabyte? 1GB = 1,073,741,824 bytes! (1024x1024x1024)
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Excerpted from “No More Fuzzy Faces: The Secrets of Digitizing Family History”, originally presented by Scott Huskey at the BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference, Provo, Utah, March 2008.

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