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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Entries in panorama photos (3)


    Hey Soldier, What’s Your Name? Crowdsourcing IDs in Old Group Photos [TUTORIAL]

    Group photographs can be challenging. You may have a few in your family photo collection— unidentified headless relatives, blurred ancestors, people with phone poles sprouting from their heads.

    Many times group photos are taken as an afterthought, “Quick, Quick, before everyone leaves, let’s get a picture.” We’re lucky if we get a single name hastily scrawled on the back of the picture, let alone a detailed identification of everyone in the group.

    I recently took second look at my paternal grandparents’ photo collection and the unidentified groups captured in film. A few years ago Dad gave me several old black photo albums and a few envelopes of loose snapshots. My grandmother was a schoolteacher for many years, and her attention to detail shows in the neat notes written in the margins of color photos. She adds dates, places, and events, but it’s hard to name a dozen people on the margin of a 4 x 4-inch print.

    One old black photo album includes pages of farms and farmers alongside snapshots of happy couples picnicking and sober young men in army uniforms.  A sepia snapshot shows “Corp.” Walter G. May with a group of men all standing at stern attention. 

    Notes in the photo album indicate that Walter was stationed at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas for basic training. I’ve learned that the camp was ground zero for the 1918 Great Pandemic that killed more people than any other disease in recorded history. Fortunately for our family, Walter’s unit, the 314th Motor Supply Train left Funston in June 1918 a few months ahead of the crises that began that autumn. 

    I wonder if any other men were from his hometown of Bennet, Nebraska, or if he kept in touch with them after the war. Who are these men?

    I need a good, sharp digital image to share on public genealogy sites, and maybe – just, maybe – someone will spot their grandfather or uncle in the photo.  To maximize my chances of success, I’ll need fast-loading web-resolution digital images, and print-quality images for anyone who might want a copy to print out for their own family research. It might also be helpful to offer a built in identification key and caption with the information I already know and my contact info. Here’s my plan for creating Group Photo Bait, designed to make it easy for people to identify people they know and respond with the information.

    Digitizing Group Photos

    Group photos often show small individual faces that can become grainy or blurry when scanned at a low resolution and then enlarged. In this example, I am using Adobe Photoshop Elements, a popular editing tool for both Windows and Mac computers. Here’s my step-by-step process:

    1. Scan each image with these settings: 1600 dpi, color, JPG (or TIFF format)

    I typically use TIFF, and make a final JPG copy to share. Use the format that suits your needs and equipment. This resolution should capture detail in the small faces of a group photo. If the faces are really tiny, I bump up the resolution to 2400.

    2. Open the photo in  or your photo editor. If the scan is in JPG format, make a copy of the JPG to edit.

    Note: I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6 for my photo management and basic editing. I recommend Picasa, Apple Photos, or Adobe Lightroom because these are all non-destructive editing programs. This means that any changes are written as instructions rather than actual changes to the file, so there’s no need to work on a copy of the TIFF file. If you use a photo editing program such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, make a copy of your newly scanned JPG images before proceeding. For more info on choosing and using a photo editor, see chapter three in my book, How to Archive Family Photos. 

    3. Crop the photo, deleting unnecessary background. You may want to leave the margins to include printed dates or handwritten notes. If you crop closely to show only the group, save the original uncropped version as well.

    4. Apply color-restoration to faded or color damaged photos. Use the Auto Color function or tweak the brightness, contrast, and other sliders until the photo looks the way you want it. Use a light touch aiming to restore clarity rather than make the picture pixel-perfect.

    5. Add a title, caption, and keywords. Depending on your photo editor, this could be called Information, Metadata, or Keywords. Include your email or website in the caption, along with as much information as you know. 

    6. Save as a JPG image 300 dpi. This will preserve a print-quality image for anyone who may want to print a copy and preserve a high-resolution photo for close examination on a computer screen or tablet. 

    7. Give your photo a meaningful filename. Use a surname, event, or location as part of the filename, and add “print” as a reminder of the quality, for example: 


    8. Next, create an identification key to help people viewing the photos. 

    (…and now a brief interlude about identification keys and photo captions).

    Key vs. Caption

    As a high school and college student I worked at our local town newspaper, filling in as reporter, photographer, proofreader, as needed. One of my jobs was to write photo captions, many photo captions. A caption is not a key. A caption presents information about the people, places, or events shown in a photograph. A key, however, is a kind of symbolic shorthand to identify people, places, or events.

    Photos have captions, maps and charts use keys. And yes, there are exceptions. Before Mapquest and Google Maps we used paper road maps with little symbols to indicate Campgrounds, Churches, and Gas Stations.

    Use a caption to share information about the people or events in the photo; use a key as a tool to identify individuals. If you are working with a large group photo with many individuals, you may need to use a key as part of the caption, but more on that in another post.

    How to Write a Photo Caption

    The standard method used to write a caption in print media lists names in individual rows, from left to right as you would read a line of print on a page. Using this standard format eliminates the need for sketches and numbers, and lets people know what to expect when they want to know more about the photo. Use this format for groups of more than two people:

    May album 1964 034

    EXAMPLE : Edna and Walter May visited Beulah and Onno Valentine
    in Grand Island, Nebraska, June 1964. Seated in the Valentine
    living room, from left: Onno, Beulah, and Walter.

    When you have two people, names are listed as they appear in the photo from left to right.

    May album 1964 031

    EXAMPLE: Walter and Edna May in front of the Valentine Motel,
    Grand Island, Nebraska, June 1964.

    One Row or Two?

    For a large group, use rows. Or, if the people are standing in rows but their heads appear in a relatively straight line, use an imaginary line as your base to establish a single row “from left.” Either of these examples works; use whichever seems more clear to the reader.

    In this example, eight soldiers are shown in two distinct rows, but because their heads appear staggered creating one line, either of the following caption formats is fine:

    314th dml

    Example of caption for two rows:

    Soldiers at Camp Funston, about 1918 (from left): Front: Adams, Brown, Chester, Dixon; Back: Edwards, Finch, Golden, Higgins.

    Example of caption using one row:

    Soldiers at Camp Funston, about 1918 (from left): Adams, Edwards, Brown, Finch, Chester, Golden, Dixon, Higgins.

    When to Use a Key

    A map key or legend “unlocks” the code of symbols to help us understand the map. A key is also useful for labeling a group photo of unidentified people when the goal is to identify individuals. The Identification Key should be simple and intuitive. It should be so easy to use that anyone recognizing a person in the picture can respond with a minimum of effort. 

    The simplest Identification Key uses numbers with a corresponding list below the photo for names. Think of this as a fill-in-the-blanks form and add names as you learn new information.

    Soldier ID dml

    Group Photo Numbering Tips

    • Use numbers to identify individuals; one number per face. 
    • Do not number totally obscured faces, but if identification might be possible from a distinctive hat, hairstyle, or other feature do include the person in your number key.
    • Avoid mixing names and numbers. It’s okay to add a name to a number, but don’t skip numbering someone because you know their name. 
    • If you are circulating several photos, use the same format for all photos, do not use rows in one photo and lines in another. 
    • To keep the identification with the photo, it’s a good idea to have a caption area above or below the picture with space for any information you know, the identification key, and your contact information.

    (we now return to the Tutorial segment of this post)

    9. Add caption, key, and contact information to the photo. There are many ways to add this information. Here are two possible methods:

    1. Place your photo in a word processing document, type your caption or identifying information, and then save the document using SAVE AS: DOC or PDF. This is the file you will share with others.

    2. Add the caption using a photo editor like Photoshop Elements or a free online editor like PicMonkey. In Photoshop Elements, create a new document and then place the photo leaving room for a caption. In PicMonkey, use the collage tool and adjust the size of the spaces to accommodate your text. I find it easiest to type my caption in a text editor and use cut-and-paste to place it in the photo editor. Add the numbers as text boxes and position for each person. I think it helps the viewer to see the number directly on the person’s chest, close to their face.

    10. Use the Save AS or Export command to save the final file in JPG format which will be a smaller file size good for emailing and posting online. I’ve found that 90 dpi with a maximum file size of 500 K to 1500 K creates an adequate image for online viewing.

    Finally, share your photo widely, anywhere potential researchers might spot your photo and be able to identify the individuals. Here are a few places to get started:

    • ancestor page for your ancestor
    • Fold3 memorial page (you did create one for your ancestor?)
    • Find a Grave
    • WikiTree
    • FamilySearch
    • Your blog or website
    • Facebook – your page, society page, military page, club page, etc.
    • My Heritage
    • Mocavo
    • Dead Fred

    You don’t have to add your photo everywhere at once. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to keep the file active and add notes or new links frequently.

    Veteran genealogists will tell you that it can take some time to reap the rewards from “cousin bait” but you never know when you might catch “the big one.”

    If you have questions about working with old group photos, please leave a note in the comments to this post. You’ll find more ideas and step-by-step tutorials in my new book How to Archive Family Photos: A Step-by-Step Guide to Organize and Share Your Photos Digitally  including:

    • scanner settings
    • digital filenaming and file organization
    • working with file formats
    • choosing and using photo editors
    • creating projects with the free online editor PicMonkey

    Photos of large groups need creative solutions to design an Identification Key and captions. Stay tuned for more on this subject, and please leave a comment if you have a method you’ve found to be successful.

    Read more about working with unidentified group photos in "How Bad Photos Can Make Good Genealogy" at the Blogj.

    When you use the book and software affiliate links in this post for your purchase, you help stay online and it doesn't cost you a penny more. Thanks for your support!


    Awkward Family Photos, Panorama Group Style

    Camp pano boys

    Don't squirm, Little Bro
    Remember the old banquet-style photographs I recently dehumidified and unrolled? I've had a lot of fun looking at the details through my Magnabrite globe and on my computer.

    I scanned the camp photo with my Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner and reassembled the 18 images using the included EasyStitch software. The stitching process was finished in only three minutes and gave me a complete digital image of the 8 x 26-inch photograph.

    And, look what I found --

    Camp pano sign

    Genealogically Interesting

    The photograph was snapped August 21-28, 1948 at Hume Lake [California] for the Inter-Church Bible Conference. That means that my mom and aunt (pictured below and outlined in blue) were there with people from their church group and other, probably local Orange County, churches. Anyone with ancestors in Orange County, California who attended a fundamental Christian church about 1948 might find their family members in this group photo. 

    Now, I need to pin down the name of Mom and Auntie's church at that time. Although this looks like a camp for church members of all ages, I don't see my grandparents. They were probably  home enjoying the break with their two girls away for the week! 

    Inter Church Camp, Hume Lake, California 1948

    Awkward Moments

    Looking closer at the photo, I found some intriguing drama, and some humorous actions captured on film. The image above is a thumbnail version; if you click on it, a full-size photo should open so you can follow along:

    First, check out where everyone is looking. The kids and teens are all dutifully staring directly at the photographer. But, look at Boss Lady on the far left (outlined in green). The lady with the "pocketbook" gripped tightly under her arm. Is she looking at that cute baby in the top row? Or, is she keeping an eye on the teenage boys further along the line?

    A few other people aren't looking at the camera -- the baby is watching something more interesting, Mom? And then, look at the folks on the right side of the photo, selected in the red boxes. What's going on over there? 

    The adults are all behaving pretty well in this photo, not surprisingly. Even the teenagers are keeping their hands under control. Note the protective hands placed on the women's and girls' shoulders by nearby males. The guy in the top row doesn't quite know where to place his hand so he settles for the girl's throat. Scary!

    It's the kids along the front who are having the most fun. Outlined in green, from left to right, check out:

    • the little girl trying to hide her nail biting
    • the boy blowing a championship bubble-gum bubble
    • the kid waving
    • the big brother throttling little brother and holding his chin up

    I've probably missed a few more graceless movements captured in time; leave a comment with your own additions. And watch what you're doing in your next group photo! 


    Photo Tutorial: How to Relax and Rehumidify Old Rolled Photographs and Documents


    NOTE:  This article and the images are protected by copyright. PLEASE DO NOT copy and paste to your own website, blog, or newsletter.

    If you've ever tried to capture a family photo with everyone smiling at the same time, you know the exquisite torture of group photography. Some wise-guy pulls the rabbit-ears trick at the last minute, or crosses his eyes, or yanks someone's hair. That's why I love those long tightly-rolled panorama photos often found cast aside in family collections. You can usually spot a goofy grin, a secret wink or a wayward hand. It's a second of social history captured by lens and film.

    It's obvious that people don't quite know what to do with these old rolled photos. They resist exploration. When forced flat, the paper often cracks every few inches damaging the photograph. If you try to look at the photo a few inches at a time, carefully handling the paper as though you were reading an ancient scroll, it's hard to get the "big picture" of what's going on.

    This 1929 black-and-white panorama photo is a classic example of what can happen when a brittle rolled photograph is forcibly flattened without first reconditioning the paper; the print is cracked at regular intervals across the entire image.

    I inherited nearly a dozen long group photos from the 1920s through 1960s, most still rolled tight and in good condition. I really wanted to flatten the photos and examine them more closely for genealogical clues to my family history. If nothing else, I thought they would look great framed and hanging on the wall.

    Fortunately, it's not difficult or expensive to relax, or re-humidify, a rolled photo or document.  When I asked Sally Jacobs, The Practical Archivist, if there was a safe method to flatten those old photos, she directed me to the instructions and reassured m:

    "Yes, It's Safe to Try This At Home"

    So I did.

    And it worked!

    The cracked photo shown above was curled in a series of small waves looked like a photographic washboard. Because it was already damaged, I thought it would be a good item to use in my first experiment with the rehumidification process. 

    Since then, I have successfully rehumidified and flattened many panorama photos, and some curled and brittle snapshots. Sally says that the process is also safe with documents, not just photos. Museums and archives create a similar humidification chamber when working with old documents. You don't need any fancy equipment, just a few household items and a bit of common sense about working with your family keepsakes. Here's the recommended method I used with success:

    Step-by-Step Instructions for Relaxing a Rolled Photograph

    You Will Need:
    • rolled or curled photograph
    • plastic tub or container -- deep enough to hold your rack and leave space between the rack and tub lid
    • rubber coated wire rack -- I used an expandable plate rack (you need a rack that is large enough to accommodate your item
    • water -- room temperature
    • archival blotting paper
    • wax paper or parchment paper from your kitchen (optional)


    Relax photo fc 1Step 1. Select Your Photograph

    For your first project, select a photo or document that is NOT a priceless heirloom. If you just want to practice this technique, you may be able to find an old rolled photo selling cheap at a thrift store. Most people throw them away (ouch) because they think they're past saving.

    Tap the print with your fingernail. Does it sound hard, like dry pasta? It should feel and sound different when the paper is dehumidified.

    Relax photo fc 2 

    Step 2. The Humidification Chamber

    Place the tub on a towel or rug on your floor in an out-of-the-way spot where you can leave it for a few days. Make sure the rack will fit inside the container and extend long enough to support your photograph. The rolled photo will start needing only a few inches of space, but as it relaxes you may want to gently help it unroll.

    Add about 2 inches of room temperature water. Do NOT use warm or hot water. You don't want  condensation on the underside of the lid that might drip down on to your photo. Use room temperature water.

    Place the rack inside the tub and place your photo on the rack. It will look lonely. 

    Relax photo fc 3

    Step 3. Close the Chamber

    Place the lid on the box and let it sit.

    Relax photo fc 4

    Step 4. Wait.

    Let everything sit there for a few hours. Get on with your life. Read a new blog.

    Relax photo fc 5

    Step 5. Check for Condensation 

    After about an hour, open the container and check  your photo. Make sure there is no moisture dripping on the photo. Feel the paper. Does it feel softer? It will probably need more time to absorb the moisture in the chamber.

    What we are doing here is making moisture available to the paper, so that it can become limber and flexible once again. You don't want too much moisture, because that can damage the print. It could also encourage the growth of mold or mildew. If you notice beads of water on the inside of the cover that could drip down on your print, wipe them off and check your print. Notice the moisture aroung the side walls of the chamber in the next photo. That's okay.

    Relax photo fc 6

    Step 6. Check Again

    After 4 or 5 hours, or overnight, check the paper again. Can you unroll it at all? You may need to do this a few times. Keep checking every few hours until the paper feels relaxed. Look at the difference between this photo and the tightly curled batons in the first step. You can feel the difference in the paper. Tap the print again with your fingernail. It should sound different; softer, more like. . . well, like paper.

    Relax photo fc 8

    Step 7. Remove Your Photo from the Chamber

    When you think the photo feels softer and flexible remove it from the box supporting it with both hands and place it on the blotting paper. Gently ease open the rolled image. If it resists or starts to crack, it needs more moisture. Return it to the humidification chamber.

    At some point the photo will have absorbed enough moisture to relax and allow you to unroll it. If the paper is still extremely brittle and hard you should probably stop and seek professional assistance. I have not experienced this situation.

    Relax photo fc 7

    At this point, your photo is relaxed. Now you need to allow it to dry as a flat print. If you have a  sheet of kitchen wax paper or kitchen paper, you can place this over the surface of the photo before folding the blotting paper over the top. It's not absolutely necessary. 

    Relax photo fc 9

    Step 8. Add Weight and Dry.

    Finally, weight down the entire photo in the blotting paper so that it dries flat. I used a heavy wooden cutting board topped with both volumes of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary  (the heaviest books on my shelves).

    Stitch gurley crop

    Step 9. Allow the Print to Completely Dry

    It may take a few days for your photograph to dry out completely. Check it occasionally. Remove the parchment paper and let the blotting paper absorb more moisture. Give it enough time to become very very flat.

    The result will be an heirloom group photograph you can scan, restore, share, frame, or use for further family history research.

    In a forthcoming post I'll show you how I scan panorama group photos with the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner and with the Epson Perfection V500 and use stitching software to recreate the original long image.



    This DIY project worked for me; but I can't guarantee you will have the same results. Please use caution and good judgement, and try it at your own risk.

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