Big changes have come to — all content is now read-only, and member subscriptions and the Shop have been discontinued.
Learn more
New? Start Here
Genealogy How-To
 Getting Started
 Getting Organized
 Developing Your Research Skills
 Sharing Your Family's Story
 Reference Guide
 Biography Assistant
Free Genealogy Classes
 Beginning Genealogy
 Internet Genealogy
 Tracing Immigrant Origins

Family Finder
First Name:

Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

January 30, 2003
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Old Family Photographs

Q: I have a photo album from my great grandmother who was from the Light family. I am having no luck tracing the origins of this family line. The photos are very good and in good condition but only a few have any names on them to identify the individuals. How would I go about copying them and making them available to other researchers in the hope that someone might have some more information on this family through seeing these photos. -- Tanya

A: Actually scanning the photos and posting them to the Internet or sharing them with others is a great idea. It not only helps you in identifying the individuals, but scanning them means that you can view the electronic copies and put away the originals so that they remain preserved. If you are unfamiliar with photograph preservation, you may want to get a copy of Maureen A. Taylor's Preserving Your Family Photographs.

The first step in scanning your photographs is to have a scanner. You may already have one. If you don't, then you will want to look for one that will work with your system. You may need to have someone help you if you are not sure about your computer system. You may also want to have a knowledgeable person go with you to purchase the scanner so that you get a quality one for as little money as possible. I mention purchasing your own scanner so that you can scan any photo or document you choose now or later. Just remember that the higher the resolution, that is the number of dots that are used in creating the computer's copy of the photo, the better.

If you think this is the only time you will need such scanning, then you may want to visit a local copy shop, such as Kinko's, and see if they have a scanner, preferably a color one. If they do, it is possible that they would scan the photos and put them on a CD-ROM for you so that you would have them without having to do the scanning. This is a good option if you don't already have a scanner. Depending on how old the photographs are, though, you may discover that the Kinko's personnel are a little nervous about possibly infringing on the copyright of the photographer of the photos, though it sounds like these photos were taken far enough back that they may no longer be covered by the copyright law.

After you have them in a digitized format, you can then send the images to other researchers through e-mail as an attachment. A search in the Help section of your e-mail program should help you here.

Once the pictures have been put on a CD-ROM you can also print out copies to mail to those you correspond with in more traditional methods. You may want to mention this if you do go the Kinko's route so that they scan them at the best quality possible. The higher the quality of the scan the better a printed picture will look. It also means the larger the file on the CD-ROM, which would impact anyone you were sending the image to as an attachment in e-mail.

Long Distance Genealogy

Q: What is the best way to research your Canadian ancestors from Canada and in England? -- Dorothy

A: Most researchers eventually discover that their ancestors live some distance from where they themselves now live. As a result we often find ourselves doing long distance genealogy. Fortunately with microfilmed records, and data available on CD-ROM and on the Internet, those distances have been greatly reduced and the time it takes to get information is sometimes much less.

If you haven't done so yet, you may want to check out the databases that has compiled of records and information about Canadian and English families. Your message didn't indicate if the families ever emigrated from Canada or England, so I included some CDs that deal with those who did immigrate to the United States.

Many of these titles are included as part of an online subscription to the International and Passenger Records Collection.

I will say that the Canada Genealogy Index is an excellent resource for anyone researching Canadian ancestry. The index in print comprised 12 volumes, each about five inches thick and containing millions of entries. The entries lead you to other records, specifically things like Lovell's Directory a massive directory similar to a city directory, but for all of Canada that existed in 1871.

When it comes to microfilm, you will find that most of the provinces of Canada are well represented at the Family History Library. It is a good idea to get the research outline, a publication by the Family History Library, for the province or provinces in which your ancestors were living. This will help you learn how best to find the records you want and what to expect from those records. There is also a research outline for England that is informative and would help you in learning how records are organized and when they began to be kept for that country. You can find out more about these research outlines at your local Family History Center or by visiting the Many of the records for both countries, depending on the years in question, may be found at the town or parish levels. There are a few databases that the Family History Library has also released, including the 1881 Canadian census index, the 1881 British Census index, the North American Vital Records, and the British Isles Vital Records.

I will say that I routinely use all of the resources mentioned here. I use whatever helps me to speed along my search for someone living in Canada or England. Which databases will be the most useful depends largely on when your ancestors were in Canada or England, where they came from, and where they settled in these countries.

To find out more about both countries you will want to visit the WorldGenWeb Project Web site. This volunteer project is responsible for many Web pages devoted to countries all over the world and those countries are often then broken down into provinces, shires, or other smaller jurisdictions. They may supply you with some information on how to go about getting the records you need.

Finally, to learn how best to maximize your time and get the most from your long distance research, you may want to see if you can find a copy of Long-Distance Genealogy by Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, published by Betterway Books. There are also many books that have been published over the years about those who have settled in Canada or emigrated from England and the records generated in both countries. If you have a good genealogical department in your local library you may find some helpful titles as well. Two other books that deal more with the records and what is available are both by Angus Baxter and published by Genealogical Publishing Company. The first is In Search of Your Canadian Roots and the second is In Search of Your British Root.

Scanning Notes Instead of Typing

Q: I would like to scan information from a document to be put into "Notes" in Family Tree Maker without having to type it in. How do I do this? -- Ferris

A: Scanners are bringing us many new functions to our computers. Many genealogists, though, usually reserve scanning for photographs, when in fact it can be used in so many different ways, especially with the newer versions of genealogy software, including Family Tree Maker.

In addition to scanning photographs and linking them to individuals in Family Tree Maker's scrapbook section of the program, you can now scan a document, such as a death certificate, and then link that image to the source itself. This is a great way to have the image available whenever you need it, perhaps to answer a question by another researcher. Of course, such a digitized image is similar to a photograph in that the image in question is still just that — an image. What you want to do is take notes and convert them to text.

While you can not do this directly to Family Tree Maker, it may still be possible with your present set up. Let me say right at the start that this will only work on those notes that are typed or in some handwriting that is recognizable by your computer. I say this because it is through the use of an optical character recognition (OCR) program, or similar OCR function in your scanner software, that you can do this. You will find that OCR programs generally respond poorly to handwritten documents and sometimes respond poorly to older typescript books and pages.

Basically you must first scan the page in question. Then either tell your scanner software to run it through the OCR feature or send the image to the OCR program, if you have a stand alone program. The program will then make a best guess as the words based on its predefined or trained idea of what the images look like. Often this is then exported into your word processing program. Depending on how much formatting there was on the original page, you may discover that what you see in your word processing program is messy in formatting. It is a good idea at this point to compare the text on your computer with that of the original document to see if all the letters converted correctly.

If you have the text in a word processor, you could now copy it and paste it in the appropriate note field in Family Tree Maker. A reminder that any italics or other special formatting will not transfer to Family Tree Maker. If the program in question requires you to save the text, be sure to save it as a text file with the .TXT file extension. Then in Family Tree Maker, you will want to be in the appropriate note, then click on the File menu and select Import Text File.

You can also use the copy and paste mentioned above if someone sends you a story or other detailed information in e-mail. Remember, though, that stories and such are often protected by copyright and as such you need to get permission to use the story if you publish the information anywhere and by all means be sure that you attribute the story to the individual who shared it.

19th Century Photographs in Missouri

Q: I have copies of two old photos that were found among my uncle's things. There are notes to him on both of them. One was taken by Thomson in Kansas City, Missouri. It has written on it, "Your Aunt that died, Mrs. Rebecca Robbins." In a corner of the picture itself is a notation, "Mollie Robbins." The dress she is wearing has a bustle. She would be my great-aunt. The other one was taken by Latoum in Sedalia, Missouri. It has the year 1899 on it. The note to my uncle says, "Your grandmother." I have no information on my paternal grandmother's family. Can you direct me? -- Maggie

A: Well you have some things to work with here. You have a date, photographer and place for the one picture. For the other you have a photographer and a place. The clothing in the picture can be used to help you date the picture. To learn how to do this, I would encourage you to get a copy of Maureen A. Taylor's Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs. Maureen has also written an online article, Follow the Clues — Dating Your Photographs that will give some good pointers as well.

You mentioned you do not have any information about your paternal grandmother's family. This is the second part of the research. While you are following the steps in Maureen's book about the photograph itself, you also need to be researching the individuals in question. You have established that they were in Sedalia, Missouri in 1899. You need to look at your genealogy and see how much time and space separates what you do know about your father's lineage with that picture. In genealogy we should always work from the known to the unknown. Beginning with your father, see what records you might find that will help you in identifying his parents if you don't already know them. Next step is to find records on your paternal grandparents, such as a marriage record so that you can learn who your grandmother's parents were. See what you can find in the census records. With the census now available up to 1930, many people are finding that they have new clues to follow.

Combined, researching the photographs and using traditional research methodology should help you in not only identifying more about the pictures in question but also the individuals in them. With a little perseverance you will soon find that you know who each person is and how they are directly related to you. If you put this information into a genealogy program it will tell you the exact relationship between you and the person.

And speaking of relationships, it sounds like Mrs. Rebecca Robbins is your grand aunt. If I have read your message correctly she is the aunt of your uncle. Your uncle is the brother to your father, so his aunt would be your father's as well, or the sister to your father's parent—your grandparent. So she is your grand aunt. If she were another generation back, the sibling of your great-grandparent, then she would be your great-grandaunt.

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

Back to Top of Article

Home | Help | About Us | Terms of Service | PRIVACY
© 2011