Here’s how to remove damage from photos, such as those commonly found on Polaroid Land pictures. It’s a simple digital photo restoration technique you can use to improve your old family photos. See how Lisa Louise Cooke cleaned up a precious family photo as a surprise for an guest she interviewed—and his touching response.
Last month, I asked esteemed film historian Sam Gill to send me some photos of himself that I could include on the “show notes” page for Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #215.The episode features our conversation on silent films, and the glimpse of early 20th century life that they provide. One of the images he shared captures him (when he was in high school) and his mom. Sam told me that it was taken at the time when he started helping her with their family’s genealogy.
“I seem to have only one photograph of my mother and me at that time, which was what they called a Polaroid Land Pictures photo,” he continued. “In the days before selfies and digital cameras, this was a way to have a photo miraculously developed in sixty seconds. That was considered a miracle of photography at the time.
“Although these photos tended to leave streak marks and other blemishes, it’s all I got! I am hoping you might get a kick out of seeing this young kid and his intelligent, forever-curious and talented mother, Florence Louise Jones Gill (aka Mom).”
After learning how much the memories behind that photo meant to Sam, I took the liberty of doing some quick touch up work on it. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly cleaner:
You can try the same techniques I used to remove damaged areas from photos you’ve digitized. It’s easy and free! So, follow along with me, and then keep reading for Sam’s response to receiving the cleaned-up photo.
How to remove damage from photos
First, you’ll need to download the freeAdobe PhotoShop Fix appon your phone or other mobile device (you can get from the App Store or Google Play). Then follow these steps:
Open a copy of the digital image file (I save mine in Dropbox). Don’t work with the original photo file.
Tap Healing in the menu.
Start the repairs with the easy stuff (don’t go for the face right away,thought it’s tempting). Work on clothing and the backdrop first so you can get a feel for the repair work and refine your retouching movements.
Use Spot Heal first and see if it takes care of the problem area. You can always tap the Undo at the top of the screen if you’re not happy with the results.
Use Clone Stamp to select an area on the existing photo that you want to duplicate to cover up a damaged area. Even in a single color backdrop, there can be shading, so move the clone stamp around to replicate it accurately.
Zoom in for better accuracy. Put 2 fingers together and then them spread apart to enlarge the area. While zooming in can give you greater control, if you get too close you may start seeing individual pixels (depending on the size and resolution of the original photo) and those can be much trickier to change accurately. Zoom back out often to “stand back” and inspect your work!
If you’re going to zoom in, take the time to adjust the size of the tool you are using, whether it’s Spot Heal or Clone Stamp. You can adjust the size of the circle and the “hardness” by tapping the tab on the left side of the screen.
Pro Tip: Save to your device’s Photos along the way. That way you can always go back to a previous version if you get a little too overzealous.
In the main menu, use the Smooth tool to refine your work. Start by tapping Face. Chances are you’ll like the effect as it smooths the skin tone (you can always undo if you don’t). Then tap to spot-smooth areas, particularly backdrops. Beware of over-smoothing – it won’t look natural.
After you complete the repair work, play with other options to improve the image quality. In the main menu tap Adjust. Play with Contrast first, then move on to testing Warmth, Saturation, Shadows and Highlights.
Save the finished image one last time to your device’s Photos.
Want to take it a step further? Import the restored image into the freeAdobe Photoshop Mix app. Here you’ll find even more tools for refining the image. Tap Adjust in the main menu. Experiment with these tools (and remember, you can always Undo!):
Auto Fix – I avoid this one!
Clarity – definitely give this a whirl
Sam’s response to the repaired photo
I was delighted how quickly I was able to significantly improve the photo. Sam and his mom’s faces just radiate happiness. I sent it off and heard back from him almost immediately: “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see this extraordinary repair and restoration work you accomplished on that tiny Polaroid Land Picture of my mother and myself! This picture was taken at the exact same time I began to help my mother with her genealogical work.”
He then shared the story about that first research project with her. The two of them wanted to identify the relative who had rendered some beautiful old paintings hanging in his grandparents’ house. The trail led mother and teenage son to London, Ontario, Canada. As a budding genealogist, Sam was certainly thinking ahead! “I convinced my mother to let me take along a tape recorder, as I was very interested in sound recordings, and so we recorded my mother’s interviews with family members still in London and related to the same…family.” Sam and his mother identified the artistic ancestor who did those paintings: John Ashton. Their research culminated in a “delightful little family history, called The Descendants of John Ashton, of London, Ontario, Canada, and his Son-in-Law, John Ames Arnold, of Greencastle, Indiana (Lyons, Ks.: Lyons Publishing Co., 1964) compiled by my mother, Florence Jones Gill.”
Sam proudly mentions that her book was favorably reviewed. A quick check of Google Books reveals that there was indeed quite a bit of “buzz” when she published her book! It was referenced in several genealogical publications. (Click here to see those search results in Google Books.)
Sam wrapped up his reply with a little life lesson that he learned from his mom, that we can all take to heart. “You might get a kick out of this,” Sam wrote, “but the only mistake that my mother ever found after the book was published, was the date of her marriage to my father! It should have been 1935, not 1934. One never to take herself TOO seriously, she had quite a laugh over that one.
It was fun helping my mother. Also, as I look back over my life, I must say that I have never known a more “can-do” person than my mother. If something came up that needed attention–no matter what it was–my mother’s usual response was , “WELL, WE’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT !!!”
So my dear Gems, next time we see our family’s history hidden behind damage in an old photo, let us hear Mrs. Gill’s words in our ears “WE’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT!!!”
The RootsTech 2018 app will help you find your way around the world’s biggest genealogy event this weekend in Salt Lake City. Here’s how to use it to plan your days!
Get the RootsTech 2018 App
The app for RootsTech 2018 is the same as 2017. If you downloaded it last year, just open it, tap Exit to show list in the bottom right corner, and select RootsTech 2018. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, you can do so from the App Store and the Google Play Store.
The app will help you navigate the conference, build your daily schedule, and connect with other attendees. Here’s a quick overview of how to use the app to plan your classes and Exhibit booth visits. You don’t want to miss the ones you care about most! But first, an at-a-glance explanation of each of the icons across the top of the home screen:
Choose RootsTech classes
From the home screen, tap the Schedule icon for a list of all workshops, classes, and activities, sorted by day. Tap on individual sessions to read more about the presenter, the topic and location. When you see an interesting one, tap the star on the left side to add it to your calendar. It will turn yellow, as shown here.
You may already know certain speakers you want to hear. (Hopefully, that includes the Genealogy Gems team, Lisa Louise Cooke, Diahan Southard and me, Sunny Morton.) From the home page, tap the Speakers icon and then search by name. Under their names, scroll down to see what they’re teaching. Only one teaching session shows up until you tap Show More. Then you can star their individual sessions to add to your master calendar.
Here’s a tip: Go ahead and “star” more than one session per time slot if you haven’t quite decided what to attend. After selecting them all, tap the My Schedule icon on the home page. You’ll see an hour-by-hour schedule with all those sessions in it. You can then pare down your list—or give yourself a couple of options each hour. Leave yourself some open time slots to give your brain a break and to visit the Exhibit Hall.
Find must-visit booths in the Exhibit Hall
Tap the Exhibitors icon to see a list of all 200+ exhibitors at RootsTech 2018. Use the search box to find the ones you want (type Gems to bring up Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems). Tap on them to read more about them and see their booth numbers. Again, tap the star to mark the ones you want to visit. (Remember, tap Maps from the home screen for a map of the Exhibit Hall.)
Party at the Genealogy Gems booth
Don’t forget: we are celebrating this huge event all week at the Genealogy Gems booth. We’re teaching a full lineup of free, expert classes, giving away over $2,000 in free prizes and looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible. Click here to see what’s going on in Booth 1203 all week!
The National Archives is marking the World War I Centennial with a new app, as well as programs and exhibits. Here’s the scoop from their press release:
The United States declared war on April 6, 1917
Washington, DC – The National Archives marks today’s World War I Centennial with a new mobile app, special programs, featured document displays, traveling exhibits, and a special new webpage highlighting all related resources on National Archives News.
Remembering WWI App
Today, the National Archives launches the Remembering WWI interactive app, now available free of charge through iTunes(iPad only) and Google Play. The app commemorates the 100-year anniversary, in April 2017, of the U.S. entry into World War I.
The app provides an unprecedented collection of WWI content digitized and preserved as part of the larger Wartime Films Project – much of it never-before-seen by the public – including photos and film shot by the U.S. Signal Corps from 1914 –1920.
National Archives’ partners for the design and testing of the app included: Historypin, Library of Congress, Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, WWI Centennial Commission, WWI Museum, and, American Association of State and Local History. This project is made possible in part by an anonymous donor and the National Archives Foundation.
Saving World War I and II Media through Digitization and Crowdsourcing
Thanks to a generous donation from an anonymous donor, the National Archives embarked on a three-year project to digitize and create public engagement with World War I and II motion pictures and photographs. The project’s original goal was to digitize 70 films and 75,000 photos, and foster engagement on the new digital platform, but by the end of the project, the National Archives had digitized 164 films (337 reels) for more than 65 hours’ worth of content, in addition to more than 100,000 photographs. This is the first time that many of these photos and films will be viewed by the public. All scans are available through the National Archives Catalog or on our YouTube page.
Special WWI-related Exhibits
Featured Document Display: Making the World Safe for Democracy: U.S. Enters WWI East Rotunda Gallery, National Archives Museum, through May 3, 2017
To commemorate this centennial, the National Archives presents a special display of the Joint Resolution declaring war against the Imperial German Government, April 6, 1917. President Woodrow Wilson signed this declaration of war on April 6, 1917, ending America’s neutral stance on the World War conflict and formally declaring war against Germany. The National Archives Museum’s “Featured Document” exhibit is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of Ford Motor Company Fund.
Traveling Exhibit: Over Here: Americans at Home in World War I
Over Here: Americans at Home in World War I draws on the unparalleled holdings of the National Archives to capture the patriotic fervor of draft registration, the emotional good-byes of men leaving for training camps, the “hoopla” of Liberty Loan drives, the craze for volunteerism, and the violence of vigilantism. The exhibit is divided into three themes: Mobilizing the Nation, Stirring Patriotic Passions, and Policing Enemies at Home. Over Here is organized by the National Archives, and traveled by the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES).
Traveling Exhibit: Over There: Americans Abroad in World War I
After the United States entered World War I, 1917, millions of American men joined or were drafted into the armed services. Some 2 million served in Europe with the American Expeditionary Forces. Over There: Americans Abroad in World War I showcases World War I overseas military photography from the immense photographic holdings of the National Archives. The exhibition includes photographs from the fronts, behind the lines, and the consequences of the war and how it was remembered. Over There is organized by the National Archives, and traveled by the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES).
World War I Social Media Day Events in DC, nationwide, and online!
Tuesday, April 11, 2017 Join the National Archives to participate in World War I Social Media Day, hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Museums, archives, and other educational institutions around the world will share a day of social media activity focused on #WorldWar1 history.
Facebook: World War I in Photos: A Peek inside the Special Media Research Room 10:30 a.m.—Military historian and archivist Mitchell Yockelson showcases his favorite photographs from the war and answers your questions. National Archives on Facebook
Facebook Live with the National Archives at NYC: Online resources for WWI Military Records 2 p.m.—Tune in to Facebook Live for a recap of our Finding Family Genealogy Series, which will be discussing online resources for veterans and military records related to World War I. National Archives at New York City on Facebook
Digital Catalog: Tagging mission: World War I posters All day—Become a citizen archivist and join us to help “tag” World War I posters. By adding keywords of details and features found on the poster in our catalog, you can help make them more accessible to researchers, students, and the public. Educators and classroom teachers, this is a great way to get students involved in doing American history! New to tagging? Get started!
Transcription mission: Fire and Orientation notes by Harry S. Truman All day—Calling all military history buffs! Help us to transcribe Harry S. Truman’s handwritten notes that he took during his training to learn to fire the French 75 millimeter guns that his artillery unit used while in France. Learn about the future President’s experience during the war. Get started!
A WWI history app for genealogy leads our top picks for this week! History buffs are going to love Remembering WWI, an app that makes your WWI family history come alive. Also in this week’s new and updated genealogical collections, Swedish church records, Canadian marriage records, Pennsylvania naturalizations, and more.
WWI History for Genealogy
The National Archives has launched Remembering WWI, a free app for iPad and Android. It is especially geared for young people, but with an ability to explore, collaborate, and engage with NARA’s extensive collection of WWI photographs, it’s for any history buff. The app commemorates the 100-year anniversary, in April 2017, of the U.S. entry into World War.
What is even more interesting about this app is how it invites people nationwide to contribute their own stories. You can create your own collections and build and share new narratives around the people, events, and themes you are researching.
Sweden – Norrbotten & Kopparberg – Church Records
Church Records in Swedish Collections at FamilySearch
Also this week at FamilySearch, Sweden, Norrbotten Church Records, 1612-1923; index 1658-1860 has been updated. You will note the large year span in this collections coverage. Because of this, records will vary. Generally speaking, you will find church records include births, marriages, and deaths and also images to clerical surveys, registers of birth, marriage, death, move-in and move-out lists, confirmations, and church accounts.
Church records are particularly helpful when searching pre-civil registration time frames or when there has been loss or damage to the civil records you need.
In particular, these collections contain household examination records. A household examination record is filled with genealogical data and some other unusual statistics. Information may include:
The name of the farm, village, or rote (registration area).
Names of household members including any pigor (female workers) or drängar (male workers)
Birth date or age
A score for catechism knowledge
Dates of partaking communion
Dates of participation with the Household Examination
The Ontario, County Marriage Registers 1858-1869 at FamilySearch have also been updated. These records contain an index and images of marriages. There are some records that actually date prior to 1858 and after 1869, so be sure to check the collection thoroughly.
These marriage records will generally include the following information:
Name of groom
Name and maiden name of bride
Age of groom and bride at marriage
Names of groom’s parents and bride’s parents
Place and date of marriage
Names of witnesses or possible relatives
United States – New Hampshire – Civil War Service & Pension Records
The pension records are arranged by town with indexes arranged by name and town. The enlistment papers are arranged by military unit, volume, and year range. The muster rolls are arranged by unit name and folder number.
Pension papers can often be used as substitute records for vital information such as birth, marriage, and death. Additional information may include birth place, occupation, and a physical description.
United States – Alaska – Vital Records
Though a rather small collection with only just over 80,000 records, the Alaska, Vital Records, 1816-1959 may be just what you need. These records include both an index and digital images of birth, marriage, death, and divorce records from Alaska covering the years of 1816-1959. This collection is being published as images become available.
United States – Pennsylvania – Petitions for Naturalization
Pennsylvania, Eastern District Petitions for Naturalization, 1795-1931 at FamilySearch continues to grow. Now up to over 300,000 records, the collection will offer naturalization petitions for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern district of Pennsylvania for the years 1795 to 1931. The records corresponds to NARA publication M1522 part of Record Group 21 Records of District Courts of the United States.
Naturalization papers are an important source of information about an immigrant’s nation of origin, his or her foreign and “Americanized” names, residence, and date of arrival. It is important to note that naturalization changed over time and information will vary greatly.
More on Researching WWI for Genealogy
A Family Tree University independent study course, US Military Records, will help you root out your ancestor’s involvement in the American war conflicts. Military files can often reveal genealogical data you need to further your family history. This course will teach you what to look for and how to locate the records you seek.
What You’ll Learn:
Definitions and terminology used in military records
Every where we go, we are snapping pictures. Whether you are interested in capturing your current family history or want to preserve the past through pictures, photo editing apps and software are a must! Read more to learn what software and apps are out there for the active genealogist who loves to take pictures.
A Gems reader recently asked if we have any suggestions on photo editing software and apps for family history. Our Genealogy Gems team members are each active in their personal family history and are quite savvy when it comes to some of the best photo editing apps and software out there.
Lisa Louise Cooke’s Favorite Photo Editing Software and Apps
I think one of the best photo editing software programs out there is Adobe Photoshop Elements, the consumer version of the high-powered Photoshop CS/CC software. On my mobile device, Photoshop Express is my go-to photo editing app which I discuss in Chapter 8 of my book Mobile Genealogy. In fact, I use the app far more for the photos I’m actively taking with my iPhone 6 Plus than the software on my computer.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is an ideal editor for entry-level photographers, image editors and hobbyists. You’ll find most of the features of the more expensive professional version, but with fewer and simpler options. It allows you to create, edit, organize, and share your images to social media sites. Use the built-in Guides to quickly accomplish your goals.
Adobe’s Photoshop Express app can be downloaded to your mobile device for free from Google Play (for Android) or the Apple Store (for iPhones.)
Using the Photo Express Photo Editing App for Photo Restoration
If you want to restore old family photos, this app is now also capable of doing a lovely job with the new Blemish Removal tool. The app allows you to access your photos straight from Dropbox, as well as Adobe Creative Cloud, and Facebook. You can copy the old photos you want to edit to a dedicated folder in Dropbox. Remember, always leave your master digital photos where they are on your computer, and make sure your computer is backed up. (The Genealogy Gems Podcast uses and recommends Backblaze.)
How to add photos to Adobe Photoshop Express:
On the computer where your photos are stored, go into Dropbox (either your Dropbox desktop application, or sign in to your account at www.dropbox.com)
Create a folder called “Photos for Editing”
Save copies of the photos you want to edit into the folder you created, leaving the originals where they are on your hard drive
On your tablet, tap the Adobe Photoshop Express app
Tap Dropbox. (See the chapter on File Sharing and Storage for more information on Dropbox)
Tap the “Photos for Editing” folder
Tap the photo you want to edit
The photo is now on your screen and ready to edit and embellish
When editing is complete, tap Close, then Save
Above is a photo of Lisa’s great-grandfather. On the left is the original scan, and on the right is restoration with the Blemish Removal tool (the icon looks like a band-aid.) After the touch up, Lisa applied the Dream filter which provided a bit more clarity and softened the rough spots in the background. Dream is one of the many free “Looks” available in the app, in addition to “Premium Looks” filters that you can purchase. She loves the fact that if she finds a certain combination of filters is working well, she can save it under “My Looks.” This saves time in the future because with one tap, you can apply your own special mix.
Amie’s Favorite Photo Editing Software and Apps
One of my favorite photo editing tools is Pixlr Express. It is easy to use without having to read through the ‘instructions.’ It is a web-based tool or a mobile app. It makes correcting and enhancing my old photos a breeze.
Using Pixlr Express
Pixlr Express is a web-based tool and a mobile app. Resize, rotate, filter, correct, and even add borders and text. Pixlr Express is free to use, which is always a plus. On your laptop, simply go to www.pixlr.com/express. Click on Browse.
Choose the photo you wish to edit. The example below is a cute little picture of Amie’s dad in the fourth grade.
It could use some more color definition, maybe a new border to clean up the edges, and a caption on the front so that when shared, others will know who it is. To begin doing these edits, first click Adjustment.
From the icons that pop-up, choose Auto Fix. It really looks great with just the click of one button! Add a fun border if you wish and click Type to add the text you want. Here’s the finished product in less than 3 minutes:
Don’t you just love it!
Enlisting the Help of Others
In some cases, our old photos are in seriously bad shape. We could pay to have a professional doctor it up, but I enlist the help of others at one of my favorite Facebook groups. Photo Restoration Free Service group on Facebook is dedicated to fixing images for free. Many of the people offering their talents are truly amazing. One man in particular caught my attention and gave me permission to use a before and after shot of his work. Thank you to Balazs and others who gave their permission for the before and after screenshot you see here.
What are your favorite photo editing apps? Do you use a different app for your mobile device? We’d love to hear from you and what you are doing to make the most of your treasured family photos. Please leave a comment in the comment section below.
Sunny’s Tips for Restoration of Digital Documents
It’s not only the pictures of ancestors we sometimes need to restore, but it can also be those hard-to-read images of documents. When dealing with this problem, Sunny says:
I do most editing on my laptop. This is where the nearest free software is and the default photo editor for Microsoft 2010. Most of the time, I just want to tweak the lighting: brighten up a scanned image or heighten the contrast in the image. To do this quickly, I open the image, then click Edit Pictures > Brightness and Contrast. In the Before/After images shown here, I just adjusted the midtones (+22) to make the gray areas lighter, then upped the contrast (+43).
With so many photo editing apps available, it is hard to know what is going to work best for your needs. We hope that our experiences might help you to decide! We would love to see some of your before and after photos of a remarkable restoration. Will you share with us on our Facebook page? We’d love to hear from you!
A virtual funeral, is that a real thing? Absolutely. Broadcasting a live service online is an innovative way for families to come together when time and distance keep them apart.
I recently received an email marked URGENT. A long time Genealogy Gems Podcast listener and Premium Member needed help ensuring that her close relatives on the other side of the world could ‘virtually attend’ her brother’s burial service. She wrote:
“This Wednesday my brother is being buried and a service is being held at the crematorium. I have a brother and family who are in Chicago. With your wide experience, what do you consider the best app to use on my iPad or iPhone so that my family in Chicago can see and hear it.”
I was indeed sad to hear of her loss, but happy that she felt she could turn to me. I have two suggestions that might make this virtual funeral possible.
Facetime for the Virtual Funeral
One of the easiest ways to accomplish a virtual funeral is if both parties have Apple mobile devices, then you could use Facetime.
Facetime is a video chat app that comes installed on your Apple devices. You will use Facetime to ‘call’ the family privately at a designated time using either a phone number or email address, depending on the type of device you are calling. The app allows you to share the burial or funeral service with your family members anywhere in the world.
The really nice thing about Facetime is that you can see them and they can see you making this as interactive as it can be.
Android Users: Click here to read 5 Best Alternatives to Facetime for Android on Geek.com.
Periscope App for the Virtual Funeral
Available on both Android and Apple, the free Periscope is my go-to app for live broadcasting here at Genealogy Gems. (At the end of this article, you can watch a video of one of my classes that was live-streamed using Periscope.) Using the Periscope app would be a great solution for privately broadcasting the virtual funeral.
Start by downloading the free app from the App Store (Apple) or Google Play (Android.) If you decide to use it on your iPad rather than your iPhone, select the “iPhone” filter from the menu. Even though the app was built for iPhone, it will work on your iPad. (Periscope requires iOS 8.1 or later and is also compatible with the iPod touch.)
Sign-in with a free Twitter account or your phone number. Then, add each other as friends. Each person needs to install the app on their device.
Start a “Broadcast,” but before you click the “Start Broadcast” button that pops up, tap the lock icon. From there, you can select your “Friends” (your brother and his family in Chicago) and start a “Private Broadcast.” The Periscope app will also record the broadcast to your phone so you’ll have a video of it. Your video can be saved for a future viewing or as part of your family history.
Sharing Special Moments
Sharing special moments using new apps and technology is one of the advantages of living in today’s modern world. Even when distance keeps you apart, you and your family can lean on each other during hard times or cheer each other on in happy times. I would love to hear from you. How have you shared your special moments with family far away?Leave a comment below.
Genealogy Gems: your home for learning about the best genealogy apps!