Monday, February 28, 2011

Maritime Monday - Navy Log

This post isn't going out until late this evening because I've been busy digitizing a Treasure.  Yes, with a capital 'T'.  Here it is:

What is that, you ask?  Why, that's my grandfather Estel E. Dillman's Navy Logbook.  He got this and started putting in photos and other data in 1927.  It's a bit beat up, but then most stuff that endures the US Navy for any period of time usually is.  The colorful bits on the cover are hand-painted.  The cover itself seems to be leather, but may be a faux leather of some kind.  As a sailor myself, I can really appreciate this logbook,the contents were quite recognizable to me even though I served over half a century later.

There are a number of documents enclosed.  Several course certificates indicate Grandpa continued to learn his trade while he was enlisted.  Estel was a diesel mechanic, a Machinist's Mate.  This Navy job would later serve him well in civilian life. 

Other documents are a bit more whimsical, if still extremely important to the sailor involved, such as this:

This is what's known as a Shellback certificate.  It certifies that the named sailor has crossed the equator, and participated in the Shellback Ceremony.  Ask any sailor who's crossed the line, he'll tell you it's one of the major accomplishments of his naval career, though he might not tell you the details of the ceremony!  One of the loose documents in the logbook was a script for one of these crossing-the-line ceremonies, though probably from one later than Estel's.  He may have played a part in some later sailor's ceremony.

There are a number of pages of actual log entries that talk about the ship's activities and locations.  They're dated and are a neat way of getting a glimpse into life aboard ship.  Of course, this information was never given out to civilians, but keeping your own logbook was quite acceptable as long as you kept it secure.  The log pages look like this:

Most of the contents of the log are from Estel's first enlistment in the late 1920's.  After that hitch, he left the Navy to try his hand farming the South Dakota Prairie with his new wife and father-in-law.  They were making a go of it despite the Great Depression, when World War II broke out.  Like a lot of men with prior service, Estel once again volunteered and re-enlisted in the Navy for the duration of the War.  He made Chief Petty Officer by the time the war ended, and he decided that was enough of that.  He went back to South Dakota and put his diesel mechanic skills to use in a diesel-fired power plant.

The logbook has plenty of pages.  Many are filled with snapshots, reminders of shipmates, people from home, and places visited.  An interesting one I found is this one:

The bottom center picture clearly has "Mother" written in the border, but this is NOT Estel's mother Arminthia Belle Wiseman!  My suspicion is that this is Mrs. Sacksteder, matriarch of a family that took Estel and siblings in after Belle died in 1920, and Clyde Taylor Dillman abandoned the family.  I'm still working on that story.

Well, this is long enough for a late posting, and I'm certain there will be more to come from this logbook.  Have any of your ancestors left this kind of record of their military service?  What treasures did you find in it?  Post in the comments below! 

Maritime Monday – Post about anything to do with the sea: ancestors who were sailors, shipwrights, fishermen, or coastguards including images, records and links. Maritime Monday is an ongoing series created by Ros Haywood at the GenWestUK blog.   (Blurb shamelessly stolen from Thomas McEntee at Geneabloggers.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Technology Tuesday - Scanners

I wonder how many other posts were prompted by the Scanfest on Sunday?  We try to get some scanning done, but we spend a lot of time discussing related things!  We had over 40 people active this time.

Toward the end, there were a few of us discussing different scanners.  Someone was using a document feeder on theirs, someone else had some artifacts (errors) in their scans at high resolutions.  Some were scanning slides or negatives.  Someone had a new wide format scanner.  Several had the portable Flip Pal scanner.  We talked brands and model lines as well. 

So, what are some of the types of scanners out there, and why should I choose one type over another?  Excellent question!

Most people are familiar with the traditional flatbed scanner, where your document is laid on a glass surface, a cover lowered over that, and the scanner does the magic stuff to get your document into the computer in a graphic image format.  There are a number of choices within this type: what size of platen (glass)?  What size of the case, overall?  What scanning resolution, what lighting type?  Can it also do slides and/or negatives?  What's the overall quality of the unit?

Like most technology gadgets, many manufacturers have both a low-end consumer-grade product, and a more expensive, more feature-laden 'pro' or high-end product, and sometimes several models in each line.  The low-end models are primarily intended to compete on price, while still fulfilling the basic requirements of the product type.  High-end models have many more bells & whistles.  A basic flatbed scanner will have a platen sufficient to scan a full Letter or A4 page, will have a cathode light source, and some basic software to control it all.  Frequently the low-end devices will also have smaller cases, appealing to those with limited space.  A high-end flatbed will have a larger platen, maybe legal size or a wide format.  It may have an LED-based light source.  It will sometimes be faster.  It will likely also have built-in capability for scanning slides and/or negatives.  The unit may be physically larger than the low-end cousins.

Some scanners are part of an all-in-one device with printer, scanner and fax capabilities all in one box.  These also function as copiers.  The printer sections can be either inkjet or laser.  Inkjets will be cheaper, and have color, while the laser-based units are generally monochrome, and faster.  Some people like these all-in-one units because a single device fills many functions, and saves space in the home office.  My personal take is that these units are more finicky, and not as good a choice when multiple people must share the unit.  What's more, failure of any part pretty much means replacing the whole unit, as they're rarely repairable in any economical sense. 

An interesting scanner attachment (some have it built-in) is a document feeder.  This lets you place a stack of documents on it, and it feeds the scanner for you, allowing you to get other things done.  For uniform documents in good condition, this works pretty well.  For odd sizes, or documents with problems like dog-eared corners, creases, staples or tears, the document feeders can jam, or mishandle the document.  Sometimes this can damage the document.  For that reason, I do not recommend using them on documents that cannot be easily replaced.  They are also not useful for photographs, as they typically require feeding around rollers.  Some older photos can crack when flexing that much, and some are printed on a stock too heavy to roll.

I mentioned the Flip Pal portable scanner, and there are also other portable units.  They vary in size, but the Flip Pal will to a 10"x6" image.  Obviously that's not even a full letter page, but the small size does make the device quite portable.  Fortunately, it includes software that can stitch together multiple scanner passes to cover a larger document or photo.  This unit seems to be quite popular among genealogists on-the-go.

Software is another thing that varies with scanners.  All of them will come with driver software to allow your operating system to connect to and communicate with the scanner.  Most also include some kind of image editing software and maybe some sort of image organization software as well.  Higher-end units may also include Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software for transcribing documents to text files of various formats.

I mentioned light sources earlier.  Most typical scanners use a cold cathode tube much like a fluorescent light, similar to the backlight in many flat panel monitors and laptop screens.  Some newer scanners use white LED's for the light source, as do some newer flat panels and laptops.  Why would you choose one over the other?  Cathodes have a warm-up time, that is, they need time to stabilize their light output once turned on.  This is why many scanners make you wait to scan.  LED's are an instant-on technology, and the light output is immediately stable, requiring no warm-up time at all.  LED's also have a 50,000 hour rated life, where a cold cathode tube is frequently rated for around 5,000 hours.  5,000 hours is still many years of normal use, so may not be a big issue unless you plan to run your scanner a lot.  The biggest plus to LED's is the lack of warm-up time and stable color output.

My personal choice is a typical high-end flatbed scanner, the CanoScan 8800F.  This model has been replaced recently by the 9000F with a few enhancements to the features, but essentially the same thing.  It has LED lighting, and includes the ability to scan both slides and negatives.  It does not have a document feeder.  The platen is larger than Letter/A4 size, but not quite legal size.  It came with Photoshop Elements 5.0 for Windows (4.0 for Mac), and Omnipage LE OCR software.  It also includes Canon's MP Navigator software which includes an organizer.  The connection to my computer is USB 2.0 based, as are most scanners now.  (Older scanners used Parallel ports or SCSI, or even a proprietary interface that required installing a card in the computer!)  I would strongly recommend it as a very good all-purpose scanner.  The only possible drawback is that it's not portable at all.

What are you using to scan documents and photos?  Do you like your choice?  What would you choose differently, next time?  Discuss in the comments below!

Related posts: 
Scanning Technology
Digitizing With Cameras, Part I
Digitizing With Cameras, Part II

Tech Tuesday – Have you stumbled upon a piece of technology or new Web-based application that would be of interest to your fellow genealogy colleagues? Post at your blog on Tech Tuesday and show us the ins and outs of this technology and how it can benefit the genealogy community.  This is a new series suggested by Donna Peterson of Hanging with Donna and in the past there have been many iterations of this series: the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) blog Narations as well as The Family Curator by Denise Levenick.  (Blurb shamelessly stolen from Thomas McEntee at Geneabloggers!)

UPDATE: Yeah, Blogger screwed up and posted this immediately even though I told it to hold it until Tuesday morning.  You get an early read, enjoy!

Sunday Obituary - William Edward Dark

Today's obituary is for William Edward Dark,  subject of my last Tombstone Tuesday:

From:  March 29, 1941 Winnfield News-American:  William E. Dark, Confederate Vet, Passes Sunday was courier in Civil War under General Johnston

William E. Dark, the last Confederate veteran residing in Winn Parish, died at 6:30 Sunday afternoon in his home near Gaars Mill.  Born in Merriweather County, Georgia, 92 year and 10 months ago, "Uncle Bill" was only 12 years old when the War Between the States broke out.  Soon afterwards he enlisted and served as a courier under General Joseph E. Johnston.  He participated in the critical Battle of Atlanta and other phases of the war.

After the war he moved to Louisiana, settling near Homer in 1869.  Two years later he moved to Winn Parish where he lived until his death.  During the time the Confederate Veterans were organized here, he served as adjutant to the post.  He was married three times, and was the father of 21 children.

"Uncle Bill" regularly attended all state and national Confederate reunions, and was nationally famous tap and jig dancer at these conventions.  When Woodrow Wilson was present, Mr. Dark had a special invitation to dance at the White House.  Several large magazines and daily newspapers carried stories and pictures of "Uncle Bill's" actions at the reunions.

Funeral services were held Monday afternoon in the Harmony Grove Church, with Rev. John Kitchenham officiating.  Burial was in the church cemetery, conducted by the Masonic Lodge.

Surving are the widow; five sons, P.T., W.L. and J.F. of Gaars Mill, J.W. of Jonesboro, and E.H. Dark of the Walker Community; eight daughters, Mrs Emma Hutson, Summerfield, Mrs. Maude Stewart, Mrs. Annie Ziglar, and Mrs Caordie Know of Ansley, Mrs.Cora Carter of Ruston, Mrs. Ora Hickenbottom of Walker Community, Mrs. Zula Branch of Chatham, and Mrs. Lela McMurray of Gaars Mill; one brother R.L.Dark of Liddieville, LA; and one sister, Mrs Mollie Boyd, Coushatta; 80 grandchildren and a number of great and great-great grandchildren.
"Uncle Bill" was obviously something of a local celebrity in Winn Parish, Louisiana, as he has a rather well-written, descriptive obituary.  I don't have an original of this, merely the transcription, so I can't be sure, but it appears to be a staff-written obit, rather than a family submission.  You do get a little flavor of the man from this obit.

I don't care for the use of initials only in naming several descendants, but it does then use first names of female descendants instead of Mrs. (Husband).  With three wives, over 20 children and 80-some grand children and even some great- and great-great-grandchildren indicated by the time of his death, you can see Mr. Dark was very prolific!

Sunday’s Obituary – if you have obituaries of family members and ancestors, consider posting them along with other information about that person as part of Sunday’s Obituary. This is an ongoing series developed by Leslie Ann at Ancestors Live Here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun - Count Your Trees!

Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings has posted another challenge:

Hey genealogy buffs, it's Saturday Night - time for more Genealogy Fun!

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to:

1)  Open your genealogy database in the software of your choice, and use the Help function to determine if your software can count the number of separate family trees you have in that database.

2.  Follow the directions if the program can do it, and Count Your Trees.

3)  Tell us about how many trees you have, and who is the "root" person in the biggest tree.  Tell us if you have any big surprises - did you find any disconnected trees that should not have been disconnected?

4)  Write your own blog post, write a comment on this post, or write a Facebook status or comment.

Here's mine:

I use mostly MyHertitage Family Tree Builder, currently at version, to maintain my data.  I couldn't immediately see how to tell how many trees I might have, although I've only intended to have a single large tree.  Family Tree Builder seems geared toward only a single tree.

Humph.  That's not much fun.

Okay, let's try it with Legacy 7.  Using the helpful hints Randy posted on how to get Legacy to show a tree count, I find I have 22 trees.  But one of them is "Unassociated Photos", which I will assume is an artifact from importing the GEDCOM I exported from Family Tree Builder.  Okay, 21 trees, most of those have only 1 or 2 people.  How did that many people get disconnected?  One tree has 14 people, a group from back in colonial days.  Benjamin Pearson (b. 01 Feb 1657/58, d. 16 Jun 1731) is the root of that tree, but it includes both parents and siblings for him.

Now I'm wondering if I should prune out those disconnected folks?  I don't foresee needing them.  I'd prefer to remove the clutter, if I won't need them.  I'll think about it a bit and decide later.

How many trees did YOU find in your software?  Surprised?  Discuss below...

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - Sounds


Sound is a tricky topic in my family.  You see, my father was born deaf, as was one of his brothers.  My paternal grandmother lost her hearing as a young girl.  She said she was told it was caused by an illness she had.  I've forgotten what she said it was, but it's written down somewhere not immediately handy.  Both of my brothers have serious hearing loss from childhood.  As I get older, like many people, my hearing is fading, though I'll readily admit mine is likely from too much loud music and jet engines.  But it makes me wonder, was grandma's hearing loss truly from that illness, or was it hereditary?  I have no data to tell me if anyone further back in my tree also suffered from hearing loss, but it would not surprise me one bit if there were others!

For most of my childhood, my home was across the street from a railroad yard.  The sound of trains passing, and workers shuffling the cars from one train to another, became so common I easily slept through them.  Horns, bells, the woosh of air from the brakes, rail cars smashing into each other as they were shuffled about, the rumbling that's as much felt as heard as trains pass are all familiar sounds.  I've been away from that house long enough that I no longer ignore those sounds, but I still live close enough that I hear them on occasion, a mile away.

I grew up in the 70's and 80's, and music was LOUD.  "They" warned us about listening to the music so loud, especially when the Walkman came around and we all put on our headphones.  Rock bands played ever larger arenas with ever larger speaker arrays to get the sound out there.  The Who was awarded a Guinness World Record as the "Loudest Rock Band" at 126 dB, measured at a distance of 32 meters from the speakers at a concert in 1976 (info via Wikipedia), and other bands competed to out-do them.

During my Navy years, I spent over three years working in VF-32, a fighter squadron made up of F-14 Tomcat jets.  They each had two engines.  As a Photographer's Mate, I was involved in configuration of the Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS), a large pod of cameras which hung under the plane, between the engines, which were frequently both operating while I was working.  That's a loud environment!  Other jets on the carriers were even louder, with the A-6 Intruders being the absolute loudest thing I can remember ever hearing.  Fortunately, the Navy was quite proactive and insistent on training sailors in use of hearing protection devices, which they supplied, but those things could only reduce the level, not eliminate it.

As my hearing fades, I have noticed that I am turning up the volume on things a bit more than before.  When I catch myself, I sometimes turn it back down a bit.  Mostly, I have trouble with background noise, so when I'm trying to hear someone and there's noise in the background, I frequently ask for repeats, or turn up the volume if I can.  Some day I'll probably end up with hearing aids.

What sounds do you remember from your childhood?  Do you still hear those sounds today?  Have you had to deal with hearing loss?  Discuss in the comments below!

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog has developed this year-long series of weekly subjects to promote regular blog updates and provide interesting ideas for discussion.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Funeral Card Friday - LaVonne A. (Hengel) Hirdler

LaVonne A. (Hengel) Hirdler funeral card
LaVonne was my mother-in-law's sister.  She died long before I associated with the family, so I never met her.  I did get the chance to meet with her husband, Ralph Hirdler.  Ralph was quite the character, he had a story for everything, and sometimes more than one story for the same thing!  He used to visit my in-laws and play dice and card games while I was dating my (future) wife.

LaVonne's funeral card is one of relatively few I have that is only a single "page", i.e. not folded, so there is only a front and a back with one piece of artwork.  Here's the other side:

Funeral Card Friday is a genealogy meme created by Dee Welborn of Funeral Cards & Genealogy and has been an ongoing series in the Geneablogger community.  If you're interested in funeral cards, I strongly recommend you visit her blog!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Open Thread Thursday - Genealogy Societies

This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:
In a post- RootsTech genealogy world, what steps do genealogy societies need to take to appear relevant to and a necessary resource for the changing genealogy community?

Okay.  I'm not sure how much room I have to talk on this one, as I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of a genealogy or historical society.

Maybe that fact, in itself, is my opening.  I have never felt a real draw to become a member of said societies.  Why not?  Well, first and foremost, I never saw a huge benefit for doing so.  I've always been among the youngest of people I knew who were doing genealogy.  Even in the association researching my surname, I'm the young guy who handles a lot of the technology.  Not all, as some of those association folks are pretty savvy, but a good chunk, especially while at association gatherings.  Genealogy Societies always looked to me like a bunch of stodgy old geezers who would laugh me out because I chose to do as much as possible electronically, and was more focused on finding ancestors than fully, properly documenting and citing my sources.

I'll admit I do need to do more work on my documentation, and I'm working on that, but I'm sticking to my guns in doing as much as possible in electronic formats.  I don't have space for linear yards of paper documentation.  I don't have time and money to traipse all over the country collecting hard copy documentation.  I don't have money to send to NARA or wherever (some at up to $27 per copy!) for documents.  I've gone so far as to order a copy of my paternal grandfather's military records, but that's probably going to be it for the foreseeable future.  If I were going to join a society, it would probably be the New England Historic Genealogical Society as I have ancestry that was prominent in early New England.

I'll admit I need to do a lot of work on my source citations, and I have been avidly reading Randy Seaver's and James Tanner's blogs about the subject.  I'm rather hoping the people working on a better GEDCOM (whether that be BetterGEDCOM or something else) will come up with a viable new standard, and the software vendors will support it, such that our citations will not be lost or mangled in transfers.  I'm hoping those same vendors will improve their software to make it not only easier to do proper citations, but aggressively assist users in doing so. 

That said, I still don't see a huge benefit to joining one of these societies.  Is it really worth it for the periodical newsletter?  DO they also have databases I could then access electronically?  Are they actively pursuing technological ways and means?  Or are they all hidebound old codgers who can't be bothered to learn computers?

Are you a member?  Of which one(s)?  How has it benefited you?  Please see if you can give me a convincing argument in favor of joining in the comments below!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Early Milestone

I'd like to thank you, my readers!  In about seven weeks, this blog has passed 1000 page views.  It's great to know that what I'm writing is of enough use that you come back frequently to check for new stuff.  If you have suggestions for topics you'd like me to cover, please don't hesitate to let me know!  Chances are, someone else would also like the same information.

Wordless Wednesday - Arminthia Belle Wiseman

Arminthia Belle Wiseman ca. 1905

Wordless Wednesday – a great way to share your old family photos! Create a post with the main focus being a photograph or image. Some posters also include attribute information as to the source of the image (date, location, owner, etc.). Wordless Wednesday is one of the longest running “memes” in the blogosphere and is an ongoing series at GeneaBloggers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - William Edward Dark

William Edward Dark's grave marker

William Edward Dark was my maternal great-great-grandfather.  He was one of those ancestors you love to find, a real character with loads of documentation!  William served the Confederacy as a  courier directly for Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. He was with Gen. Johnston at the Battle of Atlanta and several other engagements in which the gray-clad Confederates tried to halt Sherman's march to the sea through Georgia.  You can tell by his birth date that he was very young, indeed, when he served!  When he died at age 93, he was the last surviving confederate veteran in Winn Parish, Louisiana.

Excerpt from "Four Confederate Veterans Debate on Presidential Nominees Tuesday"

Mr. W.E. Dark, who wore the Confederate veteran uniform and who displayed more badges to national reunions than any other veteran present, is secretary of the Winnfield Camp 1703. He was courier during the war and served in the Twenty-Six Georgia Battalion. Mr. Dark took part in many of the major engagements in Georgia and Tennessee. He was in Atlanta when Sherman had surrounded the city, but he got out of the city while General Hardee held the Federals.

"As a courier, I didn't do so much fighting," Mr. Dark said in relating thrilling experiences during the war. "I was usually on the run."
"I was too good at dodging bullets to get shot," Mr. Dark added, his eyes twinkling. "But I never will forget the time I ate a dispatch. I had a dispatch to deliver to General Von Zinkins at Corinth. I was riding on the top of a train from Iuka, Miss., to Corinth. We saw some horse soldiers ahead of us and thinking that we were about to be surrounded by the enemy, I was ordered by my superior officer to destroy my dispatch. The only way was to eat it. How I did it, I do not know, but that was one message that was not delivered. The enemy proved to be some of our own men, and I had some explaining to do when we reached Corinth."
Mr. Dark has been married three times and is the father of 22 children. He has seventy-five grandchildren. His youngest children are twin girls, seventeen years old.
Apparently, Mr. Dark was quite well known as a dancer, as well!  Several articles describe his "Clog Dance" at many confederate reunions:

The following article was taken from "The Shreveport Times," a Saturday morning issue, dated 8 November 1924.

     Meet the champion heel-shaker of the old veterans.  W.E. Dark, who, despite his 77 years, can jig and cut capers that would make modern terpsichorean artists look to their laurels.

      Dark attended the reunion of the Louisiana U.C.V. here Wednesday and Thursday and after he had demonstrated his dancing proclivities, was informily[sic] declared the champion dancer of the reunion.  Dark also won honors as the "sheik" of the reunion.  The way he had the feminine members of the entertainment committee pay him homage made him the envy of many.  The major rarely appeared without two of the fairest of the fair holding his arms and he even stole a few kisses in the Youree hotel lobby, but nobody objected.

     Dark, who, by the way, is a major on the division commander's staff and is fully entitled to the title, had an odd experience Thursday at the hotel.  He met a man by the name of Light.  Both had a big laugh. 

      Incidentally, Major Dark is the father of 22 children, 14 of whom are living, has been married three times and has so many grandchildren he has lost track of all of them.

     "It would take a month to check 'em up and I have never taken the trouble." he declared.  He also has several great-grandchildren.

      During the Civil War, Major Dark enlisted when 16 years old and served with the 26th Georgia Infantry under General Johnston.

     Major Dark is still vigorous and works regularlly[sic] on his farm near Dodson, LA, where he has resided many years.  He is a member of David Pierson Camp, U.C.V. of Winnfield.

What a character!  I'm sad I live too late to have ever met the man, he sounds like a party waiting to happen...

Tombstone Tuesday – To participate in Tombstone Tuesday simply create a post which includes an image of a gravestone of one or more ancestors and it may also include a brief description of the image or the ancestor. This is an ongoing series at GeneaBloggers.

Tech Tuesday - Digitizing With Cameras, Part II

I apologize for the delay.  I had originally intended to write and publish this entry  for last week, but participation in a 50-hour Trivia Marathon over last weekend wiped me out.  Hopefully the wait will have been worth it!

I re-read the first part of this topic in preparation for writing this part, and I think I should revisit my comments on lighting.  Using your camera's flash is almost never a good option, and should be a last resort.  Any light that is at too small an angle to the lens opening will result in reflections and glare, which is why I used the reflectors at 45 degrees off.  That position is least likely to result in any reflections.  An external flash that can be bounced off of a white surface would possibly be a workable alternative.  Really, though, the setup I suggested will work best for very little money.  It's pretty much what professional copy stands have, in a poor-man's DIY version.  You might look at school auctions, they sometimes part with old equipment and might have a real copy stand for cheap.

Okay, having said that, and having somewhat described my setup in Part I, here's a shot of how I lay it out as an example:
Two DIY reflector lights on tripods, and a neutral colored base/background.

As you can see, I have the cheap reflector lights simply clamped on a couple of old tripods I had around.  They currently have GE Reveal incandescent bulbs in them, but you could just as well use CFL bulbs and save some energy.  (Incidentally, I've used these same lights for an impromptu photo studio to shoot portraits, they worked well enough for the purpose, given what I paid for them).  The black material is simply a bed sheet I got on sale somewhere.  You'll want to use a neutral color like black, white or grey, as opposed to a color that might alter the color of your materials.  When I did the Scrapbook for Part I, I had a white sheet of tagboard as my base.  I've laid the base on the floor, set the lights approximately the same distance from each side aimed about 45 degrees onto the desired area, set the object to shoot in place, and stood over it shooting vertically down.  It's important to shoot as close to vertical as you can manage, as any slant will give you a keystone effect to rectangular objects, like this:

Shot vertical - all sides parallel.

Shot at an angle - sides keystoned - slanted in to top!
You'll note the absence of reflections in this image - there is glass in the frame!  The 45 degree angle works.

This example is pretty exaggerated to show you what I mean, but even slight keystoning becomes noticeable when you start cropping in for size, or to isolate images from a multi-image page.

As I mentioned before, you want to use RAW format if your camera supports it, or if not, immediately convert your image from JPG to TIFF before you do any editing.  Also, if your camera has a setting, make sure you set it for the correct white balance.  Incandescent bulb usually have a preset you can use, and fluorescent tubes do as well, but if you have CFL blubs in your reflectors, DO NOT use the fluorescent setting for those, as they're made to mimic the color balance of regular incandescent bulbs in most cases.  Use the incandescent setting instead.  Better still, if your camera allows, use a custom white balance for your particular setup and lamps.  Check your camera's manual for how to set the white balance on your particular camera.  You'll note the images of the picture in the frame above are somewhat yellow-looking; this is because I didn't set my white balance before shooting them, as I was only trying to illustrate the keystone concept, and the color was not important.

To illustrate white balance, I shot a family heirloom ring on a white background:

Heirloom ring on white background, Auto white balance.
The color of the incandescent bulbs makes the white background and everything else look yellow.  Then I set a custom white balance for my setup, and shot the ring again with no other changes:

Heirloom ring, custom white balance.
It really makes a difference and saves tons of post-processing of your images.  You could correct most of the color balance out with Photoshop, but setting the white balance up front saves all of that time and effort for everything you shoot. Also note that the ring is not entirely in focus.  I was shooting at a low f/stop number which results in shallow depth of field.  Normally this isn't an issue as you're shooting flat objects like albums, but a three dimensional object can cause problems.  I also shot the ring on a black background:

Heirloom ring on black background.
You can experiment with different backgrounds and lights to see what works best for the item you're digitizing.  You'll note that a black cloth background tends to attract and show lint and dust.  Have a vacuum handy!

This ring belonged to Sally Lommel, the same person who put together the scrapbook in Part I.  She was my wife's great-aunt.  The ring was an engagement ring from the one time Sally was proposed to; the marriage never happened, but Sally ended up keeping the ring.  This is an example of digitizing a three-dimensional object.  You might get away with this ring in a scanner as it's relatively flat, but anything with more depth would be hard to get on a scanner.  Also, on a scanner, you can't position objects other than flat on the platen glass.  With a camera, I could have devised a stand to set the ring upright for some different views.  I may yet do this at some point.  A ring box would be a good choice for that, if I could locate one of neutral color.

I've covered the basics of using your digital camera to digitize  things you can't get in your scanner.  If you have any questions, I'd be happy to try to answer them in the comments below.  I'm also planning to be on the next Scanfest this weekend, you might try catching me then.  If you have a specific item you'd like advice on digitizing, I'll do my best to tell you how I'd tackle it with the equipment you specify.

Missed Part I?  You can still read it here.

Tech Tuesday – Have you stumbled upon a piece of technology or new Web-based application that would be of interest to your fellow genealogy colleagues? Post at your blog on Tech Tuesday and show us the ins and outs of this technology and how it can benefit the genealogy community.  This is a new series suggested by Donna Peterson of Hanging with Donna and in the past there have been many iterations of this series: the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) blog Narations as well as The Family Curator by Denise Levenick.  (Blurb shamelessly stolen from Thomas McEntee at Geneabloggers!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mystery Monday - Oscar Williams & India ________?

I'm dealing with a major brick wall here.  My maternal great-grandfather was Oscar Holt Williams.  He was born 15 Apr 1875 and died 19 Jan 1952.  In 1902, he married a woman named India.  Her surname may have been McQueen.  It may have been Sandel or Sandahl.  Or maybe even McLain.  Most of what I have is undocumented, family tradition with a few scraps of questionable information found online.

The Sandel option seems strongest, as she was supposedly a half-sister of Hattie Mae (b. 02 Feb 1883 in Norwood, East Feliciana Parish, LA, d. 07 Jun 1963 in Longview, Cowitz County, Washington) and Nellie Lovie McQueen (b. 18 Sep 1885 in East Feliciana Parish, LA, d. 30 Aug 1970 in East Feliciana Parish, LA), daughters of John Murdock McQueen (b. 02 Oct 1866, d. 27 Jun 1922) and Mary Ellen McLain (b. 05 May 1855 possibly in Amite County, MS).   Mary Ellen McLain was first married to Michael F. Sandel (b. 1827, d. 1914).  For most of the time, most of these folks lived in Louisiana, probably East Feliciana Parish.

I have had very little luck finding any of these folks in censuses or other public record, and they all seem to have been reticent about keeping family history data.  This one section is a total blur.  I have data before and after for everyone possibly involved except India.  Every time I find some little tidbit about this group, it changes my whole view of what India's surname should be. 

And as with any hypothesis this lacking in documentation, I may end up scrapping a bunch of it when something comes to light to make me look silly.  Happens all too often!

Mystery Monday – Closely related to Madness Monday only these missing ancestors might not cause madness! Mystery Monday is where you can post about mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in your genealogy and family history research which is currently unsolved. This is a great way to get your fellow genealogy bloggers to lend their eyes to what you’ve found so far and possibly help solve the mystery. Several genealogy bloggers have been using Mystery Monday as an ongoing series including Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, Kathleen Moore of The Misadventures of a Genealogist and Betty Tartas of Betty’s Boneyard Genealogy Blog.  (Blurb shamelessly stolen from Thomas McEntee at Geneabloggers.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Digital Dark Age - Some Misconceptions

I've read numerous blogs and tweets from people talking about Curt Witcher's discussion in the past about a "Digital Dark Age".  These posts and tweets almost invariably dismiss Mr. Witcher as some sort of anti-technology Luddite who would see us eschew technology for more traditional means of recording our family histories.  I've read of eye-rolling at mention of this man and that topic.  And I've now read heaps of praise (deserved!) for his presentation at Rootstech 2011.  I attended his presentation virtually, and even across the internet I could tell the passion that Mr. Witcher has for genealogy and family history, and preservation of information!

I'm here to say that those of you dismissing Mr. Witcher have totally misunderstood what he was saying about a "Digital Dark Age"!  He wasn't saying we should not use technology.  Far from it!  Rather, he was warning us of the potential problems of our technology, and to be alert against them.  Bear with me as I explain.

Paper has lasted for hundreds of years, other media including stone and clay tablets for millenia.  They're known, trustworthy methods of storing data.  We shouldn't abandon them just because we have shiny new technology.  I personally hold original documents over a century old.  Most of you do as well.  As an IT professional, I also hold digital data in a variety of media.  Floppy diskettes that are as much as 30 years old, readable only on machines decades obsolete, if they're still readable at all.  Other floppy diskettes up to 20 years old, possibly readable if I can find a currently running computer that still has a working floppy drive, which is getting rarer by the month.  I can tell you that floppies were far from reliable storage even when they were new and still in active use!  The degradation of time has surely rendered many of my old disks unreadable through decay of the magnetic information written on them.

Hard drives are more robust, yes, having better protected magnetic surfaces and stronger magnetic fields, somewhat shielded from outside influence.  But they have mechanical parts, and anything with moving parts will eventually fail.  There are two sorts of computer users - those who have experienced a hard drive crash, and those who WILL experience one.  As for USB memory sticks and the new solid state drive replacements, they have no moving parts, true, but they have not been in existence long enough for anyone to be sure of their longevity.  CD and DVD-ROM media have been revealed to be much less long-lived than manufacturers originally told us they would be when they were introduced.  Dye degrades, aluminum substrates oxidize, discs scratch extremely easily. 

All of these things mean that digital media are fragile when compared to known paper and other old technology media.  We must ensure we guard against the failure of digital media, or our data will be lost!  That doesn't mean we shouldn't use digital media, far from it.  What it means is that we must often check our storage to be sure it is still readable, and we must maintain multiple copies (preferably in multiple physical locations!) so that if any one part fails, we can recover from other copies.

If Mr. Witcher came across as passionate about genealogy at Rootstech, I am certain he is as passionate about wanting to be sure we don't lose what we've learned through failure of our storage methods.  Quite the opposite of  being a Luddite, as we saw at Rootstech, Mr. Witcher is very much in favor of using the technology to make it easier to find and share our data with others.  I hope you will consider this next time someone mentions Mr. Witcher and his Digital Dark Age, and perhaps correct this misconception.

Sunday Obituary - Jacob Willenbring

Jacob Willenbring obit via St. Cloud Daily Times


  Jacob Willenbring, 93, died May 24 at the St. Cloud Hospital. He was born Nov. 15, 1881, in Richmond and was a lifelong resident of Stearns County.
  In 1904 he married Catherine Viehauser. She preceded him in death on Aug. 15, 1935.
  Funeral services were Tuesday at 1 p.m. at Ss. Peter and Paul Church, Richmond. Pallbearers were Conrad and Jim Kloskin, Bob, Don and Tom Lommel and Bob Miller.
  Mr. Willenbring is survived by daughters and son, Mrs. Conrad (Aurelia) Kloskin and Mrs. Edmund (Mildred) Lommel. St. Cloud; Mrs. Richard (Irene) Miller, Backus; and Rolland, Fifty Lakes; brother, Tom, Grand Rapids; 10 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.
  Two sisters, Katherine and Mrs. Andrew (Anna) Beumel, and a brother, Mike, preceded him in death.

Here we see a side-by-side comparison of the cleaned up scan of the obituary, and the text as generated from that scan by Nuance's Omniscan OCR software.  I've formatted the text, but it required virtually no cleanup.  Optimizing the scan before you use the OCR software really saves time correcting the OCR output.

Jacob Willenbring was a well known citizen of Stearns County, Minnesota around the turn of the 20th century.  He played baseball for the Torah (later Richmond), Minnesota team.  Jacob is one of my wife's distant relations, the father of an aunt by marriage of my mother-in-law.  I happened to find his name and picture in a book, Stearns & Benton Counties The First 100 Years Presented by the St. Cloud Times in Conjunction With the Stearns History Museum and Benton County Historical Society, published by Piedmont Publishing in 2002, ISBN 1-932129-18-9.  The book is a wonderful gathering of local historical photos with some historical narrative and a whole lot of names of local people of the times.

Sunday’s Obituary – if you have obituaries of family members and ancestors, consider posting them along with other information about that person as part of Sunday’s Obituary. This is an ongoing series developed by Leslie Ann at Ancestors Live Here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun - Go For A Better Google Search

Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings presents another Saturday Night Genealogy Fun:

Your mission - should you decide to accept it, is to:

1)  Go to genea-blogger Ramdy Majors website (

2)  Add his blog to your RSS reader, if you don't have it already.

3) Read his blog post AncestorSearch using Google Custom Search - BETASee the link at the top of the page that says "AncestorSearch using Google Custom Search - BETA?"  Click on it.

4)  Test out his Custom Google Search form to help you find online information about your ancestors, especially for their marriages. 

5)  Tell us about your results - was this useful? Did you find something new?  How can Randy improve it?

6)  If you like Randy's Custom Search, add it to your Bookmarks or Favorites.

Thank you, Randy Majors, for creating a useful search capability and sharing it with all of us.  May your site receive many hits, and RSS subscriptions!

I tried this with my anchor couple, Clyde Taylor Dillman and Arminthea "Belle" Wiseman, married in Crawford County, Indiana in 1904.  This search widget really does filter the results!  I had to tweak a couple of times to get any hits at all, and then I did find one link to a website of a related line that includes part of mine.  One link.  And the information on this site is stuff I'd already had for many years.  Okay, this is my anchor couple, that I've been researching for a long time, I guess I didn't expect to find new data.

I tried again with my current most frustrating brick wall, Oscar Holt Williams and India (McQueen or Sandel/Sandahl) married in 1902 in Louisiana.  This one turned out to be a total stumper any way I could tweak the search input.  Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  I didn't expect to find anything on this couple, although I was hoping.

I tried a number of other couples, with virtually no useful results.  I hope you've had more luck with this than I have, but for me it's been a very frustrating experiment.  Even people I have already well documented were not found.  A few results turned out to be things I'd posted here and there.  I may give this another shot at some point, but for tonight I'm giving up on it.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - Technology

I must be careful.  For a person like me, this topic could easily become a book!

Image courtesy of NASA
I was born in the 1960's, a time when technology was rapidly advancing.  We were in the heat of the Space Race, working feverishly to get a man to the moon and back.  And it hasn't slowed down, in fact the pace of technological development continues to increase.  Televisions went from mostly black & white to mostly color as the cost of color units dropped, and programming in color became the norm instead of a rare experiment.  Propeller-driven aircraft were being phased out by jet airliners.  Space went from small satellite launches to small one-man capsules, then two-man Gemini capsules and finally three-man Apollo capsules.  Apollo I burned on the launch pad, killing all three astronauts aboard.  We fixed that problem and proceded to send 16 more Apollo missions including seven to land men on the moon, narrowly averting disaster with Apollo 13.

Starbird image via
When I was very young, toys were just starting to add sounds and lights, and they were pretty uncomplicated.  By the time I was about 12, they started to get more sophisticated, with microprocessors to generate sounds instead of just playing back recorded sounds.  LED lights became more common in any color you wanted, as long as it was red.  Computers went from room-sized installations to refrigerator-sized boxes.  And then in the mid-1970's, the personal computer concept came about, and computers shrank to a box that would sit on your desk.  Many early personal computers had paper output, or the blinky light consoles that used to feature in movies.  By 1977, Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors were becoming common, if still expensive.  And computers were expensive, too!  The Apple II released in 1977 cost well over $2000 for a base model with 32K of RAM and a single floppy drive.  Our side of the Space Race stagnated with the end of our lunar missions.  We sent a few missions up to our little Skylab station to look into the physiological effects of longer-term missions on our astronauts.  We started building our Space Shuttle fleet, but it wouldn't be ready for use until the 1980's.

Apple II image via
I was in the first group of students to get to use the Apple II computers in my school district.  I was in Jr. High, and it was a specially picked group of us chosen to do this.  We were one step (sometimes less!) behind the instructors all the way.  We learned BASIC programming (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code - you never knew that BASIC was an acronym?) to make the machine do math, track small amounts of data and draw rudimentary graphics on the screen.  It was pretty sophisticated, it supported color graphics and some sounds.  Other personal computers of the time were the TRS-80 from Radio Shack, the Pet and VIC-20 from Commodore and the TI-99/4 from Texas Instruments. This early experience was a precursor to my later choice of profession.

Cameras used film.  Whether it was a cheap Kodak using 126 or 110 film cartridges or more expensive cameras using 35mm roll film, it all had to be taken to the drug store to get processed and printed.  When I was a young child, black & white was still prevalent, but by the early 70's color had pretty well taken over.  That seems a bit late when you consider that color film was available during the 1940's.  The black & white was much cheaper and easier to process, though, and there were a few people who had their own labs in the basement or spare room to process their own film.  And that cube on top of the Instamatic?  Yeah, a replaceable flash cube.  It held 4 single-shot bulbs.  You shoot, the bulb fires and then the cube rotates for the next bulb to come into place.  Nothing like the electronic flashes we have now.  And yet another expense per shot that made film photography expensive.  The Space Race was effectively over, and we won.  The Soviets never managed to land a man on the moon, but we did.  We also launched probes to many of the planets, including the Viking landers on Mars.  While we had our share of failures, we had a better success rate overall.  They did manage to launch and maintain a long-term space station (Mir) which is something we didn't manage until the International Space Station a couple of decades later.

Macintosh image via University of Akron
In the 1980's computers got faster.  IBM entered the fray with the original IBM PC  in 1981.  By 1984, Apple was throwing us a graphical operating system with their new Macintosh computers, the first mass-market computers to include (and need) a mouse.  The first cars with digital dashboards and voices to tell you when something was wrong appeared.  "A door is ajar!"  Phones without cords became possible, as well as the first "Car Phones", early examples of our now ubiquitous cell phones.  Answering machines became fairly common, and the old rotary dial phones were disappearing fast.  Spaceships went from small three-man Apollo capsules to large payload-carrying 7 person space shuttles.  The Challenger shuttle was destroyed 73 seconds after launch in 1986, killing all seven astronauts aboard and becoming our worst space accident to that time.

Image via Wikipedia
The 1990's brought us still further improvements in personal computing.  Microsoft, IBM and others competed to bring mice and graphic operating environments to those not using a Mac, a competition Microsoft would eventually win with the Windows series.  Modems were used to connect computers to other computers, and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) became an early way genealogists could easily compare notes from great distances.  (See, I did manage to work genealogy in here somewhere!)  Access was by dial-up modem, going from 9600 bits per second (bps) to 56,000 bps by the end of the decade.  Most people's early internet experience was presented by AOL and CompuServe.  In 1992 I was introduced to my first digital imaging system, a prototype for the Navy that cost $250,000 and occupied a full height rack almost the size of a refrigerator.  It ran a Unix operating system and had a flatbed scanner for digitizing pictures.  We sent more space probes to more planets.  The Voyager probes sent back fantastic images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.  They're still out there, probing the edges of our solar system.  Your tax dollars do sometimes get impressive results!  Technology was booming by the late 90's with the first large-scale commercialization of the Internet.  Dot-com companies were hot properties raising vast amounts of venture capital.  Cell phones got smaller, evolving down from bag phones to bricks to candy bars.  Computers got smaller, with portables being practical in the form of notebooks.  We started to see the first high-speed connections with DSL and cable modem for the lucky few who lived in an area covered by them.  A few TV commercials included a web address at the bottom of the screen.  We spent a lot of time and money fixing the "Y2K" bug, which would have caused all manner of computer and digital clocks and calendars to revert to 1900.

2000 came along and our technology infrastructure didn't collapse.  That doesn't mean it wasn't a serious issue with endless possible problems, it just means we did a very good job of fixing the problem before it happened.  Cell phones got smaller yet, fitting in a pocket.  High speed internet access areas got bigger.  Available speeds got faster.  We built a space station, and have had people on it continuously for a decade.  The shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, killing seven more of our astronauts.  We still haven't gone back to the moon, and I think India and China will prove more driven to make the next major accomplishments in space than we will.  Cars got smarter and safer.  Airbags and anti-lock brakes are common now, rather than pricey extras.  Engines got computerized to increase mileage.  There are now dozens of processors in a modern car, possibly more than you have in your home.  Computers are faster than ever.  And smaller.  We went from portable notebooks to tiny netbooks to thin tablets and smartphones.  The phone in your pocket now is vastly more powerful than the IBM PC of the 80's or even the PC clones of the 90's.  And it's got a faster network connection.  Genealogy data and vital records have been digitized and placed online in enormous quantities.  What used to require extensive travel and money can now largely be done from your armchair.  We are a connected, technological society.

How have you been affected by the pace of technological change?  What are your fond memories of old technology?  Let's discuss it in the comments below!

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog has developed this year-long series of weekly subjects to promote regular blog updates and provide interesting ideas for discussion.