The Gross-Steinberg Family Tree presents:

Photos in your family tree

by James Gross

Hi there,
It has occurred to me that some of you may not be focusing an important aspect of genealogy, photographs. I find photos, whether they be new ones taken at a family gathering, or old ones found in grandmoms dresser, to be an invaluable asset to ones genealogy research.

First of all, have you looked for any/ all old photos that your immediate family might currently have? The hardest task is to actually FIND the photos. This is sort of an ongoing process and it should be a question asked of all relatives whom you visit. Needless to say, you should take a look at those old photos your parents have.

An integral part of this photograph accessing is the need to copy the photo, put it in a photo album, and store the negative. To copy the photo, you will need to do 1 of 2 things. Either have a REALLY nice relative who will let you borrow the photo and have it copied at a local photo shop, or buy a good SLR camera with proper lense and light. For the first two years of my genealogy work I borrowed the photos and had a copy negative made at a local photo shop. This was not really the best arrangement, but I couldn't afford a good camera. I realized I was hampered by not having a camera and finally looked into one.

Camera shopping: My main concern was ease of use, weight of camera, and quality. I read articles in several camera magazines including a paper called "shutterbug". I narrowed down my choice to Nikon and Minolta and finally bought a Minolta. You should realize that whatever model you buy will become discontinued. Therefore it is a good idea to get a name brand which offers accessories and which will hopefully not go out of business. In my case, I chose a Minolta xi series. My camera, the 3xi, is now discontinued, but I understand that it has been replaced by models of comparable quality.

In regards to the lenses, I bought 3. Based on my budget, I decided not to go with Minolta lenses. Though Minolta lenses are good, I decided to go with a less expensive brand called Sigma. They include the 35-70mm for those "normal" family or individual shots, a 70-210mm for those distant or football game shots, and, most importantly, a 50mm lense to use in copying all of those photographs. Its good for copying documents or anything else, up close. To give you the idea of scale, it can give you an enlarged copy of your fingernail, or your penny.

The 50mm lense is the important lense as you can use it to copy photos from relatives, right in their living room! Placement of the photo and lighting is a critical in getting a good copy. 400 speed film is best for indoors and some indirect lighting is good as well. I usually bring a small clamp- on lamp with me to help with the light. Also, a lightweight tripod is useful to have for that shot of you with the relatives on the sofa. You just set the camera on timer to get a 10 second delay in the shot.

Camera flash: Some cameras come with a built-in flash. If yours doesn't, it wouldn't hurt to get a flash unit though I've done fine without one. The built in flash units aren't very bright and are only good up-close. When I copy photos at a relatives home, I usually use my clamp-on lamp. For family photos, it depends on the room lighting. Sometimes I will use my lamp to compliment the existing room light.

Positioning the Photo: Do you need anything to help you prop up the photo for a camera shot? Yes you do, especially if its not a perfectly flat photo. I use 2 items for this, a CORK BOARD and a COPY STAND.

Cork Board: I picked one up at Caldor for about $8 It measures 8x14. Its very light and can easily be propped up against a wall. I have 4 blue thumbtacks in it for sitting photos on, or securing them to, the board.

Copy Stand: This is a large stand which lets you position the camera at a fixed angle, pointing down, to get a very good shot without hand shake. They cost about $100 and can be considered useful for copying photos in your home. Due to its size, you won't carry it with you when you visit your relatives. I actually ended up using mine to point my VCR down at a fixed angle and videotape a collection of photos I had on my late father. The project took a long time and it turned into 2 video tapes, but it was only possible due to the copy stand.

Utility Light: I have been using, until recently, one of those cheap desk lamps. They are the type which clamp onto a desk or table and cost around $6-8. Then, while at Home Depot, I spotted a small size clamp-on utility light. It is basically very similar to my desk lamp except that the opening is much better. The large conical shape of the housing (aluminum) seems to result in a much better reflective angle. I noticed that, with this lamp, a greater amount of light shines on the subject. It can take a 60 watt builb but I have been pleased with the results of a 40 watt builb. It cost me $10 and I really like it. It is very good for reflective quality.

Care of lense: Make sure that you keep the lense cover ON the lense when not in use. To ensure that you don't lose the lense cover AND keep it on the lense, you can buy an inexpensive gadget at the camera store. It is a lense cover cord which wraps around the lense body and sticks onto the plastic lense cover. It is worth the few dollars as it will help keep dust and scratches off the lense.

Choice of film: Bear in mind that I am NOT a processional photographer. There are 2 schools of thought with regard for type of film usage. There is the argument that b&w film is best as it lasts much longer than color film. And, there is the argument that color film looks a lot nicer. Some of my 1965 photos ARE starting to fade a bit. So am I using b&w film for all my photo needs? Not really. On my "must do" list is the job of copying all of my old color photos onto b&w film, but I haven't actually done it yet. I understand that b&w film can last up to 100 years and color film lasts up to 25-30 years. I usually stick with a name brand of film, such as Kodak, and get 400 speed film as I never know when I'll be indoors (400 speed) or outdoors (100 or 200 speed).

Developing the film: I'd suggest calling around your area to see what the local developing prices are. I currently use a Drug Emporium near me based on price and their reasonably good developing quality. As per Consumers Reports, most of the drug stores use large bulk film processing labs. You really need to experiment to find a good film processor near you. For large volume processing, I have found York Film Labs to be of value. They are mail order and one can call them collect.

Storing the photos & negatives: You've bought the camera (or borrowed the photo), taken the photos, and just received them back from the photo shop. What now? Well, you really should take a few minutes and label the photos before you forget who all the people are. Most people write on the back but be aware that ball point pens can make a mark thru the photo. Felt tip pens are generally suggested. I bought 100 empty storage envelopes (the kind that are used when you get your photos back).

In many cases, one can select to get double copies from a roll of film. Or, just get a few copies of a particular photo. In either case, you will hopefully end up with more than 1 copy of the photo. So, I separate the photos, cut the negatives and match the proper negative with its cooresponding photo, and put both photo and negative in the photo storage envelope. I then label the photo storage envelopes. I know that photo labs say don't cut the negative strips but I have my own priorities in life. I need to make sure I don't lose the negative!

I then take 1 photograph per photo storage envelope and put it in one of my 8 photo albums. My photo albums consist of normal 3 ring binders with clear plastic photo insert pages, punched with a 3 ring puncher. Every time I get used to one photo insert manufacturer, it gets discontinued, so I'd be hard pressed to give you a specific name. In any event, my photo insert pages came with a small paper slip which can be inserted above the photo. So I write down the description of the photo there. The photo storage envelope gets placed in one of 4 photo boxes that I have. My 4 photo boxes are for each grandparents family.

The rationale behind my complex photo storage & display system is that I can, hopefully, find a photo or its negative as well as take the photo album along to show to a relative. I know it sounds like a bit of work, and I guess that it CAN take up some time. But, as you know, it takes effort to create anything of substance. My family tree photo collection is quite impressive and regardless how you choose to collect and share your photos, the bottom line is that some relative is bound to thank you down the road.

a professional look at photography...

Date:    Tue, 17 Jun 1997 14:08:30 -0400
From:    John Lowens 
Subject: Copying photos

I am a former college photography instructor with an MA in
I have some experience with making copy photos.

The answer posted on JewishGen June 16 contained some good advice
but perhaps it was a bit too technical for you.  Anyway I have some
ideas of my own to add:

1.  BLACK AND WHITE OR COLOR FILM--- If you copy with b&w film you
will lose the antique look of the old photos.  But b & w copies
will be a bit sharper and much more perminent.  Color photos fade
over time esp if exposed to sunlight.  Not as true with b&w.  You
must decide if perminance & sharpness or faithful antique
reproduction is most important.  IT IS EASIER TO HAVE COLOR FILM
DEVELOPED AND PRINTED THAN BW but B & W is easier to use
(see note below)

2.  HARDWARE---You should borrow a "macro" lens to use on your
camera. This allows close focusing.  YOU SHOULD USE A SINGLE LENS
REFLEX CAMERA, IF POSSIBLE.  As suggested, a copy stand is ideal.
You can buy a copy stand with lights for $75 and up to a few
thousand $.  If the originals being copied are not flat they
should be covered with glass when being photographed. Some copy
stands include glass or some other hold-down device.

3.  SHOOTING TIPS:--- Fill your frame with the image being
copied but always leave some room around the edges. Commercial
photolabs often "crop" off part of the negative when making
prints If you get too close you may find part of the edge of
your orig.  image missing from the printed reproduction.

Be sure that the subject and the camera lens are perfectly
parallel to each other.  IF not, the copied image will not be
square or rectangular but rather trapezoidal in shape.

Watch carefully for glare from all light sources on your
original and your cover glass when shooting your copies.
Ideally your light sources should be 45 degrees to each side
of the original and at prox equal height to the camera.  Most
copy stands include lights mounted accordingly.  IF glare
appears try covering lights with white handkerchief or other
difusing medium.  Also can adjust angle of lights to remove

Best to use a cable release or the camera's self timer to
click off the exposures.  This prevents camera movement due
to a heavy trigger finger on the shutter release.

take one copy at indicated exposure, one at a stop over this,
a third at a stop under.  This is more necessary when film
has lower exposure latitude, less necessary with high
latitude films.  In general, the lower the ISO rating of
the film  (25, 50, 100, 200, 400 etc) the lower its latitude.

perhaps the best argument for making copies with black and
white film.

PROCESSING OF FILM AND PRINTS--- If you want your copy prints
to be safe from fading or staining you need to find a reliable
processing lab and inform them the photos are for archival use.
True Archival processing takes longer and requires some extra
steps and will cost more.


I use my Hi 8 sony video camera to make copies of my antique
portraits. This solves many problems:
1.  Modern video cams have automatic light balance.  Light
    source is not a problem.
2.  Good videocams have built-in macro lens
3.  You can add descriptive information on the sound track as
    you shoot.
4.  The color image preserves antique coloration
5.  You can zoom in and out to emphacize various aspects of
    the image. (Ken Burns and others use this technique very
    effectively in such documentary films as "THE CIVIL WAR",
    "BASEBALL" etc.  Like them, you can add period music,
    sound effects and commentary .

The video cam is not the easiest way to get copy PRINTS of
the original photos.  But I believe that within a short time
digital imaging technology will allow cheap production of prints
from video either via PC or other technology.  If the owner of
the originals offers you limited time and space in which to make
your copies a good video camera might be the best way to go.

Feel free to ask further questions by email to
John Paul Lowens - Point Lookout, NY 11569-0324, USA

Preserving old newspaper clippings:

Date:    Wed, 18 Jun 1997
From:    Ted Margulis 
Subject: Preserving Newspaper Clippings

To all:
I just read the following which I'm sure will be of value to the

"To preserve a newspaper clipping, dissolve a Milk of Magnesia tablet
in a quart of club soda overnight.  Pour into a pan large enough to
accomodate the flattened newspaper article.  Soak the clipping for one
hour and pat dry.  Do not move until completely dry.  Estimated live
of treated clippin ...  200 years.  Should be long enough for some one
to read it, don't you think?

Ted Margulis
Shtetl Tours
Woodland Hills, CA
Date:    Wed, 28 Jan 1998 20:11:37 +0100
From:    Allan Schwartz 
Subject: old Photos

Dear Annette and any other JewishGenner interested:

Just a quick Idea. I was a commercial and industrial
photographer for over 20 years and ran into a problem that I
could not solve.  I had a photo of my gfather taken in Europe that
had faded beyond sepia.  in fact it had gone to a few shades of
yellow.  I tried every trick in the book and could not pull a print
from it.  Finally I went to a photo store that could make a digital
print from it. Using a scanner and computer they were able to
enlarge it to an 8X10 black and white print bringing out details
that I could hardly see with the naked eye. Not only that but they
also coated it so it is archival. All for $10. If possible I suggest
you tell them to make it B@W from the faded colors and bring up the
contrast.  Or if possible be with them as they do thejob.

Hamden, CT.

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