“How do you read those old documents?!”
This is a question I get frequently from my non-genealogy friends and newbie genealogists as well. This question also comes from those of us who need a little more help with our vision these days! Bifocals, trifocals, progressive lenses…..I might have a little experience with that.
Wills, estate records, tax records, court minutes…..these are all records we as genealogists use on a regular basis. Typically I will take a digital photograph of documents I use. Finding our ancestors’ documents in a legible script and well preserved can make us just giddy. Unfortunately, not all documents age well for a variety of factors. Reading an original or a microfilmed document where the ink is faded and/or the script is small and cramped can give the most ardent genealogist a case of eye strain. (I might have experience with too.)
Admittedly, practice, practice, practice helps with reading historical documents. But using a photo editing software or website can help decipher a document that is not in the best shape.
PicMonkey is a free online photo editing site I use the most often. I have been using PicMonkey for several years to edit photographs, create collages and create fun images to use here on the blog. Using it to edit images of historical records and making them easier to read is a real bonus. With photo editing, the document can be cropped, highlighted, sharpened, enlarged….Many possibilities exist to make your document more easily read.
Here is a copy of George Howard’s Wake County, NC will dated 1871. (This is the first page only of George’s will. If you are researching the Howard family and are interested in the rest of George’s will, leave me a comment. I’ll be happy to share the will in its entirety.)
Let’s walk through this example. Go to PicMonkey and upload a jpeg file of your document. Click the “Edit” button and follow the prompts.
This is what it will look like once you upload the photo of our document:
The tabs on the left of the screen allow you to edit your photo of the the document. You can crop, rotate the document, adjust the exposure and so on. I first cropped and then autoenhanced this document.
Next, enlarge the document. This alone will make the document much easier to read.
The bottom right hand area of this will is darkened and difficult to read. I used the exposure tab to adjust the the brightness of the the will. This did not take care of the entire issue, but certainly made more of the will readable.
Lastly, when you have the document edited to the best possible reading quality for you, save your edited photo to your computer for future use.
In talking with fellow genealogists and blog readers, many use Adobe Photoshop to edit and organize their photos. Adobe Photoshop is a good option if you have both documents you want to decipher and heirloom photographs needing editing/repairing and organizing.
So, add photo editing software to your genealogy toolbox and get started.
Have you had a success with using photo editing software to read a document or even a photograph? Leave your comment below and share your success story!
Note: If you research the Howard/Harward family of NC, leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.
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