Every genealogist needs a photo-editing tool in their toolbox! Reading old faded handwriting just got so much easier!
Genealogy Research,  How To Trace Your Family Tree

Transcribing Old Documents Does Not Have To Strain Your Eyes!

If you are a genealogy researcher, you no doubt have experienced difficulty reading and transcribing old documents or an ancestor’s letters.  The cause might be bad handwriting or simple documents that have faded with age. 

[I think I inherited my bad handwriting from my ancestors! At least that’s what I’ going with.] 

Being able to transcribe and  read those original documents or precious family heirloom letters is crucial to us as genealogy researchers. Incorrectly transcribing a record can lead to incorrect conclusions or missed information/clues about our ancestors.

Every genealogist needs a photo-editing tool in their toolbox! Reading old faded handwriting just got so much easier! #genealogy #familyhistory #ancestors

I was recently asked by Vivid-Pix to test a new feature in their RESTORE software.  WOW, this is what every genealogist needs! It’s my new favorite feature on my favorite photo-editing software. (Read my Vivid-Pix tutorial here.)

Even if you are not a Vivid-Pix user, read through the examples below anyway. The principles behind good document transcription are the same and you may find something similar on the photo editing software you currently use. 

To get started, let me introduce you to my great grandmother Esther Lee Richardson.

Esther Lee Richardson Portrait
Esther Lee Richardson

Esther was a prolific letter AND she kept EVERYTHING! By that I mean she kept all of her correspondence between herself, her many cousins, her friends and her beaus. Yes, beaus is plural! She was quite popular. 🙂 Here letters provide amazing insight into her life in the early 1900’s, but many are becoming faded and difficult to read.

Below is a postcard, Esther wrote to her beau Boss Henry Talbott in January 1915. The couple eventually married in November 1915.

1915 Cat Postcard - Transcribing old documents
1915 Postcard
Vivid-Pix Transcribing Old Documents

As you can see it’s not so easy to read plus, I’m afraid time will continue to take its toll on the light pencil. 

So, I used Vivid-Pix to create a more readable version and then…..used the new Zoom/Transcribe button to read and transcribe the postcard. In this screen the size can be adjusted on the left. What I love about this feature is that when I zoomed on the photo, I did not lose any of the clarity of the text. 

Best of all…..with this I could now clearly read the Danville address where Esther was living in 1915! 

Also, a nice feature is the ability to add comments or notes on the document as well.

Vivid-Pix Zoom/Enlarge feature for transcribing old documents

Once you are done here, click the green “Save” button. You will be back at the main Vivid-Pix screen where you can then click the big green “Save/Next” button to save your edited copy.

Let’s look at this page out of the Surry County, NC estate record for William White.  When I research original records on-site, I typically take digital images of those records. That’s exactly what I did with White’s estate record.  I will be the first to admit my photography skills are not the best.

Old faded estate document
1881 Estate Record William White

I uploaded the digital image (taken on my cell phone) into Vivid-Pix Restore. While I normally use the “Faded Document” option for  fixing this digital image, the “Digital or Cell Phone Camera” option looked better to me. After all , the image was taken on my cell phone.  I then clicked on the Zoom/Transcribe feature to actually read the document. 

Vivid-Pix Transcribing Old Documents

I then enlarged the image 100% and it was so much easier to read! My poor photography skills and the faded writing  were no longer a problem. 

Vivid-Pix Transcribing Old Documents

This whole process works well for photographs of tombstones as well! 

Watch and Learn More Vivid-Pix Tips!

Want to see Vivid-Pix in action? Sometimes watching a demonstration is what’s needed. Watch in this video with Rick Voight of Vivid-Pix for more ways to use my favorite photo-editing software.

Your Take-Aways

  • Being able to accurately transcribe a document is crucial for your genealogy research.
  • Just because a document or letter is faded and/or difficult to read does not mean you do not have options for accurately transcribing it.
  • Tools exist to help you improve images of documents for easier reading. Explore your favorite or give Vivid-Pix a try. (Free Trial here.)

Other Posts of Interest:

***I received complimentary copy of Vivid-Pix for review. All thoughts statements are my own. I am a Vivid-Pix affiliate which means I may earn a commission if you decide to purchase a product/service. This does not cost you extra. Be assured I only recommend products/services that I use and think you would like too. Read my disclosure policy and privacy policy.

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  • Christopher C.

    Thanks Lisa for sharing this software from Vivid-Pix. Its amazing how it can enhanced the original picture and handwriting from the demonstration in the link you provided. Can this software decipher penmanship handwriting? Or do you know of software program that can do it? As you know back in those days handwriting was cursive and not much of any printing. I find it is difficult to understand cursive handwriting from documents, letters or postcards. In any advice or inputs would be appreciated. Thank you.

  • John E Ohlson, Jr

    To take the transcription process one step further, you should consider GenScriber, an extremely helpful program available free for non-commercial use at http://www.genscriber.com. This brief description is excerpted from the website:

    “GenScriber is a transcription editor for census records, church records, birth, marriage ,baptisms, burials, index records etc The interface is comprised of several resizable windows within a single main window. A register image can be viewed in the top window while data is input in the bottom window. There is a choice of data input types. A spreadsheet style grid, or a wordprocessor style text editor.”

    The great benefit of GenScriber is that there is no need to switch back and forth between the document image and the text editor screens.

    • Ken Ross

      Hi John, that’s the same with the Zoom/Transcribe feature in Vivid-Pix RESTORE; you can pan and zoom the image in the main window and to the right of it, always available, is the editing window. Also, any text entered in that window is saved back to the image’s metadata so it stays with file and can be searched or edited outside of RESTORE.

  • Mary Claunch-Lane- Walthall

    I have been a genealogist for 50 years and have done my share of transcribing 3 full Census Records, 2 Mortality Schedules, The first County Death Records and the First Probate Book for the county of my choice, Lamar County, Texas. All of them were donated to the Lamar County, Texas Genealogical Society to raise money for a new library that came to fruition about 15 years ago.

    I did ruin my eyesight transcribing the census records and mortality schedules from microfilm back in the 70s and 80s. It is amazing to have wonderful programs for old records now. I enjoy your website very much. I am no longer able to attend programs, but I enjoy my research as much today as I did in the beginning. I am on various websites almost every day. The highlight of my many years of research was when I was finally able to visit my great grandparents’ homeland in East Germany in 2005.

    Keep up the good work. I am happy to see younger people coming along and keeping the research alive.

    • LisaL

      Thanks you, Mary! I am sure many researchers over the years have benefited from your work are are appreciative. I love that you were able to visit your family’s homeland. What a wonderful trip!

  • Sam

    I am researching family in Italy. The site I’m using has images of records (from microfilm) which I downloaded to my computer. Needless to say the documents are faded, in script and in Italian. With this software clean up a document from microfilm? Thanks!

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