Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Defy Disasters: Digitize

Americans are reeling from the succession of disasters that we have experienced in September and October 2017, both natural and man-made.  I spoke to my brother, Faran, yesterday and his family was evacuated safely from their home in Santa Rosa, California.  Fires are still burning out of control in Santa Rosa but at least 1500 structures have been destroyed.  His house is safe right now but we know several others that suffered horrible tragedy in recent weeks.

Debris pile in front of a house in Dickinson, Texas that belongs to a member of my genealogical society.
The need for disaster preparedness for family historians has become more urgent than ever.  For those of us who have accumulated massive collections of genealogical papers and books, the dilemma is clear.  Paper records do not survive in a flood or a fire. Members of our Bay Area Genealogical Society lost their papers and books in the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. One way to defy these disasters is to digitize our genealogy papers as much as possible.

I use this SD card with USB and type-C connectors to quickly download pictures from my camera phone.
I use several devices to digitize records and photographs but a few of my favorites are my camera phone, my sheet-feed scanner and a micro SD card reader with USB 3.0 and type-C connectors.  I do not claim any technical expertise, but these are devices that work for me.  If you have other suggestions on how to approach the digitization challenge, please feel free to comment below.

I love using my camera phone to digitize because I always have it on hand.  Camera phones make it possible to quickly make a snapshot of a family photo at a reunion or a page in a book when you are visiting  a genealogy library.  One technique to record the source of these photos is to write down the date and where you are or who you are visiting on a piece of paper and then make a quick snapshot on your camera phone to reference later. When copying a book, I also copy the title page, table of contents and the pages on how to use the book.

I have tried a few mobile phone apps for scanning but generally I just use the camera app.  My camera phone synchronizes with iCloud in an automatic back-up process. I pay Apple $.99 per month for 50 gigabytes of storage. So far this has been sufficient for my purposes.  The only down side of accessing photos on iCloud is that it takes a little while to download them to my PC.

If I am in a hurry to access images from my phone, I use my I-drive device from Omars.co. Here is a hyperlink to a similar product description: SD card reader with USB 3.0 and type-C connectors.  This device works with Iphone, Ipad and Android products.  One end of the device fits into the type-C connector on most phones.  When I am using my device, I select the images from the camera roll that I want to transfer to the SD card. Then, I transfer those images from the phone to a folder on the card.  I give the folder a unique name that I will recognize when I plug the card into my PC. I used this device today to get images for this blog post.

This SD card is the perfect bridge linking your type-C devices to computers. Direct plug-in  allows for speedy transfer from smart phones.  The product literature says that you can transfer files in high speed: USB 3.0 connector: maximum reading speed at 85 MB per second; maximum writing speed at 60 MB per second.

Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500

The ScanSnap unfolds to reveal the sheet feeder on the top and the receiver tray on the bottom.
I am attempting to purge all of my binders and file cabinets full of genealogical papers.  My favorite device for that purpose is my Fujitsu Scan Snap S1500 scanner.  I am sure there is lots of competition to this  device so use this as more of an example of a method than a product endorsement.  I have been very happy with its ability to scan both sides on one pass.  I try to limit the stack of papers to 15-20 pages so some documents have to be done in several parts. 

The Fujitsu website says that the Scan Snap S1500 scanner has been replaced by the  ScanSnap iX500 but it appears that the S1500 is still available for purchase at some locations.

The scanner creates a pdf document that can be edited with the bundled pdf software. If you are scanning ruled paper, you will have to delete the back side of the page if there is no writing on it.  One of the advantages of this pdf editing software is that it allows you to convert the document to text using optical character recognition.  When the text on your original document is pretty clear, the OCR works really well. When you are scanning text from a newspaper clipping, it is usually easier to make a transcription rather than use OCR.

Perhaps your local library or genealogical society could purchase a scanner for patrons and members to use.  For example, the Clayton Genealogical Center of the Houston Public Library has a variety of scanning devices available for use. On October 18 the Clayton Library is offering a class on how to use their photo scanner.  The details are here: Scanner Class.

Don't miss the latest episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS:

Tonight at 8/7c on PBS
Finding Your Roots | Episode Two "Unfamiliar Kin"
Featuring Fred Armisen, Carly Simon and Christopher Walken

For more information: Finding Your Roots


  1. Nick that is the same scanner that sits on my desk at work. I love it and would be lost without it too. This is a great post and a much needed reminder to us all that we really need to step up our scanning efforts more than ever. This year's active hurricane season has made that perfectly clear!

    1. Thanks Liv! I hope to see you soon at the Clayton Library.