Scanning Photos & Documents

It’s important to take the time and scan your heirloom photographs as part of your family history.  Digitizing them allows you to share precious memories with other family members, which also protects them against loss – the more copies, the more likely they are to survive.


First pointer: Label your photographs!  (See below for how to label digital images.)  Be sure to take advantage of older family member’s recollections, otherwise the identities of those in your photographs are forgotten over the years.

A simple printer/scanner can do the job.  There are other high quality scanners out there, which you can research on the internet; but I just use my all in one printer.

The format you use to save your image is important though and many are not aware of the basic differences.  I often save my photographs in two formats, TIFF and JPEG.  I save images in TIFF because JPEG’s degrade as you re-save them, but I cannot upload a TIFF image to my Ancestry tree, so I do both at the time of the scan.  Here is a breakdown of the differences.

TIFF – Advantages: widely supported, retain more detail and original compression (no degradation). Disadvantages:  not supported by web browsers and internet programs.

JPEG – Advantages: superior compression which is variable to allow control of file size.  Can upload to internet programs.  Disadvantages: Degradation, when you edit and re-save.

Tips:  Be sure to save your images in no less than 600 dpi and scan in color, not grayscale.

Documents can be scanned and saved as images (TIFF or JPEG) or as PDF files.

Labeling Digital Images:

You can add basic information to the name of the image.  I name my images with last name, first name, dash, image description & date if known (i.e. “Stevenson, Samuel – baby photo 1888”).

Often information is written on the back of a photograph.  I always scan that side as well and name it accordingly (image of the front: “Stevenson, Samuel – baby photo 1888”; and image of the back: “Stevenson, Samuel – baby photo 1888 – back”)

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 5.59.51 PMAnother way to add information to an image is to use the metadata available as part of the saved image.  This does not require a special program, but beware, sometimes the information added doesn’t “stick” when transferred from one platform (PC vs Mac) or even program to another.  On a PC, right click on the image and select “properties”.  You can add photograph information via the “Details” tab.  On a Mac, you can “right click” with Command I.  Additional information can be added via the “Comments” (see example to left).

Another way to add information is to use the Paint program to write captions below photos. Just pull down on the resizing dot on the bottom of photo and use the Text “A”, then write in as much info as you want. When you’re finished writing, use the resizing dot to shorten the photo just enough to remove the white space at the bottom and still show your caption.