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Enhancing Scanned Images

As promised, this column demonstrates how one reader enhances the scanned images of her genealogy documents to make them more readable. Unfortunately, the mailing lists at RW don't allow the distribution of graphics, so you will either have to read this via my blog or my website

Elizabeth wrote to explain: "This represents about 4 hours of work over a period of weeks...too tedious to do at at once. There are still several words that I cannot make out even when I blow the page up 400%. I shall continue working on this. Some words I had to figure out according to the context." (Click images for larger view.)

original scan retouched copy

The document is the Feb. 1, 1815 marriage bond/license of Martin Baker of Garrard County, Kentucky to his first cousin Cassandra Colquitt of Rockingham County, North Carolina. Beverly Baker, Martin's brother also signed.  The bond was 50. Cassandra Cabot Colquitt was the daughter of Revolutionary War dragoon, Ransome Colquitt, born in Halifax County, Virginia and his wife Susannah (Baker) Colquitt. 

When ol' Myrt here pressed Elizabeth for more information about the process she used to accomplish this "cleaning up" she graciously provided the following insights:

"The program I am using is ADOBE PHOTOSHOP 7.  It is $649.95 for the upgrade. ADOBE PHOTOSHOP CS is the newest version. However, the much cheaper Adobe program, ADOBE PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS would do this particular work just as well. It runs under $100.

The process: 
First I click on the color sampler icon, place it on the whitest spot on the document, and click to exchange the color to match. (White comes in many shades, and likely the document is slightly gray!)
 I use a mouse, though a pen might be easier, but I don't have one.

Next I blow up the page at least 400%. Then I go up to the paintbrush icon, click it, and use it to painstakingly "paint out" the dark spots, the creases, etc. For individual words, occasionally, I have to enlarge the page even more and carefully go around each stroke and within the Os, the L loops, etc. (The size of the paint brush can be changed  and made quite small for the more tedious work..)  Sometimes a word is so black, I don't know what it is and or what needs to be whitened. Then I try determining the word by the context. If that doesn't work, on rare occasions, I have to leave it mostly black. I use the contrast and brightness correction on both documents and on photos too.

BTW, I also use the program to restore old photos that are faded, torn or have water marks. I have restored color photos from the 1950s too that have changed color to yellow with age. (All color printed photos will change color eventually. So I now store mine on CDs. No doubt another innovation will eventually force me to go to  something newer than CDs!)

I bought a book and taught myself to use the Adobe program. I am a retired university professor, so it wasn't difficult. I am still teaching myself more advanced techniques.

Professionals in camera shops also do this work. I was shocked recently when I went to a program at a genealogy society given by one of these professionals. He showed a before and after studio photo of a child that he had restored. It was faded and had a bit of water damage, in bad but not in terrible shape. He remarked that he had charged $180 for his work! Ahhh!"

A great big THANK-YOU to Elizabeth for sharing her experience with us. Our local digital photography group in Bradenton just swears by Adobe Photoshop Elements. Ol' Myrt uses a similar program, PaintShop Pro to accomplish some of the photo retouching tasks Elizabeth mentions. Although I recommend purchasing the programs at a discount through, learn more about these various programs by going to the following websites:

PS - another reader explains

Corel now owns Paint Shop Pro


In a message dated 12/11/2005 2:45:47 PM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
Jasc (PaintShop Pro)

PSP is now owned by Corel. It's more expensive now also.

They don't support older versions of PSP from the Jasc days, so beware of buying it at a discounted on eBay or anywhere else if it's version 8 or older. When Corel took over they almost immediately came out with version 9. I still like 7 the best. It's not a memory hog as 8 is and most likely 9 is worse.

I used to have problems with scanning old newspaper articles and old documents. I would scan in grey scale then convert to black and white. Voila the dark background disappeared. I did this with PSP. An earlier version, but I'm sure it still works in the newer ones.

Thanks for the heads up. Geesh, you need a pedigree chart to keep track of who owns what. -- Myrt     :)

UPDATE: This has generated a lot of response, as people hadn't really thought of scanning the documents, but only photos. THIS is what I had hoped to achieve -- getting them into scanning the documents, too! With hard drive storage space as large and as inexpensive as it has become, there is simply no excuse for not presenting the full story of an ancestor.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt      :)
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207

1995-2009 Pat Richley HOME | Ask | Blog Right-click to copy RSS feed URL. Add to My Yahoo BookShelf | ContactLessons | Listen to Podcast media RSS feed
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