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November 21, 2014

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Genealogy:

Digital camera paid off during research trip

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

Your digital camera can rescue a research trip.

I learned the utility of my digital camera out of desperation. I was viewing old newspapers on microfilm at an out-of-state public library, and I found several articles I wished to photocopy. The microfilm reader images were clear, but the library's microfilm copiers were out of order. The librarian granted me permission to take photographs of the screen images.

As I photographed the images, I kept a detailed log. I headed each page with the date, title and number of the microfilm, name of the repository, and my research focus. Below the heading, and for each photograph I took, I noted the name of the newspaper, date of issue, title of article, and page and column number of article. I took more than 200 photographs that day; if I hadn't separately recorded each one in my log I would not know the date or page number of most of the articles I photographed.

The librarian also granted me permission to photograph pages from the library's deteriorating city directories. Because of their size and delicate condition, the volumes could not be placed on a photocopier. Library lighting was adequate, and I did not need to use a flash.

Many collections do not allow photography of any kind. Before you start clicking, ask the library's policy regarding photographs. If the librarian grants permission, please make a donation. Libraries can use the funds, and you can use the goodwill.

I download my photographs as soon as possible. I keep the original photograph number assigned by my camera, and I incorporate that into my citation. The numerical identifier preserves the order in which I took the photographs and serves as a cross-check to my hand-written log.

I transcribe every document as soon as possible after I download the images. I pull up the image on my computer, enlarge it in order to read it comfortably and transcribe it into notepad while I'm viewing the digital image. For each article I compose a full citation that incorporates the camera-assigned photograph number and photograph date. I then copy and paste each transcribed article and its citation into a MS Word document. My completed Word document for the above newspaper research is quite lengthy. However, when I wish to quote a newspaper article I don't have to shuffle through more than 200 photocopies. Instead, I pull up my MS Word document, perform a word search, and copy and paste the quotation and citation into my final report.

I transcribe as quickly as possible for multiple reasons:

1) I know immediately if I have to return to the repository to retake photographs. My log and my citation tell me exactly where I may retrieve the item.

2) The act of transcribing (rather than simply reading) helps me comprehend more fully the information contained in each item. I use my research time more efficiently and I am better prepared to plan my next research step.

3) The transcriptions allow me to see my research "holes," which leads me to reshape my research plans accordingly.

Seek permission before you use your digital camera in a library; keep a detailed log and download, transcribe, and cite your photographs as soon as possible. And please make a donation.

Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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