Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bad Census Pages

I found this in my Ancestry Weekly Journal, it's quite helpful when dealing with Images. Most of my problems lie in the way Ancestry Indexes things. Like Cordie Russell being listed as Eva Russel in 1920.

Help for Hard-to-Read Images
by Juliana Smith
So you’ve found what you think might be your ancestor in the census. The problem is, when you view the image, what you find sends your heart plummeting. The image is a) too dark, b) too light, or c) looks like a chimpanzee with writer’s cramp wrote it. So what’s a twenty- first-century family historian to do? Let’s explore some options.
Image EditingMany of the records we use today were microfilmed when that technology was in its infancy. So it’s no wonder we run across faded images or dark, hard-to-read records. Photo-editing tools are great for optimizing record images that are in digital format. I use Photoshop Elements, but many of the photo-editing programs out there have the same or similar options. Here are a few ideas for sprucing up those difficult to decipher images:
Darken highlights. I had a really faint 1910 census entry for my great-great-grandmother. Using the “Darken Highlights” function that is available in the Quick Fix mode, I was able to make the image much more readable. (View before and after images on the blog. The “before” image is in the center so that you can compare it with both of the edited images I’ve posted.)
Invert. Another option for lighter images is to invert the colors (i.e., the background would change to black with white writing on it). (I’ve also posted an example of this using the same example--see the bottom sample.)
Lighten Shadows. Another census image, for my Dyer family, had the family enumerated on the bottom of the page. The corner was very dark and writing from the other side of the page bled through. I used the Lighten Shadows tool and it helped remove some of the darkness. You can also play around with exposure tools to help clear out a little more of the “clutter.” (The second grouping on the blog has an example of this.)
Crop. This won’t really enhance readability, but by cropping black edges off of digitized images, you can save a ton of ink when you print a copy for your files.
Save a Copy of the OriginalWhenever I’m editing a record image, I make a copy of it first. I always save a file with the original image and then save it with the same title, adding “_edit” at the end. Sometimes the edits will help one portion of the record, but make another portion harder to read so it’s good to have that original to refer to.
When It’s the HandwritingWhen we’re dealing with “chimpanzee writing,” there are low-tech options that can help us decipher letters and numbers. The easiest is to compare the character in question--whether it’s a number or a letter--to others on the page that are more readable.
At Ancestry on each of the main census search pages, you’ll find a box on the right with a link to a pop-up “Handwriting Help” box. It contains several handwriting samples for every letter in the alphabet and by leaving it up in the background, you can compare the samples to the records as you are searching.
Also look for marks that are carried down from the line above or up from the line below. If the bottom of a fancy J spills down and overlaps the name you are trying to interpret, you may be misled. So with hard to decipher names or words, look at the lines above and below too.
Another technique is to trace the letter. Sometimes retracing the path of the enumerator’s pen may give you that “Aha!” moment.
Some commonly misinterpreted letters include:
T and F
J, G, and Y
I and J
K and R
O and Q
P and R
U and W
(From The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, ed. Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking.)

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