Genealogical Uses for Digital Cameras

by Philip Hermann

Today’s genealogist is faced with the challenge of digitally storing records. I have tried to use limited financial resources on equipment that will perform a variety of tasks — such as copying vital records and photographing tombstones. I started looking at cameras as a way of preserving important information.

Some genealogical applications of a good camera:
  1. Tombstone photos — Early morning or evening provides the best light for pictures of tombstones. Make sure to check both the front and back of the tombstone since there could be information on both sides. I also take pictures of the name of the cemetery at the front gate and the plot markers to help identify the tombstone location. You can use to make a virtual memorial at no cost.

  2. Photos of documents — Preserve significant documents such as vital records, newspaper articles, mass cards, and school records by photographing and downloading them to a computer photo storage program such as Picasa. This free program allows the user to manipulate a duplicate of the photo without permanently altering the original. I use the text function to write names and dates on the copy of the photo.

  3. Photos of photos — Many of my old photos are stored in albums with “magnetic pages.” The adhesive chemicals in these pages speed the rate of deterioration. All printed photographs are affected by handling, light, moisture, and chemicals. Digital storage of photographs on computers and portable memory devices will preserve them for future generations. When photographing photos, I find it helps to use a table lamp to provide lighting from different directions.

  4. Family History — Use your camera to record the current members of your family. At family reunions, take pictures of the different generations. After downloading the images, use your photo program to label the names of family members.

My requirements for a camera would include the following:

  • Less than $300 and easy to use
  • Takes pictures in low light (in archives and libraries)
  • Fits into my pocket (I hate carrying equipment.)
  • Image stabilization function (reduces blurring)
  • Excellent close-up functionality
  • Large LCD screen display (3 inches)
  • Preview photos quickly on LCD screen
  • Useful for different types of shots (indoor and outdoor)
  • Easy process to download to computer
  • MP greater than 10MP (# of mega pixels = greater detail, larger prints)

There are some outstanding digital cameras on the market that will meet all these requirements, including the Nikon Coolpix P310 Digital Camera, which features 16.1 MP (excellent detail), ultra-fast f/1.8 aperture glass lens for low light, and handheld image stabilization. There are other manufacturers that make good, easy to use cameras. Search the web particularly for cameras that take high quality pictures in low light. These cameras are constantly improving and their prices are decreasing.

(Posted 09 November 2012)

Article originally written by Philip Hermann as "Digital Cameras and Genealogy," published by Lynn Betlock, Editor of
The Weekly Genealogist, a publication of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Vol. 15, No. 27, Whole #590 on 4 July 2012 under the title "A Note from the Editor: Digital Cameras and Genealogy." Work edited again by HCS.

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