Family History Digitzation
Want to digitize your family photos before they fade away? For best results, heed these scanning tips.

Before you can preserve your family history items on a computer or CD, you need to digitize them. Gather all of your materials together and sort them for digitizing. As you sort and select material to archive, list the information you want to accompany each item. Use a single list for each item, giving the item and the information the same number. Don't write on the back of photographs and documents; instead, write on a Post-It note and attach that to the back of image.

You'll probably want to start your digitizing with photos and documents, for which you'll need a flatbed scanner. For negatives and slides, either a film scanner or flatbed scanner with an adapter for film scanning will do the job. Hewlett Packard makes excellent scanners, such as the PhotoSmart S20xi ($499), a combination slide/negative and flatbed scanner; its only drawback is its maximum photo size of 5x7 inches. Nikon also makes excellent combination slide/negative scanners.

Scanner specifications talk about resolution in DPI (dots per inch), expressed both as optical resolution and software-enhanced resolution. Focus on the optical resolution number when you shop. Flatbed scanner DPI optical resolution numbers range from 300 to 2,400, usually between 600 and 1,200. High-DPI scanner numbers are very important if you plan to scan negatives and slides; for film scanners, the range is from 1,800 to 4,000.

Because negatives and slides are smaller than photos, they need to be scanned at a higher DPI. For example, if you scan a 4x6-inch photo at 300 DPI, the digital image will consist of 2.1 million dots. You need to scan a 0.94x1.43-inch 35 MM negative or slide at 1,200 DPI to get a comparable 1.9 million dots. DPI is very important when printing an image. The higher the DPI of the original, the better the quality of the print. The trade-off comes with disk storage space required for high-DPI images. I suggest scanning photos and documents at 300 DPI. Negatives and slides should be scanned at the highest optical resolution of the scanner.

Many scanners come bundled with a software program that lets you manipulate the scanned image once it's been digitized. The leading photo-editing programs are Adobe Photoshop and Corel Photo-Paint, but these are pricey programs that may be more than you need. For the budget-minded amateur, the best choice is Adobe's PhotoDeluxe Home Edition at, a stripped-down version of Photoshop that has all the essentials and costs less than $50. Make sure your software includes these functions: DPI scan level control, color correction, cropping, cutting, pasting and the ability to select a high-quality file format for saving the image information. Photos and documents will usually fit on a typical scanner (8 1/2 x 14 inches), but if you have a larger photo or document you'll need to scan it in segments and paste them together using your photo-editing software program.

You can save scanned images in a number of formats. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but a couple of formats appear to be universal: Bitmap (BMP), Joint Photo Experts Group (JPEG) and Tagged Image File Format (TIFF). Some of these formats allow you to compress images prior to saving, but this will reduce the quality of the image, so don't select this option when archiving. An uncompressed JPEG file is a good choice for archiving still images.

Joseph C. Keenan owns Everything Digital, a multimedia production company in Twinsburg, Ohio, which specializes in the preservation of family memories. See or call (800) 471-6550.