Grave Transformations: Using Photos to Read an Ancestor’s Headstone

Grave Transformations: Using Photos to Read an Ancestor’s Headstone

Learn how to use photo-editing software to read your ancestors' illegible gravestones.

 A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

Having trouble reading your ancestors’ gravestones and the valuable vital records preserved on them? Tombstones, especially old tombstones that have been exposed to the sun, rain, snow and wind for many years, can become difficult to read. While some genealogists have tried to address this problem by physically altering the tombstone with chemicals or by rubbing the stone, their methods can further damage the old graves. As a result, genealogists recommend a different solution that doesn’t touch the headstone at all: take a photo of it.
 Photo Editing
“Genealogy Gems” blogger and longtime genealogist, Lisa Louise Cooke, offers one alternative as she walks you through how to use photo-enhancing software to make photos of headstones easier to read. With nothing more than a digital or smartphone camera and some free computer software, you can digitally enhance a picture of your ancestors’ gravestone to read his or her name, birth and death date and epitaph.
Using a simple photo-editing software, many of which you can find online for free, you can alter the tombstone image’s lighting, highlights and shadows, focus and resolution in order to read the tombstone.
Follow the seven steps in this video to learn how:
1. Snap a Photo of the Headstone. Set your resolution at the highest setting, and try to use a .tiff file.
2. Download and save the photo. Rename it and keep the original as is, so if you mess something up, you can go back to the original and try again.
3. Import the image. You can download a free photo editing software from the internet. (Ed. note: Picasa has been discontinued by Google, but there are other, similar software programs).
4. Sharpen the Image. Most software programs have an automatic option.
5. Adjust brightness and contrast. This will give you the opportunity to make subtle details in the photo stand out.
6. Go Negative. This can enhance readability.
7. Refine the Settings. Continue fine-tuning the settings to create a photo of your ancestor’s tombstone that’s much easier to read.
Using digital photography to preserve our records isn’t unusual, whether it’s old photos or in cases such as this, uploading a new photo for legibility. These seven steps can be applied to all kinds of records and resources.

Want to learn more about the newest photo-editing tools and easy techniques to apply them to your family history? In the Family Tree University Photo Editing for Genealogist’s Workshop, you’ll learn plenty of photo-editing tips and the latest software that you can use to enhance not just your old photos or read tombstones, but apply to all kinds of digital images, making your research that much better – all without ruining or effecting the original source. Starts October 31st!

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