Lightroom and Genealogy

A while back, I mentioned that I dabble in genealogy and used Lightroom and Photoshop for both.  For many years, my father-in-law and I made trips around the country to gather information from relatives.  We visited their local county courthouses and libraries to gather records.  And whenever possible, we borrowed old family photographs and copied them to digital files for preservation.  There are so many unlabeled photos out there in boxes that become nothing more than curiosities as the people in the photos die and take the relevant family information about the photos with them.  Eventually, someone just throws the box away since they have no clue (or interest) about the old information. As a genealogist and history-lover, I feel this is a big loss.   Lightroom and Photoshop help me record the information and restore the photographs before I put them into my genealogy databases. Today, to keep this from becoming too long, I'll just talk about how I use Lightroom. The work actually begins before Lightroom when you scan those old photos.  You can purchase scanners that handle negatives, slides and prints.  As with everything, quality varies with each scanners (as does price).  I try to get the best quality and details I can, and this, generally, means that I will create TIFFs, rather than JPGs. Scanning is a complex topic in itself, so take some time to learn how your scanner works before you head down this rabbit hole.  There are many companies that will do all this tedious work for you.  Again, if you ever want to produce large, high quality images, have them create the files in TIFFs, and expect the cost of the scans to increase in line with your quality demands.

The workflow for my genealogy pictures is the same as my normal family workflow: import into family database; keyword all images; enter all known metadata; apply develop module changes. I save all my images in a single subfolder, inside my "Photos" folder.  This ensures that my regular photo back-ups include the scans.  You wouldn't want to lose all these files, would you? 

Import your scans as you would any new photos; Lightroom can read TIFFs without a problem.  Once they are imported, I keyword all images.  In the Keyword List, I use the nesting capabilities in Lightroom to identify them as "Family," then their last name, "Atkins," and then their full name, "Thomas T. Atkins." 

LR screen capture

Sounds complicated, but you only have to set it up once, and then it becomes one simple click on "Thomas T. Atkins." Lightroom will add the photo to "Atkins" and "Family" because of the nesting.  In genealogy databases, women are listed by their maiden names, so I include those in the full name keyword as you can see below.  Catherine (McLaulin) Dallman photos were taken after our marriage.  Photos of her before our marriage are listed under "Family", "McLaulin", Catherine L. McLaulin. 

The next step is to fill in all the additional facts about the photo in the Metadata section.  You can add a title to the photo if you want one.  I use the caption field to further explain the image or event occurring in the image.  This is important information for family historians because it adds to the information on an individual's life and lets descendants know more about the experiences of their ancestors.  There is so much more to their history than their birth, marriage, and death dates. The date of the image and locational data  are also key metadata and have their own section.

LR screen shot

Now that you have entered all the data, you can do some basic editing in Lightroom.  Most of the images you scan will have problems due to their age: discoloration, scratches, and tears.  Lightroom can handle some of the easy stuff, but you need Photoshop or some other editing tool for the heavy duty lifting of restoration.

Here is an image I received from a relative.  The photo wasn't square to the edges when it was scanned and has a heavy yellow discoloration with plenty of surface flaws.  Lightroom can fix the tilt and yellowness and the major flaws. 

Thomas T. Atkins

Thomas T. Atkins

I'll clean up the background and bring out more of his suit in Photoshop.  Until then, go find some old photographs and add them to your photo files.  Don't forget to capture all the information - we're trying to preserve the data, not create a new, digital shoebox.