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Somerset & Dorset
Family History Society

Family History in Focus – hands on!

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Robin Ansell and Mike Bolton.

Yesterday we had the second of our Family History in Focus events when we were able to be really ‘hands-on’ and try to apply the criteria for dating and identifying images that we had learned in the first session on 6 September, augmented with more good advice from our two speakers – Mike Bolton and Robin Ansell. To enable everyone attending to get the full benefit of their expertise, we had limited the number of participants to 14 and had a full complement on the day.

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Part of Mike’s family tree showing some of his ancestors in Dorset and places with which they were associated.

Mike started the event with a talk on Photographs in Family History showing how adding photographs to our family trees and other records, can help to provide contexts for the lives of our ancestors and help us to understand the backgrounds from which they came. Mike recommended including photographs not just of the people themselves, but also of their homes, schools, workplaces and even ships and trains on which they travelled. He illustrated this with images and records of his own family history – including his grandmother’s journey from the Scilly Isles to Yeovil in 1915.

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Robin (with magnifying glass) helping to identify images.

After the tea/coffee break we split into two groups and half of us went into the Society’s Research Room with Robin for a ‘hands-on’ session to help us date our own family photographs. Since many of these are cartes de visite or Cabinet Cards, Robin had brought along some of his own collection for us to compare, as well as a number of books from his extensive photographic library. He also suggested some websites which can help such as http://www.cartedevisite.co.uk which has a ‘dating wizard’. At the end of the process there is a small charge to get the estimated date but the questions asked while working through the ‘wizard’ give a good (free) guide as to the things you need to look out for when trying to date your own cartes de visite or Cabinet Cards. Most people had brought along photographs and Robin was also able to give advice based on his many years of experience, which everyone greatly appreciated. (26.10.14: Robin also recommends this website: http://www.rogerco.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/time/date.htm which has good dating advice and no fees!)

After around 40 minutes the two groups swopped over and my group moved back into our Meeting Room where Mike talked about editing and improving scanned or rephotographed images. His first good advice was always to work on a copy or duplicate of the image so that you retain the ‘original’ untouched, and he then went through various procedures mainly using Picasa (which is a free program) or PhotoShop Elements (around £80 to buy if not upgrading from a previous version). Mike showed us how to remove ‘red eyes’, level the horizons of landscape views, ‘clone’ backgrounds to hide blemishes or unwanted details and eliminate the ‘colour casts’ of degraded images of the 1960s and 70s.

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Before and after: a discoloured photograph which Mike was able to improve using Photoshop Elements.

Everyone who attended appreciated the skills and experience which Robin and Mike brought and shared with us so willingly in the Workshop which really complemented well the first session on 6 September. Many thanks to all our speakers both in September and yesterday – we hope to run more events in the future showing how understanding and interpreting photographs can help with research into family history.

Patricia Spencer


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We welcome guest and member blog posts on any topic with a family history connection and invite you to send your contributions, which should include photo/photos, to the editor Barbara Elsmore