Scanning vs Photographing Genealogy Documents

When would photographing your genealogy documents serve you better than scanning them?


If you have inherited a mountain or room full of genealogy papers or you need to downsize your archive, you need to digitize the contents so others can access and use the data. The overwhelming task forces the challenge of quality vs efficiency to the forefront and you’re wondering if you should scan your documents or digitize them.


General Differences Between Scanning and Photographing Your Genealogy Documents


Scanning Documents

  1. Scanned images have a better resolution

  2. They have better color depth on a bits-per-pixel basis.

  3. Lighting is uniform lighting.

  4. You avoid optical distortion as you do not have to adjust the focus.

  5. Best suited for flat objects.

  6. Scans take more time than photographs.

Photographing Documents

  1. It takes less time to photograph a document.

  2. Reduces handling of fragile documents.

  3. Reduces the appearance of dust particles.

  4. Cameras are more portable than scanners.


Advice For Deciding Between Scanning and Photographing Your Genealogy Documents


Some archivists suggest that you should scan contemporary documents and use a camera for items of archaeological significance.


In my experience, flip that advice around unless you have a set-up like the one in the video below.

Watch this video on YouTube.


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For modern documents, snap a picture… or better yet -- receive ‘BORN DIGITAL’ version of the documents.


Let the size and flatness of the historical document be your guide along with the technology available to you or documents.

  1. Use a photographic capture kit if you have the funds and space to set one up.

  2. A scanner works best for most projects (just wipe the glass clean regularly).

  3. Use a camera in a pinch.

For more tips for those facing family history downsizing challenges, order our book: Downsizing with Family History in Mind.

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