Use Your Camera For Genealogy, Notes & More

Tintype scanned with flatbed scanner

A huge percentage of people have a camera of some type with them at all times. iPhones, Android, BlackBerry, and even many “dumb” phones are getting better & better cameras. Even actual digital cameras are small enough to carry with us at all times.

Have you ever thought ‘outside the box’ of what you can use those cameras for? I use them for so much more than the typical ‘family and friends pictures’. As a genealogist I learned many many years ago that you can use a digital camera to take pictures of documents and old photos that couldn’t be scanned.

Family History & Documents

Our family has a tintype picture of a distant relative. When you scan the picture, it comes almost entirely black. I am a beginner photographer so I am sure there are ways to scan the picture, but for those of us who use digital cameras for basic use, you can take several pictures of the tintype from various distances. Try different types of background colors depending on what color you are dealing with.  The more light the better. I used outside light and it came out great.  This also works great for photos that are permanently placed in frames that the picture can’t be removed or if the picture is just too large for the scanner. In case you think this is an inferior method, this is actually how artists & collectors get paintings & other art into digital form.  I also have a few pictures that are part of the frame, and have a curve to them which makes it impossible to scan.

Digital Image of Tintype by digital camera

Visiting relatives during the holidays? As a genealogist you might see pictures of ancestors you haven’t seen before, but the family member is not willing to part with it. Ask if you can take a picture of a picture. If you are able, ask if you can remove it from the frame first so you don’t have that glass glare.

Ever visit a family history center and view microfilm or microfiche? Is there a long line to use the film reader/printer to save images or print them? Or maybe your family history center doesn’t have a machine to save or print. You can take a digital picture of the image on the film reader. Set your camera in ‘Macro’ mode (usually the Flower icon/indicator) and take a picture of the image that is displayed. Since this isn’t an article on how to take pictures, refer to your owner’s manual and experiment to get the best results.

Attending a funeral for a family member? After the grave site service, go the caretakers office or ask family members to see if there are other family members buried there. Take photos of the tombstones for future genealogy research and to share on, that we previously told you about. Usually, family members are buried near each other. Take a small walk around.

Insurance Claims & Inventory

For years I would have a disposable camera in my car in case I was involved in an accident, I could easily take pictures for insurance. But you are always at the mercy of whether or not the camera was in good shape due to high heat in the car. Having a camera phone comes in handy for those unfortunate events.

With my camera phone, I have taken a picture of my car from different angles and of the license plate. If my car is stolen, I can give the information to police because it is on my phone. Take a picture of the VIN # too for added information, your insurance card and make sure you zoom in enough to read the information. But if your camera only has digital zoom (most phone-cameras) just place the camera closer. Digital zoom doesn’t increase quality. Its really more of a “fake” zoom.

You can do a quick photo inventory of personal belongings in your home. From personal experience, if you need to evacuate your home due to fires, you can take quick photos for insurance. But you should take those long in advance to prevent added stress in the moment.

Buy the Right Stuff

Many times when I find deals at retail stores, I am not really looking for them. On many occasions I have found shoes at a good deal for my kids. But they come in different colors and styles etc. Instead of guessing and gambling with the option of having to return it, I call my kids and let them know that I am going to take a picture of the different options of colors or styles and they can pick out what they like. I use Yahoo’s Instant Messenger on my BlackBerry, you can also text your photos (keep in mind that costs can apply depending on your service). Snap your photo, send the choices and they can text or IM their picks back, Viola! You get a great deal and you know your kids will like the selection.

Capture Chalk/Marker Boards & Other Notes

A few months back I attended my son’s back to school night at his high school. One class we attended had some great information written on the board. But we were only in the class for about 10 minutes and I had no writing paper with me. Light bulb moment, take a picture of the board and take notes later. Life is good. You could also do this for an awesome Sunday-school lesson.

In one of my son’s classes in high school, there was a limited amount of books and so not all students could read the material. He took pictures of the chapter that was needed and posted to his Facebook page. Many of his friends were grateful for his efforts.

Other Ideas

Here is a small list of other options of items you can take a picture of:

  • Broken part for your home or car that is too large to take to your home improvement or auto store.
  • Business cards (there are apps for smartphones to read the info & put it in your contacts).
  • Signs, handouts, bulletin board announcements.
  • Recent pictures of your kids. Hopefully you will never need them, but can be helpful if needed by the police department.

This is just a sampling of what can be done with your cell phone camera and small portable digital cameras. What have you used your camera phone for that to you seems unusual but very useful?

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