DIY Scanning

Scanning or digitizing your family treasure trove can seem to be an incredibly daunting task, but it doesn't have to be.  If you take a few minutes to educate yourself on the basics then you can make an informed decision about the best route for you and your archive.

I got going on it myself in 2010.  I admit photos was an obsession before family history entered my radar--I'd say photos, digital scrap-booking, and family movies was what led me to discover my love for genealogy.  So I'm pretty sure I am genetically hard-wired this way.  So with 6 years of experience under my belt and research on the subject I'll give you the basics.

First of all, assess what you've got, and what you can and want to digitize.  You'll likely be surprised at the things that you'll find as you start to dig.  Things like photos and documents are easy to scan, but many of us have things like film, tape, & heirlooms that can be a little more tricky to digitize.

Next, learn a bit about file formats and resolution.  You'll want to know what your ultimate goal is...are you digitizing for display, preservation, or just as back up.  Here are some super brief articles to get you up to speed quickly: Learn about file formats & Learn about resolution.

Now you'll want to decide which approach is best for you, here are some ideas and things to consider about each. I'll save the best for last...

1- Mail it to a PROFESSIONALEasiest, More Expensive
There are tons and tons of companies out there, I haven't personally used any of them, BUT I did research Legacy Republic at RootsTech this year, and I sincerely think it's a great option. I'll probably use them for some reel to reels and other odd type items that I have.  They seem to be reasonably priced and they can digitize pretty much anything.

2- Hire in a PROFESSIONALMost Control & Most Convenient, More Expensive
A great option if you have a lot of super valuable or fragile heirlooms and if you just can't stand the thought of mailing your precious stuff.  Here are a few options that I can recommend for actually hiring someone to come to your home to digitize.

Heritage Makers Personal Publishing Consultant.  Not all of  them offer the In-home Scanning Service, but if you contact Heritage Makers and ask for a consultant in your area who offers this service, it's a great option.   This is how I started scanning.  I was a consultant and found that digitizing was an awesome way to meet people, find amazing things, and earn a little money in the process. Totally fed my family history fetish.
A new company I learned about at RootsTech. They also come to your house, but on a larger scale...DoorStep Digital.  They have more equipment and can digitize more than just photos, including slides, videos, film, tapes, etc.... The company is still small and trying to expand, but if they're available in your area, it's another awesome solution.

3- Become a PROFESSIONALBecome Educated, Make Money
DoorStep DigitalLegacy Republic, & Heritage Makers are all in the business of "employing" digitizers.  You could set up shop with any of the companies and get your own scanning done while earning a little income on the side.

A few differences: DoorsStep Digital & Legacy Republic are both focused on digitizing and preserving, while Heritage Makers is mainly digital scrap-booking with a digitizing service on the side.  Legacy Republic wouldn't be totally DIY because their consultants mail in the items to digitize aside from a few things that they can digitize with their new addition, "Studio", the runner up innovator in the RootsTech Innovator Showdown 2016. Studio is an amazing tool for imaging the things that are more difficult to digitize (i.e. scrapbooks, heirlooms, etc...).  I believe that they're in the process of trying to offer the use of that item as an in-home service.  So lots of exciting and great things from this company.
One other awesome possibility is to become a FamilySearch Missionary or Volunteer.  You can select how you'd like to serve, and you don't have to be a member of the LDS faith.  They accept all volunteers.  Obviously if you're in there doing service you could lug some of your own stuff along at times and get it done.

4- Do it YOURSELFBecome Educated, Save Money
Do it yourself scanning, this is my preferred method because if you invest the time in learning to do the scanning yourself and acquiring the skills and equipment you can chip away at the project a little at a time, which makes it a little less daunting.

So you can take two approaches or a combination of the two.  The first is to purchase equipment to meet your scanning needs, the second is to find local public resources where you can digitize your stuff.  I definitely recommend the first option when possible if you have a large amount of photos or documents because using public scanners and hauling your large boxes of heirlooms around isn't ideal.  Once you invest in the equipment you'll find tons of uses for it, and you'll be able to reach out to extended family who also have precious heirlooms.

I purchased a Kodak S1220 high speed photo scanner 2nd hand, and I love it. Over 100,000 photos later and it's still going strong. I use it all the time not only for old photos and documents but also for modern day projects, kids school work, important documents, etc.... The model I purchased is the old version but Kodak has new models and I would recommend something like it if you are like me and have endless amounts.  For everything other than photos and documents I've used public resources here are some ideas of how to find public resources in your area...

  • Local libraries: Most local libraries have at least a flat bed scanner, but if you call they sometimes have photo or book scanners available for use too.
  • Universities: Universities have the latest and greatest in digitizing, most have even the harder-to-find digitizing equipment for things like film.
  • FamilySearch Family History Centers: FamilySearch has family history centers all over the world many of them have film readers that you can use your digital camera to digitize, and many are now equipped with photo scanners and some even with more. Find one near you here.
  • FamilySearch Salt Lake Digitizing Center (SLC, Utah): This awesome center has tons of high quality equipment available to use for the public.  It's staffed by missionaries on week days and they allow the general public to use the equipment by appointment. Fridays are best for public use. They don't currently have a website, but their address is 2370 S Constitution Blvd (2700 West), West Valley, UT 84119. You can contact them at 801-240-7749 to arrange a time. They have tons of scanners ranging from map scanners, flatbed scanners, photo scanners, and they offer access to slide scanner upon request (let them know in advance).
  • BYU Family History Library (Provo, Utah): Has wonderful resources as well. I use it regularly for a lot of things, but one of the best is their wonderful scanners.  They have scanners for slides, photos, books, microfilm, and probably more. Check out the website to reserve your appointment to use them.
For ideas on how to go about digitizing your different types of heirlooms check out this list...
  • Photos & Documents:  If you have any more than 500, I recommend investing in a high speed scanner. It will save you hundreds of hours literally.  Flatbed scanners are just way too slow for documents and photos when you have a large quantity. Many local resources have these though, so if you don't mind lugging your stuff around you're likely to find one nearby.

  • Book Scanners: Unless you have a lot of books, using public resources is probably best here.  Book scanners are pretty pricey and most of us don't have more than a handful of books worth digitizing.  At RootsTech every year FamilySearch has a booth that you can drop your books off and have them digitized while you're at the conference, or if it's a family history related book, you can send it into the FamilySearch Family History Library, but it takes a lot longer to get it back this way if you want it back.  They send you a digital copy either way.
  • Slides: These can be super time consuming if I'm being honest.  Even high speed slide scanners really aren't very quick, but if you have more than a handful, you'll definitely need a high speed scanner or you'll want to just use professionals.  Due to the time-consuming nature of digitizing them, I recommend sifting out ones that don't really matter first. Just plan on this project being a little slower than your photos and documents and more cost per slide.
  • Heirlooms: I've always taken pictures of items like rings,
    pins, jewelry, etc...but I haven't
    always been thrilled with the results. I recently read an article about ShotBox by Alison Taylor, co-author of How to Save Your Life, and ShotBox is definitely going to be my next scanning investment. I think it's a great solution for heirlooms and other tricky to scan items like thick photos.
  • Tapes - Audio and Video: This one's fairly simple.  You just need a player for the tape and the right cables.  A quick Google Search should find you the right cable, but they also sell players 
    that plug directly into your computer if you don't already have a player.  You'll just need to install the program on your computer and they're usually pretty user friendly.
  • Film: Hire a professional. I've read tons of DIY blogs about digitizing your old films, but you need the equipment to play the film first.  Then it's a huge project to set up and record, and the quality of the recording is only as good as whatever equipment you've got playing and recording it. So my opinion on this one--leave it to professionals OR look into the local university to see if they have anything you can use.
  • Shopping for scanners:  Start here then branch out. You can usually find good deals if you shop around online, but I really like EZ Photos catalog.  They've got a lot of different products from various companies and you can get a feel for prices and varieties of equipment available.
These ideas should get you started.  Just know that the project will likely get bigger as you go, so just take it a bit at a time.  You'll learn a lot and adjust your approach as you go and find what works best for you.



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