We got some happy news during this time of self-quarantine. MyHeritage is granting free access to MyHeritage In Color™ through April 23, 2020.
Colorizing Old Family Photos
I shared this new service with you recently here on the Genealogy Gems blog, along with an example of the lovely work it did with one of my own old family photos.
Eddie Larson and his wife colorized.
Read the post to learn more about using the service: MyHeritage Launches Colorized Photos!
Details on the Free Access
Here are the details on the free access and some exciting prize drawings from my friend Daniel Horowitz, Genealogy Expert at MyHeritage:
I’m happy to share that we’re giving everyone FREE and unlimited access to MyHeritage In Color™ from March 23 to April 23, so that people everywhere can join in the fun of colorizing their black and white photos.
Ordinarily only 10 photos can be colorized by users who do not have a Complete plan, but now, you can colorize as many photos as you’d like for free.
Colorizing photos is the perfect activity for anyone who is isolated at home. We invite everyone to pull out their family photo albums, colorize their photos, and start reminiscing.
Enter the Drawing
Over the coming month, anyone who shares their colorized photos on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with the hashtag #ColorBeatsCoronavirusBlues and tags @MyHeritage will enter a weekly draw. Each week we’ll select one lucky winner who will receive a free MyHeritage Complete subscription!
Historical photos and images can bring depth and understanding to genealogical findings. In the case of sharing your family history with others in your family who don’t share your passion for genealogy, they are an essential part of bringing family history to life.
One of the best free online resources for historical photos is the Creative Commons at Flickr.
Flickr is a popular photo, image and video hosting and sharing service. It’s a great platform for sharing your favorite photos with family and friends. It’s also an excellent place to find images that fit into your family history.
An important part of the Flickr world is Creative Commons, which describes itself as part of a “worldwide movement for sharing historical and out-of-copyright images.”
Groups and individuals alike upload old images, tag and source them, and make them available to others through the Creative Commons. And when it comes to groups, the list of participants is impressive.
The British Library photostream features over a million images in its photostream! And a robust collection of historical photos and images can be found at the (U.S.) Library of Congress photostream, with over 34,000+ photos.
Searching the Creative Commons
When searching the Creative Commons, be sure to look for your favorite libraries and historical societies. If you don’t find them today, don’t worry. Check back regularly because new content is being added all the time.
Here’s another example of what you can find at the Creative Commons. The Netherlands Institute of Military History (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie) has a photostream.
“Exercise Field Artillery Corps” album, image AKL092038, Netherlands Institute of Military History uploads at Flickr Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nimhimages/16026248719/.
According to the Netherlands Institute of Military History blog, “The Institute exists to serve all those with an interest in the military past of the Netherlands. Its sphere of activities covers the Dutch armed forces on land, at sea and in the air, from the sixteenth century until now. The staff of the NIMH administer a unique military history collection containing approximately 2 million images, of which they will be uploading many to the site.”
Back in 2015 when we first wrote about their brand new photostream it only included a couple dozen images, like the one shown here. Today they have well over 3,300.
Tips for Finding and Using Historical Photos at the Creative Commons
Searching for Historical Photos: On a photostream home page, click the search icon (magnifying glass) just above the first row of photos in the upper right corner. A search box will pop up at the top of the page. Enter Keywords to search for images within that photostream. (Image below)
Location isn’t Everything: Just like with brick and mortar libraries, don’t let the location of the library or archive hosting the photostream fool you! Their collections are not limited to only items in their area. If you’re in search of something specific, try the Flickr Advanced Search page here.
Understanding Downloading and Copyright: Those who post images to Flickr Creative Commons offer different rights to those who want to download and use their images. Described here (and searchable here by the kinds of rights you want), those rights may include the ability to use a photo as long as it’s for noncommercial purposes and proper credit is given. Perfect for a responsible, source-citing genealogist!
10 Favorite Flickr Photostreams with Historical Focus
It would be impossible to list all of the potential photostreams at Flickr’s Creative Commons that feature historical photos, so I won’t even try. However, I’m happy to provide this list of favorites, which illustrates the breath and depth of possibilities. I hope it inspires you to search out your favorite library or archive at the Creative Commons.
(Organized by number of photos)
Internet Archive Book Images
Though not currently organized by Albums or Galleries, there is something here for absolutely everybody! Use the search feature to zero in on what you want. (See tips section below)
The British Library
A gloriously eclectic mix of images. Just one example: World War I: The Canadian Experience. This photo album covers 1895 and 1924, and contain depictions of Canadians’ experiences of the First World War. From the British Library: “Either produced by photographers on home soil or individuals in Europe employed by Lord Beaverbrook’s ‘Canadian War Records Office’ the photographs provide a wide ranging account of the many Canadians involved in and impacted by the war.”
The National Archives UK
the UK government’s official archive contains more than 1,000 years of history, so their photostream is not to be missed! Nicely organized into Albums focused on location, the images offer a sampling of their massive holdings.
The U.S. National Archives
Nicely organized into a vast array of albums, these photos represent only a small sampling of the photographs in their collection which totals more than 25 million photos and 20,000 graphic images. Early on they focused on uploading photos from the Women’s Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency, and a few staff favorites. According to the National Archives, “These photographs, most taken by agents of Federal agencies over the years, cover a wide range of subjects and themes documented in the work of the United States government. Higher resolution versions of many of these images can be obtained from the U.S. National Archives by following the links located below each image.”
SMU Libraries Digital Collections
Southern Methodist University Digital Collections includes the digital libraries and online digital collections from the six SMU Libraries. You’ll find an emphasis on digital collections of Mexican photographs, locomotives, Texas history, art, and currency notes, and more.
National Library of Norway
These images either fall in the public domain or the copyright belongs to the library and has been wavered. You’ll find photos, postcards, stereograph cards and other ephemera depicting life in Norway. With all of the portraits you may just spot an ancestor!
National Library of Norway photostream
The New York Public Library
Considering how many Americans passed through New York, this photostream is definitely worth a visit.
National Library of Ireland on The Commons
Here you’ll find a range of items from the Ephemera Collections of the National Library of Ireland. They provide a snapshot of different periods in Ireland’s social, political, economic and cultural history. They’ve also added items from their Manuscript collections, Prints and Drawings, Exhibitions, as well as photos from Library Events.
UBC Library Digitization Centre
of the University of British Columbia
Just one of many Canadian library photostreams, the UBC Library shows off it’s diverse image collection in well organized albums. My personal odd-ball favorite is the Tremaine Arkley Croquet Collection!
Library Company of Philadelphia
They’ve organized their current photo collection into more than 50 albums, making it easy to quickly spot the historical collections. Notable albums feature unique historical images from the Civil War era.
Here’s how to remove damage from photos, such as those commonly found on Polaroid Land pictures. It’s a simple digital photo restoration technique you can use to improve your old family photos. See how Lisa Louise Cooke cleaned up a precious family photo as a surprise for an guest she interviewed—and his touching response.
Last month, I asked esteemed film historian Sam Gill to send me some photos of himself that I could include on the “show notes” page for Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #215. The episode features our conversation on silent films, and the glimpse of early 20th century life that they provide.
One of the images he shared captures him (when he was in high school) and his mom. Sam told me that it was taken at the time when he started helping her with their family’s genealogy.
“I seem to have only one photograph of my mother and me at that time, which was what they called a Polaroid Land Pictures photo,” he continued. “In the days before selfies and digital cameras, this was a way to have a photo miraculously developed in sixty seconds. That was considered a miracle of photography at the time.
“Although these photos tended to leave streak marks and other blemishes, it’s all I got! I am hoping you might get a kick out of seeing this young kid and his intelligent, forever-curious and talented mother, Florence Louise Jones Gill (aka Mom).”
After learning how much the memories behind that photo meant to Sam, I took the liberty of doing some quick touch up work on it. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly cleaner:
A treasured old photo of Sam and his mom.
You can try the same techniques I used to remove damaged areas from photos you’ve digitized. It’s easy and free! So, follow along with me, and then keep reading for Sam’s response to receiving the cleaned-up photo.
How to remove damage from photos
First, you’ll need to download the free Adobe PhotoShop Fix app on your phone or other mobile device (you can get from the App Store or Google Play.)
Then follow these steps:
1. Add a Copy of the Digital Image
Open the app and tap the Plus sign to add your image. Don’t work with the original photo file. I save mine in Dropbox, but you can also pull your image copies from your phone, Adobe’s Creative Cloud, Facebook or Google Photos.
Tap the plus sign and select the location of your photo.
2. Tap Healing in the Menu
This will get you to the tools you will need to do the restoration.
3. Start with Minor Repairs
Start with the easy stuff (don’t go for the face right away,thought it’s tempting). Work on clothing and the backdrop first so you can get a feel for the repair work and refine your retouching movements.
4. Apply the Spot Heal Tool
Use Spot Heal first and see if it takes care of the problem area. Don’w worry about making mistakes. You can always tap the Undo at the top of the screen if you’re not happy with the results.
5. Apply Clone Stamp
Use the Clone Stamp tool to select an area on the existing photo that you want to duplicate to cover up a damaged area. For example you can select an unblemished area of the backdrop, duplicate it, and then “paste” it over a blemished area of the backdrop. Keep in mind that even in a single color backdrop, there can be shading, so move the clone stamp around to replicate it accurately.
Tap Clone Stamp in the menu, and use the tools on the left to adjust.
You can adjust the size of the clone stamp selection tool by tapping “Size” in the pop out menu on the left. Selecting “hardness” will give you the ability to cone with a sharp edge or a more feathered edge which is a bit more forgiving when covering another area.
6. Zoom for Greater Detail
Zoom in for better accuracy. To do this, put two fingers together and then them spread apart to enlarge the area.
While zooming in can give you greater control, if you get too close you may start seeing individual pixels (depending on the size and resolution of the original photo) and those can be much trickier to change accurately. Zoom back out often to “stand back” and inspect your work!
7. Adjust as Needed
If you’re going to zoom in, take the time to adjust the size of the tool you are using, whether it’s Spot Heal or Clone Stamp. You can adjust the size of the circle and the “hardness” by tapping the tab on the left side of the screen.
When you’ve completed your initial re
Be sure to save to your work along the way. That way you can always go back to a previous version if you get a little too overzealous. I like to save the image to my device’s Photos, but the app offers a variety of saving locations.
9. Apply Smoothing
In the main menu, use the Smooth tool to refine your work. Start by tapping Face. Chances are you’ll like the effect as it smooths the skin tone. And again, you can always undo if you don’t.
Then tap to spot-smooth areas, particularly backdrops. Beware of over-smoothing – it won’t look natural.
10. Make Final Adjustments
After you complete the repair work, play with other options to improve the image quality. In the main menu tap Adjust. Play with Contrast first, then move on to testing Warmth, Saturation, Shadows and Highlights.
When you’re done, save the finished image one last time to your device’s Photos.
Take Mobile Photo Restoration a Step Further
When I work on improving and restoring my old photos, I often do so in more than one app. It’s rare to find an app that does everything you want, and each has it’s special strengths. Adobe has several other excellent apps, and PhotoShop Mix is one I use quite often after I complete my initial restoration in Adobe PhotoShop Fix.
Import the restored image into the free Adobe Photoshop Mix app. Here you’ll find even more tools for refining the image. Tap Adjust in the main menu. Experiment with these tools because you can always Undo!:
- Auto Fix – I avoid this one!
- Clarity – definitely give this a whirl
I was delighted how quickly I was able to significantly improve the photo. Sam and his mom’s faces just radiate happiness.
I sent it off and heard back from him almost immediately:
“I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see this extraordinary repair and restoration work you accomplished on that tiny Polaroid Land Picture of my mother and myself! This picture was taken at the exact same time I began to help my mother with her genealogical work.”
He then shared the story about that first research project with her. The two of them wanted to identify the relative who had rendered some beautiful old paintings hanging in his grandparents’ house. The trail led mother and teenage son to London, Ontario, Canada. As a budding genealogist, Sam was certainly thinking ahead!
“I convinced my mother to let me take along a tape recorder, as I was very interested in sound recordings, and so we recorded my mother’s interviews with family members still in London and related to the same…family.”
Sam and his mother identified the artistic ancestor who did those paintings: John Ashton. Their research culminated in a “delightful little family history, called The Descendants of John Ashton, of London, Ontario, Canada, and his Son-in-Law, John Ames Arnold, of Greencastle, Indiana (Lyons, Ks.: Lyons Publishing Co., 1964) compiled by my mother, Florence Jones Gill.”
Sam proudly mentions that her book was favorably reviewed. A quick check of Google Books reveals that there was indeed quite a bit of “buzz” when she published her book! It was referenced in several genealogical publications. Here are the search results in Google Books:
Sam wrapped up his reply with a little life lesson that he learned from his mom, that we can all take to heart.
“You might get a kick out of this,” Sam wrote, “but the only mistake that my mother ever found after the book was published, was the date of her marriage to my father! It should have been 1935, not 1934. One never to take herself TOO seriously, she had quite a laugh over that one.
It was fun helping my mother. Also, as I look back over my life, I must say that I have never known a more “can-do” person than my mother. If something came up that needed attention–no matter what it was–my mother’s usual response was , “WELL, WE’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT !!!”
So my dear Gems, next time we see our family’s history hidden behind damage in an old photo, let us hear Mrs. Gill’s words in our ears “WE’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT!!!”
Read More About Working with Old Photos & Apps:
My book Mobile Genealogy is chock full of more innovative ideas for using your smartphone and tablet for family history. It’s available here in the Genealogy Gems store.
About the Author
Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.