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Posts Tagged ‘family photos’

Here’s another photo from our family collection that I like.  It’s labeled “Pa – George – Jim – Aug, 1940″ and shows my great-grandfather mowing his lawn in Bemidji, MN in 1940.  He’s standing next to my grandfather’s brother George, and George’s son Jim.

Mowing the lawn - August, 1940

(Click to see a larger version, not cropped).

There’s nothing dramatic about the photo, but it tells a little story.  Clearly, “Pa” (my great-grandpa) had been out mowing the lawn and George and Jim walked out to pose for a photo with him.  Pa looks hot, tired and perhaps just wants to finish up the mowing.  His grandson Jimmy just looks tickled to be posing with Dad and Grandpa.

I’m also intrigued by the way that everyone is dressed.  Despite being outside on a hot August day in Minnesota, everyone is wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Pa’s shirt is buttoned all the way up, but he’s at least unbuttoned his cuffs.  George is wearing a tie and even Jim appears to be wearing some sort of warmer outer shirt.

It’s certainly possible that it was a cooler day in August, although our average high for August in Minnesota is 80 degrees F and the average high in September is 71 degrees.

My great-grandpa was 70 years old in this photo, but clearly still mowing his own lawn.  The kids had all moved away, but he and my great-grandma still lived in the family home in Bemidji, MN.  I wondered at first why he’d be wearing his hat while out mowing the lawn.  Was it just his style, to always be this formal?  And then I realized that it was probably just to keep the sun off of his head.  At 70, his hair was probably already a bit thin on top and so the top of his head would be the first thing to burn in the summer sun.

Here’s a closeup of the trio:

Mowing the Lawn, closeup

(You can also click to see an even larger version of the closeup).

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In my last post, I introduced Microsoft’s new Deep Zoom technology and showed how we could use it to zoom way in on a large family photo.  This time, I’m posting a collage of 191 photos of my Dad that lets you zoom way in on each individual photo.  If you’ve never seen Deep Zoom in action before, it’s well worth taking a look.  I think that you’ll be amazed at the experience.  Follow the link below to get started.

This collection includes 191 photos of my Dad, John Sexton, spanning his entire life: 1933-2005.  Many of the original scans are fairly high resolution, so as you zoom in, you’ll be able to see some wonderful details.

How to use Deep Zoom to view the collection:

  • Follow the link below to bring up the page
  • Download and install Silverlight, if requested (it’s quick)
  • Use the scroll wheel on your mouse to zoom in and out
  • Depending on your internet connection, you may need to wait a bit after zooming for the image to sharpen
  • To start with, zoom all of the way out so that you can see the entire collection
  • Then explore by zooming in on individual photos
  • You can also pan (slide) by holding the left mouse button down and dragging

Here’s the collection:    John Sexton Deep Zoom Collection

(If you don’t want to go actually run the demo, you can watch a short run-through on YouTube — the resolution isn’t nearly as good as the real thing, but you’ll get the idea).

Here are some specific things to go look for in the collection (think of this as a treasure hunt):

  • There’s a lot of detail in the buddha in the 3rd row
  • Look at the kids’ faces in the class photo, 2nd row, leftmost photo
  • Find the thumbprint on the photo of John w/the bow and arrow, 1st row
  • Look at the detail on the old printing presses, 2nd from last row, 6th photo from left
  • Look at the detail in John’s face, 5th from last row, 2nd photo from the right (face in his hands)
  • Find Uncle Tom in a ballerina outfit, somewhere in the 7th row
  • In the 1st row is a photo of John with brother Jerry during the first snowfall of 1938.  Can you identify the car in the background?
  • Zoom in on the 1st photo, 5th row, and enjoy incredible color in the photo of Mt. Fuji from 1953
  • Elsewhere on the 5th row, you’ll find a car.  Can you read the make?
  • In the 7th row, you’ll find a photo of John serving some brandy.  Can you read the label?  What time is it?
  • 2nd from the last row, 3rd from left, John holds his granddaughter Lucy’s hand.  What color are her eyes?
  • Can you find the greenish photo in the center of the grid that features John, an antique steel trash baler and an old Ford 8N tractor?

Here are a few other interesting details about this collection:

  • The original collection is comprised of 191 scanned or digital photos
  • Deriving from the original 191, the Deep Zoom collection itself is comprised of 18,433 separate images
  • The collection takes up 1.44GB of disk space

What do family historians out there think about this as a technique for exploring a collection of family photos?

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One tough thing about posting family photos to the web is that you need to decide which resolution to post your photo at.  If you have a high resolution photo that you’d like to post on a web page, you basically have two choices:

  • Option A: Resize the photo (make smaller) so that it fits on the screen
    • If you do this, you’ll lose the detail that you had in the higher resolution version.
  • Option B: Post the higher resolution version as is
    • If you post your original high-res photo, it may take a very long time to download and appear in the browser.  It will also be too large to display in the browser and won’t let you see the entire photo at the same time.

But what if we had a way to do both of these things at once?  What if we could post a lower resolution version that allowed the user to see the entire image, but also allow zooming into the photo to see more detail?  And what if we could zoom in not just a little bit, but deep into the photo to see fine details?

Well, Microsoft has a new technology, called “Deep Zoom”, that helps us do exactly that.

Background: Pixels, Pixels, Pixels

Spoiler: If you’re just here to see the demo, jump ahead a few sections to read about how I posted a “deep zoomable” family photo and then click on the link that takes you to the demo.  But if you’re curious about some of the background concepts, read on.

What do we mean by “high resolution” or “low resolution”?

To start with, when we talk about resolution, we generally talk about pixels:

Pixel - The individual colored dots in a digital image.

We can think about pixels in the context of digital images that we take with a digital camera (e.g. an 8 “megapixel” image).  We can also think about pixels in the context of knowing how many pixels wide and tall our computer monitor is.

Let’s start with your monitor.  When you’re working on your Windows-based PC or your Macintosh, your monitor is displaying everything that you see at some resolution.  In other words, your monitor can display a certain number of pixels horizontally and vertically.  For a typical 20″ LCD monitor, this might be 1600 pixels wide by 1200 pixels tall.  Or, if you’re using a MacBook, it might be 1280 pixels wide by 800 pixels high.

The more pixels that your monitor or laptop can display, the sharper the image, and the better/higher the resolution.

Back to digital images.  When you take a digital image, the image is of a particular resolution, based on the camera and the current settings.  For my 8MP (megapixel) camera, the images are 3264 pixels wide by 2448 pixels high.  (If you multiply these two numbers together, you get something close to 8 million total pixels, hence the term “8 megapixel”).

How do these two resolutions, monitor vs. digital image, relate?  If you want to display that 8MP image on your MacBook, and you don’t do any special scaling of the image, the entire image won’t fit on the screen.  That 8MP photo was 3264 pixels wide and your screen is only 1280 pixels wide, so you can see at most about 40% of the picture’s width.

Normally you don’t notice this.  If you open an 8MP image on your computer, the photo viewing application normally shows you the image exactly filling the screen.  What happens is that your photo viewing software actually shrinks the image down so that you can see the entire thing, “squishing” it into fewer pixels.  Naturally, when you do this, some detail is lost.  No matter how hard you stare at that 1280×800 image, you won’t see as much detail as existed in the 3264×2448 version.

But most photo viewing applications allow you to zoom in and out of the image.  As you zoom in, you do see more detail, because the software is re-scaling the portion of the image that you want to see to the screen.  It’s actually going back to that original 3264×2448 image and resizing it again.

When you use a photo viewing application on your PC or Mac, everything works great.  You are able to zoom in and out of the image and you can see all of the detail present in that original 8MP image.  Images stored on the web, however, are a different matter.

Photos on Web Pages

When you post a photo on a web page, you need to pick a single resolution and post the photo at that resolution.  Let’s look at our previous example.  Say you have this gorgeous 8MP digital photo and you want to display it on a web page (or upload it to Facebook).  If you want viewers of the page to be able to see the entire photo, you’ll want to scale it from 3264×2448 down to something like 800×600 pixels.  The basic idea here is that you want the photo to fit into their web browser, which means that you need to think about how many pixels wide (and high) their web browser is.  If they are running a browser on a MacBook and the browser is not maximized, it might only be 1000 pixels wide, or less.  So you’d size the original image down to something like 800×600 pixels.

The problem with doing this is that web browsers don’t normally have a mechanism for zooming into photos.  And if they do (like Firefox’s zoom feature), they’ll never be able to display any more resolution than was present in the original 800×600 image.  The detail from your original 3264×2448 image isn’t available.

One workaround for this problem is to post several variants of the same photo—one at the lower resolution and then several at higher resolutions, showing some section of the photo at a higher resolution.  But this is clumsy.

Resolution and Scanning Family Photos

Let’s talk a bit about how resolution comes into play when you scan a photo.  When scanning, you typically select a particular DPI, or “dots per inch”, to scan at.  The higher the DPI, the higher the resolution of the resulting digital image.

So let’s say that you scan a 4×6 print at 300 dpi.  The resulting image would be 1200×1800 pixels, or roughly 2 megapixels.

It’s important to remember that high-quality negatives or film prints have much higher resolution.  (The available detail is actually based on the size of the individual grains of the silver halide crystals on the film).  A high quality 35mm negative might have a resolution equivalent to something closer to 4000 dpi.

If you actually scanned that 4×6 photo at 4000 dpi, you’d end up with a digital image that was 16000×24000 pixels, or 384 megapixels.  This is an image that is as wide as about 15 20″ LCD monitors!  That’s a lot of detail.  Stored as a typical .tif file on your hard drive, you’d end up with something like a 2GB file.

So what resolution should you use when scanning?  The general rule is that it depends on what you’re going to do with the digital image.  If you’re going to display it on a web page, there’s no need to scan at a very high resolution.  If you’re planning on printing the photo, you’d typically print at about 150 dpi.  So if you’re not going to enlarge the photo, you’d also scan at 150 dpi.

Because there is so much detail available in that original print, you may sometimes want to scan at a much higher resolution.  For example, you might scan just someone’s face from a larger photo and then post that scan on a web page.  For example, if you scan a 1″ square area of the photo and you want to display it as a 600-pixel high image, you’d scan at 600 dpi.

Deep Zooming a Family Photo

Let’s go back to our original premise.  When we post a photo on a web site, there’s no way to zoom into the photo and see more detail, right?

Well actually, there is now a way to do this, using a new technology from Microsoft called “Deep Zoom”.

Here’s a sample family photo, inserted into this post at roughly 600×480 pixels.

smallfamily

There’s nothing special about this photo.  If you use the browser’s zoom functions to zoom into the photo, you’ll quickly see how coarse the picture is.

Here’s the same photo, posted on my web site, as a “deep zoomable” photo:

The Bemidji Twelve

Click on the link to go play with the image.  Try zooming in and out and notice that as you zoom in, the photo starts off very grainy, but quickly sharpens up.  Note that you can also pan the photo using the mouse.  You’ll need to install a small browser plug-in called Silverlight, but the install goes fairly quickly.

How Did They Do It?

The basic idea of Deep Zoom is that you start with a very high resolution image, capturing the detail that you want to see when you are all the way “zoomed in”.  You then use some software to generate a lot of other images, which are all chunks of the original image at various resolutions.  The basic idea is to pre-generate all of the different resolutions of the image that you’ll be seeing as you zoom in and out.

In my case, I started with an 8″x10″ image and scanned it at 800 dpi.  This resulted in a digital image that was roughly 6400×8000 pixels, or 51 megapixels.  Another way to think about this is that to display the image at the original resolution, it would cover a grid of 20″ LCD monitors that was 5 monitors wide and 5 monitors high.  I saved the original photo as a TIFF image, and the file was about 145MB.

Here’s the amazing part.  When I ran this photo through the Deep Zoom software, it generated just over 1,100 new images from the original image.  The new images are various chunks of the original photo, at many different resolutions.  Coincidentally, the size on disk of all of these photos also adds up to about 145MB.

I then posted the “deep zoom” collection of photos on my web site, along with some pretty straightforward programming.  (Microsoft has done most of the work here).  The result is what you saw above—a single image that you can zoom into and out of, made possible by 1,100 separate images that are automatically loaded at the proper time as you zoom or pan.

Wrapping Up

The Deep Zoom technology is very exciting for family historians.  We are no longer limited to posting photos merely as static images on a web site.  Instead, we can post collections of “dynamic” images, allowing us to preserve all of the detail that is present in the original film-based copies that we started with.  And the experience for the user is nothing short of phenomenal.  The first web page loads very quickly and new chunks of the photo load only when they need to.

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In a recent post, I included a list of genealogy-related web sites, including sub-categories for “Online Family Trees” and “Social/Family Networking”.  I’m going to start reviewing the sites listed in these two categories and publish some of my findings/thoughts here.  As I review each site, I’ll try to go a bit beyond just publishing a list of features.  Instead, I’ll sign up as a member of each site and make an effort to use the site for its intended purpose and then share my impressions.

I’ll start with amiglia.com, which is the first site, alphabetically, in these two categories.

01-logo

Overview

Amiglia bills itself as a Family Tree + Photo Album.  It’s basically a photo-sharing site for families, allowing uploading of a GEDCOM file to create the family structure and then uploading of photos and videos and attaching them to individuals in the family.

Amiglia was founded by Paul, Milena and Tim Berry, who started the site as a personal web site used to share photos between extended family members.  They eventually opened the site up to the public.

Amiglia is still listed as being in beta, but appears not to have been actively worked on since early 2007.  The expiration, in July of 2008, of the site’s SSL certificate, is further evidence that amiglia is no longer being actively supported or promoted.  The site’s support staff did not respond to an e-mail that I sent, asking about the status of the site.

Pricing

Amiglia advertises a 365-day free trial, followed by a membership fee of $49.95/yr thereafter.

Traffic / Popularity

In my list of genealogy sites ranked by traffic for Aug, 2008, amiglia was ranked 128th out of 163, with compete.com reporting a total of 3,000 visits for the month of August.  It was ranked 25th out of 29 in the “Online Family Trees” category and 15th out of 17 in the “Social/Family Networking Category”.

Feature List

Amiglia advertises the following list of features:

  • Family tree with photos that you can blog
  • Linked albums of related families
  • Personal profiles linked to nuclear family
  • Family facebook of your entire family
  • Family calendar with birthdays and events
  • Maps of geolocated photos
  • Easy tagging for people, themes, places
  • Easy search for family photos
  • Elegant slideshows to view, email and blog
  • Music uploads to any slideshow
  • Integrated Skype calling and chats
  • Riya import
  • Interactive photo-based babies’ games
  • Easy mass uploading
  • Upload by e-mail or with camera phone
  • Import from Flickr or Photoshop Album
  • Easy GEDCOM imports at signup
  • Video clips support (up to 5MB each)
  • Advanced privacy, no spam, no ads
  • Backup CDs or DVDs at minimal charge
  • Email reminders for family birthdays

During the course of my use of the site, I exercised some, but not all, of these features.

Signing Up

You need to sign up with an account on amiglia before you can create a tree or start uploading photos.  I immediately ran into a serious problem when I tried to sign up.  The site’s security (SSL) certificate has expired.  (As of 6 Oct, 2008).  This means that by default your browser won’t load the signup page, given that it is a secure (HTTPS) web page.  This is a serious problem—you should never load an HTTPS page if your browser is unable to validate the associated security certificate.  You can actually ignore the problem, telling your browser to load the page anyway, but doing so would be a serious security risk.

002-securitycertfailure

What does this mean?  Basically, two things:

  • When you sign up for the site, the signup page will not be secure.  The password that you enter here could potentially be compromised.  But since you don’t need to enter credit card information, this is serious, but not potentially all that dangerous.
  • The expiration of the security certificate is a sign that amiglia is essentially a dead site

I wanted to continue reviewing the site, so I did bypass the lack of a security certificate and went ahead and signed up.

003-signup

Note that when you sign up, you are able to suggest a sub-domain as part of the URL that you share with your family.  This is a handy feature—instead of just going to amiglia.com and logging in, your family can get to the family tree directly by going to yourname.amiglia.com.  The availability of the name would depend, of course, on whether someone else has already taken that name.  In my case sexton.amiglia.com was available.

Privacy Settings

The next step is to decide on whether your site is private or public.  You are able to make the entire site public (viewing, editing), allow public viewing only, or make the site entirely private.

Another very nice feature is the ability to set a single family password.  I didn’t test this, but the idea here is that family members don’t necessarily have to sign up in order to gain access to the site.  Instead, they can use a common password that you share with the entire family.  This makes it much easier for family members to get at the site.

004-privacysettings

Creating Your Tree

After you sign up, you’re shown your default tree, with you at the center:

005-defaulttree

At this point, you can start manually entering family members, or you can upload a GEDCOM file.  I chose to upload a GEDCOM file, deciding to use the Kennedy family as my test case.

006-uploadtree

Amiglia appeared to read my Kennedy.ged file with no problems.  Once it was uploaded, I was asked who I wanted to choose as the center of my tree.  I picked John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  (Born 1917—I had to page down a bit to find JFK in the list).

007-selectcenter

I was a little disappointed at how the names were organized here.  They were apparently sorted by birthdate, youngest first.  But it would have been nice to have selected the center point with a textual search or dropdown.  If you have a large family tree, it could potentially take a very long time to find the person that you want.

At this point, I was completely signed up and I’d created a basic Kennedy family tree.

008-allsetup

Family Tree View

In Amiglia, the most common way of seeing the people in your tree is by using the Family Tree view.  This is a graphical rendering of your family tree that allows moving around through the tree.  Here’s what the Kennedy tree looks like:

009-familytree1

One problem that I saw was that when I navigate to the home page, sexton.amiglia.com in my case, it still contained the default family tree that showed me (spsexton) at the center of the tree.  To see the tree that I’d just uploaded (the Kennedys), I had to click on the Family Tree choice in the main menu.  I think that this is because amiglia couldn’t find me in the Kennedy tree, but even after editing my profile, I wasn’t able to get this to work properly.  There seemed to be no way to get the Kennedy tree to be the default tree on the site, or JFK to be the default person that you see when you go to the home page.

As you move your mouse around in this tree view, the tree gently slides to reveal more family members.  The general idea is that when you hover over someone who appears at the edge of the tree, they slide over to the center of the tree.

Although the tree navigation is sort of appealing, with the smooth scrolling, there are enough problems with it to make the navigation completely unusable.

As you move the mouse towards the edge of the tree, it scrolls a bit, to try to shift more of the tree on that side of the screen to the center of the screen.  But because of this, if you go try to click on someone in the try, they often slide away before you can click on them.  This is very frustrating.  It’s so bad that there were cases when I absolutely could not click on a particular individual—as I tried to move the mouse over them, that person would jump alternately from one side of the screen to the other.  Argh!

There were a number of other problems with the tree navigation, rendering it fairly unusable.  These include:

  • You can jump to related trees easily (e.g. Jackie’s family), but often you can’t easily navigate back to the original family
  • There is no easy way to navigate to a person by entering their name.
  • The screen says that I should “click on the name of any person to see their profile”.  But clicking on various people, I was never able to see any additional information.
  • It would be helpful to be able to zoom in/out of the family tree.  With the default size, it feels like I’m zoomed way in to the tree and it was hard to get an idea of the big picture.
  • It’s very difficult to go directly to a specific family member.  You can go to the Facebook page (see below) and hunt through a list of pictures.  But there is no easy way to go directly to a particular person.

Adding Photos

The next step is to upload some headshot photos of people in the family.  Headshots are displayed as thumbnails in the family tree and appear in the “Facebook” area of the web page.

There are two basic ways to upload a photo of someone.  The first is to navigate to that person’s profile and then upload the photo.  The second method is to upload the photo and then identify who the person is in the photo.

Let’s try the first method—navigating first to a person and then uploading a photo for them.  I thought I’d start with JFK and upload a profile.  It’s a bit difficult to navigate directly to JFK’s profile.  The only way I found of getting to that person was to select their silhouette from the Facebook page, which you can get at the Facebook button in the main menu, or by clicking on a silhouette at the bottom of the Family Tree view.  (Note that not all family members are shown in silhouette on this page, so you’ll need to click on the “More People” link at the bottom of the page.

Here’s what the page full of silhouettes looks like.  Again, the big problem here is that it’s very difficult to find the person that you’re looking for.  There are no birth dates, so you end up seeing identically-named people.  There’s also no way to sort the family members, or see them in a basic list.

010-facebook1

Once we locate JFK and click on his name, we get back to the standard Family Tree view, with a portion of the tree shown in the top of the window, and John’s profile shown in the bottom.

011-updateindividual

At this point we can click the Browse button to upload a photo.  Once we do that, the new photo is now shown as a thumbnail whenever John appears in the family tree.  The same image is now used in place of the generic silhouette on the Facebook page and when viewing John’s parents or children.  Oddly, the photo of John is not shown when you’re viewing his profile, other than as a tiny image in the family tree.  Grr!

After we’ve uploaded an image for JFK, here’s what John Jr’s profile page looks like.  Note that John Sr’s photo is now shown instead of the silhouette.

012-johnjr

One problem that I found is that even after uploading John’s head shot, the head thumbnail is not always shown on the family tree.  This appears to be a bug.  It seems like only if we’re already viewing John’s profile, then that fragment of the family tree will show his head shot.  But in many cases, the head shot is not shown.

There appears to be another bug in how photos are attached to people.  I uploaded a photo of Jackie using the same process as the one of John, and both now are used as silhouettes.  However, when I go to the list of all photos (main Photos button), I see Jackie’s photo, but not John’s.  This also appears to be a bug, in that there seems to be no way to edit standard photo properties for the photo of John.

I continued with this process a bit further, uploading some more head shots.  As I added photos and attached them to people, the main family tree gradually filled in to include the head shots.

General Thoughts

Amiglia.com is really targeted towards a single family, allowing sharing of photos between siblings or parents/children/grandchildren.  There are some areas of the site that seem to assume this is the case, rather than that you’ve uploaded a larger family tree, including deceased relatives.  For example, the calendar shows family member’s birthdays, but only includes their first name.  For a large family, going back a number of generations, the calendar would be pretty useless.

Usability: using amiglia.com is very painful.  It’s confusing and inconsistent—to the degree that would likely lead to people just giving up on the site because they can’t figure out how to use it.

Performance: the site is very slow, even painfully slow.  I tried connecting from various locations and on a very fast DSL link.  But in all cases, the performance was equally slow.  This points to a problem on the server side.  Likely amiglia.com is being hosted on a single machine that is just not fast enough to keep up with the demand.

Conclusions

I’d intended to go further with my review and use more of the features, but I’ve given up on amiglia for two reasons:

  • It just became too painful to work with.  The usability and quality level is so poor that I’d never recommend Amiglia to anyone.  Nor would I use it myself for storing and organizing family photos
  • As of 8 Nov, 2008, amiglia.com now appears to be completely down and has been unavailable for at least several days.

Amiglia.com appears to be one of those “web 2.0” sites that had a lot of promise, but never took off and has now quietly died.  It never got above 4,000 unique visitors/month, so it never became a mainstream site.  And, based on the expiration of the SSL certificate, and the unavailability of the site itself, it now appears to be truly dead.

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A Family Photo Jackpot

Ted Sexton

Ted Sexton

Grandpa Ted was into scrapbooking long before it became fashionable. You’d never have guessed it from looking at him, though. To all appearances, he was just a hard-working blue-collar guy, owner of a small printing business, and father of six. But Ted had a lifelong passion for family history and spent many years obsessively collecting family photos and assembling them into scrapbooks that he kept in the basement.

As a kid, I got to visit Grandma and Grandpa Sexton’s house often, and always made a beeline for the corner of the basement that was Ted’s unique collection of knick-knacks, books, novelty liquor bottles and old photos. I spent many hours poring over the old books and scrapbooks that jammed the shelves. I didn’t know who most of the people in the scrapbook photos were—Grandpa just said that they were all uncles, aunts and cousins. But I was fascinated by the old photos from the 1930s and 1940s and the hours that I spent in Grandpa Ted’s basement kindled my passion for family history.

The Bemidji Twelve

The Bemidji Twelve

Born in 1902, Ted was the second of twelve children. The family lived in Bemidji, Minnesota, where Ted’s father worked as a foreman at a lumber mill. Ted’s mother was the family’s anchor, somehow raising a dozen kids and getting the family through the depression on the little income that they had.

Ted and his siblings were always close.  Over the years, many of them moved down to the Twin Cities, but continued to spend time together and to see each other often.  Ted was a key part of the family’s social life, often traveling to visit siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins.  He was a consummate storyteller as well, as were many of his brothers and sisters.

But Ted also had a passion for collecting family mementos—especially photographs.  He hung onto every photo that anyone ever sent him and many of them ended up in his large scrapbooks in the basement.

I heard stories, years later, of some family members even getting a little angry with Ted when they’d discover some photo of theirs in one of his scrapbooks, which he had “borrowed” years ago.  The joke was that if you ever let Ted get his hands on one of your photos, you’d likely never see it again.

Ted was also the publisher of a small newspaper and, later, the owner of a local printing company.  It was no surprise then that his passion for collecting family photos led him to publish, in 1964, a bound book of family photos.  Ted printed lots of copies and gave them to everyone in the family, so we all grew up with at least one copy of of this book of family photos at home.

The book—which we all referred to as the “green book” because of its green cover—contained about a hundred black and white photos.  They were in no particular order, but each was neatly labeled, indicating the name of everyone in the photo.  Like most of my cousins, I learned over the years to identify uncles, aunts and cousins by studying the green book and matching faces with names.  By 1964, when the book was published, there were 62 direct descendants of Ted’s parents, including 27 first cousins (my Dad’s generation) and 23 2nd cousins.

By 1997, almost exactly 100 years after Ted’s parents were married, the number of their direct descendants had grown to 109, including 70 2nd cousins (my generation).  Ted had passed away in 1980, but his passion for family history was still alive, in all of the stories that the family continued to tell about “the Bemidji Twelve”.  (Four of the original twelve siblings were still alive in 1997).

It was also in 1997 that Ted’s son Jerry, now owner of the original printing business, decided to publish an updated version of the 1964 “green book”.  The new book, entitled “The Minnesota Connection”, was reminiscent of the original, with a green cover, similar size, and a couple hundred family photos.  It ended up being over 300 pages long and included not only photos, but detailed family data, as well as lots of personal stories that people shared about relatives who had passed on.

The book was a massive undertaking.  Uncle Jerry financed the project and recruited my cousin Dan, along with his wife, to edit the book and to generate most of the content.  The most time-consuming task for them was in writing letters to ask people to share their photos, and in collecting, organizing and scanning all of the photos that they received.

Family members were extremely generous in the photos that they sent.  Many people sent large manila envelopes, filled with photos spanning many years.  So it was also a challenge to select the subset of photos to include in the book.

The Minnesota Connection

The Minnesota Connection

After many months of hard work by my cousin and his wife, The Minnesota Connection went to press.  As his father Ted had done 30 years earlier, Uncle Jerry printed lots of copies and distributed them to the entire family.  The new “green book” was beautiful, with a full color cover, professionally bound, and containing lots more photos and content than the 1964 version.

For me, the new book of family photos reignited a passion for family history that had been dormant since childhood.  In the years following its publication, I got more and more excited about transferring the contents of the book to a permanent web site.  I planned on starting with the photos from the green book and then letting people add photos of their own to the web site.

But I led a very busy life and it wasn’t until early 2007 that I finally got around to calling my cousin Dan to find out if he had a digital copy of all of the photos that they had scanned back in 1997.

To my surprise, Dan said that he wasn’t sure what happened to the digital copies, but he still had all of the original photos that went into the book.  He’d always intended to return them, but had never gotten around to it.

I was excited at the prospect of being able to rescan these photos and then share them online with the rest of the family.  I went to meet Dan at his business and he took me into a warehouse space at the back of his building, where he had several huge shelves filled with boxes and crates.  Dan said that all of the photos were up on the top shelf.

The top of the shelving was 10-12 feet off of the ground, so Dan went to grab a ladder and then climbed up and started handing boxes down to me.  At first, I figured that he wasn’t exactly sure which box the photos were in.  But suddenly it hit me—every box that he handed down was full of family photos!

I had been expecting just a few manila envelopes containing the photos that ended up in the green book.  Instead, Dan had all of the photos that people sent him in 1997.  This alone amounted to many hundreds of photos.  But it didn’t stop there.  The boxes in Dan’s back room were filled with Grandpa Ted’s entire photo and scrapbook collection!

As I continued to open box after box to see what we had, I just got more and more excited.  There were some truly wonderful treasures in Ted’s collection.  He had stacks and stacks of photos going back 60-70 years.  And we also found several scrapbooks that I had never seen, full of even older photos of extended family members.

I had hit the family history jackpot—a huge collection of original photos, most of which no one had seen in years.  I figured that there must have been something like several thousand photos in all.

It gradually dawned on me the project that lay ahead of me.  This was no longer a matter of just scanning a couple hundred photos.  Instead, I was looking at a major project that would take up the next few years.  I was starting to become giddy with the idea of scanning, identifying, and cataloguing this huge collection.

I also realized what a huge responsibility this was, and what an honor.  As it turned out, Dan trusted me enough with the photos to let me take the entire collection home.  I promised him that I’d start scanning the photos right away and we could then come up with a plan for preserving the originals.

As I write this, it’s been a year and a half since I brought Ted’s collection home and started working through it.  So far, I’ve scanned and identified close to 1,000 photos.  I’ve published everything to our family site on ancestry.com and have been able to start sharing the photos with other family members.

Although I have a lot of work ahead of me, I’m committed to the mission of preserving for future generations this amazing collection of family photos and history.  This is the kind of project that every family historian dreams of tackling.  I’m also truly thankful to Grandpa Ted for his passion for collecting and preserving these photos.  It’s because of him that we now have access to such a wonderful collection of family memories.

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