Cleaning Up Documents Digitally

Posted March 3, 2011 by Geni | 2 Comments

Documentation is extremely important to genealogy. Sadly, the documents we find are often in pretty bad shape. First thing we need to do is get them scanned. Once we have a digital copy of the original document, we can start touching it up to be more legible.

To get started, you’ll need some image editing software. Some of the more affordable applications are Photoshop Elements, Acorn, Pixelmator, and The GIMP.

Now, open up your image in your editing application. The first thing we’ll want to do is use the crop tool to remove the blank space from the image.


Cropping a document in Acorn

Next, you’ll want to make sure the Levels in the image are optimized. In modern image manipulation software, there will be a button that says something like “Auto Levels.” For most cases, this is your best bet. It will do the work for you.

Auto levels

The auto levels option in Acorn

If you’d prefer to edit the levels manually, you’ll bring up a menu that looks similar to this:


Manually Adjusting Levels in Acorn

To find the best setting, move the sliders slowly until your image looks the best to your eye. Don’t forget that you can always undo any edit you make to your image, so don’t hesitate to try a couple of different settings to find the best one.

Finally, you’ll want to use a filter called an “Unsharp mask.” The concepts behind it might be complex, but using it to make your documents look better couldn’t be easier.


Using the Unsharp Mask tool in Acorn

Just like the levels, the default setting is usually going to work fine, but you may want to fine tune it. Move the sliders until your image has just the right amount of sharpness. This has the potential to make text considerably more legible given the right circumstances.

Having clear, readable documentation is now available to anyone with a computer, a scanner, and a little bit of spare time. Make good use of these tools, and your family tree will only get better.