I had a Genealogy Christmas Day last weekend, and it was glorious. For nineteen years, my parents have been hording a ton of older photographs from my grandmother’s estate in their basement. Everything was housed in plastic tubs, which while not ideal, saved them from a leaky pipe which flooded part of the basement in water. Nothing too crazy, but just enough to get my parents out of their easy chairs and into clean up mode.
“I found the old Dudek photographs,” my mother said over the phone. “The next time you’re up here, I’ll have them ready for you.”
The ‘old Dudek photographs’ have been a dream. A myth. An elusive legend. Alive only in memory and rumor. My mother has been taunting me with them for years. The term ‘old’ is a relatively loose one. The garbage you forgot to place by the curb last week could be considered ‘old’. Photographs are trickier. I would love to have anything dated from 1850 to 1900, but my family seems to be a fearless band of ‘let’s take old photos to the burning barrel’ pyromaniacs. As I have yet to see these elusive photographs, I may be dreaming an impossible dream.
Weeks of anticipation go by. Then the appointed weekend arrived. I was scheduled to officiate a family friend’s wedding on Sunday. Pulling up to the house on Saturday afternoon, I greeted my parents, put my bags down in the spare room and grabbed the scanner.
“Where are the old Dudek photographs, Mom?”
“They’re in the basement somewhere, I can’t remember.”
It took an hour, but we found the three bins. Nothing is sorted. And as much as I enjoy having an extra set of hands to sort through several decades worth of what can only be described as photographic explosion, I really just want time alone to browse through items on my own.
Even though I’m on a mission for Dudek photographs, the Silver Anniversary scrapbook for my second great aunt catches my eye. I have never seen this book before, and given how my mother is up to her elbows in Kodak photos from my childhood, so she’s not as excited about the prospect a scrapbook as I am.
There are a jumble of photographs, some loose and others still clinging to the paper. Thumbing through the collection of items, an innocuous photo postcard appears, and in that moment, I know Genealogy Christmas has arrived.
The face of my second Great-Grandmother, Isabella Smith appears, and as I study the image in my hands, pieces of the past start knitting together. Isabella is seated in a smart fur coat and hat, her youngest child is in her lap. Beatrice and Robert, her two older children, fill the middle space. Seated on the opposite side is Isabella’s first husband John Gibson, whom I have never seen before. Their beloved family dog Blue Boy fills the bottom left corner. THE DOG! The dog of family legend is there! Right there! It is the type of photo I have dreamed of and searched to find for as long as I can remember.
In genealogy, we do not always inherit or receive an item in top notch condition. There are varying degrees of sturdiness and clarity in each image, as well as scratches, scuff marks, bent edges, and other imperfections which accumulate over time. Notably, the baby Clara’s face and dress appears to have been coated by some sort of dark residue. This could have been from the black paper used in the scrapbook, the press of another photo pressing on the image over time. There is a strange spot near her mouth area as well, which doesn’t seem to fit the shape of her face. Residue or the original photo? It takes extra investigation. She could have moved too,causing a bit of a blur. Babies don’t known for sitting still, so a blur is always a possibility.
There are a few more places which look a little rough, notably 1) the cracking on Isabella and Beatrice’s faces, as well as 2) a large wrinkle and smudges on John Gibson’s side of the photo.
1) Facial cracking
2) Wrinkle and smudges
I’m not a photo restoration expert. However, there are two simple and easy to use tools just about anyone can use in Adobe Photoshop to restore these imperfections. All you need is access to a newer version of Adobe Photoshop (which a friend, family member, or local library owns), and about an hour and a half to work.
Yes, you will need to scan the image and save it at 600 – 1200 DPI on a flash drive or portable hard drive before you begin. Most public libraries with Maker Spaces or a good computer lab can help you with this task. Call ahead to your local library and ask for help. It’s free help, so don’t be afraid to call and request an appointment if needed.
After opening your photograph in Adobe Photoshop, take a look at the left hand side of the screen. The only two tools you really need are the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp.
The Healing Brush is designed to analyze the area around the brush, and blend the texture and color of the surrounding area to fix imperfections. You can adjust the brush to be as little or big as you choose. The healing brush is simple to use, and it can usually fix just about any sort of cracking, blemish, or other mark on a photograph by clicking and dragging your mouse over the area of your choice. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
The Clone Stamp tool allows you to duplicate one part of an image over another area which may be damaged or missing. Once you select the clone stamp, select a good area of the photo by holding the option button and left clicking on the spot of your choice, and then move your cursor to the damaged area you want to repair. Left click on the damaged area and move your mouse to recreate a copy of the good area of the photo in place of the flawed section of the photo. This may take a little practice, so if you don’t like your adjustments, look at the history area on the top right side of photo shop to click and delete the adjustment you just made. This is the ‘undo’ button of Photoshop, so don’t be afraid to use this feature of the program!
You are allowed to make mistakes and experiment during your Photoshop session. Give yourself a break and don’t worry about making a flawless correction each time. Photo restoration is a process, so feel free to delete what you just tried and do something different.
Also, you will want to save your project as both an image file (JPEG, TIFF, PNG) and a Photoshop File (PSD) before closing out of the program. Saving your image as a PSD will allow you to go back and continue to make corrections to your photo without losing any of the corrections made in an earlier work session. Saving your photo corrections during your work session will also ensure you will have something to show for your time if the computer shuts down or the power goes off accidentally while you are working.
Here are some examples of the trouble spots I worked on during this session, which I was able to complete in an hour and a half using just the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp mentioned above. I definitely deleted a lot of moves along the way, so I would recommend budgeting two hours restoring an item at one time. I could have worked longer to take care of a few more imperfections, however, I wanted the image to look look like an old photograph instead of some sort of over filtered Instagram post.
Residue and Blur on Baby’s Face Before:
Residue and Blur on Baby’s Face After:
Cracked Faces Before:
Cracked Faces Corrected:
Eye Wrinkle and Smudges Before:
Eye Wrinkle and Smudges Corrected:
The overall result of this little Photoshop session!
Gibson Family Before Restoration
Gibson Family After Spot Healing and Clone Stamp Restoration
I’m pretty happy with how this restoration looks! There are still imperfections, which I may or may not choose to correct. However, it is definitely worthy of framing or sending into a canvas printing company to display on my genealogy photo wall at home.
Now, a few people are going to ask about what happened to the ‘old Dudek photographs’?
After going through the contents of Aunt Clara’s scrapbook, I turned my attention back to another bin. Through the album covers and framed prints, a tattered waxy envelope appeared, the kind you don’t see before 1950. I opened it up, and I fell in love. SO MANY DUDEKS! I was lucky, as there were two photos in the set. One of a family dinner scene and another of a handsome couple seated on the couch. Cross referencing between the details in the photograph to what I had in my own collection, I was able to determine this was the celebratory dinner for my second great grandparents Frank Dudek and Anna Kucera Dudek was taken at their Golden Anniversary dinner on February 20, 1932.
This portrait of the Frank and Anna is truly a gem!
No names on the back of the family photo, so it looks like I have quite a bit of detective work ahead to deduce the identities of everyone in the photos. I have been able to deduce a handful of people in the photograph right now, so there is a lot of genealogy networking to accomplish in the months ahead.
Looking forward to seeing your restored photos! You can post them below in the comments section or share them with us by joining the Fountaindale Public Library Genealogy Club Facebook Page!
See You At the Library!