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52 Ancestors, No. 30: Anna Schachter, Gateway to An Extended Family

September 20, 2014


One of my best efforts so far, in my opinion, has been the restoration of Anna Schachter’s weathered porcelain gravestone photo. I fixed her up before I learned some of my newer tricks, but the work holds up, in my opinion. It was an amazing genealogical find as well, which potentially doubled the reach of my maternal grandfather’s extended family in America.  Read more…

Genealogy Tip: Trouble Transcribing? Google the Legal Boilerplate

September 17, 2014

I have a tip for you today regarding the transcription of old documents—especially legal documents, like deeds and wills. This was inspired today by a tweet from requesting transcription assistance via the twittersphere. Here is the tweet:

Clicking through, the document is again reproduced at the Brooklyn Ancestry blog. Looking at a document like this, one might be tempted to think: “Wow. Look at this. It’s handwritten. Someone put a lot of care and original thought into this. It must be unique. How will I ever decipher it?” Don’t despair. Your document may not be as unique as it looks.  Read more…

This Weekend: I’m Tabling the Bucks County Ancestry Fair

September 17, 2014

A scene from the Bucks County Ancestry Fair, 2013. Image from the Bucks County Genealogical Society’s ‘Ancestry Fair’ home page.

I’d like to take a moment to invite one and all to the Bucks County Ancestry Fair this weekend. The Bucks County Genealogical Society will host the event this Saturday from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM at the Bucks County Visitors Center, 3207 Street Road, Bensalem, PA 19020. There will be plenty of great speakers and tables, including Joyce Homan of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. For more information, see the event page at The Bucks County Genealogical Society website.

Bring some pictures with you to the event. I will have my scanner with me. Time permitting, I may attempt some light restorations on site. I will offer quotes for heavier restorations and add them to my work queue. Like everyone else who will be at the event, I am a genealogy buff, so I would love to chat family history!

I will be leaving in a bit of a haste later in the afternoon to join in the celebration of the marriage of my wonderful cousin Kelsey to her fiancee, Johnny. That’s going to be blast, and I send my early congratulations out to this fine couple!

Mapping and Rendering Cemeteries with LibreCAD and Blender

August 23, 2014

BlenderGravesWhile on unintentional hiatus from my 52 Ancestors Challenge, I’ve discovered two fabulous software packages that might make my family history research a little more colorful: LibreCAD and Blender. These dicoveries came about last week as I fulfilled some Find-A-Grave photo requests at a tiny little hideaway called the Cheltenham Methodist Episcopal Churchyard. Of twenty-five photo outstanding requests, I managed to fulfill only three, and this is almost certainly due to the other other stones either not existing or being totally illegible. I thought I might do each photo requester a favor by mapping the locations of all the stones on this small patch of land and what inscriptions, if any, remained legible upon them. That way, each requester could rest assured that their requests had been fulfilled as well as can be.


The Rowland, Woodhead, and Miller lots at the Cheltenham ME Churchyard, mapped using LibreCAD.

My first instinct was to use a CAD program to draw the map. There are several free CAD programs for Linux. I went with LibreCAD because I read that it is among the more popular. It worked really well for it’s intended purpose, which is to make 2D precision drawings. Basically, you bring your measuring tape out to the burial site, measure the sizes and distances of things, and then draw what you see. Of course, you may add legends and labels to your drawing.

Satisfied with the initial result, I investigated the next logical step: turn a 2D drawing into a 3D rendering that would simulate the feel of being physically present ant the cemetery. For practice, I started with my family’s lot at Holy Sepulchre cemetery in Cheltenham. I started by mapping a portion of it with LibreCAD. I then managed to import the CAD drawing into Blender, the free 3D rendering program. From there, I built up gravestone monuments from imported photographs.

The Blender program is very powerful and has a steep learning curve (but see this). I would not recommend it for computer beginners, but upon asking the Googles a few thoughtfully worded questions and watching a few thoughtfully crafted YouTube videos, I was delighted with what I was able to produce upon three afternoons of tinkering. The sample above looks pretty decent to me, but there is so much left to learn. Eventually I would like to complete the scene with computer generated grass and a clear blue sky.

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Once I master that, I would like to create navigable 3D renderings of cemetery plots or even small cemeteries, like the Cheltenham Methodist Episcopal Churchyard. I could make these available to the public through online platforms such as Second Life. I recall once strolling through a replica of an old Scottish cemetery on Second Life, but I have been unable to find in upon recent searches. The most visible and popular cemetery now on Second Life is the Second Afterlife virtual cemetery, featured in the video below. This virtual cemetery memorializes both real life people and the virtual passings of online personalities. Users pay a fee to rent virtual plots using Second Life’s virtual currency. Once paid the users are free to design their own memorials. Another well crafted Second Life virtual cemetery is the Peace Valley Pet Cemetery.


Technologically speaking, there is nothing to prevent moderately skilled computer users from using software such as Blender and Second Life to contribute to the building of virtual replicas of actual cemeteries and putting them on line for the world to browse. This could be the model of the Find-A-Grave of the future. One needs not be an expert Pixar animator to start building 3D models from cemetery photos. So—what are you waiting for?

Moderate Alteration: Bringing Out Faded Lettering

August 14, 2014


I’d file this Find-A-Grave experiment under Moderate Alterations. The first priority here was to make the writing on this weathered gravestone legible. The second priority was to make it so that a person unfamiliar with the original photo would not realize that it had been modified. The last priority was staying true to the original image. As you can see, I’ve tampered with the stone’s color. I think the experiment was moderately successful. Do you? Your mileage may vary. See Mr. Malady’s Find-A-Grave memorialValue: $20.

52 Ancestors, No. 29: John Corr, Self-made Business Man

July 23, 2014


Unknown hands labelled the back of this photo with a question: Who is this? I found it among my grandfather’s old pictures. He kept it, along with other various treasures, in a tin box that was separate from the other photos in his closet. When I asked the same question to my grandfather, he answered without hesitation: “That’s my grandfather. That’s John Corr.”  Read more…

52 Ancestors, No. 28: The Unmistakable Bertha Balmer

July 16, 2014


I liked this picture so much that I put it on my first business card back in 2012. This is the Balmer family, circa 1898. The woman standing at right is Bertha, the subject of today’s episode of 52 Ancestors. She was my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother—my great-great-grandmother, that is—and she’s unmistakable.  Read more…


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