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Getting Ready for Ancestry Day 2015

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Ancestry Day is this week (on November 6th and 7th) and lots of people are coming! I know some will come to the State Archives of North Carolina and the Government & Heritage Library,  (GHL) so here is some information to help you prepare. This post will be a bit long and a mixture of links to past posts and other online sources as well as information.

Let’s start with the difference between the State Archives of North Carolina  and the Government & Heritage Library. In summary, the Archives contains original documents such as deeds, wills, and court records. On the other hand, the GHL has published books, many of which are abstracts, indexes, and transcriptions of the original records located in the Archives. These are especially helpful with court minutes and deed books which have no easy way to go through them other than page by page. Learn more about the difference here.

You also need to know what to bring (or not bring) to the GHL and the Archives when you research. Biggest MUST is photo ID – either your driver’s license or state issued ID. You can’t get in the building without it. Also, if you plan to visit the Archives, you need ID to get in the search room. Learn more here


Free Genealogy Workshop: Using Private Collections for Genealogical Research

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Using Private Collections for Genealogical Research

August 22, 2015, 10-11a.m.

Join us for a free genealogy workshop presented by the North Carolina Government and Heritage Library and the State Archives of North Carolina.

Bullard Family Bible Records

Hand drawn family tree, Bullard Family Bible Records, State Archives of North Carolina.

Materials such as family papers, church and organizational records can be valuable resources when conducting genealogical research. Join us as we discuss private collections, what kinds of information you can find and the holdings of the North Carolina Government and Heritage Library and State Archives of North Carolina.

Program will be held at the Archives/State Library Building
109 E. Jones Street, Raleigh, North Carolina.

To register or for more information please call (919)807-7450 or email

Announcing RootsMOOC: Free Online Genealogy Course

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RootsMOOC is a free, open, online course and a friendly introduction to family history research in the U.S. using commonly available sources. The staff at the State Library of North Carolina’s Government and Heritage Library will help you learn about the most useful sources, tools, and techniques for getting your research off the ground. By the time you’re finished with this course, you’ll have a good start on your own genealogy research and you will know how and where to keep digging.

Participants in this course will have the opportunity to complete an ancestor chart, conduct interviews with family members, and share their own research progress with fellow participants. You’ll be challenged to go beyond the sources that are available online, identify local genealogy societies and libraries in your area, and connect with experts who can help you wherever your search takes you.

This project created by Wake Forest University’s Z. Smith Reynolds Library and the State Library of North Carolina and was made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services(more…)

How to digitize your photo negatives: Interview with Mathew Waehner

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Mathew Waehner, head of the State Archives of North Carolina Photography Lab, scanning negatives on a special scanner.

Mathew Waehner, head of the State Archives of North Carolina Photography Lab, scanning negatives on a special scanner that uses a light to shine through the film.

October is doubly honored this year, being both Family History Month and Archives Month, and we’ve been thrilled to see so much buzz about preserving family history! One of the most common types of questions we see is how to digitize family materials, especially photos. In anticipation of this Saturday’s free Family History Fair in Raleigh, I sat down with Mathew Waehner, head of the State Archives’ Photography Lab, to talk about the ins and outs of digitizing photo negatives, and why someone might want to digitize a negative instead of its corresponding photo print. 

You been scanning photo negatives for the State Archives for a while, right?

Matt: Yes, I’ve been with the State Archives for nine years, film digitization is the number one thing I’ve done.  I’ve scanned over 100,000 historic negatives!

Lots of people are using their home scanner to digitize their old family photos and put them online. Can they also digitize negatives at home?

Matt: It is certainly possible to digitize negatives at home, but most scanners can’t handle negatives at all, and there are some really bad negative scanners at the low end of the price range  (there might be some good ones too).  A film scanner is a significant investment, and scanning film takes more time than prints.

What kind of special equipment do they need?

Matt: The main piece of special equipment needed is a film scanner!  Look for one that has an optical resolution over 2000 DPI, preferably around 4000. This is important because film contains microscopic detail, it is designed to be enlarged.  Scanners may advertise a “maximum resolution” higher than the optical resolution, but that is just extra data interpolated out of the optical resolution — in other words, the scanner makes up detail that it can’t see in order to reach its advertised maximum resolution. (High resolution is not important for print scanning, most prints don’t have much detail beyond what is visible to the naked eye.)

Also, look at the Maximum density or DMax of the scanner — a good scanner has a max density around 4, 3 is decent, and poor quality scanners don’t list any at all.  This is a measure of how dark of a negative the device can read.  Every print has a limited range of tones between white and black, but because negatives are designed to have light projected through them, they have a larger range of tones between white and black.  Originally, negatives were adjusted during printing, but now we do it digitally, and a scanner with a larger dynamic range enables much more adjustment.

Also, you will need gloves (cotton or nitrile), because touching negatives with fingers can cause permanent damage.

What difference in quality should they expect when scanning negatives vs. photo prints?

Matt: If you have a quality scanner, scanning negatives can always produce better results than scanning prints, as the negative is the original recording of the image.  The results can be better both in terms of detail and sharpness, and the negative also offers more room for adjustment of contrast and color.  Also, archival sleeves to house the negatives are a great idea. Other plastic sleeves aren’t bad but they will eventually degrade and stick to the film.  Glassine paper is acidic, so it should be replaced, or at least separated from the film.

Most people probably have 35 mm film at home, but what about people with other still-photography film formats?

Historic film negative formats

Historic film formats. Image source:

Matt: Yes, 35mm film was pretty standard for consumers starting in the 1960s, but there are many other sizes and shapes of film.  For one thing, slides and transparencies were very common for vacation photos and also for commercial use.  Most 35mm scanners can handle mounted slides.  In the middle of the twentieth century 2.25 inch roll film was common, it persisted longer in professional applications. The length of the dimensions of the exposure on the negative could vary.  Sheet film was common in the early part of the twentieth century, it can record an extremely high amount of detail.  You should check your collection before acquiring a scanner, if possible, to determine which type of scanner you need.

Do you have any tips for working with old or brittle negatives?

Roy Boshi, Photographic glass negative of a horse and carriage. Maybe a Collodion negative

Glass plate negative. Image source: Roy Boshi, Wikimedia Commons

Matt: Old film does need to be handled with care, but consider how much use it is if it isn’t scanned or printed somehow.  Best practice is usually to scan it at high resolution once at high enough resolution that it won’t need to be scanned again.  If you are working with glass plate negatives, brush dust off of them before scanning- they often have tiny sharp fragments of other negatives on them that can scratch film and damage your scanner.  You may encounter film that is bubbled or warped (google “Vinegar syndrome” for pictures), it scans surprisingly well.

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