Southern California Genealogical Society
SCGS RESEARCH ASSISTANCE - Articles

Telling Your Family Stories with Photos
By Bill Luther

Enough of this book learning, film reading, internet searching, transcribing, and oh-so-infamous drudgery of data entry! It is time to get physical! If a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s go take some pictures! These were the thoughts running through my head when I made the decision to visit England, the home of my maternal grandparents.

The two families (Kershaws and Fidlers) hailed from areas no more than 30-40 miles apart, making my task easier. With the help of fellow researchers in England, I developed a plan and a rough itinerary. I also researched and purchased new digital camera to document the trip.

On September 17, 2004 my adult son, William, and I embarked from LAX bound for Manchester, England. He was my navigator, co-driver, and fellow cemetery searcher.

We arrived in Manchester about 8:15 a.m. It was raining. We picked up the car and headed 30 miles south to Derbyshire and a Bed and Breakfast (working sheep farm) in Castleton.

Nothing can top the excitement (anxiety) of driving in a foreign country on the wrong side of the street in the rain while shifting with your left hand and dodging cars on a roadway the width of my driveway. The word roundabout takes on new meaning. If you miss the sign and your turnoff, you just keep going roundabout until you get it right.

Signs were almost nonexistent but we managed to make it to Castleton, a small village nestled in a valley with emerald green fields. The colors were so vivid, I was later accused of enhancing my photo’s (I did not).

I could go on and on about the trip but, that is for another story. The purpose of the trip was to create a photo documentary. I am one of the unfortunate ones. I do not have any photos beyond my grandparents. During my research, I discovered who my ancestors were and when they lived. It was the how they lived that I was missing. My being there and documenting the how in the form of photos helped me fill in some of the gaps. Imagination has to replace the time factor.

My pictures included the traditional church and cemetery photos where families were baptized, married, and in some cases, buried; the row houses and farm country where some lived; and the quarries, mills, and mines where they toiled for a living. But they also included the local butcher shop (run by a probable cousin), the river and parks where they may have spent what leisure time they had. Of course there were also a few Pub photos.

There is a family story about my great grandmother being raised by her grandmother over a Pub in England. The Pub was the Swan Inn in Chapel en le Frith. It is no longer there but the Roebuck which was a few doors away is still there, as well as the building that was the Swan Inn.

The church was less than half a block away at the end of the street. A caretaker at the church informed me that several of the Hibberts were former bell ringers at the church. A photo of the plaque attests to that fact (likely cousins). Through these photos, I was able to weave a pictorial tapestry of how, and physically where, my ancestors lived.

Once the photos were taken and the trip was over, the next step was to work on presentation so that I, and others, could enjoy the results of my research.

Thanks to today’s technology and Canon (camera) and Epson (printer), I am able to print photos with commentary in the margins. Photo stitching was almost impossible in the past without professional equipment. Today it requires a few simple mouse clicks with the proper software (provided by Canon with the camera).

Whenever I encountered anything too large to get in a single photo, I simply took more photos in sequence making sure I had at least a 20% overlap. The Canon software will “stitch” the photos together as long as the minimum 20% overlap is adhered to. This is not a simple cut and paste but a blending of the photos correcting any angular dissimilarity (parallax error). Moving the camera as you shoot the pictures also helps to reduce the error. It is impossible to detect the seams in the finished product.

My Canon camera can easily be carried in a shirt pocket yet is a 5.2 mega pixel camera, which means it can take very clear pictures for print formats as large as 11 x14. All my pictures were taken in the largest format at the highest definition. I downloaded them daily to my laptop. Today’s storage chips with capacities in excess of 1 gigabyte make downloading unnecessary. The large format allowed me to cut or edit the photos and still provides a quality 4x6 or 8x10 without electronically blowing things up which tends to lose detail.

My Epson printer will print 8 1/2 by 23 1/2 photos. Epson also sells high gloss photo paper in an 8.8” x 32’ roll. This is great for printing panoramas. One of the churches I wanted to take pictures of was high on a hill overlooking Ramsbottom. After parking the car, I began to walk to the church. I could not believe the vista that lay before me. It encompassed the entire valley and beyond. I stood very still and took four overlapping photos. I stitched those four photos together and printed an 8” x 23” mural on glossy paper. It is breathtaking and the clarity is unbelievable. That one photo contains the city of Ramsbottom, the farmland of Bank Lane, the village of Shuttleworth, which includes the wooded area of the church and cemetery and the rock quarry. My ancestors were a part of every bit of it. Off in the distance is the city of Bury where many were married and baptized in the parish church. I printed a copy for a cousin in Massachusetts. I included commentary in the various areas of importance. I also put a small photo album together for her (pictures with commentary on the bottom). She was thrilled; she commented that it was as if she had taken the trip herself. I had achieved my goal. I had told a story, and I had done it with pictures. After all, as genealogists, that is what we do.

NOTE: Other tidbits that may be added. Need to figure out where.

Photos provide a sense of being there and play a big part of my family history, like the tombstones that contain a micro history of the family. Such is the case with William Kershaw my 4ggrandfather whose tombstone reads;

View the photos.

In remembrance of William Kershaw of Bank Lane, Walmersley who died April 23rd 1857 in his 49th year.

“This winter of trouble is Past

The storms of afflictions are o`er

The struggle is ended at last

And sorrow and death are no more”

Also James son of William and Betty Kershaw who died January 21st 1864 aged 25

Also Thomas their son who died March, 27th 1864 aged 15

Also Elizabeth their daughter who died March 29th 1864 aged 17

Also Ann Kershaw their daughter who died February 11th 1867 aged 17

Those words are carved in a flat stone and are as vivid today as the day they were carved.

Only mom (Betty) and two sons survived that period. That one photo provides information that could take hours of standard research.


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