Offline Research

My dad’s ancestors are all from the US, Canada, and the UK so researching their families online has been pretty easy. My mom, however, is from Italy where not as many records have been made available online. Some of the larger Italian cities can be found on Familysearch or Antenati, but my grandparents are both from small towns where nothing has yet been digitized.

My maternal grandmother is from Entracque, a tiny town in the French Alps with a population of about 800 people.  Current government records are kept in a nearby city, but all of the historic genealogical records, some dating back to the 1400s, can only be found in the local church.

My grandpa looking through old church record books

My grandparents have been trying to research their genealogy for decades by visiting the church and requesting to look through their books, but looking up each individual is very time-consuming and too many visits can become an annoyance to the local priest. When my mom decided to go visit last summer, we came up with a plan to digitize the church records so that our family history research could instead be done from home.

Nonno and priest
My grandpa looking through records with the local priest

We researched many different scanners but couldn’t find one that really fit our needs. Flatbed scanners would require turning the book face-down over and over with each page flip, so that wasn’t going to work. I love my Flip-Pal scanner, but it only scans 4″x6″ images so digitally stitching together each page from multiple scans would have been a nightmare. A wand scanner could have worked for some books, but many were wider than the wand and would have required multiple scans for each page.

My dad ended up creating his own “scanner” using a cellphone to capture the images. He purchased a Selfie Stick and attached it to a boom microphone stand so that the phone could be positioned directly above the table and the image could easily be captured by pressing the button of the Selfie Stick. (An even easier alternative that we have since discovered would be to purchase a phone mount that easily attaches to the boom microphone stand and then use a Joby bluetooth remote to control your phone’s camera). Using this process, my mom was able to digitize thousands of pages of birth, marriage, death, and local census records in a matter of days.

Digitized birth record

On the next trip, we improved upon this method by creating a stand out of pvc pipes that could be set on the table above the books. We used the same phone mount and the Joby bluetooth remote.

pvc tabletop phone mount
PVC tabletop phone mount

Once these records were digitized, we were then faced with the challenge of searching through the thousands of digital images. They have been organized electronically into folders according to the record book they were captured from, but it is still difficult to find specific records.

To solve this problem, my mom has taken on the daunting task of indexing each record. For each record book she has created an excel file with headings relating to the info found in those records. She then used speech recognition software to enter the data into excel from the records.

Birth record column headings: Surname, Given name, Gender, Birthday, Father’s given name, Mother’s maiden name, Mother’s given name, Mother’s father, Page number

This is an ongoing project that will require quite a bit of time, but it has already paid off. Once a record book has been transcribed into excel, I can sort the spreadsheet by parent names and easily see family units! I can also perform searches for specific names without needing to examine the images page by page.

spreadsheet families
Family units discovered through sorting spreadsheet

Using this process we have been discovering and adding new individuals every day to our Ancestry and Familysearch trees along with the source info and record images.