A Global Pandemic is a Great Time to Expand your Skillset

By Julia Morse

Use the slider bar to view the photo before and after digital repair using free GIMP image editing software.
The scene is Windsor, Missouri crossroads, probably a turkey or ham giveaway, latter 1940’s. Buildings from left to right are the Western Auto, Law Produce (white awning), Farmer’s Produce (dark awning), R. H. Rodger’s Lumber, Mobile Gas Station.

Life during COVID-19 times has pushed most of us to change-up how we do things in small and large ways.  Developing new skills comes with the territory.  We have installed aps for grocery pickup and delivery or used video conferencing for the first time just to see our loved ones or to attend church, work, or school.  For some, being stuck socially-distanced at home has opened up free time to explore new activities, while for others, the push to carry on our work and community engagements in new ways has forced us to learn new technologies.

As a university instructor adapting my instruction to a socially-distanced environment, I have been pushing my technical adoption to foster better online experiences for my students.  Before COVID-19, I had participated in Zoom videoconferences a few times, but now I had to learn how to set up and manage the online meetings myself.  As my experience progressed, I explored expanded options for engaging the students, such as setting up “breakout rooms” for students to leave the main conference for small-group discussions, or finding new ways to use the “chat” feature to log student participation for attendance and scoring. 

My teaching material development has also pushed my tech adoption.  I teach technical drawing, which includes hand-sketching, so I needed to purchase and set up an overhead camera that I could use to demonstrate techniques during videoconference sessions or on video-recorded help sessions made from home. 

In truth, for over a decade I had dreamed of putting much of my teaching into videos that my students could consult on an as-needed basis, but this had been a wish that had sat on my proverbial shelf collecting dust, waiting for the day it would take priority.  In 2020, the priority is here, and I have finally been learning how to use the video-editing software.

As computer genealogists, we continually expand our computer-related skillset.  Much of this has to do with knowledge of resources and search techniques, but also the software and paper record-keeping methods we adopt to organize, preserve, and pass on the stories and data we discover.  None of us are new to picking up new skills. 

I have been marveling at how easy it has become to learn new technology, mostly thanks to the plethora of quick-start demonstrations, tutorials, and software and product reviews available on Youtube.  The same is becoming true for genealogy techniques.  Is there an area of your genealogy journey that has gotten stuck?  Someone has probably addressed it on a video.  Just start typing in “genealogy” and some other key word into the Youtube search engine.  

Sometimes we know what we want to learn and can search directly.  Other times we learn from others who introduce us to the possibilities.  In my teaching, I hear other colleagues talking about something they are doing, or see them demonstrate it in a meeting.  When I discover YouTube presenters teaching one thing I am interested in, I usually also explore their other content to see what else they are suggesting.  For family research in particular, it is useful to watch for general topics and techniques others are finding useful.

One thing that I have wanted to do to improve my family history collection was to learn improved techniques for digitally restoring the old historic photos.  I have sparingly used free GIMP photo-editing software for work, and over many years developed my own methods for cleaning up historic family photos.  However, my crude self-developed methods have been intensely time-consuming and produced results that were not as polished as desired.  They also were extremely limited for large photo defects such as rips, tears, and stains.  I have long known that the software was more powerful and that if I took the time, I could more deeply learn the software and specific techniques. 

This past weekend the time had come:  My mother had a need for a historic photo repair to support a feature article she was writing for her local newspaper.  The photo was key to her story about a local landmark building—the Windsor, Missouri Western Auto Building that is now slated for demolition.  We had a beautiful 1940’s photograph of a community event that showed the building and its neighboring businesses–beautiful except for the fact that it had a huge rip down the center! 

I studied the videos on photo restoration techniques.  It took a little time and some note-taking.  As I executed the processes on the scan of our torn photo, I ended up going back to a couple of videos to double check how they were handling certain features, and even consulted another video for more detail when a supporting technique became problematic.

Like many skills, photo editing is not learned in one day, but rather a little at a time.  Sometimes you discover techniques and software features that are groundbreaking.  Other times you are learning small steps to keep you improving along the way. 

Our computer genealogy journey is similar.  We learn some groundbreaking techniques at times, but at other times we move along with incremental discoveries and adjustments. 

In this case, the new techniques I applied yielded an amazingly restored photograph.  It is not professional perfect, but highly acceptable for the need. Windsor Historical Society has a great image of the historical city scene, and I have a new skill added to my family history archiving repertoire. 

Whatever these unique times are bringing to your life, I encourage you to look for small opportunities to learn the small or large things that keep you moving on your family history goals.

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