This is about as close to magic as I can imagine. Picture in your mind original census pages that have faded so badly that the enumerators' handwriting is no longer visible. I am not talking about ink that has faded a bit. In this case, the ink is gone, not even visible on the page. All you can see is the page as it was printed and given to the enumerators (census takers) with the pre-printed text and boxes. These pages look as if they were never filled out, and yet you know they were.
Now, add in a mix of digital photography and different lights. Shake well with some computer enhancements. The result? Readable images!
If this isn't magic, I don't know what is.
Jack Reese at The Generations Network started working through the 1851 Manchester, England, census. He kept finding himself staring at a bunch of nothing. Ink had faded. Water damage left mold that was eating away at what was left of the paper. Some pages were just fragments. Others? Completely blank.
For Jack, it was a fun problem. After all, he is an engineer with two areas of special expertise: computer imaging and family history.
He started with a Nikon digital camera, disassembled it, replaced filters, and added specialized lenses. Next he built a box, “a complete light-controlled enclosure that we could house our custom lights and camera in.” He then used a mix of light sources: infrared, ultraviolet, fluorescent, incandescent, and more.
You can see magician Jack's results on the Ancestry Magazine's web site at http://www.ancestrymagazine.com/2009/04/genea-Logic/preserving-genealogical-records.
The site includes sample before-and-after images of the pages. The results are amazing.
For the next few months, the camera will prove its mettle at The National Archives in London, capturing images of that 1851 Manchester census. Once snapped, keyed, and indexed, pages containing some 200,000+ names that might have been lost will be available at your fingertips on Ancestry.com.