Genealogists often save digital images of old records. They might embed the images into genealogy program(s) or as separate files in a folder someplace on their hard drive(s) or in the cloud.
Today’s flatbed scanners generally cost $50 or so for basic scanners or as much as $600 or $700 (US) for the fancier models with lots of features. In the past few years, many genealogists have also learned to use their cell phones with high-resolution cameras as substitute scanners.
NOTE: For my earlier articles about using cameras as scanners, start at: https://duckduckgo.com/?ratb=c&q=site%3Aeogn.com+camera+scanner&t=brave&ia=web.
However, a bigger and often more expensive challenge is to convert the words printed in a digital image into computer text that can be imported into genealogy programs, word processors, or other applications. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software can accomplish that but the higher-quality OCR applications tend to be expensive and require a considerable amount of computing power to produce accurate results.
Indeed, there is a better and inexpensive solution: use Google’s high-powered servers in dozens of data centers around the world to convert digital images into text for you.
In fact, you probably have that capability today if you already have Google Drive installed on your Windows, Macintosh, Chromebook, Linux, iPhone, or Android system. (Google Drive is pre-installed on most Android and Chromebook systems and is available for installing as a free app for almost all other operating systems.) Best of all, the OCR capability of Google Drive is available FREE of charge.
Quoting an article by Sydney Butler in the 9to5Google web site:
“Unless you have huge pockets, chances are that there’s no document scanner on you most of the time. However, plenty of people have figured out that they can simply take a picture of any document with their smartphone. That’s a smart idea, but the Google Drive app actually has a supercharged camera-based scanning function that takes this simple trick to the next level. Let’s learn how to scan documents to Google Drive.
“Using the document-scanning function in the Google Drive app has more than a few advantages over simply opening up your camera app and snapping a picture of a document. Google has built image processing intelligence into their software that can instantly format the picture into something pretty close to a proper flatbed scan.
“Even better, any scans you make are automatically stored in your Google Drive, which makes this a perfect tool to rapidly scan documents in libraries, government offices or at the lawyer’s office. The scanning function also allows you to create multi-page PDF files from your scans on the fly. Sold yet? Then it’s time to take this neat Google Drive trick for a spin.”
The article then provides step-by-step instructions on how to scan documents with Google Drive:
- Install the Google Drive app
- Click the “plus” icon
- Tap “scan”
- Edit your scan
- That’s it!
There’s many more details available, including how to edit your scan, at https://9to5google.com/2019/11/06/how-to-quickly-scan-documents-with-the-google-drive-app/. However, that article focuses primarily on how to create a high-quality scanned image. For information about using the OCR capabilities, see: How to OCR Documents for Free in Google Drive by by Rebecca Tarnopol at https://business.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-ocr-documents-for-free-in-google-drive–cms-20460.
You might want to read both articles to learn how to easily add OCR text conversion to your present genealogy research tools.
Please keep three things in mind:
- The higher the resolution of the original image, the more accurate the OCR results will be. Most of today’s cell phones include 8-megapixel or higher resolution cameras. That will be sufficient for most applications if the printed text is clear, the image is sharp, and if proper lighting was available when the image was digitized. Older cameras, fuzzy images, or images with low contrast will not work as well.
- OCR software doesn’t work very well on hand-written text. That is not a limitation of Google Drive’s software. Instead, it is a technical limitation of all of today’s OCR products.
- This process is not limited to OCR conversion of photographs that you take. Google Drive’s OCR conversion also works well on clear digital images you received in email messages, saved from web sites, or obtained from most anyplace else. Simply save the image to Google Drive and follow the instructions available at: How to OCR Documents for Free in Google Drive by by Rebecca Tarnopol at https://business.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-ocr-documents-for-free-in-google-drive–cms-20460.