Digitizing Family History

I have been a fan of ScanSnap since I bought my first one in college along with the first generation Kindle. I cut off the bindings of all my books and used my trusty ScanSnap S510 to scan and transfer them all to the Kindle my senior year. It was incredibly freeing having everything I needed for all my classes and research available at all times thanks to the ScanSnap. I was able to use that scanner for over a decade, and with the exception of software no longer being readily available for it on modern operating systems, it still works flawlessly — a testament to the quality of the hardware.

The easy ability to scan and digitally have everything is even easier now. I recently received two new scanners to replace my old one: ScanSnap iX1500 and ScanSnap iX100.

For a few years I’ve been holding onto a massive cache of family letters between my grandfather, his parents, and his brothers during his college years and his time in the service during WWII. I have always meant to scan them so that I could share these letters with my family and ensure that I have them for years to come. I never got around to it with my old scanner because it was sometimes slow, didn’t really handle old delicate airmail paper very well, and the aforementioned lack of modern software. That has all changed with the new scanners, and I’m happy to say I finally have all the letters, postcards, and photographs scanned and organized all within two afternoons.

Along with being super portable (I take it on every single work trip to log my expenses), the iX100 is a perfect machine for some of the extremely delicate airmail papers that I needed to scan. Its manual feed handled 75-year-old papers without any problems, jams, or rips. And the image quality that comes from it is exactly what I’ve come to expect from the ScanSnap line: absolutely perfect. (I admit, I briefly dabbled with a competitor’s portable scanner to try to save $50, and it was horrible. Clunky software and unreliable image quality. It was also about twice the size of the iX100 and didn’t include a battery.)

For letters on slightly more rugged paper, as well as photographs and postcards, the automatic feeder and duplex scanning abilities of the iX1500 make fast work of any scanning task, especially for digitizing old family records. I primarily used my iX1500 for this project and it too was a flawless experience. With old documents like this, there is a lot of dust and debris that can pile up. One of the best features of the iX1500 is its ability to detect when a streak might occur and/or when the scanning surfaces need to be cleaned. This ensured that every single one of the items I scanned are perfect. The addition of ScanSnap Home and its ability to auto-name files based on the content of the scanned document is nothing short of magic. While many of these letters were handwritten, about half were typed and the modern ScanSnap was able to automatically name and sort them using my preferred file naming conventions based on the date they were initially written. For the ones that couldn’t be automatically named, the software was still able to automatically sort and tag all the documents and it was trivially easy to rename the ones that needed it.

It is so nice to finally have this project completed thanks in no small part due to the advances of ScanSnap over the past decade. The combination of new hardware and software is incredibly powerful and helps me stay productive, even when working on fun side projects like this one. Now comes the fun part of sharing these cherished letters with my family, especially my young cousins who never got to meet my grandfather and now can get to know him through his own words.

About the Author: David Jones

David is a Creative Director in the federal healthcare sector, and has been a graphic designer active in the government design community for over a decade. He specializes in publication design and brand identity management, and also manages the social media program of a nationwide healthcare organization.