Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Shoebox from Ancestry

Shoebox from AncestryI had a chance to try out Ancestry.com's new mobile phone app, Shoebox from Ancestry. You may recall Ancestry.com bought 1000memories last year. This app is the result of that technology acquisition.

I'm not a fan of using a cell phone as a scanner, but thought I would give Shoebox a fair chance. While I had already posted my valuable photographs to my Ancestry.com Member Tree, it seemed reasonable to use it to capture images of manuscripts. Not all archives are scanner friendly so using a camera is a good alternative. Shoebox uploads images directly to Ancestry Member Trees, making it doubly attractive as an in-archive solution.

For comparison I used my simple consumer point-and-shoot camera, a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W530. It is a 14.1 MP digital camera released in 2011.

One nice thing about the U.S. National Archives reading room in Washington is the copy stands for taking pictures of documents. These make it easy to line up a camera directly above a document while evenly illuminating it with two obliquely mounted lights. You use the tripod socket to mount and align the camera. A grid allows adjustment of the camera to avoid perspective distortion. Pages in a document or items in a packet can be photographed in rapid succession. With my familial tremors, a copy stand or tripod is an absolute requirement (or a trustee assistant). To review the Shoebox app I interrupted my regular shots to take a few extra photos with my iPhone.

Ancestry Shoebox photo croppingAfter downloading the app I was prompted to log into my Ancestry.com account. Users without an account can sign up for one for free. As does Ancestry.com’s website, the app allows creation of member trees for no charge. The iPhone is not equipped with a tripod mount, but I was able to rest it on top of my Sony, with the iPhone lens poking out over one side.

I aligned the document and pressed the shutter button (the usual camera icon).

Shoebox presented an opportunity to "crop" the photograph or rotate it. Crop the photo by aligning the four corners of a box with the four corners of the document. A magnifying glass allowed precise alignment. Under the covers, the operation is more sophisticated than a mere crop, as alignment of the four corners corrects perspective distortion.

Trying to align the bottom left corner turned off the dashed lines and I thought I had missed my opportunity. I went on to subsequent steps,not realizing i had touched the Align button and touching it again would allow completion of the cropping step.

Clicking Next presents four additional options: People, Date, Location, and Description.

Ancestry Shoebox add details  2013-07-10 09.43.54  Ancestry Shoebox specify location 

The People option allowed me to tag references to people in the document. This automatically attaches the document to them in a Member Tree. If multiple ancestors were mentioned in the doc, I could have tagged all of them.

The Date option gave me the opportunity to associate a date with the document. I usually specify the date of the documented event rather than the date the document was created, but I'm not entirely consistent.

The Location option allowed me to associate the photograph with a particular location. I was in a hurry to get to the next document so I didn't avail myself of that opportunity.

Ancestry Shoebox add descriptionLastly, I added a description of the document. I clicked Save and Shoebox immediately uploaded it to my Member tree. The upload was not instantaneous, of course, but still interrupted my rapid fire work flow. As might be expected, Shoebox also stored a copy with the rest of my photos on my camera.

After returning to my hotel, I went through the normal process of transferring the photos from my Sony to my laptop. Then I went through and changed file names, adding necessary descriptions and meta data. After returning home I would upload them to my Member tree to associated individuals, adding titles and descriptions and transcriptions.

The Shoebox photos, on the other hand, were already in my tree, attached to the subject individuals. The Description assigned in Shoebox was the Title of the photo on Ancestry.com. After returning home I would add the transcription.

Next time I’ll compare the quality of the photographs.


  1. Hi all!

    Recently I bought Samsung Galaxy Pocket cell phone with Android version 2.3.6.

    On Shoebox app page on GooglePlay it says that app requires Android version 2.3 and up (mine is up - 2.3.6). It also says

    This app is incompatible with your device.

    I don't know why, previously I downloaded and installed Ancestry app and it works just fine for me.

    Sincerely yours,

    Fr. Ivan Delic


  2. My phone is a sony c1505 with android 4.1.1 and I also get the incompatible message! I have the Ancestry app.

  3. This app will not let you delete the photo/document from your mobile device, without deleting it from your tree. This is using up a lot of room on my tablet. There should be a way to delete from your device, while allowing the photo/document to remain in your tree.

  4. This app will not let you delete the documents/photos from your device, without deleting from your tree. There should be information provided telling you this, or the app should be updated to include an option that allows you to delete from your device without deleting from your tree. This takes up a lot of room on my device because I cannot delete.


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