Friday, September 6, 2013

Plugging in Photos and Stories to FamilySearch Family Tree

At the 2013 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy, Tim Cross of FamilySearch presented a session titled “Plugging in Photos and Stories to FamilySearch Family Tree.” Cross has worked as a Product Manager for FamilySearch for 9 years. Prior to working for FamilySearch, he worked in the computer industry for Price Waterhouse, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Novell. He is currently responsible for FamilySearch Photos and Stories.

Doing photos and stories at FamilySearch has always been his passion, said Cross. That passion started about a year into his nine years at FamilySearch.

Why has it taken so long to get FamilySearch to support photos? FamilySearch has been concerned about maintaining a high standard of appropriateness. Photos are not immediately available when uploaded. They are screened about seven times by two different groups for different purposes. Photos are checked for pornography, modesty, vulgarity, violence, mutilation, illegal stuff, and swimsuits. When they started getting neck to ankle historic swimsuits, they started accepting some. Screening takes between two to five minutes, then uploaded images are visible to the public. The screening is contracted out to a third party and the results are spot-checked by missionaries. If you upload a photograph and it is rejected when you think it is OK, contact support and have them recheck the photograph.

When you come to and you are not logged in, scroll down a little to see several sample photos. These are changed about twice a week. As I wrote this, they had a bicycle theme:

Scroll down the page when not logged in to see several recently uploaded photos

Cross said he loves horses and he highlighted them so often, coworkers were complaining. The photos differ according to your language, reflecting different cultures.

He loves to look through new uploads and create photo albums of interesting ones.

On one occasion he came across the Photo and Story page of little Grace Elizabeth Warnack. They tell the touching story of a family that lost a dear child before her birth. Cross said there is great power in knowing that these photographs and stories will be preserved forever.

She Was Not HappyOn another occasion he came across a photo of the Henson Cole Whitlock family. The mother in the photograph is obviously miffed. The caption gives the explanation. “Martha dressed the kids and told Hence to watch them while she got ready for [the] photo. He let them get wet in the creek and so they had on no shoes and socks. She was not happy.”

One of the core goals of the Photos and Stories section of was that the photos and stories be visible to the general public without the need to register or sign in. When trying to engage a new person in family history, these are barriers that often drive someone away before they become engaged in their family history.

For that reason, the Photos and Stories section of can have People pages that are separate and distinct from Family Tree Person pages. While Family Tree Person pages require registration and login, Photos and Stories pages are visible to anyone and everyone. These are easily shared via email or popular social media sites.

There is a basic, four-step process for utilizing the photos section on

1. Digitize your photos.

Use JPEG or PNG and a file size less than 5 megabytes. FamilySearch is considering adding other types and increasing the file size to 10 or 15 megabytes. The length of stories is limited to about the equivalent of a 100 page book.

2. Upload the photos.

Photos have an expiration date, so to speak. It might be a fire. It might be a flood. FamilySearch will preserve forever photographs you upload. You can upload 50 photographs at a time and have a maximum of 5,000 photographs.

Click on Photos at the top of the page, then click on My Photos, and then the plus sign labeled Upload. That opens up another plus sign. Drag and drop the photographs onto the plus sign, or click the plus sign for a regular Open File dialog box.

Click here, here, here, and here to upload photos

Remember that is a family-oriented site, every photo is reviewed, and every photo is public. Avoid duplicating photos. While FamilySearch check’s for exact duplicates, it can only detect file copies, not separate scans of the same photograph.

3. Tag people in the photographs.

Tagging the people in a photo is simply identifying them. Tagging also has an expiration date. Those who can identify the people in a photograph age and pass away.

After uploading, click on the first photograph to go to the Photo page. Click on the center of each face in the photograph. Resize and drag the circle to frame the face. Then type in the person’s name. The name you use doesn’t matter. It can be anything you want—just use it consistently. If this is the first photograph of this person, type in the name and click Add New Person.


Tag people on the Photo Page

Once you’ve tagged one, click on the right arrow at the side of the screen to go to the next uploaded photo. Start typing in the name and select the name from the dropdown. Because the additional photos are tagged from the dropdown, the system knows them as the same tagged person.

4. Connect tagged people to persons in Family Tree.

Click on Photos and then People. Filter people by “People Not Linked to Family Tree.” Then click a photograph. 

Filter people to show those not linked to Family Tree

Click Link to Family Tree. Search for and select the person in Family Tree. Be sure to adjust the name to the full first and last (maiden) name as it probably appears in the tree.

To upload photos in bulk or for multiple people, use the method above. To upload a photo from Family Tree, go to the person in the tree, click Photos, and Add Photo. Upload the photo, make certain it is selected and click the Attach Photos button. When you upload in this way, FamilySearch does the tagging for you.

Photos > People

A relationship chart shows your relationship to the photograph subjectThe People page shows people you uploaded and people closely related to you that others have uploaded. Click Photos > People. You might find photos that you didn’t know about. People contributed by others are marked with a gold ribbon. Click on the ribbon to see a relationship map showing your relation to the person. Click on the face to see the Photos and Stories page with all the photographs for that person. From this page you can also click the link “View My Relationship.”

Photos > Albums

Photographs can be organized into albums. Click Photos > Albums. Click on Create an Album, enter a name and an optional description. Putting a photograph into an album doesn’t make a copy of it. You can create an album around any theme. Cross created the “Bills Family Photos” album for his Bills ancestors. Cross likes to create albums of interesting photographs. (I poked around and found “Relatives of the Pope Line.” It is interesting because it is in Russian.)

Add photos to an album using a variety of methods. One is to click Add Photos and then select photos from the ones you’ve uploaded. Another is to go to Photos > Find. Find searches all photos and stories on the site, not just those you contributed. Click on a photo of interest. On the photo page, click on Albums > Add to albums. The contributor will be notified that you have added the photo to an album. Photos can be in multiple albums. The same is true for stories. You can share albums via email or social media.

Photos > My Photos

In addition to tagging photo subjects, the photo page can be used for several other purposes. To see a Photo page, click on Photos, My Photos, and then the photo of interest. (Cross said the photo page would soon be changing, so it may operate differently by the time you read this.)

On the photo page, click Stories to associate a story with a photo.

Click on People and then a person’s name to see a popdown list of choices. If you click on Family Tree or Person Page, you will be asked to login before seeing the person in Family Tree. If you click on Photos and Stories, you will see all the photos and stories you contributed about this person. (If you are viewing a photo contributed by another individual, then you will see all the photos and stories the other individual contributed.)

Click on Comments to add a comment. The photo contributor will receive an email alerting them to the new comment.

Click on Details for a couple of other functions: View Original file, Delete This Photo, and see contributor information. Click on the contributor’s name for contact information.

Help is available for learning and using the Photos and Stories feature. At the top of the page click on Get Help, then click Product Support. From this page there are three sources of help. At the bottom of the page are the Product Support FAQs. Click on Photos and Stories to see commonly asked questions and answers. At the middle of the page, type in a question and press Enter. At the top of the page, browse for help by clicking on Photos and Stories. From there you can print a handout and watch a quick start video.

Changes are released about twice a week. New features will be described in the FamilySearch blog or user newsletters.

Cross took a number of questions, before, during, and after his presentation.

Asked about uploading photographs of living people, Cross said, “I’ve done it.” You can tag them. You can share them. You can put them into albums. You just can’t hook them to the tree.

Asked about uploading images of documents, Cross said, “We’re probably at a point where you can start uploading them.”

Asked if there is a way to fix a tag or delete a photograph, Cross asked if the photos and their tags should be treated like a source document contributed for preservation or a shared resource [like information in Family Tree, subject to community correction]. He explained that we probably don’t want to allow photo deletion (other than by the contributor). “We assume if you upload the photo, you know who to tag.” Others can add tags.

In closing Cross hearkened back to the story of the parents who lost their little one, Grace Elizabeth Warnack. The FamilySearch Photos and Stories feature guarantees that she will never be forgotten.

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