30 April 2024

2 Free Websites Compare Photos to See Who's Who

How many times have you wondered if the person in two different photos is the same person? Let's say you have a photo of your great grandfather as an old man. Then you find a photo that may or may not be him as a young man. How can you be reasonably sure the 2 photos show the same person?

I've seen people post photos like this on Facebook and let strangers weigh in. Are the eyebrows the same shape? Is the jawline dramatically different? Logic may help you figure out who the person is, but now we can do better.

Why not let a bit of artificial intelligence give you a scientific analysis of the 2 faces? I found 2 free websites that can help you decide who it is you're looking at. (If the photo is in bad shape, consider doing some photo restoration techniques before you use the comparison tool.)

2 free tools compare faces in different photos for similarities. Find out if that old photo really belongs in your family tree with these helpful genealogy tools.
2 free tools compare faces in different photos for similarities. Find out if that old photo really belongs in your family tree with these helpful genealogy tools.

Face Comparison

Go to https://facecomparison.toolpie.com to upload 2 photos from your collection. A message on the page says, "The model will delete the photo after the comparison is completed, so it is safe and reliable to use."

I uploaded 2 photos of my Grandma Lucy, taken several years apart, to see what would happen. Face Comparison says the 2 images of Lucy are 80% similar, so it's the same person. In fact, 80% is the threshold the site uses. Anything less than 80% is not considered to be the same person.

When I uploaded 2 photos of myself from 1986 and 2019, it was 100% sure they were the same person. So it's true when an old friend says you haven't changed a bit!

Then I threw it a curve ball. I uploaded college graduation photos of my 2 sons. Face Comparison says the boys are 78% similar, and they're not the same person. I'm sure they would agree.


Go to https://www.faceshape.com/face-compare to try the FaceShape comparison tool. FaceShape warns that it may keep your photos for machine-learning purposes. I imagine some people won't like that idea and would prefer not to submit their photos.

FaceShape says the 2 photos of my grandmother are 100% similar, so they are the same person. Since they are both, in fact, Grandma Lucy, I'm liking FaceShape better than Face Comparison.

It's also 100% sure the 2 photos of me are the same person. In one photo, I'm young with brown hair and firm skin, and in the other, I have white hair and not-so-firm skin. When it compares the 2 photos of my sons, it says they are 98.45% similar. I really got a kick out of that because when son #2 was born, he was identical to newborn son #1.

One odd feature about this site is that it identifies each photo as male or female and gives an approximate age. That's great in theory, but it thought Grandma was a man, and that I was 62 years old when I was actually 27! It identified my sons, both 21 at the time, as male, 43, and female, 40. Both boys had very long hair, but the one with the thin beard and mustache got the female label. It's best to ignore that aspect of the tool.

On FaceShape, if you upload a photo with more than one face, you can choose which face to compare. That doesn't work with Face Comparison. FaceShape also shows you both photos while Face Comparison never displays your photos.

For more fun, be sure to click the "Explore more tools" button. You'll find a host of other facial recognition tools. These include celebrity lookalike, face morph, face editor, and more.

Can you recognize your old grandmother in her childhood photo? These 2 free tools can do it scientifically.
Can you recognize your old grandmother in her childhood photo? These 2 free tools can do it scientifically.

Giving Them Both a Real Test

I'm lucky to have my late aunt's photo collection, many of which were actually my Grandma Lucy's photos. (See My Aunt's Photos Tell the Other Side of the Story.) I have some photos I assume are Grandpa, but what do these face comparison tools think?

The old photo in question is from the 1920s and Grandpa was born in 1902. I decided to compare that young face to Grandpa at age 86. FaceShape finds an 82.30% similarity between the two. Face Comparison has to have only one person in the photo, so I cropped my photos and tried again. Unfortunately, this tool sees only a 58% similarity between the young man and Grandpa.

To make things easier, I compared the 1920s face to a photo I know is Grandpa in his 30s. Face Comparison found only a 78% similarity, but FaceShape says they're 100% similar. One hundred percent!

Based on my 4 tests, I prefer the FaceShape tool. I can overlook the fact that almost all of its gender and age labels were laughably wrong.

Take a look through your photo collection. Then use these 2 AI tools to confirm that someone is who you suspect they are. Or see just how much you take after your ancestor.

23 April 2024

2 Free Tools Can Read Document Images for You

Genealogist Lisa Alzo uses a website called Transkribus for recognizing text within images. It's a process that's been around for decades: Optical Character Recognition or OCR. I looked into Transkribus, but it isn’t free. So I searched for free OCR options we can all use.

It turns out a tool you may already be using has this capability. It’s OneNote!

I can think of 2 key reasons to use OCR in genealogy research:

  1. To pull text from images so you don't have to re-type it.
  2. To translate a large amount of text from another language.

Last June I wrote about a book that tells the history of one of my ancestral hometowns. (See "How to Use a Foreign-Language Book for Family Tree Research.") A distant cousin sent me the Italian-language book years ago. I began using Google translate and saving the results in a Word document. It’s tedious work, though. I have to type the Italian into Google Translate so it can generate the English translation.

You're probably already using 2 free tools that can do more for your family tree than you know. They can extract text from a genealogy document image.
You're probably already using 2 free tools that can do more for your family tree than you know. They can extract text from a genealogy document image.

Extract Text from a Photo and Translate

Using OneNote, you can:

  • Photograph (or scan) the pages of the book.
  • Drop the images into a OneNote file.
  • Extract the text by right-clicking an image and choosing Copy Text from Picture. This puts the text in memory.
  • Paste what's in memory either below the image or in a new section.
  • Translate that text by choosing Translate > Translate Page.

The translated text appears in a new section of your OneNote document. It's ready for you to format and look over for any errors. It’s hard to find OCR software that will format your text nicely, so there's always a little work to do. OneNote keeps the line breaks from the original, so you have to do some editing to make it more readable.

The translation uses British English even though U.S. English is set as my preferred language. I'll have to change words like favour, colour, and analysed for myself. And I have to look out for footnote numbers. You know how books use a small, raised number to point you to a footnote? They don't get extracted as a superscript number, so they tend to blend into the text.

I can imagine spending a day putting that book on my scanner, and capturing two pages at a time in an image file. Then I can drop a bunch of images into OneNote, extract and translate.

Turn Handwriting into Text

I did three tests with handwritten Italian documents. OneNote failed to extract the text from them. One of my tests was a 1942 death record with a fill-in-the-blanks format. OneNote extracted the typewritten parts of the form, and skipped over the handwriting!

Then I wrote a simple note in the nicest print I can manage. OneNote couldn't extract any text. If it could, that would be handy for capturing what's written on the back of a family photo.

Then I learned that Google Docs can extract text for you, too. The steps are as follows:

  • Log into your free Google Drive account using a web browser or the app.
  • Upload an image of the text you want to capture.
  • Right-click that image and choose to "Open with" > "Google Docs."

The Doc file will contain the image and its extracted text.

This is an easy way to turn handwriting into text. I tested it on the note I printed, and it worked perfectly. I tested it on an old Italian death record and it didn't recognize anything. But it should be great for the backs of photos or old letters written by your ancestors.

I encourage you to give them both a try.

16 April 2024

Why Are You Doing Genealogy Research?

When I was a kid, Dad bought me two big jigsaw puzzles. He taught me how to find the edges and look for the right shapes, then he let me figure out my own method. We glued the finished puzzles, framed them, and hung them on the wall. Decades later I bought more puzzles and hung them up. When I graduated to better wall art, I turned my love of puzzles to crossword puzzles.

Then I discovered the biggest, farthest-reaching, never-ending puzzle of all. Genealogy! I like to think of my insanely big family tree as a jigsaw puzzle that has no edges. I can keep fitting people together for the rest of my life.

Does Your Family Tree Have a Greater Purpose?

Think about your own family tree. What's the purpose behind your research? Is it to find and preserve relationships? If you're doing good work, you can make a contribution to lots of other genealogy researchers, too. (If you're not publishing your family tree anywhere, you really should!)

That's why I enjoy my genealogy purpose so much. I'm working to fit together everyone born in my handful of ancestral hometowns. The families I added to my tree this past weekend have no real relationship to me. But we are all connected through a network of marriages. See "Genealogy is the Joy of Names."

I've identified all 16 of my 2nd great grandparents using vital records. I can also name all but one of my 32 3rd great grandparents. I'm missing the names of:

  • 9 of my 64 4th great grandparents
  • 42 of my 128 5th great grandparents
  • 146 of my 256 6th great grandparents
  • 433 of my 512 7th great grandparents

I've ID'd 31 of my 8th great grandparents and 9 of my 9th great grandparents, and that's as far as it goes. I've milked everything I can out of the available vital records. (See "Genealogy Obsession Pays an Unexpected Dividend.") The only way I'll ever find those missing ancestors is if I can access church records in the future.

My ancestors were peasants in poor Italian towns, so there's little I can learn about them. I have one distant cousin who was a rebel fighting against Italian unification. He's a rare relative who's had accounts written about him. Stateside, I'm 3rd cousins with Josh Saviano ("The Wonder Years") and 5th cousins with Gwen Stefani. But I'm more intrigued by my beloved dead Italians.

Find a higher purpose for your genealogy research and no task seems too great.
Find a higher purpose for your genealogy research and no task seems too great.

Spread the Wealth

Since I love the research, I'm building my family tree to benefit others.

People often write to me because they found their ancestors in my family tree online. Most of the time I have to tell them we're not related, but yeah, I've documented your whole family. I love when this happens because my never-ending puzzle is helping other people. And it'll continue to help people long after I'm gone.

Currently I'm finding birth records for out-of-towners who married someone from my ancestral towns. The inspiration for this project came from my Feb. 27th article, "5 Ways to Find Loose Ends in Your Family Tree."

Each day I sort the people in my tree by birth date. Then I follow clues that lead me to missing birth records. I've had so many successes! And each time I add more people, I know I may be helping another researcher out there.

I began this project with people born in 1870, and I've gotten through those born in 1901. Italian birth records are not available after 1915, so once I get there, I'll go backwards from 1869. My family tree has 80,000 people, and almost all come from a very small geographical area. It amazes me every day.

Find Your Genealogy Purpose

Many of you are lucky enough to have actual written accounts of your ancestors. If that's your situation, and you're busy compiling those accounts, I urge you to share your work. When I researched my son's fiancée's family, I found published documentation about them. Her family had been in one county for centuries, and there's a wealth of information about them. (See "Stay True to Your Genealogy Discipline.")

Wouldn't it feel good to be the key resource for someone else's genealogy research?

Maybe your purpose is to find every descendant of a particular ancestral couple. Think how valuable that research could be to another descendant.

Perhaps you're trying to figure out who your unknown parent or grandparent is. Building trees for potential ancestors can be the key to connecting with a DNA match.

Whatever your purpose, don't confine yourself to sticking within those jigsaw-puzzle edges. Branch out as you feel like it. Enjoy the little victories of finding that one missing birth record. Put your research skills to work and help others at the same time.

09 April 2024

4 Reasons to Implement a Genealogy Backup Plan

It's been a while since I had a digital family tree disaster, but they do happen. I'm committed to preventing the loss of any of my genealogy research. And I have to believe you want to avoid losing your work, too.

That's why I have a multi-step backup plan that I follow carefully. See "Quick and Easy Family Tree Backup Routine."

Here are 4 reasons you need to choose and follow a genealogy file backup plan.

Are you committed to preventing the loss of any of your genealogy research?
Are you committed to preventing the loss of any of your genealogy research?

1. Natural Disasters Can Happen

I live in New York and on April 5th I experienced my 2nd east-coast earthquake. It came as a complete surprise to everyone. I thought either a dump truck was rolling up my street or a helicopter was flying right over my house. People mentioned seeing their computer monitors bouncing around.

What if an earthquake, wildfire, tornado, or hurricane destroyed your genealogy files? Are you prepared to pick up where you left off without losing any work? If you're not 100% confident, read:

2. Your Computer Can Die

Sometimes your computer lets you know things are about to go bad. Other times, it's a complete shock. I had this adorable tablet computer that I would bring when traveling. On one trip, I opened it up, intending to help my friend Lucy research her ancestors. But the tablet was dead. Just dead.

You need to have a plan in place so a dying or dead computer won't destroy all you've done. It's easy enough to create and follow this plan. See "Prepare Your Family Tree for Your Computer's Demise" and "Moving Your Family Tree to a New Computer."

3. Websites Can Crash

A big company's website doesn't often have such a disaster that data gets destroyed. But there are bad actors out there, and sites can get hacked. (I may be watching too many "Jack Ryan" episodes.) If you build your family tree online only, download a GEDCOM of your tree every day you make edits to it. And follow these "3 Top Safety Tips for Your Family Tree Data."

4. You Can Get Carried Away

How many times have you made a discovery that led to hours of adding new facts to your family tree? It's such a rush! But in our excitement, we may forget to follow good genealogy protocols. Like, did you add a big family to your tree without including source citations?

The thrill of the hunt can easily carry you away. That's why we need "A Safety Net for Reckless Family Tree Building." Be sure to also read "This 3-Step Backup Routine Protects Your Family Tree."

You don't have to be a control freak to take extraordinary care of your genealogy research. But you know what? It doesn't hurt.

02 April 2024

3 Spring Cleaning Tasks for Your Family Tree

Two months ago I presented 5 cleanup projects, but there are always more ways to scrub your family tree.

Most days I forge ahead with my project to connect everyone from my ancestral hometowns. When working on that, I can add 100–200 people to my tree in a day. With my family tree approaching 79,000 people, it's important to keep up with my cleanup tasks.

Here are 3 areas every family tree needs some cleanup: Names, Dates, and Places.

These are the 3 most basic things you need to get right in your family tree.
These are the 3 most basic things you need to get right in your family tree.

Note: If you build your family tree online rather than desktop software, download a GEDCOM to your computer. Then open that GEDCOM in Family Tree Analyzer so you can see everything in one place.

1. Use Real Names

As I've said many times, your family tree is your legacy. Even if you aren't sharing it online, I'll bet you're sharing it with your family. And you must want it to live on after you've gone.

I've seen online trees use nicknames (e.g., Uncle Curly) and women's married names instead of given names. You're doing the research. You know their real names. Use them!

My whole family called my grandmother's brother Uncle Army. As a kid, I never questioned why. Then I found his given name on his birth certificate. Amelio, pronounced ah-may-lee-oh. I can remember hearing my grandmother call him ah-may—short for his full name. It was ah-may that my generation and my mom's generation heard as Army.

Am I going to record his name in my tree as Uncle Army or Army Sarracino? Hell no. Any relative seeing Amelio Sarracino's spot in the family tree can see he's Uncle Army. Likewise, I'm not going to record his wife (my Aunt Sophie) as Sophie Sarracino. I've recorded her by her birth name—the beautiful name I had to do a lot of research to discover—Serafina Eufemia.

For more tips on recording names and preserving those nicknames, see "4 Rules for the Names in Your Family Tree."

2. Use the Universal Date Format

In the 1990s I found out my business colleagues in Europe don't write dates the way we do in the USA. Today is April 2, 2024 in the USA, or 4/2/2024. But in Europe (and so much of the world) 4/2/2024 is February 4—actually it's 4 February. I adopted their style because I worked for an international company.

I never use the date style I grew up with (4/2/2024) anymore. I use the much more universal DD Mon YYYY. That's 2 digits for the day, 3 letters for the month (the first 3 letters), and 4 digits for the year: 02 Apr 2024. There's no misunderstanding that date. It's the standard for genealogists.

If your family tree has dates that aren't in the preferred DD Mon YYYY format, you're not doing anyone any favors. My son's birthday is 5/6. Will you send him a card on May 6 or June 5?

Check your dates and use the preferred format to avoid any misunderstandings.

And don't forget to use estimated dates when you don't know someone's birth date. See "When to Use Estimates in Your Family Tree."

3. Make Addresses Consistent and Accurate

When I'm entering a marriage in my family tree, I like to use the exact name and address of the church where the couple wed. I noticed I had used 2 different address variations for the church in San Marco dei Cavoti, Italy. I corrected any instances of the wrong address, and now they all match exactly.

If your addresses aren't consistent, you can't get a correct view of everyone in your tree who was there. As you scan your alphabetical list of addresses, you may find typos or slight differences.

In Family Tree Maker, you can check to see if an address is pinned properly on the map. I spotted one street address, Via la Costa, linked to one fact. When I zoomed in on the map within FTM, I saw that the street is actually Via Costa. To be fair, it was Via la Costa in 1812, but it isn't now. I want to use the current address whenever I can. If I'm visiting the town, I want to be able to go to any ancestor's address I choose. I updated Via la Costa to Via Costa to match today's map.

Take a look at your alphabetical list of addresses. Check for outliers, typos, or two seemingly identical entries listed separately. With up-to-date addresses, you can "Visit Your Ancestral Hometown at Your Desk."

Congratulations! You've made a tremendous step forward.