Preserving a Female Ancestor’s Photographs with Vivid-Pix Memory Station

Are precious details about the lives of your female ancestors hidden in old family photographs?  Most of us have bins or boxes of treasured memories just waiting to be uncovered and shared. 

Photo of Sr. Mary Camilla Alzo
Photo of my aunt, Sister Mary Camilla Alzo 

As a long-time genealogist, I have been researching the maternal lines in my family tree for more than 30 years. I wrote my book, Three Slovak Women as a tribute to my maternal grandmother and mother. Along the way I accumulated quite the collection of photographs, documents, and memorabilia. Since 2019, I have been on a mission to sort, scan, and share digital copies of the prints with my relatives.

Since March is Women’s History Month, I have decided to focus on the pictures that depict some of my female ancestors. But, where to begin?

With hundreds of photographs to process, I realized what a monumental task I had ahead of me. I needed a system to make things easier. I decided to follow a four-step process:

1. Sort – Organize photographs by family and then by date or event when possible.

2. Scan – Digitize the photographs using a scanner and correct any problems or imperfections using software (see below for details).

3. Store – Initially save the digital images to my computer (then move to an external hard drive with backup to cloud storage). 

4. Share – Share digital copies of the images with my cousins and other interested relatives.

I won’t bore you with the details of the sorting process, but I usually set aside an hour or two each week to go through the boxes and bins, sort the photos by family and then year/event where possible, and make sure they are put into archival safe storage boxes. The bigger decision for me was how to approach the scanning and storing. While I have a very nice Epson flatbed scanner to do the job, lifting the lid up and down is a bit cumbersome. And using my smartphone did not seem like the best option either. 

Enter the Vivid-Pix Memory Station

Recently I was given the opportunity to try out the Memory Station [affiliate link]. This is a combination of a Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 + Vivid-Pix RESTORE software. In the bundle, Vivid-Pix includes FileShadow cloud archive if desired, providing storage for 1,000 images for free and additional fee for more storage).

The ScanSnap was easy to set up (I use it with a Windows laptop but it works with Mac too). I created a folder called ScanSnap Scans on my computer. I followed the instructions outlined on the Vivid-Pix website to get the best resolution and other specifications for saving the scans as high-quality JPEG image files. The ScanSnap allows for continuous scanning and for image correction if so desired. Each scan takes just a few seconds and can be done with either a simple press of the “Scan” button on the unit, or by clicking on the SCAN button in the ScanSnap software. Before I began the scanning process, I downloaded and installed the Vivid-Pix RESTORE software [affiliate link] – just $49.99 for a one-time fee and the ability to install on 2 computers (Mac and/or Windows). RESTORE is on sale this month, just $39.99 during the month of March, 2022 and they also offer a trial to fix 10 images for free. 

I tried out the Memory Station on a treasured scrapbook of photographs that belonged to my father’s sister, Anna, a Roman Catholic nun (she changed her name to Sr. Mary Camilla after taking her vows) who lived in Victoria, Texas most of her life. I called her “Auntie.”

I previously wrote about this scrapbook in a March 8, 2010 blog postThe album pages are falling apart and many of the photographs are faded, so I knew this was the perfect scanning project.  With the ScanSnap I could scan multiple photos, benefiting from the overhead scanner on these delicate items, and the ScanSnap separates them out so I can name them. 

Once scanned, the photos can be imported into Vivid-Pix RESTORE to restore the images with 1-click. There is also an option to fine-tune with easy controls. Below is a sample scanned photo of my Auntie and her two sisters (Betty and Helen) taken on Easter Sunday in 1941 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. 

Photograph scanned with MemoryScan (not cropped)

The Vivid-Pix software adjusted color, contrast, lightness and sharpened the original photograph. As people have different perspective on “keeping age” (fade), less fade (or even back to the original black and white photo), below is the original and the 2 variations. [Note: I left the original photo on its black album backing but can crop the images as desired.]

My goal for this March is to scan the entire photo album and then create a digital version that I can share with others. I will likely share some of the results here on the blog as I work through the process.

Want to know more about the Memory Station?  Click here for more information.

Copyright 2022, Lisa A. Alzo

All Rights Reserved.

[Thank you for supporting The Accidental Genealogist by purchasing any products mentioned above, which are a part of the income stream for my writing/genealogy business].

Remembering Mom and an Important Lesson She Taught Me

Eighteen years. How is it possible that my mother, Anna Alzo, has been gone for that long?  In some ways it feels like just yesterday as I kissed her forehead for the final time when I left her hospital room. But then, when I think about all that has happened to me and to the world since that September evening, I feel overwhelmed with emotion. 

I woke up this morning knowing this would be a tough day. The grief and pain of losing a loved one may ease over time, but it never totally disappears. Whenever I want to share happy news, discuss a problem or situation, or seek advice, I still find myself wanting to call or tell my mom. The void she left in my world when she passed away 18 years ago can never be filled.  But as I think about all of the memories of my mother, I know she is still watching over me and feel her presence in my life guiding every decision and cheering me on.

In 2015 I wrote a blog post, “”Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Mother.” 

On this anniversary of my mother’s passing, I decided to elaborate a bit on one of the lessons:  “Never Give Up” (#10 in the original list). 

In the 2015 blog post, I wrote:

“As genealogists we often hit “brick walls” in our research. We also encounter many obstacles in real life. In both instances, it is often tempting to give up when the going gets tough or a task seems impossible to accomplish.  My mother taught me to never give up and to just do my best and things will work out.”

I will be honest. This year I have been tempted to give up on a lot of things–research and writing projects, personal and professional plans, and other goals I set at the beginning of the year.  Whenever I feel this way, I ask myself “What would my mother would tell me to do?”  And I hear her voice saying, “Honey, it’s going to be okay. Have faith. Believe in yourself. Do your best and things will work out.”

So I did. 

This week I launched my new website, Research. Write. Connect. This site allows me to pursue my passion for teaching others how to research and write their family stories. It has been in the works for some time, but I always kept pushing it aside, or had other more pressing matters to deal with. I kept putting off taking the leap.  Thanks to the support of my husband and some chats with friends/colleagues over the past six months, I decided now was the right time.  It is no coincidence that I launched my new venture this week.  And I received my first course enrollment today!  (Again, I don’t think this was a coincidence).

Thank you, Mom. I am sorry you are not here to see the work I am doing, but I know you are with me…always.

Copyright, 2018, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Fearless Females 26 March 2016: Education

The prompt for 26 March 2016 is to write about a female ancestor’s education.

March 26 — What education did your mother receive? Your grandmothers? Great-grandmothers? Note any advanced degrees or special achievements.

[Note: Portions of this post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010]

My mother graduated from high school but did not go to college (her parents could not afford it). Mom was very smart and good at math. But she went to work after high school and after she married my father worked part time. I think she sometimes regretted not being able to go to college, and she worked very hard to make sure I was able to, and was so proud that I went to graduate school to earn my M.F.A. degree.

My grandmothers each had what was likely the equivalent of an 8th grade education, but by no means were they unintelligent women. They were at a disadvantage being immigrants and, but somehow they managed their households, raised their children, were able to hold down jobs speaking very little English.

Copyright 2016, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Fearless Females 16 March 2016: Let’s Do Lunch

The prompt for 16 March 2016 is to write about a lunch date you would like to have with a female family member or ancestor. 

March 16 — If you could have lunch (or another meal) with any female family member (living or dead) or any famous female who would it be and why? Where would you go? What would you eat?

[Note: This post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010]

I would like to spend the day with my mother Anna, my grandmothers, Elizabeth and Verona, and my great-grandmothers–Ilona, Borbala (Barbara), Maria, and Anna—all together in one place. I imagine we are in Slovakia – in one of my ancestral homes. Of course we would have Slovak food! I picture us sharing a traditional Easter meal: paska, hrutka/syrek (Easter cheese), hrin (beets & horseradish), klobassy, ham, hard-boiled egg–each food symbolic.   

I would understand and speak the Slovak language so I could listen to their stories and their wisdom and help them prepare all the delicious foods. My family dream team!

Recipes and information on Slovak Easter traditions are included in my book, Baba’s Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions.

Copyright 2016, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Fearless Females 6 March 2016: Family Heirloom. The Powdered Sugar Can

The prompt for 6 March 2016 is to write about a family heirloom.

Describe an heirloom you may have inherited from a female ancestor (wedding ring or other jewelry, china, clothing, etc.) If you don’t have any, then write about a specific object you remember from your mother or grandmother, or aunt (a scarf, a hat, cooking utensil, furniture, etc.)

One of my favorite family treasures a special aluminum can for storing the powdered sugar she used to decorate her cakes and cookies. [I have written about this heirloom before in other posts on this blog].

Whenever my mother would bake cakes or cookies for special occasions such as holidays, weddings, graduations, etc. she would take this can with her so that the items would be “perfect” when placed on the cookie trays. 

One time, while driving from Pittsburgh to Cleveland for one of my cousin’s bridal showers, my mother realized that she left this powdered sugar can behind and cajoled my father to turn the car around so she could retrieve it. Perhaps it was our imagination, but those cookies always did seem to taste better with a sprinkling of powdered sugar from that “magic can.” I now have the can in my kitchen cupboard. 

While I am not the baker my mother was, I still use the can from time to time on those special occasions when I do bake cookies, or whenever I make pancakes or waffles for breakfast.  The can still holds a magic–it triggers all of the fond memories of my mother using it to bring a bit of sweetness into the lives of her loved ones.

© 2016, Copyright Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Ten Things I Miss About Dad: Remembering John Alzo 1925-2005

Ten years ago today I said my final goodbye to my father, John Alzo. I still remember holding his hand as he took his last breath in the room at the Hospice, and even after all this time, the tears are streaming down my face as I write this post. How can it possibly be 10 years?  

One of my favorite photos of my father, John Alzo, taken in the 1940s

But Dad would not want me to be sad. I can hear him now, “Don’t cry, Pumpkin.” (He used to call me this when I was a little girl).  Instead, I will think about all of the good memories of my father and share the ten things I miss most about him.

1. His smile. My father always had a smile on his face. He was just a naturally happy person. His smile was big and beautiful. It makes me happy whenever I look at photos of Dad smiling such as the photo above which is one of my favorites.

2. Generosity. My father was generous with his time, his talents, and his money. It may sound cliche, but truly he was the type of person who would literally give you the shirt off his back and never expect a thing in return.  He was a caring husband, father, brother, friend, and neighbor. One of my cousins once told me “If everyone had someone like your dad in their lives the world would truly be a better place.”

3. Seeing him sitting in his recliner. Dad loved his recliner. He would read the paper or watch sports on TV in his recliner. Without fail he would also spend many hours sleeping in that chair.  I still look over at the chair he used in my home and imagine him sitting there with the afghan covering his legs, eating peppermint patties.

4. Those eyes. Beautiful and blue. In them you saw a humble and caring soul.

5. Laughter. Dad loved to laugh and joke around, especially with his long-time friends, Whitey and Andy.  Dad even managed to joke and laugh nearly up until the minute he lost consciousness right before he died.  

6. His favorite sayings. There were so many. Some I can share here, others I won’t.  One that always made me laugh was “He couldn’t buy a crippled crab a crutch,” an old saying meaning you couldn’t afford to buy something). I honestly still don’t really get that one, but dad liked to say it. I will also never forget him saying “Time to go to the “emergency list”(meaning a grilled cheese sandwich). He would say this during lunch or dinner when he stayed at an assisted living place for awhile after a long illness and didn’t like any choices on the menu.

7. A calming presence. My mother was a firestorm and Dad was the calm. (I wish I could be more like Dad, but I take after my mother–it is down to those Rusyn genes I’m sure).  Dad could handle any situation with quiet, strong resolve, even when life threw some pretty big obstacles at him like a stroke and Cancer. I could count on my one hand the number of times I saw my father truly get angry with anyone. It was not in his nature. And he forgave…a lot.

8. His hats. My dad loved hats. Mostly baseball style caps to keep his head covered and protected at work since he had a crewcut. Dad had a large collection of caps–football and baseball teams, and assorted other novelty-type hats.  He also had some popular fashion styled hats in the 40s and 50s (like in the picture below).

John Alzo, c. 1943

9. Love of sports. Dad was a basketball star in high school and then went on to play for many intramural and semi-professional teams in Western Pennsylvania–he played the game until he was in his early 50s. I am sure if he would have had a chance to play in big professional leagues he would have given anything to do so. His motto: “Shoot Your Best Shot,”–on the court and in life.  Dad also liked to watch football (the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pitt). Dad took me to some great high school all-star high school basketball games when I was a teenager. Basketball was his life for a very long time.

10. His ability to fix things. Dad was a carpenter by trade and he could build beautiful things out of wood (decks, cabinets, you name it), repair roofs, and fix things. He had such skill and patience and took great pride in each nail he hammered. And, he could spot shoddy work in an instant. His work was appreciated by family, friends, and his community.  Oh how I wish Dad were here to work on things around my house. More than the carpentry, Dad could fix things figuratively too.  He wasn’t the overly affectionate type, but whenever I needed comforting after a disappointment or heartbreak, Dad was there. He would just envelope me in his big strong arms and tell me it was all going to be okay. And, he was always right.

If I had just one more day with my Dad I would tell him all of this and more. He was truly one of a kind. 

©2015, copyright Lisa A. Alzo. All rights reserved.

Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Father

“What do I care about those people they’re dead…I didn’t know them.” Imagine my surprise when I received this response from my father, John Alzo, when I once asked him what he could tell me about his ancestors. 

While my dad was not all that interested in genealogy, he said he appreciated that I was and that it was  “a lot of work.”  Since I wrote a post on Ten Genealogy Lessons I Learned from My Mother for Mother’s Day, I thought I would remember Dad on Father’s Day with a similar post.

Daddy and me. Image from family photo collection; held for private use by Lisa A. Alzo 

1. Generosity goes a long way.  My father was one of the most generous people I know. When my father passed away in 2005, one of my cousins, said the following about him: “If all the people in the world could have someone like him in their lives, the world would be a much better place and there would be peace through out.”  I try to be generous with my time and sharing my knowledge with the genealogy community.  

2. It really is important to talk to your relatives. The fact that my father said “he couldn’t help me” made me realize how I should have asked questions of family members while they were still around.  

3. Work hard and then work even harder. Despite the popular perception today of “everything is online,” genealogy research is hard work.  My father worked as a carpenter and used different tools and skills than I do as a researcher and writer, but in a way we are both builders. Dad always finished his jobs through to completion and I feel compelled to do the same. 

4. Smile. My father had a beautiful smile. He was generally a happy guy who loved to laugh and joke. It is important to smile through the brick walls in both genealogy and in life. 

5. Surround yourself with trusted friends. My dad had the same circle of friends from the time he was in high school up until he passed away. Dad taught me how to be a good friend. Many of my closest friends today are fellow genealogists. We bonded because of our love for chasing ancestors, and the common interest has helped us to develop a deeper friendship. 

6. Build a solid foundation. My father’s family was his foundation and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for those he loved. I always keep in mind that the reason I do genealogy is to honor my family—my foundation.

John Alzo (front, center) with his family (L-R): Elizabeth Alzo (mother), Betty Alzo (sister), Anna (Sr. Mary Camilla) Alzo, sister, Helen Alzo (sister), John Alzo (father). From Alzo private photo collection, held for private use by Lisa A. Alzo

7. Love what you do. My father had a real passion for his work and also for play—as in playing basketball.  Things were not always easy on the job or on the court, but Dad stuck it out because he loved carpentry and loved the game of basketball. I am passionate about researching and writing about family history and about inspiring others to learn more about their roots and ethnic heritage.

8. Be proud of your accomplishments, but don’t brag. Dad was a star basketball player in high school and when he played for local fraternal teams in Pittsburgh, and several semi-professional teams. I have Dad’s scrapbook of all of the newspaper articles written about him during that time of his life. Yet, Dad never bragged. I had to ask him about his accolades and only then could I see he was proud of his contributions to the wins of the various teams he played for. I am lucky to be able to work in a field I enjoy, and I feel proud of the work I have done as a genealogist and a writer, but like my father, I don’t always feel the need to talk about it.

9. Appreciate the time you have with living relatives. I spent 14 years as a caregiver for my parents. I don’t regret a day of it. I’m grateful for the times I spent with my mother and father. As genealogists, we spend time and money to seek information mostly about dead relatives, but sometimes we forget about our living family members. It is important to call, video chat, message, and spend time in person just talking with those who are still around. One day it will be too late. 

10. Shoot Your Best Shot! Dad used basketball as a metaphor throughout his life. He met the challenges of life like he would a tough opponent on the court; with one simple phrase in mind: “When the chips are down, shoot your best shot.”  Whether I’m facing a perplexing research problem or just general challenges in my own life, I try to think how my father would tackle a problem or address a situation and try to keep this phrase in mind.

Today is the tenth Father’s Day since my father passed away. Recently, while looking through some family memorabilia, I came across a Father’s Day present I made for my dad in 1972. It’s a paper heart booklet. On the front cover is a paper cutout of my hand and in the center is my school picture from the third grade.

The inside pages contained some special verses in honor of Father’s day which I neatly printed:

“I give my heart to love you Daddy dear.
I give my hand to work for you each year.
I give you myself, my prayers to bring you cheer
On Father’s Day this year.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I miss you!

Copyright 2015, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Eight Great Years of Blogging for “The Accidental Genealogist”

Where does the time go? I can’t believe it has been eight years since I started this blog! In some ways I find it hard to believe it was so long ago, but in other ways I still feel that the experience is brand new because I am always learning more about the process. Blogging and this blog have come a long way since 2006. I started out not knowing anything about blogging, what exactly I would blog about, or if anyone would be interested in reading what I wrote. Over time (some 796 posts to be exact), I found my voice, my audience, and I made some changes including a move from being hosted just on “Blogger” to acquiring the “Accidental Genealogist” domain name (you can read why I chose to do so here). 

During my eight years as a blogger, I haven’t always posted as much as I would have liked, but I I have enjoyed the blogging experience. That said, I would like to take the opportunity today (on my Blogiversary) to share some of my personal highlights from the past eight years.

1. Blogging about what I know.  My blog provides a forum where I can write about my two favorite subjects:  Genealogy and Writing (see “The Accidental Genealogist,” posted on July 2, 2006.). I have been extremely fortunate to have combined my two “passion” into a career as a writer, lecturer and instructor.

2. Sharing stories about my favorite ancestors. Over the years I have been able to write about my Slovak and Rusyn ancestors, and my research successes and obstacles in the quest to learn more about them.

Family photo collage created by Lisa A. Alzo

3. Meeting fellow bloggers. Through online interaction and meet-ups at genealogy conferences, I have had the pleasure of meeting other bloggers, many of whom have become some of my closest friends. The Genealogy Blogging Community is a close knit group (really, a family). [Time for a shout out to Thomas MacEntee, whose GeneaBloggers site has been instrumental in connecting and inspiring us.] 

4. Cousin connections. One of the biggest benefits to having a blog is that it greatly increases your chances of connecting with cousins and long-lost relatives, and I have done both many times over the years since I started my blog.

5. Support and encouragement. When I first started to write my blog I had absolutely no idea if I was on the right track or if I was floating alone out in cyberspace. Very soon after my first post, I received welcome messages from blogging pioneers such as DearMyrtle and Randy Seaver of Genea-musings.

6. Sojourn in Slovakia. One of the highlights of my time as a genealogist was being able to visit my ancestral homeland of Slovakia (twice)! Having the blog provided a way to share my experiences.  (See “Sojourn in Slovakia” and “Sojourn in Slovakia: The Sequel“).

7. Fearless Females. I especially enjoy researching and writing about the women in my family tree, and I give presentations and teach courses to help and inspire to do the same. As an extension of this instruction, I run the Fearless Females Blogging Prompt Series on my blog every March in celebration of National Women’s History Month. (The series started in March 2010).

8. Loyal readers. Most people write a blog in hopes of informing, inspiring or interacting with others. Building a blog is something I don’t actively focus on.  Nevertheless, I am grateful to have readers! I don’t post every day, and sometimes I go for long periods of time without writing anything at all, but I appreciate every single person who follows my blog, and in particular, those who have written to me or have told me when we meet in person how much they have enjoyed it whether it was because of a story or tip I have shared, or to thank me for running the Fearless Females series.

So…What’s Next?

I don’t really know. I’m hoping to share additional research finds and write more about how my ancestors influence and inspire me every single day. I also plan on announcing some exciting new concepts and projects I have in the works.  So stay tuned.

Thanks for sticking with me. I look forward to many more years of blogging bliss!

~ Lisa 

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Fearless Females Blog Post: March 20: Elusive or Brick Wall Ancestor

March 20 — Is there a female ancestor who is your brick wall? Why? List possible sources for finding more information.

I’ve actually been pretty fortunate that my female ancestors have been fairly easy to trace. This is in part due to the excellent collection of microfilmed records available from the Family History Library –church and census records from my ancestral villages in Slovakia. I would like to learn a bit more about my great-grandmothers if possible. In particular, I’m hoping to learn more about my paternal grandfather’s mother, Borbala (see my post from March 1).

Copyright, 2013, LIsa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved

Fearless Females Blog Post: March 17: Social Butterfly?

March 17 — Social Butterfly? What social organizations or groups did your mother or grandmother belong to? Sewing circle, church group, fraternal benefit society or lodge? Describe her role in the group.

[Note: This post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010]

My mother and grandmothers socialized mostly with their neighbors or friends they knew from church. My mother belonged to the Ladies Penna. Slovak Catholic Union and the Roman Catholic Parochial Beneficial Society of Rosary of the Blessed Virgin.

When our immigrant ancestors arrived in the New World, they often settled in enclaves within cities and towns and tended to cluster in specific regions in the United States. It was common for immigrants, particularly those who did not speak English, to travel together and put down roots among relatives, friends, or neighbors from their native land. These so-called “cluster communities” offered a place where the immigrants could transplant and preserve their culture, lifestyle and traditions as best they could in their new surroundings. Seeking to keep their culture as it existed in the homeland, immigrant groups frequently founded their own churches, schools, boarding houses, and other institutions, as well as forming their own academic, athletic, or charitable groups, and fraternal, occupational, and social organizations. Many also established their own ethnic presses that published newspapers and histories to highlight specific communities. In the late 1800s, fraternal organizations became very popular. Employed largely in difficult and often dangerous industrial occupations, immigrants sought financial protection for themselves and their families. As a result, they established their own fraternal/benevolent organizations to provide mutual insurance and to foster camaraderie and social interaction, and some even as a way to keep ties to traditions or ways of the old country. Today, we have the Internet. For my parents and grandparents, these fraternal benefit societies and lodges provided the “social networking” opportunities.

Copyright, 2013, Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved