Grandma’s Scraps: The Task of Digitizing Hundreds of Family Photos

It has been a while since I’ve posted. Frankly, I just haven’t felt like sharing. During my trip to Omaha my sister reminded me the family has been waiting to see more of my grandmother’s scrapbooks. I’ve had them for a number of years and they’ve become a long-term project.

When I returned home, I brought out the big tote and began to carefully unpack it. The albums and photos are fragile, uncooperative, and there are tons of them. They aren’t the kind of thing you leave sitting out either. After sessions of sorting they always need careful repacking.

The collection came to me while both my grandparents (Ed and Virginia Petersen) were still alive. There had been a massive leak in a basement storage room and in the haste to get things out the scrapbooks, and bundles of photos wound up in a trash bag, in a separate, basement room. While home for a visit (I think it was Christmas), I found them and loved every moment of discovering my family history. I had never seen photos of my great-grandparents, my young grandparents, or even photos of my mom and her siblings as wee ones. They were glorious. When I asked Grandma about them, she said she planned to throw them all out! Some had water damage, but most were OK. I did not hesitate to ask if I could keep them. She said yes.

Little did I know… It has taken me many, many hours to sort the pages, trying to put them back in order, returning escaped photos to their homes, and separating the three albums.

It was during this last session of sorting, that I finally felt I was ready to start digitizing.

Friday, August 3rd, I received news that my Uncle Steve had unexpectedly passed away. It was a shock. He was the middle child of Grandma and Grandpa Petersen. My mother is the oldest and my Aunt Kate the youngest. It was shocking to say the least. Though I had not been close to my uncle since I was much younger, my sisters were both close to him.  I assumed I would soon be sharing all the old photos with him and the rest of the Petersens.

Digitizing the photos took on a new importance. The time frame covered in those photos includes my uncle’s childhood. I did not expect to be sharing those in a time of mourning. I am glad I could.

The digitization of the photos has begun. It is a daunting task trying to figure out how to get a good image. I no longer have a scanner, which wouldn’t have helped anyway as it was so slow and too small for the pages.

My current method involves using my Nikon Coolmax camera, a bench, and the bright, soft light of an east-facing window. Because I’m using natural light, there is only few hours a day the light is bright enough without being glaring.


I take a photo of each page. I want to share the sense of flipping through the scrapbook without having to have the pages flipped through all the time. It would also take me way too long to each picture individually.

DSCN2871Next, I upload the pages to Amazon Prime Photo. I looked through numerous options for photo-sharing. I didn’t want to pay monthly fees and needed a lot of space. I am already an Amazon Prime member, so Prime Photo seemed like a good place to start. You can add contributors to the “family vault” making it a place to share a lot of family photos, The amount of photos you can add is unlimited. There are also editing, sharing, and print ordering options. It is not without its short-comings. Prime photos is a bit awkward when it comes to uploading in order and there are only two options for reordering your photos. My camera’s settings are messed up for date/time, which I didn’t think would be an issue. It has been. All of the pain-staking time I have spent to put the pages in order is lost in translation between uploading and creating Prime albums.



There are definitely faults to this method, but it is a start. Most of the images have turned out clear without glare. Someday, they may need to be redone and put online again (hopefully in proper order). For now, they are sharable and family members will be able to ask point out specific photos they want higher resolutions of. I can then get a close up of that photo and send it to them for printing.

Photos are such a great way to learn about family history, and stay connected to loved ones no longer here. Make sure to take good care of those old photos. They are finicky and fragile. In a post somewhere down the line…I will share some articles that have helped my strategy for preservation and some of my own tips.


Finding the Soddie: My First Chance to See the Land

This past week, Todd and I took a little adventure out to the Sandhills of Nebraska. We had the chance to spend some great quality time with family, and do some family history sleuthing too.

Bright and early, Monday morning we hopped in the car and drove towards Seneca. We took one of Nebraska’s most scenic routes, Highway 2. It was gorgeous.  Once we reached the intersection of Hwy 2 and the 86-A spur, we zeroed-out the “trip b” odometer. When we entered Hooker County and the Mountain Time Zone, I knew we were getting close to our destination. With four miles on the odometer, we made it. For the next quarter-mile of Hwy 2, we were crossing a piece of land homesteaded by my great-grandfather. It is also the land where I believe my grandfather was born in a sod house.

Of course, I put my hiking boots on, Todd pulled the car over, and I tromped around a bit. Because I did not contact the current land owners, I never crossed any fence lines. It was beautiful. I could see a windmill just beyond a hill, there were tons of cattle that were really interested in what we were doing, and a lot of plants. I didn’t collect anything other than a clipping of a sunflower. Next time, I may collect yucca seeds, a prickly pear pad, and some wild roses. Next time.

While we were there, I had Todd take a photo of me holding a copy of my grandfather’s “Sons and Daughters of the Soddies” certificate. It was a great moment. It was a moment to honor my grandpa, great-grandpa, homesteaders, and Nebraska history. I am definitely going back.


Along the way, I took note of some of the museums, libraries, and historical markers. I will be checking into and probably contacting some of them! One marker, in particular, added a little more insight to my family history. The time frame of my great-grandfather’s land claim fit for a period when settlers were known as “Kinkaiders.” It’s history I intend to look into more.


All-in-all, I plan to continue my research, contact more local historical societies, look up tax rolls, and get a hold of the current land owners. I also think I need to lock down a better system for making sure we are on the correct stretch of land. I don’t feel my method is extremely reliable.

While I was there, I also thought about not being able to bring back plants, and how I could still incorporate some of the landscape into my garden. I will post about that soon.

After we had spent a bit of time on the land, we decided to start our journey back East. Because we’d already driven six hours, we stopped for a stay at the historic, Arrow Hotel in Broken Bow. We had Runza for dinner then a couple of drinks at the hotel bar. It was a good day. (I didn’t get a photo of our Runza, this is via the internet, while I was searching for a good image it made me hungry for Runza again…)

In the future, I plan on taking an extended trip to spend more time in the area and add on a few other stops at other places where my family lived and died. It is really an experience to stand where ancestors (near and far) stood. I feel going to these places will be a life-long adventure. 20180724_084441.jpg


Finding the Soddie: A Search for my Grandfather’s Birth Place

Next week, Todd and I will be making the drive out to Omaha. It will be a chance to see the family, and just maybe, a chance for some family history.

When I was a very small girl, I remember a framed ‘picture’ hanging in a cluttered corner of my paternal grandparent’s dining room. I don’t remember what I thought about it, but I remember it. Many years later, as a teenager, that same picture hung on the wall near the dining table at my grandfather’s apartment. And once again, above his bed in the nursing home.

It was, of course, not a ‘picture,’  but a certificate for a lifetime membership to the Sons and Daughters of the Soddies. It was presented to my grandfather in 1957. After his death in 2006, it was the one thing I wanted, if I could have nothing else. Several years ago, my dad let me take it with me. I re-framed it with UV protected glass and acid free backing. It is hands down one of my most prized possessions and a story I’ve been fascinated with for as long as I can remember.


On Christmas day, 1915, Austin Ralph Miller was born in a sod house. I was always told it was somewhere between the towns of Mullen and Seneca, in the heart of sandhill country. His father, Austin Sylvester Miller, was born in Illinois and spent much of his life moving throughout the plains. My great-grandmother, Amanda Johnson Miller, was born in Nebraska, the daughter of Swedish immigrants. She was, at least some of the time, a school teacher.

Below: Austin S. and Amanda, a couple of photos of my grandfather as a baby, and with a tractor.


I know the sod-house is gone. I know they didn’t stay there long. But I want to experience the place my grandfather was born. He talked often about going back to that area, but never got the chance. I think it would be a great tribute to him to visit that place.

It’s taken me a lot of time and research to find it, and grasp the era of when he was born.

One of my favorite ways to start researching individual family members of generations before my grandparents is to search for their names on the BLM-GLO website. BLM-GLO or the Bureau of Land Management: General Land Office Records is definitely one of my favorite sites. I not only look up any family member possible, I also search by location to find out who may have held patents on particular properties.

Lucky for me, Great-Grandpa Miller held a land patent and it just so happened to be for land between Seneca and Mullen, in Hooker Co. It also tells me exactly what sections of land were contained in that patent.


If land patents are new to you, the National Archives gives a great explanation on the process.

Based on the standard procedure of filing land claims, Great-Grandpa likely filed his application in 1911, and was granted the patent in 1916, as it states on the certificate. So, I guess they were “proving up” the land and selling it between censuses.

Looking at census records, in 1910, the Millers were in Adams County, Nebraska. By 1920, they were in Perkins County. Somewhere in those 10 years was a sod-house, my grandfather’s birth, and a whole lot of moving. It’s not out of the ordinary for the Millers, they moved around a lot, but it does make it hard to pin down exact places and events.

Now that I’m fairly certain this land claim is where the sod-house used to be, I had to take a look on Google maps to see if there was any indication of settlement. Nope. Just some sand, hills, sandy hills, brush, cows, and windmills.

Sod houses have quite the history on the plains. When settlers arrived to the prairie, there wasn’t a lot of building material. Dug-outs and soddies were very common until families could get on their feet, start producing crops, and afford to have lumber for timber frame homes brought to them. Nebraskan photographer, Solomon D. Butcher, immortalized many of these soddies in Custer County, Nebraska. You can see his photos and others here on the Library of Congress website.

After pin-pointing the land and feeling confident about it,  I also had to creep around and find out who the current owner is. Guys, tax records are public, and when you own land, you pay taxes. When you know the legal description of the land or get really handy using online GIS tax records, it gets really easy to find out who owns what. Turns out the owner owns a lot of the land around there, but does not live on those sections. That’s O.K.

Eventually, I may write to them, but as there is nothing left of the homestead, I don’t think I’ll need to request to go on to the property. Also, a state highway runs right through it, so I can just make a road side stop. If you decide to get into tracking down ancestral homes, I recommend always trying to contact the current owner for permission to visit and to share your story.

Below is an overlay of the land contained with in the land patent. In the top little section, you can see a road (State Hwy 2) runs through it. I’ve recorded the GPS coordinates for the beginning and end of that stretch of road.

Austin Miller Land

From Omaha, it is about a 5 hour drive. I feel it is worthwhile, possible, and important to tack that 5 hour one-way trip onto a short vacation. Plus, we can stop at a couple of the great prairie museums along the way.

What will my take away from this long drive to just a stretch of road be? Standing on the land where my grandfather was born and the chance to trace my family’s heritage. And…there’s a good chance I will find a rock or two, some sort of plant, and maybe dirt? Oh, and lots of pictures.

I had to go to “street level” in Google Maps, just to get an idea of what the scenery might look like…here is my gussied-up screenshot of it.

land edit


My First Heritage Flower Extraction

One year ago, this week, Todd and I took a 39 hour trip to Omaha and back. The reason: Heritage Flower Extraction.

In 2012, my Grandma and Grandpa Petersen’s house was sold. My grandfather built the classic 1950’s ranch house. My mother, uncle, and aunt were raised there; and all seven grand-kids spent countless hours there.

In 2015, I first started thinking about “heritage gardens” and collecting flowers from family homes. Grandma Pete’s garden was first on my list, because I had the most clear memories of it. I sent out a letter with photos and stories to the new owners, and a request. With their permission, I would love some splits from her garden. They answered, YES!

In 2017, the house was up for sale again.

Between winters, buying a home, and life…collecting sat on the back burner, until I found out the house was for sale again. The Omaha market can be fast, so I panicked. Maybe the new owners wouldn’t be as generous. So, a hasty 2nd request was made and permission given, again. The house was empty, so it didn’t matter when we went. I wanted to get it done fast.

So, on the longest day of 2017 (literally), I worked 9-6 and closed the store, came home, and Todd suggested we leave ASAP. I cleaned the cat litter, packed a small bag, and off we went. I had already packed the car with a tarp, buckets, soil, shovels, and pots.

We made it past Des Moines, and decided to stop. For a few hours, very uncomfortably, we slept in the car at a rest stop. We arrived in Omaha as the sun was coming up and just in time to meet Dad, my sister, and the kids at Hy-Vee for breakfast. It wasn’t even 9 am and the temps were rising close to 90 degrees. If we were going to get flowers, the time was now. So, off we went. Me still in my work clothes, which was at the time, a garden center. It kind of made me look official, like I was a landscaper (or at least that’s how I want to justify wearing that shirt for so many hours).

It had been many years since I had been to the house. It wasn’t in great shape (Grandpa was probably rolling in his grave). But, we pulled into the back drive and I went to work. I was respectful. I took only splits and pieces. I retreived daylilies, hostas, clippings of the climbing rose, and lilacs, chunks of peony, and iris. I also collected some of the large rocks that had been collected by the family over the years.

I worked fast, because I definitely felt weird being there and digging up stuff. It was a very surreal feeling being there. Finally, with the back of the car full, I insisted Todd lift the cement urn/planter into the last remaining spot. I’m a lucky gal. He did it without too much questioning. It had been there forever, and came from their house before. I couldn’t pass up the chance.

My final act was to open the back storm door and listen to it close one last time. It’s a strange thing to miss, but the sound is the sound of my childhood, and something strangely comforting.  That’s when I lost it. I held my emotions back through the plant collection, but the damn door got to me. I knew it was the last time I’d hear it, and the last time I’d be in that yard, where I spent so much of my childhood.

The deed was done, now we had to figure out what to do with the plants for a few hours while we did the quick Omaha tour. At Dad’s apartment, I sat in the parking space quickly potting up and watering my prizes. Then, we took a shopping cart and an elevator ride to the third floor and some AC. There we took a short nap and looked at photos. Then, we ate lunch with Dad at The Barleycorn, toured Memorial Park’s rose garden, and drove through Dad’s childhood neighborhood to scope out my other grandparents’ house.

Next up, watching my niece’s swim lesson, Thai food for dinner with the family, loading up the car, and heading out again. We arrived in Omaha as the sun was coming up, and left as it was setting. We also made a stop on the way out to pick up a bunch of Runzas (so I could share their glory with Wisconsin).

We stopped once more, just on the other side of Des Moines for a rest stop nap, then drove through Minnesota as the sun was coming up. It was still early when we finally pulled into our drive, our car loaded with some very special plants. After a much needed shower and nap, I began cleaning and adding the flowers to my garden.

Of the plants I brought home, only a handful survived the stress of the drive, and our really crappy winter. The losses: all the lilacs, all the roses, and almost all of the peonies. The iris came through like champs after spending a month in an inch of ice. I don’t know if you can kill daylilies or hostas? The remaining piece of peony has been moved to a better spot and is growing in a fortress of caging for protection.

The collection, today:

I will be excited when they all finally bloom and spread. My plan is to share pieces with all the Petersens that want a piece of Grandma Pete’s garden.

This concludes my first “heritage flower extraction.” I expect many more. And soon, I will share with you more about Grandma and Grandpa Pete’s house and their lives.