Interactive Online Family History Photos

Saturday, 19 Feb 2011 | by Mark Tucker

There’s nothing better than a photo to share family history with others. Putting family photographs online is not something that is new. But there are some challenges and often the result is a static photograph that either does not have enough detail or is very large and takes a lot of time to download.

For example, the following photo of my Grandfather, Andrew Charles Tucker, training as a Private for WWII:


The thumbnail photo is too small to see details. Clicking the image will show the original, but it is a static photo.

As you will soon see, there is a way to make photos more interactive.  I will first show you the end result and then explain how you can do the same for your family history photos.

What you see above is an image viewer from a site called which takes a very high resolution photo and gives you the ability to zoom different areas of the photo very quickly.

The four buttons on the bottom-right corner are zoom in, zoom out, go home, and toggle full page view:


You can zoom in by clicking on the photo. The scroll wheel on the mouse also controls zoom in and zoom out. To pan the image, click and drag.  If you have ever used Google or Bing maps, you should be comfortable with the interface.  The image viewer is built with a technology called Silverlight which is similar in many ways to Flash.

After getting this photo online today, I brought each of my sons (ages 9-13) in separately and asked them to find their Great Grandfather in the photo. To help them, I showed them a separate photo of him in his uniform.  All three were able to find him and spent additional minutes zooming around and exploring the photograph. That is more than they would have done if it were a static image.

Spend some time exploring the image.  Can you find the only man wearing glasses? How about the Staff Sergeant insignia? One soldier has crossed rifles on his collar. The detail is amazing. I can even count buttons on uniforms. In case you are wondering, Andrew C. Tucker is on the top row, 4th from the right.

How Did I Do It?

The main steps that I followed are:

  1. Scan the image
  2. Post image online
  3. Convert image with
  4. Embed the image viewer in your website

Step 1 – Scan

I scanned the image as 256 shades of gray at 1200 dpi which resulted in a .tif image that was 11,952 x 9436 pixels and 107 MB. That is a huge file but you need that many pixels to allow for deep zooming of the image. I could get a smaller, less zoomable image by scanning at 600 dpi instead.

Step 2 – Upload

In order for the site to convert the photo, it must already be online. This step might be the most challenging as there as many different ways to accomplish this and the file size is so large. Being a software developer, I host my WordPress site on a shared Linux host so I used FTP to upload the file.  It took about 20 minutes.

Other options that might work for you are sites like Flickr or Live SkyDrive.  Let me know what works for you so others can benefit.

Step 3 – Convert

Go to the site and paste the link to your image into the textbox and click the Create button. The image will be fetched and converted which could take 10 minutes or longer depending on the size of your image.

The link that you submit can be: images (.jpg, .png, .tif, .svg), web pages, or pdf files.

It is important to point out the Terms of Use for the site. Read them carefully for yourself. 

Here are a few highlights:

  • You must be the copyright owner of the content that you post or the content must be in the public domain.
  • You are still the owner of your content after posting it to the service.
  • There currently is no way to delete content from the service once it is posted, but since access to the content is through a randomly-generated link it would be difficult to discover the link without you sharing it.
  • The terms of use of the site are subject to change.


Step 4 – Embed

Once the image is converted, you have access to either a link:


or an embed:


that you can post on your site.

Here is the embed that I used on my site:

<script src=””></script>

The only thing that I changed was the value of width from auto to 55opx.

A final note is that the unique id (ex: ldH1) is case-sensitive.

So those are the steps that I followed to get the image of my Grandfather on the site. Some steps are time-consuming but I was able to start the step and go do something else. Without getting into the details of how the deep zooming works, the site divides the original photograph into tiles of various resolution. This allows for quick showing of only those tiles needed to complete the image at a specific zoom level. If you needed to wait to load the entire 107MB image before viewing, it would take a long time and consume a lot of your computer’s memory. Try it with this link to the original image. You can end the download by clicking your browser’s Stop button or by pressing the Esc key.

If you want to experiment with but don’t want to use your own images, try the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs collections.

Here are links to two Civil War photos in the public domain that I made viewable from

I hope you find this useful. Please post your comments or share links to content that you made deep zoomable using

On a genealogy note, I don’t know much about my grandfather’s military service. I don’t even know what RTC 85D means on the flag. Is this group called a company or another name?  Is this the same group that he would have been sent overseas with?


  1. That is cool! I am taking note of this in case I have a need for it.

    Comment by Taneya — 20 Feb 2011 @ 11:41 am

  2. Mark,
    Great post and thank you so much for sharing such a cool tool! Awesome!

    Comment by Valerie — 20 Feb 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  3. I like how the interface is really smooth and snappy. You don’t have to wait for things to load or buffer.

    Comment by Tpstry — 21 Feb 2011 @ 8:58 am

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Tucker and Tpstry, Aillin. Aillin said: will try zoomit, it looks great RT @marktucker Interactive Online Family History Photos: #genealogy #zoomit [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Interactive Online Family History Photos | ThinkGenealogy -- — 21 Feb 2011 @ 9:23 am

  5. Great tool, and thanks for posting. I have a couple of photos that have MANY people in them, and this will be great for these photos. Also, thanks for giving the “how-to’s” on how to do this. Now, to find a place to host these large tif images online; hopefully the two you mentioned will allow it. Thanks again!

    Comment by Irene Winterburn — 21 Feb 2011 @ 9:24 am

  6. It’s me again – here’s my post with my It works great!

    Comment by Irene Winterburn — 21 Feb 2011 @ 11:24 am

  7. Mark,
    Even by WWII standards your gr father was an old man when he enlisted at the age of 33.
    RTC 85D on the Company “guidon” (flag) may mean Replacement Training Company 85D. The crossed muskets on the guidon indicates an Infantry unit. They would have been a part of the larger IRTC (Infantry Replacement Training Center). There are 31 enlisted men and 4 Cadre in the picture. That would make it a Platoon picture. As good as the technology/detail is, it does not help to identify the Unit shoulder patch or the Unit insignia on the Cadre’s “overseas” caps. That would have told you where he took his training. Your gr father would have been assigned to a regular Army unit when he finished his training at the RTC.


    Comment by Pete Small — 21 Feb 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  8. My sister, Irene Winterburn, informed me of your site. I have been called as a Family History Consultant for my church. I noticed your Genealogy Research Process and wondered if you have sound to the slide show? If so would you be willing to send me the slide show with sound so that I may use it for a lesson? If you had a YouTube that would be wonderful!
    The information is great! Thank you for it. Also, thanks for the info on the photo you did. Irene used that info to upload a photo of our grandmothers on her blog which is priceless to me!
    Thank you in advance for any info you can give me.

    Gena Morris Raban

    Comment by Gena — 24 Feb 2011 @ 11:59 pm

  9. Thanks so much for posting this. You actually feel like you are in the photo.

    Comment by Malissa — 25 Feb 2011 @ 6:29 am

  10. Very cool tool – thanks for pointing it out! It is surprisingly smooth and fast.
    I’m in the midst of a giant scanning project and will definitely be using this when I post some group shots on my blog.

    Comment by JJT — 25 Feb 2011 @ 9:47 pm

  11. Please post your suggestions on how to post these files. I tried scanning in several different ways. I agree the TIF is better than the jpeg. I also find scanning in color and keeping the original sepia tones of the photograph is desireable (In my opinion).

    I have looked at Photobucket, Flickr, Shutterfly etc. and found that commonly photo uploads are limited to 15-50 MB per photo. I saw a few random sites that allow 100-2000 MB files, but those are less well known and I don’t want to store it on some random website. Of course, I know the importance of keeping a backup of the image myself, but I still want a service that is reliable to link through

    I was willing to go with a 2400 scanned jpg which was acceptable for zooming though not as crisp as a TIF. It was actually smaller than a 1200 TIF in file size. ~ 120 MB vs. 184 MB

    Also if anyone has advice on scanning stuff bigger than 8×11? I have scanned one long picture in 2 scans with part of the picture hanging off the side and I still missed a few people in the middle because it is so long. I can try something as simple as cutting them digitally and lining them up in Microsoft Paint? My 14 Mpix digital camera is nice for some digitization, but not as crisp as a TIF scan.

    Comment by Michael — 28 Feb 2011 @ 6:17 am

  12. @Michael

    When it comes to scanning large photos and documents I just do it in pieces and splice them together in Photoshop. But, I have heard good things about the Flip Pal portable scanner – you can scan several parts of something and the included software stitches it all together. Bad news: I believe the current version creates JPGs. (I’m holding out for a native TIF version.)

    As for storing and serving very large files: Personally, I don’t even try to store my full res TIF images online; for my purposes uploading jpg versions created from the TIFs works. (I use Flickr Pro and just looked up that it has a 20MB file size limit.)

    But, if you need to store larger files and want something reliable you’re going to have to pay at least something for the service. is a good service for this.

    An alternative that might be more cost effective is to use Amazon S3 storage (pay by the GB stored plus transfers charges.) You can use a client like Jungledisk or Cyberduck (Free) to make moving the files up and down more easy to deal with.

    Comment by JJT — 2 Mar 2011 @ 8:06 pm

  13. I also was thinking that Amazon S3 might be a good fit for this. Thank you for sharing the links.

    Comment by Mark Tucker — 2 Mar 2011 @ 11:57 pm

  14. There are dozens of ways this technique can be used for family history photos, but I think you picked the best by going with a group shot like your grandfather’s training photo. Individual faces in online group pictures are so hard to see. I can’t wait to experiment with old group class photos, fraternity pictures, and family reunion group pictures. Thank you.

    Comment by Free Genealogy Guide — 3 Mar 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  15. Not only do I swoon over men in uniform, but this will be a very useful tool when looking at old handwriting in records. To be able to enlarge the screen and see the text more clearly. Thanks!

    Comment by Joanne — 4 Mar 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  16. Amazing technology. Thanks for spreading the word. I can’t wait to show my clients their documents and photographs using this.
    Ed Withers
    PDQ Research

    Comment by Ed Withers — 10 Mar 2011 @ 5:30 am

  17. Another nice way to show of images in your genealogical publication is what I call an interactive image wall. Currently I use the free service of

    An example:

    Comment by Bob Coret — 22 Mar 2011 @ 7:56 am

  18. Here is my post with a Zoomed in Ancestor :) Thanks for bringing to our attention.

    Comment by Joan Miller (Luxegen) — 22 Mar 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  19. This is perfect. I have been struggling to find a way to post land ownership maps on my blog – this works great. Thanks for finding this tool. I used it on my most recent post

    Comment by Amy F — 23 Mar 2011 @ 11:45 am

  20. [...] To learn more about how to use yourself and to see a great example of how it can be used with your own family history photos, check out Mark’s post Interactive Online Family History Photos. [...]

    Pingback by Tech Tips with Lisa Louise Cooke: WDYTYA Revisited & Photo Gems — 26 Mar 2011 @ 11:00 pm

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