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How to Add a Citation to a Digital Image

Genealogists have learned that "genealogy without documentation is mythology." We are taught to document our findings by entering a source citation for each piece of information we enter into our genealogy management software.

Some genealogists fall short when it comes to labeling each document, printed or digital, with its complete citation. In Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, Elizabeth Shown Mills explains:

"Full citations should appear on every photocopied or scanned document and on every page of a research report. To avoid altering the face of a photocopy, some researchers place the source label on the blank back side. As that photocopy goes into circulation, however, the inevitable happens: someone in the circulation chain fails to copy the reverse of the record. Thereafter, others have a document with no identification." (pages 66-67)

Sound familiar? Have you ever received a copy of an obituary, only it lacks the name and date of the newspaper?

It is simple to attach a citation to a printed document. Today's practice is to write the citation into the margin of the photocopy's face, or attach a printed label to it. However, as more and more documents are digitally distributed, this becomes more of a problem. Some researchers attempt to adequately identify a digital image by giving it a descriptive digital file name. Evidence Explained comments that "aside from the insufficient identification of the source, another problem ensues. As the file is distributed electronically, others in the chain are likely to change the file label to suit their own filing system, thereby eliminating all clues to the source."

Directory2_3 Adding the citation to a digital image is certainly possible using your photo editing software. On the right is a scanned image of an 1865 Minneapolis, Minnesota city directory. Without the full citation, it is impossible to determine the correct year.

To add a citation to the image with your photo editing software, follow these general steps (not all photo editing software works exactly the same, but the same concepts apply. PhotoShop Elements 5.0 is demonstrated here):

1. If there is not enough space in the margin of the digital image, make space:

Click on the Image menu > Resize > Canvas size. Change the anchor and width (see image on below). Change the Canvas Extension color to white. Click OK.

2. Using the text tool, type the citation, rotate it, and place it appropriately in the margin.


It takes a couple of extra minutes to add the citation to a digital image, but the citation will always accompany the image when it is distributed with others.

To learn more about Evidence Explained, or to purchase your own copy, click here.


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Useful tip. In addition you can edit the Exif information embedded in the file. This info is invisible but is indexed by programs like windows desktop search or copernic desktop search

Thank you for the tips on adding a citation to an image. There are times when I want to do this and times when I don't want the text on the face of the image. Some sites such as cite an information source for each database. I copy and paste the data to a MSWord document and add any other pertinent details. I then print the information on the backside of the image. I'm lazy when it comes to handwriting all of the necessary information and sometimes take shortcuts for which I am sorry in the future. Being able to copy the source information and typing a few comments makes it easy.

Kay Fordham

I have just written an article on embedding information in digital photographs. It's called IPTC or XMP. Adobe is a major force behind this technology so it works best there. I've tried several other programs but they're not as thorough, most being compatible with only jpg's. Some will allow you to write the information, others only to view it.

I also show other ways to expand the canvas of a photo to add captions directly on the front if you prefer that option.

Please also note that IPTC-embedded descriptions on jpg's and uncompressed-tiff's will import directly into the Description field of photo galleries in Legacy, and the Details box in Passage Express.

When I find a source image online, I use my Firefox browser with a few add ons and a program called MWSnap3 [freeware] to save an edited webpage as an image with any info I want to add.

First, I use ScrapBook [add on] to edit all elements from the page that I don't want. I use SaveURI [add on] to always display the current page url ON the page, so it will be part of the image or you can edit it out.

Next, I use the ScrapBook highlighter, if needed, and the built in Notes function to add any text that I need and place it where I want to on the page. The note, not the text, is fairly translucent. ScrapBook is very versatile with other functions that one may find useful besides the few I mention.

What's left is a very whittled down version of the webpage WITH the image, source info, added info and webpage url. Often, I have no more than an image with a small border with information captured on it. [I do this for webpages with text that I want to keep and I always no where it came from and why I kept it!]

Next, I use MWSnap3 to save the page as an image. Where appropriate and depending on the page size, I use the add on, Screen Grab! to save the image.

I also save the whole unedited page if it is very important, because I can always go back and extract the image from the webpage and insert the information into the IPTC or Exif, etc.

Irfanview [the best freeware] makes it very easy to insert info onto an image, after the fact, if I need to. I simply open an image, use the arrow to draw a box where I want text, go to edit> insert text> and then finish it up.

I figured out this way of saving pages/images because there are so many webpages with information that I want to include in Legacy Picture Gallery, so I could quickly refer to it while doing research. For me, it is so much easier to have all of a person's info in one place [Picture Gallery] including webpages. Saving pages as images with embedded keywords makes it easier for me to keep track of all the webpages I've saved and why I've saved them.

All of the software I used was freeware. One note: After editing the webpage with ScrapBook, I DO NOT save the page, before I capture the image. If you try my method, you'll understand why.

EXIF & IPTC are Great ways of documenting digital sources. I use them for all of my digital images. But, they are NOT available for Bitmap inages (I know they work for Jpegs).

This technique has the advantage of not cluttering the original and being duplicated automatically when the images are copied (thus preserving the source info).

Also, a free program called Irfanview does a good job of editing the EXIF & IPCT information without the cost & bloat of commercial programs. It will also handle basic image corrrections.

I started saving info found on the web to a "Genealogy" file on hard drive years ago.

Under Genealogy, I have a seperate file for each family I am tracing...or sub file for branches of each family. I have been copying web pages to these files for years, then entering them into Legacy as bips,tifs, or jpgs as they were copied. I then use the sourcing info availiable in Legacy.

I have recently been using the "Trees" in, and frankly like their sourcing better than Legacy. It gives sources, then you can put in detail, date, and notes and/or actural facts...and that becomes part of the source info. Legacy does the same thing, but not quite the same.

I like to keep my pictures and file copies out of Legacy, and have had problems finding them when a new version of Legacy comes out or I change computers. Enjoyed the Tips on disc I got from you on how to find them and file them so that I can find them!!

"In addition you can edit the Exif information"

would like to hear more on how to do this as well!

Another way that I do this -

Insert a digital image into a blank MS Word file. You can then adjust the margins and the size of the image to give yourself space to type the citation.

I then use Adobe Acrobat Professional to convert the Word file into a PDF, which can be sent to anyone who wants it!


I use ACDSee Pro to manage my images. I have thousands of images of documents, either photographed directly from microfilm or scanned. They are in various formats. With ACDSee, I can see the photo at the same time I have a box for typing the source, comments, translation, transcription, anything. This text can be printed with the photo with features of ACDSee, saved to the IPTC, and also, marvellously, searched. So, for example, I can search by year and pull up everyone in my database who has that year in their typed info,or do the same for a name, place, source, anything. I don't have to use categories during the entry of the information in order to find what I want.

I am not ready to put all of this into Legacy, as I sometimes change folder names and image locations as I develop my genealogy, so by keeping it all in ACDSee (which loads incredibly quicklyl, much faster than Photoshop), I can find any tidbit at any time. ACDSee Pro 2 just came out, and I'll have it in a couple of days. The lower versions of ACDSee do not allow info to be stored to the IPTC in this way, but do everything else and are quite cheap. I've been using ACDSee for several years. The downside is that their support desk is in Canada, which is a long distance call for me, but worth it.

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