Not All Document Images Are Created Equal

Yesterday I wrote about the World War I Draft Registration Card I found for Allister Rawding.  The images I presented were downloaded from the internet and were fairly difficult to read.

While filing that record, I found I had electronic images from FHL US/CAN Film 1684748 that I had saved several years ago.  To my surprise, the record I had saved from the Family History Library microfilm was of much better quality than the image I obtained from an online database.  Compare the images below with those I published yesterday and see for yourself:

WWI Draft Registration for Allister Rawding - Front

WWI Draft Registration for Allister Rawding – Front

WWI Draft Registration for Allister Rawding - Back

WWI Draft Registration for Allister Rawding – Back

SOURCE: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, “World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” Allister Daniel Rawding, serial no. 1044, order no. 612, Norwood, Norfolk County, Massachusetts; FHL US/CAN microfilm 1,684,748.

Click on the link for a PDF Copy of the World War I Draft Registration Card for Allister Daniel Rawding.  I was surprised at how much clearer these images are than the same images I had downloaded from the internet. This is especially surprising because the Family history Library microfilms and the images on are reported to originate from the same microfilms held by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Many historical documents have been microfilmed multiple times, by different agencies.  Sometimes I’ve found that the Genealogical Society of Utah (the Family History Library) has, itself, filmed the same documents multiple times, with one filming of much better quality than another.

But even the Family History Library does not necessarily have the best microfilm copies of a set of records.  Several years ago, I looked up some newspaper obituaries on microfilm at the Family History Library, but found them almost unreadable.  I found a different filming of the same newspaper at a Local Public Library that was incredibly better.

The lesson here is, if one copy of a set of documents is of poor quality, there might be a better copy available through some other facility.

Copyright © 2006 Stephen J. Danko

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3 Responses to Not All Document Images Are Created Equal

  1. Ewrann says:

    Hi Steve –

    Great site. I stumbled across this while researching image quality of WW1 Draft Cards. I’m in the midst of studying my own family history and have been gathering up all the records I can find. I too was disappointed by the quality of the ones I downloaded from the defacto www genealogy site. Interestingly, mine are smeary in the same way yours are…like the microfilm camera lens was streaked dirty. I see that the LDS ones are much better but I found an even better source. You can order a scan from the originals held at the NARA (National Archives & Records Administration). They offer the a b&w photocopy of the original OR a 200dpi color .jpg. Cost is $10 each. Here’s an example of what they are SUPPOSED to look like:

    The NARA site is at :

    Click on “Made To Order Reproductions” and the rest is self-explanatory.

    Good Luck!


  2. Gosh! Thanks, Ewrann!

    I had no idea I could get a 200 dpi color .jpg from NARA! And $10 is really not very expensive. I just ordered the .jpg copies for both of my grandfathers’ WWI Draft Registration Cards. The process wasn’t very difficult and only took a few minutes to order online.

    I’ll be posting the .jpg copies when I receive them.

    Thanks so much for letting me know about this!


  3. Ewrann says:

    Great! Looking forward to seeing them on your site. I found out last week that NARA had my Great-Great Grandfather’s Naturalization records on file (from 1886!) and I ordered copies for $10. They shipped on Friday (no jpeg option for those)…I’m on pins and needles waiting for them!


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