MyHeritage New Photo Enhancer – Seeing Family Faces for the First Time

MyHeritage has introduced a wonderful new photo enhancement tool.

A few months ago, MyHeritage introduced their photo colorization tool. I uploaded many photos and colorized old black and white family photos. I wrote about that here and colorized several photos of Mom and her amazing dance partner, here.

I knew that improvements were underway, but the newly released MyHeritage Photo Enhancer, which works in conjunction with, or separately from the colorizer, is absolutely wonderful.

The new Photo Enhancer brings blurry, grainy or fuzzy photos into focus. It works amazingly well on old photos, especially groups, that were taken in black and white although it works on color pictures too. For black and white, colorizing the result makes them literally come to life in an unimaginable, breathtaking way.

And of course, there’s a story…my grandfather was a photographer, that is, when he wasn’t bootlegging. Yea, a moonshining photographer – and not one picture of his mother-in-law. There’s a joke in there someplace.

My Grandfather

I never knew my father’s side of the family. My parents were divorced and my father died when I was a child. His father, my grandfather, William George Estes, known as Will, lived to be almost 99 and died when I was in high school.

My grandfather lived in another state, 800+ miles away, and wasn’t the most upstanding of citizens. He, apparently, was not interested one iota in me. I never met him and didn’t even realize he had been alive during my lifetime until some years after his death.

Retrospectively, that’s probably for the best, considering I would likely, as a rebellious teen, have been easily influenced by a bootlegging grandpa. Maybe influenced isn’t the correct word. I would have welcomed Grandpa with open arms, wanting to sample each of his wares that he had spent decades perfecting. I would have volunteered to be the taste tester. That combined with the “less than stellar” aspect of his character is probably exactly why my mother never mentioned him.

Some of the stories I’ve heard about him since since would curl your toenails.

All that said, after I began researching my genealogy, I was intensely curious about the side of my family that I never knew. I found and made contact with my father’s sisters – the elderly, eccentric crazy aunts.

Photographer 

Will married my grandmother in 1892 at the ripe old age of 19 and drifted from job to job for years. Not long after the wedding, rumored to have taken place on horseback in the road at the county line, since he was from Claiborne County and she was from neighboring Hancock County, the young couple left Tennessee for Springdale, Arkansas.

Had he stayed in Claiborne County, Will would have farmed. There was little else to be done. He would have built a cabin in Estes Holler and tried to eek a living out of some rocky area not already being cultivated. Opportunity beckoned elsewhere.

In Arkansas, my grandmother, Ollie, ran a boarding house and according to her, Will fished all day and drank, generally at the same time, and was pretty much good for nothing.

A few years and four babies later, Ollie grew tired of his shiftlessness and aversion to work, and the couple, now with two living children headed back for Tennessee. He promised to do better back home, and at least she would have her family nearby.

I don’t know exactly when Will bought his first camera, but I can get some idea by when he began to take photographs of his parents, Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy.

color Lazarus black and white

In the photo where they look the youngest, I’d say they are about 50, which would date the photo to about 1898 or so. You can see that Will used a backdrop, because you can see the field stones in the building to the right.

I had colorized this photo before.

color lazarus

Now, I’ve enhanced it too.

Estes, Lazarus Enhanced.png

This resolution is remarkable. Just look at this.

Now, for the closeup.

Estes, Lazarus close

Aren’t these just amazing? I have no idea what the caterpillar-looking “growth” is beneath Lazarus’s nose – perhaps a flaw in the more than century old photo. I don’t have the original.

Estes, Elizabeth Vannoy close.png

The census tells us that Will and Ollie had returned to Claiborne County, Tennessee by 1900. Will reported when the census-taker came around that he was a farmer and that he had been out of work for 6 months. Given that the census was taken in June, that meant he had been out of work for the entire year. The couple lived next to Lazarus, who was also a farmer, but hadn’t been out of work at all. Hmmm….maybe Will was fishing again.

It was about this time that Will bought a camera. Maybe Lazarus bought it for him, purchasing the “high-falutin’” camera on one of his trips to Knoxville as a way to encourage his son to do something – anything.

Will would travel around the countryside attending various family reunions and taking pictures with his black camera, perched on a tripod, with a black cloth that covered Will’s his head and the top of the camera. People still remembered him riding a horse with that camera in the saddle bags when I first began interviewing the older people in the 1970s and 1980s.

Will would join people’s family reunions and take pictures all weekend. Most reunions weren’t just a day, but lasted for several, complete with great food and plenty of liquor.

Will would then develop the photos and go back to visit for another weekend where the family would gather to purchase or order photos. More food and liquor.

He loved this setup. Seeing another opportunity, soon, he was taking along some of his home-brewed liquor to sell too.

Ollie, as you might imagine, was left home tending to the children – and none too happy with Will.

Then, one Saturday night, tragedy struck.

Their cabin burned, claiming the life of their son, Robert. Neither parent was at home. The oldest child, Estel, age 12 or 13, had been left in charge and tried to get Robbie out of the cabin, but he hid under the bed, where he died. Estel was able to get the rest of the children out of the house.

Estes Ollie and kids 1907 colorized and enhanced

Photo both enhanced and colorized using the MyHeritage photo tools.

We don’t know exactly when Robbie died, but we know, based on Estel’s age at the time, what Aunt Margaret said about the event, her age in this photo, and Robbie’s absence, that the fire occurred before April, 1907.

This is not the picture of a happy family. This is a picture of grief.

Uncle George eventually planted a willow, also now gone, on the bank of the creek where their cabin stood – a silent marker to Robbie. His grave in the family cemetery, long since lost, is probably marked with a field stone.

Willow in Claiborne cabin location.jpg

Ollie and Will were never the same after Robbie’s death, although they did remain married for a few more years.

The Man Behind the Camera 

Because Will was the person behind the camera, we have very few photos of him. Not only just during this time, but for the duration of his life.

None of the photos of Will are either large or clear. I was lucky to obtain any at all.

After their divorce, his children by Ollie didn’t see much of their father, so photos were altogether quite scarce. The few I have of him in later years were contributed by other family members.

MyHeritage

The earliest photo that includes my grandfather is from about 1910 when Will would have been about 37 years old. My aunt told me the camera had been fitted with a timer or remote release so he could be in photos too.

Estes 1910 family

I uploaded this photo to MyHeritage, without much hope. It’s small, at least somewhat blurry and has lots of people.

Estes 1910 family enhanced.png

Here, the photo has been both colorized and enhanced. Better than I expected.

But what I saw next took my breath away.

Estes William George 1910 close

That’s my grandfather.

I have never seen this man.

And he’s staring right at me with soul-piercing eyes – across a divide of 110 years.

I presumed Will looked similar to my father, and while he does, he also looks different. (Yes, the DNA has been verified – no NPEs in this line.)

Will’s draft registration tells us that he was medium height and build and had brown eyes and black hair.

That looks accurate.

He’s not clean shaven. I didn’t realize that in the other photo. He’s also not balding – perhaps a nod to our Native American ancestors who generally don’t bald.

About this time, Will and Ollie moved to Fowler, Indiana as tenant farmers. A year or two later, family was visiting, so another picture.

Estes 1913 Fowler cropped

Next, colorized and enhanced.

Estes 1913 enhanced.png

And now for my grandfather again.

Estes 1913 Will close

Was Will trying to grow a beard, and couldn’t? This one looks a bit scruffy. Is that his beard below his ear on the left-hand side of this picture?

Shortly after this photo was taken, Will and Ollie divorced. Ollie moved to Chicago, and Will went back south, settling in Harlan County, KY – bloody Harlan – moonshine capital of Appalachia.

There are no more photos of Will until more than 20 years later, in the 1930s or 1940s.

Estes, Will and Cornie.jpg

Will and his sister, Cornie Estes Epperson.

Estes, Will and Cornie enhanced

And again, his closeup.

Estes Will 1940 close.png

Hmm, his beard – you can see it’s thin and scruffy here too. I wonder if he couldn’t grow a beard – another hallmark of Native American heritage.

It’s one thing to see photos of my grandfather where he’s a small grey entity in a black and white photo, and another to see him literally in living color, just as if I were looking at him in person today.

And do I ever, ever have questions for this man. So many questions.

Next, I’d like MyHeritage to implement Photo Speaker where the ancestors answer questions😊

It’s Your Turn

Surely you must already be thinking about your photos that can potentially be enhanced. There’s nothing to lose by trying. It’s free.

If you already uploaded photos to be colorized, you can simply sign in to your account, click on “My photos” under the “Family tree” tab, select a photo and click on the Enhance “magic wand” icon. There’s more, too.

Let’s walk through this step by step.

Enhancing Photos – Step-by-Step

First, scan your photos at the highest resolution possible.

Click here and you’ll see the following image:

Estes MyHeritage enhance

You can either drag and drop a photo onto that page, or upload your photos by clicking on the little orange “Upload photo” link. If you don’t have an account already, you’ll be asked to create a free one.

There are additional benefits to having an account and working with your photos at MyHeritage. I’ll show you momentarily.

I have only one photo of me with my Dad. My fingers are crossed that this will work. We’re going to find out together.

Me and Dad

I dragged this photo of me and my Dad, plus an unknown child at bottom left and dropped it into the frame. The Enhancer got busy and in a few seconds – which seemed like the longest minute ever – the photo was ready.

Here’s the enhanced “after” photo.

Drum roll….

Estes me dad enhanced.png

You’re being shown the composite view, but you can click on the various people to see their faces.

Estes Dad 1956 enhanced

I think my Dad has my grandpa’s hairline – what do you think?

Estes 1956 me enhanced.jpg

And here’s me as a baby.

Next, I’m going to click on colorize.

Estes 1956 dad me colorized

What does Dad look like now?

Estes 1956 dad colorized.jpg

Dad’s hair was salt and pepper grey by this point, and I suspect the last photo of my grandfather where his hair looks lighter means that his was grey too.

Estes 1956 me colorized

I look for this baby’s face in my face today, and I look for me in my father’s face too.

Estes go to photos.png

You can download your enhanced photos, but they are automatically saved for you at MyHeritage.

There’s MORE!

Next, click on “Go to my photos,” or you can simply click on My photos” under the Family Tree tab, below.

Estes my photos

You can do everything you need to do with photos from this tab.

If you’ve just set up your account, import your GEDCOM file of your tree to give yourself a head start.

You’ll want your family members to be in your tree, because now you’re going to tag and link the photos to the correct people.

On your My photos page, you’ll see all of the photos you’ve uploaded whether you’ve colorized or enhanced them or not. Both versions are here, before and after.

If you have photos you uploaded prior to these features being available, you can easily colorize them and enhance them by simply clicking on the photo. You can tell which have been colorized or enhanced by the icons displayed over the photos

Estes photo gallery.png

The first two photos have the magic enhancement wand button and the colorize button displayed, so those photos have had both treatments. The third photo, at right, has only been enhanced. You always see the original photo displayed on your page initially.

To tag people in photos, click on the photo, which will expand to a screen, shown below.

Estes tag

You’ll notice that you can type a comment and also that you can tag photos. If you fly your mouse over the faces of the people, you’ll be able to tag them with their name, if they are in your tree.

Estes dad tag
I clicked in the frame to start tagging, began typing the person’s name, and the system showed me candidates. William Sterling Estes is the only person in the database with that name, so I’m selecting him.

I tagged myself too. At right, the photo information is updated.

Estes two tags

Now, when I see this photo and fly over the people, the tag box shows me the identity of that person.

Estes tag box.png

By clicking on the little dots to the right of the name of the person you’ve tagged, you can visit their profile page, among other things.

Estes profile page.png

The photo you tagged is automatically saved to their profile page.

Estes dad profile page

When you look at your tree, you’ll see that it’s now “decorated” with the ancestors you’ve tagged, and you likely have different kinds of hints waiting for you.

Estes tree with photos.png

You’ll notice informational icons for each person in your tree.

Estes smart matches

  • The green icon indicates Smart Matches to other people’s trees which may include additional photos, if they’ve uploaded photos to their trees too.
  • The brown sheet-of-paper icon indicates historical record matches, such as census, books and other records.

MyHeritage allows a complimentary 250 person tree for free, but you’ll want to add more people or better yet, upload your GEDCOM file. You’ll also want to take advantage of Smart Matches, super searches, hints, DNA tools and record matches that are benefits of a subscription.

I’m so grateful for the integration between the various MyHeritage tools – and I especially love seeing the faces of my ancestors.

Thank you, thank you, thank you MyHeritage!

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