JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Improving the legibility of a tombstone photograph #general


Tombstone inscriptions are often hard to read because of weathering, unequal
lighting, dirt or organic growth on the stone.

Ideally, the stone should be photographed when the trees have no leaves, and
the sun is slightly covered with clouds. Portable lighting might help, as
would large reflectors and umbrellas.

Unfortunately, that is not an option for most of us. We take whatever we get
and however we can get it. Fortunately, most graphics programs can help us
improve the legibility of an image. I use Microsoft Photo Editor, myself and
adjust color balance using the IMAGE menu. Very often, "autobalance" will
give me the best image with just one click. I might try to improve this by
variously heightening and lessening brightness, contrast and gamma, for the
entire spectrum at once, or for each shade separately. It doesn't matter
what weird colors I end up with, so long as I have maximum readability. I'll
end up with a photo that looks most like the original and one that gives me
the most readable image.

Two useful helps when deciphering tombstones inscribed in Hebrew. One is
downloading a calendar conversion program such as that gives the
Hebrew and English calendar with either Hebrew or English view, that can be
adjusted for any latitude and longitude to give you the critical time of
sunset so that you can more accurately determine the significance of the
Hebrew date if the time of death is recorded in paper documents. The other
is to prepare for yourself a chart of the Hebrew alphabet in a variety of
fonts so that you can consider a range of alternative letters that might fit
the image.

I recently paid for the restoration of the tombstones of my
greatgrandparents, Eva/Chava (nee Berg) BERNET, d. 1858, and Yomtov haLevi
("Jonathan") BERNET, d. 1876, both buried in the Zeckern cemetery of the
Adelsdorf community in Franconia (Bavaria). I struggled with interpreting
the worn letters of the two poetic Hebrew inscriptions. I made my best
guesses and posted queries to knowledgable genners on line. They were able to
correctly identify an unusual form of a word here, of a string of words
there, and even give me biblical references to the source of these words and
phrases. The mason sent me photographs of the stones after they had been
cleaned, and I was better able to discern how the entire stones were to be
read, based on the visual images and the suggested text. The carved
lettering was enhanced with a new coat of paint, and then the entire stone
was given a protective plastics-based coating, looking exactly as it did a
century and a half ago--and as it will look for another two or three

Michael Bernet, New York <>
WOLFF (Pfungstadt, Frankfurt/M, Koenigsberg, Amsterdam, N.Carolina); BERNET,
BERNERT, JONDORF(Frensdorf, Bamberg, Nurnberg); FEUCHTWANGER
(Schwabach, Hagenbach & Fuerth); KONIGSHOFER (anywhere); BERG, WOLF(F),
(Demmelsdorf & Zeckendorf); Shim`on GUTENSTEIN (Bad Homburg ca 1760);
FRENSDORF/ER (anywhere); MAINZER (Lorsch); anyone in Ermreuth or Floss;

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