Share Those Shots! How to Bring Life to Old Photos

Family History
31 January 2023
by Ancestry® Team

So many of your treasured family photos—and the family memories they reflect—might be tucked away in dusty photo albums or in boxes stored under the bed. And in those locations and formats, it’s not easy to share them with family members who live in another city or state. Luckily, the Ancestry® mobile app’s photo digitizing features make it simple to capture and preserve precious family images before they fade away—and to share those images with others.

Scanning Prints with Your Phone

The Ancestry® mobile app uses artificial intelligence-based technology to help you quickly scan and digitize images. Here’s an overview of what it does:

  • You can scan a single image, like the picture of Grandma and Grandpa’s 50th wedding anniversary that’s hanging in your living room.
  • You can also scan an entire photo album page with one click, even if the page contains multiple pictures. The tool recognizes the collage of images and splits them up into individual images.

After images are scanned, the photo digitizing tool then automatically:

  • Detects image boundaries and auto-crops photos.
  • Enhances and sharpens the quality of each image.

And the best part? The tool uploads your newly scanned and digitized photos to your Ancestry® family tree image gallery.

Scan photos with the Ancestry mobile app

Pro tip: When you select an image in your Media Gallery, look for the circled “i” at the bottom of the screen. This is where you can edit photo details like adding a title or a person’s name, the location and date the photograph was taken, or noting something like “birthday party for Roy George.”

Colorizing Old Black-and-White Photos

The app’s tools can also help you change other aspects of your images. This works on photos you’ve just scanned as well as others already in your gallery. If you want to colorize a black-and-white image, you can try out that feature. And if you want to experiment with other color adjustments, you might choose options like “contrast,” “vivid,” “warm,” and “cool.”

Colorize black & white photos in the Ancestry mobile app

Adding New Scans to Your Family Tree

Tagging people who appear in your scanned images will automatically attach them to an individual’s profile in your tree, just like you could with images you’ve already uploaded to your gallery. You still have image edit options on the app, if you want to resize the picture, for example, to focus more on the person’s face.

How to Start Your Photo Digitizing Project

If you’re new to Ancestry® or if you don’t yet have the app on your phone, you can get ready to scan prints by following these two simple steps.

  1. Download the free Ancestry® App to your smartphone.
  2. Create a free account on, if you’re new to Ancestry®.

Once the app has loaded, and you have this powerful scanning and digitizing tool at your fingertips, you can start to tackle those boxes of photos under the bed or the albums stacked up on your bookshelves. You don’t even need to have a built-out tree in place to begin your photo project—Ancestry® gives you a very basic one that features you as the starting point.

Here’s how to begin:

  1. Open up the app. From the family tree screen, start by tapping the image gallery icon in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Access the photo scan options by tapping the green “+” button in the lower right-hand corner. You’ll see the menu options “scan photos”, “take photo,” and “camera roll.”
  3. Tap “scan photos” and you’re ready to digitize images.

How to add photos in the Ancestry mobile app

With the app at your fingertips, the next time you visit Aunt Maria or Grandpa Hans you can finally scan and digitize the old photos on her wall or the photo albums in his care. And the photo app is sure to also come in handy when extended family members bring shoe boxes of photos to the next family reunion.

Pro tip: Make the most of this digitizing tool by spending a little time to build a family tree based on what you know about your family. And if you already have a tree on, you might want to build it out further to be able to tag people in photos you plan to scan.

Engaging Family Members in Your Photo Project

If other people in your family have trees on Ancestry®, consider inviting them to participate in your photo digitizing project. Once you share your tree with other family members (as a contributor), they can then use the Ancestry® app’s scanner to add photos to your tree.

As a fun next step, once you’ve digitized some of your family photos, you might also check out the story feature that’s on the Ancestry® app. It can be a great way to connect family members to images and stories they’ve never seen or heard.