While I am unable to purchase an overhead scanner I cannot see another path to digitizing some of the family assets I have. I am hoping such scanners are available for use/rent in e.g., public libraries or business solutions stores (e.g., FedEx Kinko's, Staples, etc.) Google searches aren't turning up much so I thought I would ask how best to locate one for use?

  • 3
    This is about scanning technology, not genealogy. Nov 27, 2018 at 16:47
  • 1
    I suppose technically, yes, it is about scanning. But it is about a topic closely related to genealogy and research, which is to say how can we best digitize and preserve our resources. I think it is relevant.
    – Jack
    Dec 1, 2018 at 5:10
  • The description of the site explicitly calls out asking questions regarding "documenting or presenting what you’ve learned". I believe this question falls into that category.
    – fbrereto
    Dec 1, 2018 at 7:01
  • I'm pretty sure I've seen questions closed in the past that were about general photographic techniques (even through they were being applied to genealogy) -- unless this is heavily edited to be specific to genealogy rather than just asking 'how to access a scanner intermittently' I think it should remain closed.
    – user6485
    Dec 1, 2018 at 11:47

5 Answers 5


You can easily make your own overhead scanner.

I attached my small, light, 12 megapixels digital camera (Canon A1200) to a simple 4"/100mm mini-tripod (from a dollar store), and clamped the tripod over the edge of a table. (a proper tripod pointing down would also work, but the legs might get in the way).

Then I put the items to be scanned on a lower table below the camera, with the whole setup in front of french windows (for maximum even light, outdoors would be better). I used the the camera zoom (or you could adjust the height of either table) to get the right image area.

I used this to rapidly "scan" in handwritten notebooks. Much faster than a flatbed scanner and using the tripod/clamp keeps the image size consistent from one page to another (and helps with focus).

Results are comparable to the full color scans of (for example) the shipping records on Ancestry. Here's a tiny part of an image that was of a full page in the notebook:

enter image description here

A camera with a manual focus carefully adjusted would produce better results, especially with extra lighting, but even a basic modern digital camera with autofocus is getting "good enough" in most cases.

For some really large items (family trees), I put the item on the floor to get enough in the shot. You can take photos of items much larger than a magazine double page spread, and still get the resolution to read small text on it, with this number of megapixels.

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    The next time you do this. Could you get a photo of your set up and add it to your answer? Jun 4, 2016 at 6:56

I suggest using your mobile phones camera (4 Megapixel or greater)

Use something like the ScanBox that turns your mobile into a overhead scanner, allowing you to take images of photos and documents that are less than A4 in size with the bonus that it packs flat for travel.


A moderate-capability digital camera is a viable alternative in some cases. I have shot excellent images from vital records registers with a Panasonic digital camera, not using a tripod or a flash.


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Most large universities and colleges have these sorts of scanners available for use for a nominal fee per scan, or potentially for free, especially if you are an affiliate of the school (i.e. if you have any children or cousins in college, use them to get access for free). For instance, Dartmouth College lists the following for scanning options: https://www.library.dartmouth.edu/services/print-copy-scan

They state "Guests may use a flatbed, overhead scanner, or one of these multi-function devices to scan for free."

Granted, it's a bit impractical to lug a whole trunk of books to scan, but if there are specific items you need to scan, it can be a great option.

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