Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Genealogy CSI Style - Facial Recognition

The 9th of the month has come around quickly again.  It is hard to believe that it is six months since the Worldwide Genealogy - A Genealogical Collaboration started!  I have to say, the daily blogs continue to entertain and inform me.  All of our contributors have shared their expertise in  wide and varied areas of genealogy and family research and I am always learning new tips and approaches to my family tree research.  Thank you everyone.

Today I would like to write about “Facial Recognition” software and how it can assist with family tree research.  I have been thinking about this for a while, noticing through using Facebook and Picasa and Google+ photos that face tagging and the use of facial recognition to identify people in your photo collection is becoming a popular option.   I  have to admit  I am a novice in this area.  So it is time to learn a little more about the possibilities of facial recognition for genealogy and family tree research and the possibility of identifying some of those unknown faces in the photos that I have inherited.

One of the main reasons for my interest is that recently I have been able to access through a number of sources some pictures on the McGregor Sisters (my great Grandmother Catherine McGregor and her family).  There are some questions marks as to the identification of some of the people in these photos and it would be nice to clarify who is who. Maybe a Facial Recognition Program will be able to assist me?

What is Facial Recognition ? 

Facial Recognition could be described as facial arithmetic, providing facial analytics  to facilitate the detection and recognition of people from photos or videos.  This scientific tool has been developed to assist with security, law enforcement, commercial security and social media. It seems logical that there is a niche for this tool in the world of genealogy in assisting with the identification of unidentified family members by the comparison of family photos. 

My questions are:
  • Who supplies “Facial Recognition” programs that would be appropriate for family tree research?
  • How successful are these programs?  
  • How do I use them?
  • Are there any Security Issues?
  • Are these programs sophisticated enough to identify different siblings in the one family?
  • How do they work on older photos?  
  • Do these programs recognise people  as they age?

I spent a couple of days searching the Internet for information on the links between genealogy and facial recognition programs.  A brief summary of my finds are:

1. EclipseIR –  created  by and has introduced a new initiative that uses facial recognition technology to looking at old family photos.  However, it seems  at this stage if you want to have your photos analysed you need to send them to the program developers your photos for analysis. 

2. Picasa - users of Google+ and Blogger will be familiar with the features of Picasa.  This program also has a facial recognition and facial tagging option. Instructions how to use this option can be found here:

3.   My Heritage - One of the better known online genealogy sites also offers a facial recognition option with its membership. Details of this can be found here:

4. Finally, after reading comparisons and feed back from other users I decided to experiment with Fotobounce. Fotobounce can be down loaded quickly and allows you to organise your photos quickly with its facial recognition technology. 

Program identifies the faces producing thumbnails for identification.

After downloading the free version of the program and watching the how to tag clip on YouTube I proceeded to download my McGregor photo file.  The program quickly identified all the faces within the file, and down loaded thumbnails of each face, grouping similar faces together.  As I tagged the thumbnails the program identified other photos of that person and gave me the option to accept or reject tagging with the same name. By using a previously identified photo of Jessie McGregor I was able to confirm that two other pictures were also of her.

Program identifies and groups photos of the one person
I am still learning how to use all the options of this program, and as more photos are added and more of the thumbnails identified the more accurate the program will be. 

Some of the options I am yet to explore are:
  • sharing photos with interested family members
  • filtering by surname
  • Viewing my photos remotely from my Ipad by using the Fotobounce View app
  • Sorting photos into different libraries 

I have a long way to go before I will qualify for a position with CSI! however, this has been a very valuable learning process and I plan to continue to refine my skills in the use of facial recognition programs.  It would be very interesting to hear from others who have used a similar program to enhance their family tree research? Are there better programs? It would be great to hear your feed back!


  1. This sounds like an area I should also explore.

  2. I'll add Family Historian software to your list. I use it for my database but haven't really explored the facial recognition features which I have have seen demonstrated. It looks impressive.

  3. Thanks Jill, how do you find Family Historian as an overall genealogy program/tool?

  4. Diane, was this the first program you tried? IOW, it wasn't a comparison, just your first try at any software of this type? I've had pretty good luck with Picasa, but I don't have that many photos with "unknowns."

  5. I did a quick trial run with Picasa, and I was impressed by the way it correctly matched photos of the same person as a child and an adult.

    1. I thought I might try loading the same file of photos into picasa and Fotobounce and compare results, might be interesting?

  6. I really need to look at this issue again. Never enough time to accomplish all I want to do! Sigh.

  7. How did I manage to miss this fascinating post? Thanks, Diane, this puts a new face (ouch!) on my research, and the tips are great!

  8. I have used Picasa and it is scarily impressive, for example identifying my mother correctly over many decades from a very young child. I have just given Fotobounce a go but its matching doesn't seem to be as good as Picasa in the sample I have given it. Regards Anne

  9. Excellent Blog! I have been impressed by your thoughts and the way you emotion measurement

  10. I have an old photo of unidentified family members. The only thing I know for sure is that one of my great aunts is in it, and I'm pretty sure which is her. I believe her younger brother is also in the photo, and surmise that the man standing behind the boy might be his father. If so, it would be the only photo I have of my great-grandfather. Is any software capable of assessing the probability that two people are closely related?

  11. bvlenci, I had the same question. I have a name for my g-grandmother's father, but there are dozens of potential options. I'm exploring the possibility of whether those with photos available could be scanned against her photo to make a rough guess at the probability so I know which ones to pursue.

  12. I still haven't found anything that will do this. I did use Picasa to identify my great-grandmother in photos, but in that case I had a known photo of her to compare it to.

  13. Picasa took a baby photo of my great grandmother, Mamie Conley in 1890? And matched her with my other photo of her in 1977, just before she passed away. She was a walking wrinkle stick in glasses. On the flip side, it often confuses my youngest daughter with me or her older sister. The more photos you have confirmed of an individual, the better it gets, so silly faces with mouth wide open and what have you, are almost always correctly predicted.
    Google+ On the other hand, just seems to not be able to get it together. From what I've read, Facebook has the best. Deepface is the recognition software, (available to non-government) I believe. I also believe that recognition searching is illegal in the US, as it violates privacy law. I was really investigation this option, as I wanted to find photos of my father and his family. I only had 2 color photos and maybe 5 black and whites from 1976. He passed away in 2001, and I never laid eyes on him. I have only found one color visual of him online. A lovely act from the Gong Show, 1977, called Larry and his Trombone, where he won with his friend. I took screenshots of the video, and Picasa got it- Google did not.
    And unfortunately - Picasa makes my computer crash, but as a tool, I need it.


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