Making Faded Chalk in an Old Photo Album Visible

Dear Donia,
How can I make faded or smudged chalk in an old photo album visible?


chalk writing in photo album

Q. Dear Donia,

I have a photo album from my grandparents with photos in it from the late 1800s into the mid-1990s. Notes are written on some of the pages either in faded white ink or chalk that has largely rubbed away. Is there any trick to making this writing visible so it can at least be transcribed? Thank you, Paul 

A. Dear Paul,

You present me with a real head-scratcher. For the white ink, you could try using raking light in the hope that the pen nib made an indentation in the paper. Indentations will show up if you take a lamp and shine it across the paper rather than down onto it. The impressions really pop. The chalk is another matter entirely. I cannot think of any way to read it if it has been rubbed away. The only possible thing I can think of to try is to get a digital image of the page and manipulate it in a photo editor such as Photoshop. It is possible that by playing with the settings, you could pull up something well enough to read it.

I am sorry I could not be the bearer of better news but these old photo albums with black pages have always been tricky to label.