Are you lucky enough to have a collection of old photographs of your ancestors?
A surprisingly small number of family historians are able to answer “yes” to this question — at least as it concerns ancestors who are more than a couple of generations removed. While most of us are certainly going to gain access to at least some photos held by family members during the course of our research, we are often limited to images of our most direct relations.
But there are photos out there….just waiting to be found. As interest in family history research grows, more and more of these images are appearing online. They might be located on a tiny family website run by a distant cousin or a large public repository with thousands of holdings, but with some searching you might just find a few that fit your family tree.
We’re not saying it will be easy to locate photographs of your ancestors, but the hard work is worth it — an image adds a richness and life to an ancestor’s story like few other genealogical finds can.
Below you will find just a few places to locate old family photos and portraits online. Each one of these resources offers a variety of photographs from different sources. Some are fully accessible online and others provide only an index of names. Take some time to look through these collections and see if you can turn up someone in your family.
Google: This is by far the most powerful method for locating family photographs online. By searching the web for such images you will have access to countless family run genealogy sites, historical societies, image repositories and more.
To search Google for such images visit this link to their image search section and type in a name and other identifying information (such as location, date range or terms like “genealogy”) — or simply use the main search function since many photographs can only be found by name (with images stored offline).
Use the helpful tricks in our Google search article to refine your results and increase your odds of turning up a match. You can also find an article about Google image search for genealogy here.
Dead Fred: This large family history photo archive offers more than 100,000 records online and is available free of charge. It is fully searchable by name for those images where the people involved are known, while other photographs are still waiting to be identified.
FamilySearch Photos: Find your ancestors in FamilySearch’s collection of user submitted family photos. The special search area makes it easy to look through online images, download them to your computer, or even add your own collection to help other researchers.
Faces from the Past: A collection of old family photographs by Marge Rice. Rice has spent years collecting old photos from various sources and reuniting them with the proper family. You can search her collection of names online and connect with her to claim a photo.
Prints and Photographs from the Library of Congress: A large assortment of images of historical interest from the Library of Congress. The various online collections contain a surprising number of photos of everyday Americans — many taken in the early part of the 20th century as part of various government initiatives to document American lives. Some images are only available in the Library itself, but many others can be accessed online.
Cyndi’s List Lost and Found: Cyndi has compiled an excellent collection of links to genealogy photo collections from across the web — many for specific families or locations. Visit the link above to browse through these sites.
Tip: As mentioned, you will greatly increase your likelihood of finding family history photos if you search for them using Google or another search engine since so many are stored on small family sites or in locale focused repositories. Read the articles we linked to above to help you refine your searches and be persistent.
Image: “Family of Adrienne Pagnette: The three standing in front row are Adrienne, Anna and Francis. Adrienne, an adolescent French Illiterate. Speaks almost no English. Is probably 14 or 15. Doffs on top floor spinning room of Glenallen Mill. Anna, said she was 12 years old and helped older sister in Mill. Been at it all summer. She stands next Adrienne. Francis, has regular job doffing (see photo 239[…] [i.e., 2399?]). Says he is 15 but Mr. Hine Doubted it. Family consists of 17 members, 8 or 10 of them in the mill; almost every one of them illiterate. Stooping, reaching and pushing heavy boxes is bad for young girl adolescent. Location: Winchendon, Massachusetts.” 1911. Library of Congress