Category Archives: Digital Images Online

Here’s the Scoop on Images, Images and More Images

There are digital images everywhere and genealogists love to use them. Now, this post isn’t going to be about copyright and usage restrictions.  Instead, I’d like to share resources, including those with more or less unrestricted use.

There are actually several different directions that genealogists may take when trying to find digital images.

First, the most common search is probably to find online photos of family members and ancestors in the family tree. Most researchers check online trees, such as those on subscription sites, hoping to find new photos of their extended family members. While there are certainly plenty of photos to be found on those trees, are you aware of two other websites, both free?

The first is It is very easy to use – just enter a surname of interest in the search box and see what comes up. I tried “Tarbox” and got one hit for an Elizabeth Lord Tarbox of Batavia, New York. She fits into the family story somehow, as she married Henry Fisk Tarbox and all the early Tarboxes were descended from John Tarbox of Lynn, MA in the 1640’s. Elizabeth was born in 1849 and died in 1937. The photo of her looks to date from about the Civil War era. It’s a beautiful photo of her as a young girl. Her descendants would probably love to have this photo.

DeadFred allows you to upload and share your own vintage family photos. You never know who you might find!

There is one more trick that I’ve used to find other distant family members. I consider myself very lucky to have a treasure trove of old family photos, many of which date from the 1800’s. I often wonder if other family members might have some of the same photos. I go to Google Images.

Images can be searched in the traditional way, using a surname and/or place. But there is another way. Notice the camera on the right side of the search box? Clicking on the camera allows me to upload an image of my own. Google will then search for a matching image! If anyone else has the same image uploaded to a website, Google will find a match for me., like the Google images camera, is a reverse image locator. Just upload your image to the search box and it will search an advertised 11.4 billion images and growing. As  more and more images are digitized, finding matches will be more frequent. A caveat, though – it doesn’t appear that Google searches the subscription sites with family trees, so you will have to search those separately.

Secondly, searches are often conducted to find images of historical events and/or ancestral homes. Here is where copyright issues come into play.  Unless a website states that an image cannot be copied or saved to one’s computer, it doesn’t appear that there is a problem with saving the image to your own computer if the image is not going to be copied, published, posted online, etc. For example, you might have found an image of an ancestral home and you save the image for your own private use. It isn’t being posted to a family tree or electronically or paper shared in any way.

However, when the image is going to be shared in whatever way, copyrights must be honored by users and many images do, indeed, have restrictions on their use.

So, if you are looking for images with few or no restrictions on use, where do you look? I would suggest the following sites, although you will likely be much more successful finding images of events and places. It will be a stroke of luck, but not impossible, to find images of family members:

1. Library of Congress – Many of the Library of Congress images have no restrictions. To be sure, however, click on the image for its description. For example, I randomly chose the “Brady-Handy Collection” and then clicked on the first image of Rev. Sampson.

The photo dates from the Civil War era and the description states in “Rights Advisory” that there are no known publication restrictions. However, notice that written in red at the bottom of the box is “Rights assessment is your responsibility.” The Library of Congress has stated there are no known restrictions, but it is also letting the user know that the final assessment of usability is the responsibility of the user, not the Library of Congress. Would I feel comfortable using this image in a blog post? Because of its age and the fact that the Library of Congress purchased the collection from heirs of the photographer owner AND the Library of Congress states that there are no known publication restrictions, I would have no problem including the photo in a post, citing my source and the URL.

2. American Antiquarian Society – With my New England colonial ancestry, I have been aware of this society for many years. Somehow, the word “antiquarian” doesn’t immediately bring to mind the idea that this source would provide such a wide range of digital images, available for free and with no restrictions, but that is exactly what the American Antiquarian Society does. The society describes itself in this way: A National Research Library of American History, Literature and Culture Through 1876. While many of the images in the collection are of text, its Digital AAS link includes photographs. There is a heavy emphasis on New England, as they are located in Worcester, MA.

3. Check the digital archives of any states in which you are interested. Many states are developing fabulous digital archives of places in time long gone by. If you search “(whatever state) digital archives,” a link will come up. I searched for “Missouri Digital Archives” and the first hit is “Missouri Digital Heritage.” States with these digital archives can be easily searched by name or place. However, some hits might actually be digital newspapers, rather than photos of people or places.

4. Besides checking for digital archives of individual states, search for digital archives of libraries in major U.S. cities. For example, a search for Los Angeles Public Library brought up the main library website. In the top right corner was a link to “Photo Collection.” I further searched for “Cucamonga” and 32 photo hits came up. I did notice that this collection says nothing about restrictions on usage. One photo is dated 1963. Before I used that one, I would contact the library to ask about usage rights.

5. The Commons has partnered with institutions worldwide to provide access to images around the world. What is really nice that each participating institution has a “rights statement” below its link saying that, as far as it is aware, the images from their collections are free of copyright restrictions.

6. Digital Public Library of America – This site partners with others to provide a central location to search. The collection includes many items, including photographs. A statement is provided for each image regarding usage restrictions.

For questions about whether an image is public domain or with copyright restrictions, PublicDomainSherpa can help answer your questions.

Happy Hunting!