Photos & Images

Some of these websites specifically say that no attribution is necessary. However, my own belief is that courtesy demands that attribution be given where possible, and I always included a link back to the source and/or the person or organization that contributed the image.

1. 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.

2. Instead of a search box, this site has a tab under the site name in the top left to allow browsing of surnames. There are over 32, 000 photos of people and places, some identified and some are mysteries.

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

3. 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.

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.

4., 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.

5. is a website that provides all you could ever want to know about researching, dating and caring for old photographs. The gallery has 1000 images of photos, dating back to its invention. This site is a great reference tool!

To find unrestricted images, in general, check out these websites. As far as I can tell, all are free and almost all have no copyright restrictions and are in the public domain:

Note also that any photos taken by U.S. government employees for the government’s use are COPYRIGHT FREE. However, always double check for any use restrictions before using individual photos.

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.

Also, National Park Service, NOAA Photo Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NASA.

2. American Antiquarian Society – a wide range of digital images, available for free and with no restrictions. 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.

7. Internet Archive – The home of the Wayback Machine has much to offer.

8. Old Photo Archive – mostly vintage and historical images around the U.S. from state archives and repositories, plus photos shared by volunteers. The time span the photos cover is 1837-1980, but most pictures are in the early 1900s. It appears to be mostly public domain and royalty free.

9. Gratisography – a free website with all photos taken by Ryan McGuire and offered to the public with no copyright restrictions.

10. Pixabay – offers 890,000 photos with no publication restrictions or attribution required under Creative Commons license. Its images can even be used on commercial sites.

11. Wikimedia Commons – houses 37 million+ images, also under Creative Commons licenses and in the public domain.

12. The Old Design Shop – offers vintage images that take you back in time. Many are clip art or painted images, but the gallery has almost 50 categories of picture styles.

13. Pexels – is another Creative Commons website which describes itself as the “best free stock photos in one place.”

14. Morgue File – describes itself as “free images for creatives, by creatives; a post production file, over 350,000 free stock photos for commercial use.”

15. Viintage – has low resolution images of vintage graphics that are copyright free. If you want high resolution images, there is a fee.

16. FamilySearch – FamilySearch policy is that our family history information is there to share. When someone uploads an image to FS, they are automatically giving unlimited license to anyone else to use.

17. Temple University Digital Collection – The library has a large digital collection on line, ranging from World War I Allied Posters to the Philadelphia YWCA branches.

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

Leave a Reply