Old Family Photos

My BEST and (Easy) Tips To Find Old Family Photos

Explore the best tips and resources – online and offline – to find old family photos. Discover common and uncommon places to look.

Is it possible for the genealogy researcher to find old family photos?

As genealogy researchers, we know a lot about our ancestors. We can place an ancestor on the map at any given point in time.  We know what they did for a living, how many children they had, if faith was important to them, and even if they broke the law. In some cases, we even know about their mental health.

What we really want to know is what they looked like?! Secretly, we wonder if we looked like them.  Which side of the family did we take after?

We do have options for finding old family photos and seeing what our ancestors looked like.  Even better, many of the places you can search are free. 

Black and white old family photo of young girl and her father

Tips & Resources To Find Old Family Photos

1.Ask Your Family.

I know. I know.  This seems pretty basic, but ask your family anyway.  Ask your immediate family, AND ask those more distant relatives if they have old family photos.  Your ancestors shared family photos. My great grandmother was a young women when the Brownie camera gained popularity and photography became more affordable for the general public. She shared a large number of photos with her cousins and her friends.

Red and white words on tan background reading How to Find Old Family Photo. Collage of black and white photos under words.

Genealogy Tip: No “cousin” is too far geographically or on the family tree not to have photos of your ancestors (or at least information) on your old family photos.

Alternatively, ask fellow researchers who are researching on the same family line.

2. Local and state archives

Archives often have photographs and your ancestors could be among them. Photographs can be found in an archives digital collection or on-site at the archives.  Ask the staff for assistance in where their specific repository keeps its photographs.

long aisle of shelving with archive folders and boxes.

Melissa Barker (AKA The Archive Lady) recommends the researcher ask about photo collections on the shelf that have not been cataloged yet. [Listen to this tip and other great photograph tips in this Facebook Live I did with Melissa.]

3. Flickr

Archives and large libraries are using Flickr to house digital collections including many photographs!

Old family photo album which is a great place to find old family photos

4. Yearbooks

Yearbooks are another place to search for your ancestor’s photograph. Many yearbooks are being digitized and can be found in archives online collections. One such example is the yearbook collection at Digital NC. College and high school yearbooks dating back to the 1890’s can be found. Large genealogy databases such as Ancestry.com and FindMyPast also have yearbook collections.

Additionally, check the local library and the historical society for where your ancestor lived for copies of yearbooks.

5. Church Directories.

Similar to yearbooks, church directories contain photographs of their members. That means you can potentially find old family photos in them! Finding specific church directories (especially for smaller rural churches) can be difficult, but certainly not impossible. The church itself most likely has a collection of any directories created. Check with local members if you know any. Additionally, check the local library and local historical society for copies.

Genealogy Tip: Church directories can be a gold mine of information for the genealogy researcher.

6. DeadFred.com and orphaned photo sites.

Orphaned photo websites are another place to find old family photos. DeadFred is a free online genealogy photo archive. Search by location or by surname and see if any of your ancestors are there.

Similarly, look at Ancient Faces  and Old Photographs Of African Americans – Unknown Faces (OPOAA)Cyndi’s List has an extensive list of websites for orphaned or lost photos you will want review.

Colorized old family photo of woman in plaid dress and sunbonnet.

7. Online auction sites.

Sadly, old family photos sometimes end up in antique shops and online auction sites.  {Sigh…} Check online auction sites such as ebay for old family photographs and other family ephemera.

8. Family history books

Published family histories on a specific family line or surname can contain photographs of your ancestors. Early in my research, I was directed to a family history book (by the author and fellow researcher) to find a photograph of my GGG grandparents! The book was in a library just 3 miles from my home.

Also, check WorldCat and Internet Archive for family histories.

9. Online Family Trees

As genealogy researchers, we know to be careful when getting information from someone’s family tree. We never accept the information as fact unless we can confirm the facts ourselves. You can use these online family trees as clues and many contain those coveted old family photos.

Outline silhouette of tree with many branches with leaves.

If you find a photograph of your ancestor in an online family tree, I recommend you reach out to the tree owner. You are both researching the same person and they may have other photographs for that family.

10. Perform a Google Search.

Type in an ancestor’s name and click on images in the results page. 

Genealogy Tip: I recommend including a date range in your search to help narrow down the results.

Have you found old family photos in an unusual place? Share your experience in the comments below.

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  • Karl Gansberg

    My biggest complaint is when you find matches thru DNA thru ancestry.com, and other similar genealogy sites, you draw up a message to send to people who are very close matches and those people will not reply. Why do people who put up a tree and then they ignore any requests for further information, they refuse to reply to your messages you send them. Another complaint is that when they put up a tree on-line, they make it private, but they readily are using the trees others have posted have for their own gains. Pretty selfish if you think about it.

    • LisaL

      Often I think people who are DNA matches without trees are more interested in knowing the generalities of where they came from and are not genealogy researchers themselves. It can be trying when we are trying to break down those brick walls!

    • Cathy Anderson

      I totally agree!! I have about hundred old photos, documents etc… that I downloaded to Ancestry and my tree is public. All my info, photos are free for for anyone to use and put on their families trees but I too get frustrated with families that have private trees that will not share what they have with me but use my photos and info. I hear some people say ” Privacy” well when did family history have HIPPA laws? I still have computer card with hundreds of pics i got from a cousin that i scanned but did so that i am going to have to get a program and edit them all and i still want to get more pics from other cousins as we lost our photos when i was young to a fire. Ancestry is not easy work

  • Ann Haviland Amadori

    I often see photos of people at findagrave.com on their memorial page.

    And my husband and I found one on a grave marker for his paternal grandmother in a cemetery in Italy!

  • Jacki Wilson

    I belong to a group on Facebook called Lost and Found Genealogy Pictures. Groups like this are nice because absolute strangers who find pictures either in old albums, or maybe shopping in antique or thrift shops, etc. will post photos and a lot of times there will even be a notation of a name on it. They want nothing more than to reunite these photos with their real families. Or, if they have one that is an unknown in their own collection, they post their family names and places and ask if anyone may know how the person/s in the photo may connect or be related. Sometimes they are lucky enough to actually put a name to the face, and learn unexpected information that they would never have found otherwise.

    Also, if you are searching in a particular location, I would strongly suggest joining a Facebook genealogy site for that area. For example, I belong to one for Clinton County New York, because my HUGE brick wall is with my third great grandparents who lived there and all their children were born there before coming to Ohio. I know they were born in Quebec area, but I cannot fetnover the hurdle of who their parents are and how did they end up in NY? By following this FB group, I am able to connect with other people who are also researching their family in the same place in the same time frame, and who may be able to share or exchange information. Also, many times, people have also posted photos there trying to find out, “does anyone know…?”

    I hope you may find these helpful. I know I do!

  • Roma Walker Deakin

    I found pictures of ancestors in a 1902 Plat Book of St. Clair County, Missouri. The last several pages of the plat book were devoted to pictures of local individuals/couples. I’m not sure how the individuals were selected. Maybe they contributed to the publishing cost, or maybe they were just somewhat known in the county. Great surprise!

  • Ava (Sherlock) Cohn

    For those genealogists looking for Jewish family photographs, I have a small gallery of photographs from families I have worked with. It can be found on my website, http://www.sherlockcohn.com. The gallery is called “Matchmaker” and can also be accessed from google if people search on a specific surname. The gallery is small at the moment but I have many new photos that will be coming online in the coming months.

  • LisaL

    From Debbie (reader email):

    When looking at census documents on Ancestry or other sites, look for the tools icon. It looks like a little hammer crossed with a wrench. Click that and choose “ invert colors” . This makes the page black with white writing. It is amazing how much easier it is to read faded script and cross outs.


  • Veronica B Vale

    I was on ancestry.com and up pops a message page that said, not availble at this time. Whose picture did I see? My ex husband befoe I was married. He was pan handling in CA. Gold country in the 60’s.

  • Gloria Robles

    I am search for pictures of my anestors in Mexico. Where can I start? I have already asked relatives and they know nothing. I will be looking in the area of Salamanca, Mexico.

    • LisaL

      I’m not familiar with Mexican research, but try reaching out to any historical/genealogy societies there or to the public library in the area. They may be able to get you started. Additionally, Familysearch.org may have recommendations on the FamilySearch Wiki.

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