Flickr is fast becoming a favorite tool in my genealogy toolbox! A free photo sharing site, Flickr can be used to get more eyes on your ancestors' photos!
Genealogy Research,  How To Trace Your Family Tree,  Organize Your Genealogy

Using Flickr to Identify Your Ancestors

Flickr is fast becoming a favorite tool in my genealogy toolbox!

If you are not familiar with it, Flickr is a free photo storage/sharing site. (There is a paid version, but the free version currently meets my needs.) With the free plan you can upload up to 1,000 photographs.

The advantages of Flickr include:

  • Cloud storage of your photographs (Tip: Back up your photographs in several places.)
  • The ability to edit your photographs in Flickr
  • The ability to set your privacy settings to Public (anyone), Private (only you) or Friends.
  • The ability to share a photograph to your social media accounts or by email
  • The ability to organize your photographs into albums and/or collections
  • The ability to create a  photo book from your albums. (I haven’t used this feature yet, but I plan to in the future.)

That’s 6 great reasons to use Flickr!

Use Flickr to get unidentified photos of your ancestors identified.

But I have an even better reason…..

I’m using Flickr to help identify all those unidentified individuals in my ancestors’ photographs.

Old family photos

When I began researching my family’s genealogy, my relatives took that as a sign to clean out their closets!  Finally, someone (me!) wanted all those photographs no one wanted, but did not want to throw away.

Among those treasured photos are a number that no one knows who they are.  It’s very possible not all those unidentified individuals are ancestors.  They could just be neighbors or friends. They could be YOUR ancestors!

The Problem

I have many unidentified photographs among my ancestors’ photo collections.  I do know approximate locations for where many of the photos were taken. I just do not know who is in the photographs.  

I could post the individual photographs to the appropriate Facebook groups and see if anyone recognizes them.  I have done this with a few photographs in the past with success.

However, I have a LOT of photographs.  It seems rude to monopolize a Facebook group board with all of my photographs.

Large box of old family photos and ancestors

The Solution


I created an album  in Flickr entitled “Unidentified Ancestors”  and uploaded those unknown photographs.

This is my Flickr homepage where you can see all of the photo albums I currently use. Notice the “Unidentified Ancestors” album on the second row.  That’s the one we are interested in for this post.

My Flickr Homepage
My Flickr Homepage

This is what “Unidentified Ancestors” album looks like when opened.

FlickR genealogy photo album

Important Tip:  When creating an album on Flickr, carefully craft the album’s description. Include keywords such as locations and surnames if known. This will help other genealogy searchers find your photographs.

This is an excerpt from this “Unidentified Ancestors” Flickr album. Notice I have included the locations of Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties, VA and the potential surnames of the individuals.

The individuals in these photographs are from Halifax County, VA or Pittsylvania County, VA. Most of the individuals had some relationship (friend or perhaps relative) of the Talbott, Richardson, and/or Elliott families of the area.

Next, let’s focus on an individual photograph.

Tags were created for each photograph including location names if known.  If a surname was known, that was also included in the tag. Descriptions were added to each photograph, too.  Known information about the photograph was shared.

This is a photo of an unknown man. Notice in the description I indicated potential surnames and locations where he might have lived.  I did this for each photograph in the album.

William Elliott in Flickr album

Here’s a close up look at the description:

Flickr photo description for ancestor

Once completed,  Flickr albums can be shared on your social media sites or in an email. Simply click the arrow (circled in red below).

Identify Your Ancestors Using Flickr

A unique link will be provided for you to share on your social media sites or in an email to fellow researchers and family.

Sharing your Flickr Album

Simply copy the link and share it  on your social media (such as Facebook) or in an email.

Providing a link back to the album (which in this case has 90+ photographs) is a much more efficient way of sharing these photographs. Sharing the album link is also more polite and does not clutter up Facebook groups, etc  with just “my” photographs.

The Rest of the Story

Flickr ancestor photo identified

Here is the close up of the new description:

Matthew Adams family Flickr description

I shared this Flickr album of my unknown photographs online in Facebook groups and with other genealogy researchers within the regions where my ancestors lived. Someone recognized a photograph of a young woman.

[Insert genealogy happy dance.]

I then received a recommendation to share these photographs with another researcher (in this case a Richardson researcher). He identified three of the photographs and filled in the family history on the one branch of the family tree that went west!

[Insert another enthusiastic genealogy dance!]

genealogy happy dance

Update: Over 50% of the photographs in the unknown ancestor album have now been identified! Have I convinced you to give Flickr a try yet?

If you have ancestors from south central Virginia, be sure to check out the Unidentified Ancestors album!  You might recognize someone!

Other posts of interest:

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  • Alyssa Gorraiz

    This is a great idea! I am working on my own website and thought about placing a page there very similar to what you have suggested. Most definitely Flickr would have a much larger audience, so I may be switching my plans! Thanks again!

    • LisaL

      Ann, thanks for bringing this up. Flickr is now owned by Verizon. Regardless, of who owns Flickr, uploading our own photos – i.e. for example, photos taken by me – with a more restrictive licensing is a good idea. However, photos taken prior to 1923 (as many of mine are) are in the public domain.

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