Images make your family history more vivid. But how can you find just the right pictures to illustrate your family stories? These short, free video tutorials help genealogists find images online for family history.
When it comes to sharing your family history, pictures are not only worth a thousand words: they’re priceless. A single image can convey an ancestor’s physical appearance, mood or attitude, living or working conditions, social environment, and more. Pictures catch the eye whether they are on coffee tables, hanging on the wall in frames, or shared with loved ones on social media, where they are oh-so-clickable.
So I was happy to get this email from Phyllis, asking for some tips on how to find images online for family history:
“Hi Lisa, I know you’ve told us before what some great resources are for locating historical photos and images. I’m looking for some from the Ragtime era (1895-1918). I don’t find much at the Library of Congress. Can you send me a few links to some of your podcasts that delve into where to find images? Thank you for all the hard work you do for the genealogy world.”
How to Find Images Online for Family History
Most recently, I shared some tips for finding images in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 194. But I also recommend this series of short video tutorials, which show you exactly how to do this.
How to Find Images Online: Use Google Images
The first place I search online for images for family history is Google Images. Watch this brief tutorial video to see how to find images using your Google web browser:
If you want to use your tablet or smartphone to find images for family history, here’s another short tutorial just for you:
How to Find Images Online: Image Search in Google Books
When I am looking for pictures of people, places, buildings, historical events, maps, and other images that commonly appear in books, I also search Google Books separately for pictures that haven’t shown up in the main Google search results. You can do that, too! Here’s how:
After you’ve found images via Google Books, you’ll want to save them. Here’s one last quick video to show you how:
Using the tips given in the above video tutorials, I can run a Google search to answer Phyllis’s specific question. I’ll type ragtime era as a keyword phrase and enter the range of years, separated by two dots and no spaces, to tell Google to search for any numbers within that range. Then, as shown below, I’ll click Images to limit the results to pictures:
The Image search results include some fun photos, including a photo of a ragtime band, several sheet music covers, illustrations of “ragtime dress” and even a link to old video footage:
Click on an interesting-looking image to see a larger version and more details about it, including the website that’s hosting it. You’ll also see the options to click through to the webpage on which that image is found (“Visit page”), or to click through to the URL for that image (“View image”):
When I want to use an image, I will take one additional step: Click the TOOLS button and select Labeled for reuse from the Usage rights menu. This generally filters my results down to those that don’t have copyright restrictions on them (although it’s up to me to verify this and cite the image appropriately when I use it). Here’s what it looks like to filter my results to those labeled for reuse:
Unfortunately, in this case, when I do this, all search results disappear. If you want to use images for your own personal use, try the Labeled for noncommercial reuse option. Not all images that are copyright free or in the public domain will be marked, so if you don’t find what you need, go back to your original search results and look at individual images that you like to see whether any of them come from government, wiki, or other websites that commonly offer copyright-free images. Click through to read any image restrictions or use policies posted on the site, or contact the site for permission to use them. In this case, I do find several hosted by libraries, and I will focus on them.
One last tip: filter your search results again for Videos, instead of for Images. An entirely new set of search results will appear, largely from YouTube but also from other websites:
If the spirit and movement of ragtime during this time period is what you’re looking for, watch these videos! They may not work for you if you need static images for a book, but they’re great for sharing on your family history blog or in a social media post. Just click through to the video page, click Share and copy and paste the Embed code onto your site.
The Genealogy Gems YouTube channel is a vast resource. I invite you to visit, explore, and subscribe. In addition to tech tip video demos such as these, you’ll also find interviews with genealogy experts. research tips for maps, newspapers and other record types, how-to series for family history blogging, creating videos, and using Evernote for genealogy, family history craft tutorials and more! Here’s a tip: Use the search box to find what you’d like to watch. (Google search operators work in YouTube searches, too. Use them to zero in on the video or podcast episode you want.)
Using your mobile device for genealogy is a great idea, but with that convenience takes some additional know-how. Back-up your mobile device images in a few simple steps and you’ll never say, “I lost my photos on my phone!”
“I lost my photos on my phone!!”
This is NOT what you want to hear from a dear friend who is also a genealogist. So my heart sank when Genealogy Gems Contributor Amie Tennant’s email dropped into my inbox.
“I spent 6 hours researching at a cemetery and archives in a far away location. You won’t believe this, but when I got home I realized my smartphone wasn’t working. I had taken all the tombstone images with it, all the document copies were made with it, all my notes were on it. And I hadn’t even had time to back it up.”
That’s the problem, unless you back up as you go, you can’t be sure that just an hour later it won’t all be gone. These days you’re more likely to snap photos of records with your phone than a camera. But with that convenience comes the need for a new game plan to keep those precious images safe.
Back-up Your Mobile Device Images: The Plan
I put together an immediate email to Amie with a restoration and preservation game plan. If, like Amie, you are using your smartphone and mobile devices more and more, you’ll want to put this plan into place too.
First, I advised Amie to visit her phone store (for example, The Apple Store if you have an iPhone) and see if they could retrieve the lost photos and data. You never know unless you ask!
Image of Amie’s 4th great-grandfather she was able to retrieve.
Next, it’s important to consider automatic back-up options. Automatic back-ups are great, which is why I love BackBlaze. But BackBlaze is back up for your computer. The BackBlaze app on your phone only gives you access to those computer files, and doesn’t back up your phone.
One option is to back-up manually as you go. In other words, as soon as you snap that image of a record, save it to a Cloud storage service such as Google Drive or Dropbox. You could even activate Cloud back-up so that it happens automatically, though with the size of image files, you would likely need a paid subscription service to allow for adequate storage space. However, if you are going to continue to use your phone as a genealogy tool, it may be well worth the investment. Let’s look more closely at these two options:
Free Manual Option: If cost is an issue, you can save your photos to a free Dropbox account at the time you take the photo, and then move to more permanent storage on your computer at a later time.
1. Take the photograph
2. Tap the photo in my iPhone’s Photos app
3. Tap Edit and do a quick edit to clean it up (improve contrast, rotate so that it is right side up, crop to get as close-up as possible)
4. Tap Done to close the editor
5. Tap the Share icon and tap Save to Dropbox
6. Select the folder in Dropbox where I want to save the image and tap Save
However, it would definitely be faster and simpler to have your phone automatically backing up to the Cloud.
Low Cost Automatic Option: If your phone is going to be one of your genealogy tools, then automatic cloud back-up may be worth the low cost of around a dollar a month.
Personally, I am not a fan of iCloud even though I have an iPhone. I just don’t find it very user friendly to work with. Setting up your photos and videos to automatically back up to your Google Photos library via Google Drive is another option. Again, since photos and videos do take up a lot of space you’ll likely need to invest in a low cost monthly storage plan. Click here to learn more, or Google search Google Drive Plan Cost (or substitue the name of the service you are considering)for current plans.
Bottom line: There are several Cloud services available for our smartphones and mobile devices, so there’s sure to be one that’s right for you. Where ever your images find their final resting place, make sure it has Cloud back-up.
Amie’s Response to the Plan
I quickly sent the plan to Amie. She responded by saying:
“Thank you, Lisa! It was devastating. You were right, a nice man at the phone store was able to restore them! But, I don’t ever want to have this happen again. When I set up my new phone, a Samsung Android, I noticed a setting that said something like “automatic save to Google drive” and it would sync your images. So I clicked it “on” but now I can’t find where I did that! Any ideas?”
Troubleshooting Backing-up Your Mobile Device
When people shoot me a question, my usual response is “Just Google it!” I Googled Automatic backup of android phone and got several great hits on the results list.
One article on Android Fact.com was particularly helpful. (Read the full article here.) Remember, it can get pretty expensive to be instantly uploading images with your cell phone carrier. I suggest clicking Wi-Fi Only to ensure that uploading only takes place when you are connected to Wi-Fi.
I regularly emphasize backing up important documents that live on your computer. But let’s face it: If you have a smartphone, it would be oh, so sad to have to say “I lost my photos on my phone!” So don’t wait—back up your smartphone or mobile device today.
Smartphones and other mobile devices offer a plethora of editing tools. It is well worth the investment of a few extra seconds to clean up and maximize images as you go. This is particularly true of records that need to be clear for future reference or printing.
Try applying a filter to your images for maximum readability. I like the Noir filter in my iPhone’s Photos app editor.
How to use Google image search to identify old photos, that’s what we are covering today! These tech-tip videos are my way of sharing tips and tricks that will save you time and add to your genealogy and family history research success. You don’t have to love genealogy to put these tips into action! So join me as I share a little tech-tip on how to use Google image search to identify old photos on smartphone and tablets.
My new tech-tip video posted to the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel is all about how to use Google image search to identify old photos. You may remember, I posted a similar video on how to upload an image to Google on your laptop or home computer, run a search to find other images that match, and most importantly, identifythat image. After watching that video, Doris wrote me the following email:
“I just enjoyed your video about Google Images. It seems that it won’t work on my iPhone 6S +. I have to wait until I am on my laptop, later. What a great tip! Thanks for all you do to help us make our computer life easier and more fun.”
Well Doris, you don’t have to wait to get back home to do a Google image search! This video will show you, step-by-step, how to search for images right from your mobile device.
After watching this helpful video, Amie, our Content Creator here at Genealogy Gems, shared with me this tidbit:
“Lisa, I just wanted to share what I did after watching your video, “How to Google Search Images – Smartphone and Tablets.” When I had a little wait time, I went into my FamilySearch app on my phone and found the pictures I had saved to my FamilySearch Tree. Then, using your instructions, I looked to see if any of those ancestor photos were found anywhere else on the web. Guess what? I made a cousin connection with one of the photos. I found a cousin had put Great-Grandpa’s picture on her Pinterest page! Just another genealogy success story!”
And there you have it! By learning a few tips, you can use your smartphone or tablet for searching Google images just like Doris and Amie. A follow-up email from Doris after watching this video just made my day:
“I watched this video yesterday while I was riding in the car. What a fun surprise! I tried it and it worked! Thanks for doing this for me. I am grinning right now just thinking about it.”
You are so welcome, Doris. I hope that others will give it a try, too.
Thanks for watching and reading, friends…and keep the comments and emails coming. I love to hear from you!
Learn More About Google Image Search and Everything Google for Genealogy
Ready to learn more about how to use Google for genealogy and mining it for your own genealogical treasures? The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, is your go-to resource! It’s available now both in print and e-book format. In its chapters–fully revised and updated –you’ll learn more about all these Google toolsand more. Better yet, after you learn how to use these tools for family history research, you’ll find yourself using them to find all kinds of things, from recipes to trivia, to a manual for your old car.
This free video on Google Books image search is another installment in Lisa’s tech tips for genealogy and family history. Find images fast by using the thumbnail icon in Google Books. It’s like speed reading for the genealogist!
I am a big fan of all things Google. I marvel at Google Drive, Google Books, Google Images, and even Gmail! Now, I am learning even more from Lisa’s short videos sharing tech tips for Google. This week, she posted “Google Books Image Search for Genealogy and Family History Research,” and it doesn’t disappoint!
A Reminder of the Power of Google E-Books
You may remember another one of Lisa’s free videos titled “Google E-Books for Genealogy and Family History.” In it, we learned about all the wonderful FREE books available as digital e-books online. Many of our readers are finding fun tidbits about the lives of their ancestors in the books found using these tips. So now, Lisa is sharing another trick for working within the Google e-books feature.
Finding Images Fast with Google
Several years ago, I learned that a book titled “Past and Present of Bureau County Illinois” written in 1906 had lots of information and possibly pictures of my husband’s ancestors. I quickly located the e-book online. I entered in each surname in the search field to find out which relatives pictures might be included. It took awhile.
Instead, I should have used the thumbnail icon to search all the pages at once! The thumbnail icon looks like a grid at the top of your e-book image. By clicking it, you can see a grid view of every page of the book.
Look how easy it is to see which pages have an image. You can quickly determine if the image is of a building, person, or even a map. Scroll through a book of over 500 pages in no time!
George B. Harrington, “Past and Present of Bureau County, Illinois,” 1906, Google Books, page 733.
Happily, I found just what I was looking for. There was a picture of my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather, James Coddington. What a great find!
With 25 million books online, we all have a lot of searching to do! Why not share this great tip with your genealogy friends? Let them know about the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel, too so they can view all the helpful tech tips for their family history research. And be sure to click the SUBSCRIBE button so you’ll get all the great search tip videos.
I’m hearing so much these days about source citation and I love it! Everyone seems to be getting smarter and better at sourcing their research finds. And genealogy websites are making it easier and more collaborative. Here’s just one example, an announcement just made by BillionGraves:
“After months of work in response to hundreds of user requests, BillionGraves has added several new features designed to validate and enhance the headstone records found on BillionGraves. The Supporting Record feature now allows users to upload evidence-based documents that support the BillionGraves records that have been collected through our mobile Apps. This means that users are now able to upload headstones, birth/death, burial, marriage, cremation, and many other types of records without needing a smart phone.
Thousands of records are being uploaded every day and are breaking down genealogy brick walls and making connections that once seemed impossible. While working closely with our users and genealogists we found that there were many headstones and burials that just couldn’t be accounted for with our current systems; including unmarked graves, cremation scatterings, destroyed stones, and so on. Our Supporting Records features eliminate this problem while maintaining the validity and accuracy of the BillionGraves database.”