Find Historical Photos at Flickr Creative Commons

Historical photos and images can bring depth and understanding to genealogical findings. In the case of sharing your family history with others in your family who don’t share your passion for genealogy, they are an essential part of bringing family history to life.

One of the best free online resources for historical photos is the Creative Commons at Flickr.

Flickr is a popular photo, image and video hosting and sharing service. It’s a great platform for sharing your favorite photos with family and friends. It’s also an excellent place to find images that fit into your family history.

find historical photos for genealogy

An important part of the Flickr world is Creative Commons, which describes itself as part of a “worldwide movement for sharing historical and out-of-copyright images.”

Groups and individuals alike upload old images, tag and source them, and make them available to others through the Creative Commons. And when it comes to groups, the list of participants is impressive.

The British Library photostream features over a million images in its photostream! And a robust collection of historical photos and images can be found at the (U.S.) Library of Congress photostream, with over 34,000+ photos.

Searching the Creative Commons

When searching the Creative Commons, be sure to look for your favorite libraries and historical societies. If you don’t find them today, don’t worry. Check back regularly because new content is being added all the time.

Here’s another example of what you can find at the Creative Commons. The Netherlands Institute of Military History (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie) has a photostream.

"Exercise Field Artillery Corps" album, image AKL092038, Netherlands Institute of Military History uploads at Flickr Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nimhimages/16026248719/.

“Exercise Field Artillery Corps” album, image AKL092038, Netherlands Institute of Military History uploads at Flickr Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nimhimages/16026248719/.

According to the Netherlands Institute of Military History blog, “The Institute exists to serve all those with an interest in the military past of the Netherlands. Its sphere of activities covers the Dutch armed forces on land, at sea and in the air, from the sixteenth century until now. The staff of the NIMH administer a unique military history collection containing approximately 2 million images, of which they will be uploading many to the site.”

Back in 2015 when we first wrote about their brand new photostream it only included a couple dozen images, like the one shown here. Today they have well over 3,300.

Tips for Finding and Using Historical Photos at the Creative Commons

Searching for Historical Photos: On a photostream home page, click the search icon (magnifying glass) just above the first row of photos in the upper right corner. A search box will pop up at the top of the page. Enter Keywords to search for images within that photostream. (Image below)

photostream search

Location isn’t Everything: Just like with brick and mortar libraries, don’t let the location of the library or archive hosting the photostream fool you! Their collections are not limited to only items in their area. If you’re in search of something specific, try the Flickr Advanced Search page here.

Understanding Downloading and Copyright: Those who post images to Flickr Creative Commons offer different rights to those who want to download and use their images. Described here (and searchable here by the kinds of rights you want), those rights may include the ability to use a photo as long as it’s for noncommercial purposes and proper credit is given. Perfect for a responsible, source-citing genealogist!

10 Favorite Flickr Photostreams with Historical Focus

It would be impossible to list all of the potential photostreams at Flickr’s Creative Commons that feature historical photos, so I won’t even try. However, I’m happy to provide this list of favorites, which illustrates the breath and depth of possibilities. I hope it inspires you to search out your favorite library or archive at the Creative Commons.

(Organized by number of photos)

Internet Archive Book Images
5,240,000+ Photos
Though not currently organized by Albums or Galleries, there is something here for absolutely everybody! Use the search feature to zero in on what you want. (See tips section below)

The British Library
1,000,000+ Photos
A gloriously eclectic mix of images. Just one example: World War I: The Canadian Experience. This photo album covers 1895 and 1924, and contain depictions of Canadians’ experiences of the First World War. From the British Library: “Either produced by photographers on home soil or individuals in Europe employed by Lord Beaverbrook’s ‘Canadian War Records Office’ the photographs provide a wide ranging account of the many Canadians involved in and impacted by the war.”

The National Archives UK
20,000+ Photos
the UK government’s official archive contains more than 1,000 years of history, so their photostream is not to be missed! Nicely organized into Albums focused on location, the images offer a sampling of their massive holdings.

The U.S. National Archives
16,500+ Photos
Nicely organized into a vast array of albums, these photos represent only a small sampling of the photographs in their collection which totals more than 25 million photos and 20,000 graphic images. Early on they focused on uploading photos from the Women’s Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency, and a few staff favorites. According to the National Archives, “These photographs, most taken by agents of Federal agencies over the years, cover a wide range of subjects and themes documented in the work of the United States government. Higher resolution versions of many of these images can be obtained from the U.S. National Archives by following the links located below each image.”

SMU Libraries Digital Collections
10,000+ Photos
Southern Methodist University Digital Collections includes the digital libraries and online digital collections from the six SMU Libraries. You’ll find an emphasis on digital collections of Mexican photographs, locomotives, Texas history, art, and currency notes, and more.

National Library of Norway
3600+ Photos
These images either fall in the public domain or the copyright belongs to the library and has been wavered. You’ll find photos, postcards, stereograph cards and other ephemera depicting life in Norway. With all of the portraits you may just spot an ancestor!

National Library of Norway photostream

National Library of Norway photostream

The New York Public Library
2500+ Photos
Considering how many Americans passed through New York, this photostream is definitely worth a visit.

National Library of Ireland on The Commons
2500+ Photos
Here you’ll find a range of items from the Ephemera Collections of the National Library of Ireland. They provide a snapshot of different periods in Ireland’s social, political, economic and cultural history. They’ve also added items from their Manuscript collections, Prints and Drawings, Exhibitions, as well as photos from Library Events.

UBC Library Digitization Centre
of the University of British Columbia
2400+ Photos
Just one of many Canadian library photostreams, the UBC Library shows off it’s diverse image collection in well organized albums. My personal odd-ball favorite is the Tremaine Arkley Croquet Collection!

Library Company of Philadelphia
1280+ Photos
They’ve organized their current photo collection into more than 50 albums, making it easy to quickly spot the historical collections. Notable albums feature unique historical images from the Civil War era.

 

History Hub Tutorial

Show Notes: Are you trying to work on a genealogy brick wall, and you think the records you need might be at the National Archives? In this video, I’m going to show you a new way that you can get answers and hopefully get the records quickly.

The National Archives is a great place to do that, but as I’ve mentioned before in this video, their website can be a bit daunting. However, I’ve got some good news. They have updated the website, and tucked away in that update is a special area where you can ask questions and get answers from many different sources including the staff at the National Archives.

It’s called History Hub. This updated platform is a place where the staff will actually answer your questions. You’ll also get responses from other archivists, librarians, museum curators, genealogists, and history enthusiasts. We all have areas of expertise and a wide array of experience, and the new History Hub makes it easier to help each other.

History Hub Show Notes

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

History Hub Free Account

Before you can ask a question or help answer a question, you’ll need to register for a free History Hub account. To do so, click the Create your History Hub account now link on the home page. Type in the account name you want, enter your email address and a password and click the box to agree to the terms of service.

If you are a returning History Hub user, you will need to reset your password and re-accept the community Terms of Use when you first log in. 

Be aware that accounts that have not been used for over 1 year are automatically deactivated. So, you can email them at historyhub@nara.gov and they will reactivate your account.

Searching History Hub

Searching for answers at the History Hub is pretty simple and easy to do. You can enter your question in the “Ask” field on the History Hub homepage, or within a specific community. And we’ll talk about communities in just a second.

Let’s first ask a question. There’s a very good chance that someone else has already asked a very similar question to the one you have and there may already be a lot of contributions that will have the information you need.

Go to History.gov and type your question or some keywords into the Ask box. Don’t click the Ask button just yet. Give it a second to show you any potential answers that are already on History Hub. They will appear as a list below the Ask box.  

Again, those answers will build up over time, so if when you ask your question you don’t see a similar answer, that’s OK. Go ahead and click the Ask button now and you’ll be taken to a page called Ask a Question in Researchers Help where you can write up your question. Include any relevant information you already know, such as names, dates, and places, and also mention specifically where you’ve already looked. That’s going to help them help you.

You can also add Tags to your question so that if someone searches for a tag, your request will also pop up. And be sure to check the box at the bottom so that you’ll be notified when someone replies to your post.

There are a couple of things to understand and keep in mind. First, all questions are public. So don’t post your phone number or other personal information about you or other living people.  

Second, all questions are reviewed and moderated to make sure they comply with History Hub’s Terms and Conditions which again you can read when you sign up for your account. They only moderate and answer questions on weekdays during regular business hours, so patience is a virtue here.

In addition to the Ask a Question box, you’ll find a search bar at the top of the page. This search field searches the entire History Hub website. It’s very similar to the Ask a Question search bar in that once you enter your search terms, you’ll want to wait and let it populate possible answers that are already on the website. It will show you Forums, blogs and communities where your terms are being discussed.

You’ll also find a link to Advanced Search in the bottom right corner of that prepopulated list. This gives you a place to filter down in several creative ways which is very handy if you’re looking for information on a pretty broad topic or one that has had a lot of activity on History Hub.

History Hub search example

History Hub search example

They even give you an RSS feed for your specific query. So, if you use an RSS reader to follow blogs and podcasts, you could add this link to it to sort of bookmark this search and keep up to date on the activity on this topic. If you don’t use a Feed Reader currently, but that sounds interesting to you, check out a feed reader like https://feedburner.google.com/ or just google Feed Reader.

Browsing History Hub

Even if you don’t have a specific question, History Hub is worth browsing. There are a couple of ways to do that.

When looking at a community (for example, the Genealogy page), you’ll see:

  1. Ask a Question.
  2. Recent Blog Posts from this community.
  3. Top Questions where you can look through the most popular questions and topics. This also includes threads from related forums. Use the filters underneath the title of this section to focus even more.
  4. Activity Stream which features the most recent conversations.
  5. Explore Communities. History Hub currently hosts 19 communities, including “Researchers Help,” Military Records, Genealogy, and more. To see them all, click on Communities at the top of any page on the History Hub website.

At History Hub you can not only ask questions, you can also answer them. Since all of us have expertise in our own areas of genealogy, History Hub encourages everyone to share their knowledge and experience with other users who are new to archival and genealogical research. So, you can help out a fellow genealogist by clicking Reply at the bottom of their post and sharing what you know about the topic.

Notifications, Updates, and Subscriptions

As I mentioned before, this site is building up content over time. So, you’re probably going to want to follow topics, and History Hub offers a couple of ways to do that.

Forum Updates & Notifications

If you’re interested in following a particular topic, such as Census Records, or Army and Air Force Records, you can get updates by email and on the platform for all new questions and answers in that specific forum. To do that, click on any community’s  Question and Answer Forum tab, then click the Turn Forum notifications on link in the sidebar of that Forum’s homepage.

Subscribe to Community Updates

You can also receive daily or weekly email updates within a specific community, including new blog posts and questions. To do that on any Community Overview page, click “Email digest options” in the right column sidebar.

Getting Help with History Hub

History Hub Help Files: Getting Started.  Again, this website is newly revamped, so they are still working out the bugs. You can report any problems or ask questions in the Technical Help and Support Forum.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

 

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