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.)
Looking for something fun to read this holiday season? Whether you need reading material for holiday travels or just want to curl up under a blanket at home, here are two great titles I love. I shared these with Lisa in the December episode of the Genealogy Gems podcast–click here to hear our discussion and excerpts!
Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History by Helene Stapinski is one of my favorite published family histories. The author recounts her family’s upbringing in the context of the notoriously corrupt culture of Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A. It’s a page-turner, from the jaw-dropping opening sentence to the author’s final musings about how her own life reflects hand-me-down criminal tendencies. Some of the stories are snickeringly funny and some are sad, and the author keeps just the right distance from the drama. She’s close enough to sympathize with people who are trying to make their way within a culture that rewards dishonesty, greed and violence, yet can laugh at ironies like trying to learn about her grandfather’s petty thefts–when he’s stolen the very newspaper pages about his misdeeds from the library.
Homemade Biography: How to Collect, Record, and Tell the Life Story of Someone You Love This is more than “just” a how-to book for family historians—it’s a story of its own. I re-read it every time I want to be freshly inspired to pursue the stories of my family. New York Times best-selling author and journalist Tom Zoellner weaves stories of his own into fabulous, hard-won advice on interviewing people. He shares insider tips on how to get the best stories out of those we talk to. There’s even a helpful chapter on how to work with the memories of those who have Alzheimer’s!
Tune in next month to learn our next featured book for the first quarter of 2015. Learn more about other books we’ve recommended at the Genealogy Gems Book Club page.
If you research ancestors in the U.S., you’ve probably already used the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website for searching digitized newspapers. Now they’ve added a new feature: you can subscribe to receive “old news” on many of your favorite historical topics!
The Evening World (New York, NY), Sept 10, 1900, Evening Edition, Page 2. Digitized image from Chronicling America.
Here’s how it works. You can sign up for weekly notifications that highlight interesting and newly-added content on topics that were widely covered in the U.S. press at the time. (Click here to see a list of topics.)
My favorite family history-related topics are natural disasters (like the Chicago fire or Galveston flood), war topics (from Appomattox to World War I) and civil and human rights events (from the Railroad Strike of 1886 to Ellis Island to coverage of Pullman porters). But there are a lot of topics that might relate to your family: industrialization (electric cars!), arts, sports (think Babe Ruth and the Boston Marathon), major crimes and trials, politics, holidays and public celebrations and public works and technology marvels (like the Panama Canal or Titanic).
Learn more about finding your ancestors in the newspaper in Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. She walks you through the process of determining which newspapers might mention your ancestors and where to find those papers (both online and offline). You’ll learn in detail about Chronicling America and more about other free and subscription options for searching online newspapers. Best of all, Lisa shares mouthwatering examples from her own research that show you why newspapers can be such a valuable source of information on our family history.
Recently Genealogy Gems Premium member Katharine Ott wrote in this with newsworthy gem:
“Recent adoption records are being released in Ohio. Such an exciting time for those adoptees yearning to connect with their bloodlines! Before the bill took effect, they allowed birth mothers to redact their names. Out of 400,000 only around 110 took them up on that. There’s also a preference form with the birth records where the mother can request not to be contacted. I wonder how often that might not be respected. It’s such an interesting situation for someone to be in.”
Wow, that’s huge news about Ohio adoption records! Thanks for the news, Katharine. She sent us this link to a local news story that covers the story. The Ohio Department of Health posted this webpage about ordering adoption records.
Want to learn more about accessing adoption records in any state? Check out the U.S. Adoption Research page at the FamilySearch wiki for a terrific overview and helpful links.
Also, try running a Google search for the name of the state and the keywords adoption and genealogy. You’ll find lots of great resources, like this pageon adoption records at the Pennsylvania state library or this online resource from the State Historical Society of Missouri.
Google search expert Lisa Louise Cooke advises a genealogist on three ways to improve Google search results. See how these little improvements can make a big difference in your own Google searches!
This Genealogist Wants to Improve Google Search Results
Gene from Phoenix recently watched a free webinar in which I talked about improving Google search results for genealogy and then sent me this follow-up email:
“Lisa, I enjoyed the free webinar, Thank you!
I tried your suggestions for searching Google but still can’t get what I want.
My ancestor was Moses Fountain (possibly from NY but can only find him in IN)
I put in “Moses Fountain” 1800-1832 -Italy -Rome -hotel
When my search comes up the first page is all of the hotel & fountain in Rome, Italy. There is no genealogy (all my inquiries) until page 2. I cannot -New York as he may have come from there, so I’ll continue to get Albany fountain (like the water fountain.) Thanks for any suggestions you might have.” -Gene in Phoenix, AZ
3 Powerful Techniques that can Improve Google Search Results
Kudos to Gene for jumping onto Google and giving it a go after the webinar. Getting started is the most important part of achieving genealogical success! In order to improve Google search results, Gene needs to make a few adjustments to tell Google more specifically what is wanted:
1. Use the Google search operators correctly
First, Gene will need to fix the numrange search. If you haven’t watched the webinar yet (what are you waiting for?) a numrange search is when you give Google two four-digit numbers and specify that you only want webpages included in your search results that have a four-digit number that falls within that range. And of course years are expressed in four-digit numbers, so this is incredibly useful for genealogists. Gene has a dash between the two numbers (a very logical approach since this is how we are used to expressing a range), but a numrange search requires two periods instead, like this:
2. Add a Google search term to narrow results.
Gene didn’t see genealogical search results until page 2 of the results. An easy way to bring pages related to genealogy to the forefront of the results is to add the word genealogy to your search query:
As you can see above, this improves things quite a bit. Isn’t it amazing what a difference one well-chosen keyword can make to improve Google search results?
3. Consider carefully which Google search terms to remove
Gene removed some irrelevant search results by placing a minus sign directly in front of the search terms Italy, Rome, and hotel. This tells Google to subtract all pages from search results that contain these words. This is a very powerful tool, particularly when it comes to ancestors who have common surnames. (For instance, if you were researching an ancestor named John Lincoln, your results would be inundated with results for President Abraham Lincoln, simply due to the volume of pages that mention him. If John was not related to this famous president, you could add -Abraham and -president to your search query, and his footprints on your results would be dramatically reduced.) By the way, notice that the minus sign touches the word it is removing. There should be no space between the minus and the word.
But Gene continues to get irrelevant search results relating to a Moses Fountain in Washington Park, Albany, New York. The concern expressed here is that removing New York may inadvertently remove good search results, since this ancestor may have been from New York. Instead of removing New York, why not subtract a more targeted search term, such as Albany or Washington Park? Since it’s also possible that Moses Fountain was from Albany, I’d start by removing Washington Park.
How can you subtract a whole phrase? Put quotation marks around it so that Google understands it is a phrase and not two separate words that are unconnected. Then put a minus sign right in front of it. In Gene’s case, it would look like this: -“Washington Park.” The resulting search results eliminate the reference to the fountain in Albany:
Improve Google search results even more dramatically
Watch this free 90-minute webinar and learn more about improving your Google searches for genealogy, along with other powerful strategies for reconstructing your family history. While you’re watching, subscribe to the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel to keep up with the many free video tutorials we publish there!