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.

 

How to Use Google Lens

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 27

Original air date: 10/1/20
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

how to use google lens

Google Lens with Lisa Louise Cooke

What is Google Lens?

Google Lens is a free technology that Google says helps you ”search what you see.” It uses the latest in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and artificial intelligence to accomplish tasks.

In this video and article we’ll discuss where you can get Google Lens and how to use it for a wide variety of tasks.

Hang on tight to your phone and let’s jump in!

Google Lens is in Google Photos

Google Lens is doing much of the work in Google Photos. It can detect the faces in your photos, and allow you to search by face. It can also detect objects and text, making it a super fast way to search the photos and images you store in Google Photos.

If you’re not interested in storing all of your photos on Google Photos, that’s OK. As a genealogist, you could still use it for more strategic purposes. You could use it just for family history photos and related genealogical images like documents and photos of tombstones. All of the content you add can then be quickly and easily searched for and found. It can even help you identify a known ancestor in other photos where you may not have recognized it was the same person.

We will talk about specific ways to use Google Lens in Google Photos. But first, let’s talk about all of the ways you can get your hands on Google Lens.

Where can I find Google Lens on my phone or tablet?

Google Lens is available on most mobile devices but not all. Some Samsung devices don’t currently support it. Here’s where you can find Google Lens.

Google Lens is built into Google PhotosDownload the Google Photos app to your phone. Pull up one of your photos and look for the Lens icon at the bottom of the screen. If it is there, your phone supports Google Lens.

Google Lens in the Google Search app – You will see the Lens icon in the search bar if your phone supports Google Lens.

The Google Lens app – On Android devices look for the Google Lens app in the Google Play app store.

Where can I find Google Lens on my computer?

Google Lens is primarily a mobile tool although Google Lens is built into the functionality of Google Photos. (It works behind the scenes – you won’t find a Google Lens icon.)

However, you can use your phone to user Google Lens to capture text and then send it to the Chrome browser on your desktop computer.

Using Lens in the Google Photos App

To use Google Lens on your photos in the Google Photos app, you’ll first need to give the app permission to receive the photos you take with your phone. You can then open the Google Photos app and select a photo. In this episode I used the example of a potted plant (Image A below).

Google Lens in the Google Photos app

(Image A) Google Lens in the Google Photos app

Tap the Google Lens icon at the bottom of the screen and you will receive search results that include the name of the plant, photo examples of the same plant, possible shopping options, and web pages providing more information about that plant.

Here’s another way you can use the Google Lens feature in the Google Photos app:

  1. Take a photo of a business card. (I used Google’s PhotoScan app to do this. The app does a great job of removing glare and other distortions that can occur when you photograph something with your phone. You can download the free Google PhotoScan app from your device’s app store.)
  2. Access the photo in the Google Photos app.
  3. Tap the Google Lens icon.
  4. Lens turns the information on the card into actionable buttons:
  • Add to contacts
  • Call now
  • search on the web
  • go to the website

 

Google Lens is in the Google Search app

On many mobile devices such as the iPhone (but not all devices) the Google Lens icon will appear in the search bar. If you’re not sure if you already have the Google Search app on your phone, go to the app store app on your phone and search for “Google Search.” You will see the app listed with a button that either says “Open” (because it is already on your phone) or “Install” (because it is not yet on your phone.)

You can also check to see if they app is on your phone by searching for “Google Search” in the search bar of your phone.

Here’s what the Google Search app looks like on a phone (Image B below):

The Google Wearch app

(Image B) Look for the Google Search app on your phone.

 

The Google Lens App

If you have an Android phone, search the Google Play store for the Google Lens app. Here’s what the app looks like (Image C below):

google lens app

(Image C) Android users with phone’s supporting Google Lens will find the app in the Google Play app store.

What Google Lens Can Do

Once you start using Google Lens the possibilities for its use can seem endless. Here’s a list of the kinds of things Google Lens can do:

  • Shopping
  • Identify Objects
  • Copy Text from printed materials or objects
  • Search for Text on printed material or objects
  • Solve math problems
  • Read text to you
  • Translate text

How to Use Google Lens to Read a Book

Before you buy that next history book or go through the trouble of requesting it through inter-library loan, why not let Google Lens determine if it is already available for free online? This next tip works really well for old books that are likely to be in the public domain or printed before 1924.

  1. Open the book to the title page
  2. Open the Google Search app on your phone
  3. Tap the Google Lens icon
  4. Hold your phone over the title page
  5. Tap the search button
  6. If the book is available on Google Books, the title will appear along with a blue “Read” button
  7. Tap the “Read” button to access, read and search the book on Google Books for free!
Learn more about Google with this book

(Image D) Point your phone’s camera or Google Lens at the QR code

Open the camera on your phone and point it at the QR code above (Image D)  to be taken to the book in the Genealogy Gems store.
Use coupon code LENS to get 20% off!

Resources

Premium Video & Handout: Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases. (This video features using Google Photos.)
Book: The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke. (Includes search strategies, Google Photos, and Google Translate.)

Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout

Answers to Your Live Chat Questions

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions. 

From Rosalyn: Lisa are the old photos hanging on your wall the originals or copies? They are very nice.
Lisa’s Answer: I always put copies in frames when I hang them on the wall because light can fade originals. They are all my family.

From Jn Rollins: ​Does it do the same identification for birds?
Lisa’s Answer: I haven’t snapped a photo of a bird, but I’m sure it could. I used it on a photo of a bird, and it identified it perfectly.

From Susan: ​I have to download an app to get the lens icon?
Lisa’s Answer: If you have an Android phone, you may be able to download the free Google Lens app from your app store. Otherwise, you will find the icon in the Google Search app or the Google Photos app on supported devices.

From Patriva: ​Is Google Go the same as Google Search?
Lisa’s Answer: Google Go is a “lighter faster” search app. I think it may be geared more toward Samsung devices. I have a Samsung Tab and it doesn’t support Google Lens.

From Carrie: ​Does this work with the Google Chrome app?
Lisa’s Answer: The Chrome app doesn’t have the Google Lens icon.

From Jn Rollins: ​I installed Lens a while ago on my Android phone, but when I open Google search the lens icon doesn’t appear next to the microphone icon. How can I change that?
Lisa’s Answer: Some Android devices (like Samsung phones) don’t support Google Lens so you won’t see the icon. Check the app store to see if they offer the Google Lens app for your phone. However, I’m guessing it probably won’t be offered since it sounds like your phone doesn’t support Google Lens.

From Christine: ​I love this technology for speeding up research! But I have some reservations—what privacy are we giving away? How will Google use our search history?
Lisa’s Answer: I would not use Google Lens for anything I consider “sensitive.” Go to the privacy settings in your Google MyActivity to learn more.

From Lynnette: ​Can you put the text into Evernote easily?
Lisa’s Answer: Absolutely! Tap to copy the detected text, open an Evernote note, press your finger in the note and tap Paste to paste the text.

From Colleen: I see you are google searching. Does doing this with photos allow others to access my google photos when searching for an item? For example, the example you used with the purse?
Lisa’s Answer: To the best of my knowledge your photos are not searchable by others online. However, it is possible that Google uses the image internally to “train” the machine learning. Go to the privacy settings in your Google MyActivity to learn more.

From Christine: Lisa, can this be used to compare photos to determine if they are the same person? Thanks for sharing all your wisdom!
Lisa’s Answer: Yes! Watch my Premium membership video called Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases.

From Caryl: ​Don’t know what a symbol is on a headstone? Now this would be oh so helpful!!
Lisa’s Answer: Yes, indeed!

From Susan: ​I quickly took a photo of the book cover, so now I can get your book! Is it better to buy directly from you or go to Amazon?
Lisa’s Answer: The book is available exclusively at my website: https://www.shopgenealogygems.com

From Debbie: Will FamilySearch’s app be independent, or will it work / integrate with Google?
Lisa’s Answer: FamilySearch would not be integrated. However, as handwriting technology is developed I’m sure you’ll find it in use in both places.

Please Leave a Comment or Question

I really want to hear from you. Did you enjoy this episode? Do you have a question? Please leave a comment on the video page at YouTube or call and leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021 and I just may answer it on the show!

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