Arcadia Publishing, the publisher of local history books, including the "Images of America" series, is probably a publisher that you are familiar with. Their "Images of America" books all have the familiar sepia cover sporting a vintage photo of some kind. These books cover communities and places throughout the United States. Along with books that feature cities, there are books that feature various neighborhoods within a city as well as the books that cover groups, like the history of a sheriff's organization, and even cemeteries. Each book has about 200 photographs, largely vintage, as well as short narrative that details the era, history, and people.
Other series that Arcadia publishes includes "Images of Rail," "Images of Sports", "Images of Baseball", "Black America," "Postcard History", "Campus History," "Corporate History", "Scenes of America," and "Then & Now." For a small explanation of each of these series, see http://www.arcadiapublishing.com/publish.html. These books may also be helpful in your genealogical research. For example, the postcard book can be useful in learning more about a locality during an earlier time period.
Although, I have written a book published by Arcadia, "Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra," I recommended using them for genealogy long before I wrote and published my book. You may not find your ancestor documented in one of these books, but you will see pictures that illustrate the era, place, and neighbors that your ancestor was a part of. The following are some ideas to keep in mind when using the "Images of America" series in your research.
Arcadia Publishing, has a web site where you may purchase books from their Images of America series as well as their other local history series. At their web site you can search for a book by keyword, zip code or title. Once you find the title you are interested in, following the link will provide you more information about the particular book, and in many cases a link to Google Books where you can "preview" the title.
While perusing a book's index is always a great idea in research, it's important to know that these books do not have a complete index. It is up to the individual author whether they want to include an index, and even those who do are not given the space to index every name in the book. Also, those books that contain a bibliography provide you with additional resources for researching your ancestor's locality.
Often the author has special access to the photos that are featured in the book. They might be an archivist at a museum, a member of a genealogical or historical society or somehow tied in with some entity that has a collection of photographs that are used for the book. The author would be a good contact for learning about photos or people featured in the book.
Each photo or illustration contains a source citation. These citations can provide you with information for accessing an image that is important to your family history.
I would recommend looking at the photos in these books very carefully. In one case I was able to find my ancestor in a picture that wasn't so obvious. In the Snowflake book, written about the city of Snowflake, Arizona, there is a picture of two women holding up a quilt, where each block features the name of its maker. Because of my interest in quilts, I looked at the picture a little more carefully than normal and, sure enough, my grandmother's signature was on one of the blocks. Now I can contact the author or the group cited in the narrative for the picture and ask about that quilt and my grandmother's involvement with it.