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Imagine the Images

Time after time I would look through my aunt's musical photo album, listening to the music and reciting the names of people who had posed for their photograph.


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Resource: Tracing Lines
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Childhood entertainment for me was looking at old photographs. When I visited two old aunts in North Carolina, the photographs of ancient ancestors came out of drawers. Time after time I would look through my aunt's musical photo album, listening to the music and reciting the names of people who had posed for their photograph. Very gently I was allowed to hold scratched tin types and daguerreotypes before they were placed back in safe keeping.

Every genealogist dreams of locating images of their ancestors. For every one that is found, there are thousands that have been lost or unidentified. If your search of photographs in personal and family collections has produced nothing, there are still possibilities.

Fortunately some photographs are left to people outside the family. Not everybody throws them away or drops them off at flea markets or antique stores. Those are always good places to check, but keep in mind that some may have ended up in local libraries or historical societies. Photographs are also found in collections within state historical societies or state libraries. Begin your search by finding some of those societies at:

FGS Society Hall

Society Hill

USGenNet Index

There may be photograph collections on their web pages or links to them. If not, do not hesitate to contact them either by postal mail or e-mail to ask about photograph collections.

Local interest photographs can also be found in museums. While many small town museums do not have web pages, it is possible to find them through the historical societies, libraries or putting the name of the town and word "museum" into a search engine such as Google, Another source, particularly for larger museums is the American Association of Museums, You can search for accredited museums affiliated with them at

The USGenWeb project,, consists of state and county web pages, many of which have photographic collections. Normally the photographs are contributed by researchers who have a family interest in the area. If you find nothing, leave queries indicating that you are interest in a specific family who lived in their area and are trying to find photographs.

Message boards and forums are full of queries about ancestors and occasionally there is mention of someone having a photograph collection or a specific photo. It takes time, but searching those messages and queries can sometimes bring great results. Many genealogists consistently search eBay for photograph. If you have not checked out this vast area on the Internet, go to

There are specific web pages devoted to collecting old photographs. Normally the person submitting the photograph can be contacted. Some of these are:

Dead Fred,

Ancient Faces

Family Old Photos

If your photographs are unidentified, there is still hope. Many of the old cardboard mounts have photographer's marks which identify where it was taken and by whom. Keep in mind that people did not always wait for the photographer to come to them, but traveled to have their photographs taken. It is worthwhile to check the web page, Finding Photographers at

Last but not least, always use the search engines on Internet. Searching can be done by entering a family surname or full name, location, word "photograph" or any combination. Experiment with the combination of words. The search should be made not only of web pages, but more specifically of "Images." These can be checked at Google by clicking on "Images" and entering the search fields. Another similar search engine is Redzee at Use more than one search engine. Images that pertain to your ancestry are not always ancestral faces, but images of dwellings, churches and communities, which bring life to your research.

While you are searching for those images, don't forget to identify and preserve your own collection. Recently I scanned and identified over 900 family photographs and slides, creating albums and CDs. They are being shared with family members, but at the same time I always search for those elusive ancestors whose photographs are yet to be found.

Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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