You've done the work building your family tree, learning your ancestors' names, dates and places of birth, marriage, death. But have you ever wished you could see what they looked like? Or clearly identify them from that box of photos passed down through the generations?
Renowned photo detective Maureen Taylor has a few tips for finding photographs of your ancestors online.
Here are her top tips:
Photo stories: Irish family photos online
I know I’m Irish. There are stories passed down in the family and now I have the DNA proof. What I don’t have are pictures of these Kelley and Taylor’s. Imagine my surprise to see a mention for an online photo collection featuring a Taylor family wedding.
Public record office of Northern Ireland
A few years ago, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland issued an announcement about a group of family photographs taken by the Allison Photographic Studios in Armagh, County Armagh between circa 1871 and 1947. It’s a genealogical cache’ for anyone with relatives in County Armagh, South Down, and County Monaghan.
Glass negatives from the PRONI are being scanned and posted to their Flickr.com photostream. If you have family from those areas, it’s worth looking. The family portraits and weddings are arranged alphabetically by surname. There are also rural scenes and photos of businesses. I didn’t find my Taylor’s but you might locate a “lost” family photo or two.
Archives, like PRONI, post their images online in the hope that someone might be able to add data to the photo caption. You can help the archive identify the images by joining Flickr.com and commenting on the pictures. There are photographs of formal weddings, individuals picnicking, and just gorgeous Irish scenery.
Plenty of places to look: Ancestry.com
Ancestry.com allows users to upload images to their family trees. Just because I don’t own a picture of one of my relatives doesn’t mean another descendant doesn’t. Start by tracking down all the descendants of your family from the age of photography (circa 1840) and search these sites to see what distant cousins own.
When uploading to Ancestry.com you can make your pictures/trees private, but users can still see that you have an image. Individuals can upload family photos to their family trees and even if they’ve made their tree private you can still see information about the image. A quick click and you can message them to learn more. If you choose to make them public, then anyone can view your images.
Lawrence Collection of Photographs, 1870 - 1910
Photographer William Lawrence operated a photo studio in Dublin in 1865 and hired a chief photographer, Robert French who traveled extensively throughout Ireland. French’s 40,000 glass negatives document Ireland between 1870 and 1910. His images were used in postcard views.
Love Irish history? Share your favorite stories with other history buffs in the IrishCentral History Facebook group.
Ancestry.com has published these images in this database. It’s searchable by subject, location and county. Users are also able to browse the collection by county. There is a menu on the right-hand side of the page. The original negatives are the property of the National Library of Ireland.
For instance, I chose to browse images of Limerick. There are 226 images in the collection relating to that county. The Ancestry index viewable below the picture provides a subject, a negative number and a more specific location (if known). On the right hand of Ancestry.com, there is a “leave a comment” button” in case you’d like to share information about it. Under that is a list of people who saved each image to their family tree and a list of suggested records relating to Limerick.
On FamilySearch.org all materials are public. Sign up for a free account and start searching their site for digital files, and stories. You can create your own tree as well. If you have a smartphone download their We’reRelated app and see if any relatives are in your proximity. There is a disclaimer associated with all these online sites—all information supplied by the person who uploads the image may not be correct. The hunt for family photos is full of fun and frustration. You’ll need patience to search, but locating one new photo of a relative’s face you’ve never seen before will make it worth the time you’ve spent.