13 BEST Old Photo Archives Online in 2022 (US Genealogists)

13 BEST Old Photo Archives Online in 2022 (US Genealogists)

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Finding a picture of your ancestors or their home is one of the most exciting parts of family history research.

I enjoy collecting pictures of as many ancestors as possible and incorporating them into my family tree. It transforms anonymous names into real people and really brings your family tree to life.

However, lots of people ask me: where can I find old pictures online?

Thankfully, it is now easier than ever to locate old photographs of your ancestors. There are so many old photo archives and newspaper photo archives online, which you can search from the comfort of your own home!

Here are some of my favourite old photo archives online that you can use today to try to find photographs of your ancestors:

  1. Findmypast Photo Collection
  2. Ancestry
  3. DeadFred
  4. Ancient Faces
  5. National Archives and Records Administration
  6. Newspapers.com
  7. GenealogyBank
  8. Ancestorville
  9. Library of Congress photos
  10. Digital Public Library of America 
  11. Boston Public Library
  12. Cincinnati Digital Library
  13. Flickr Commons

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

1. Findmypast Photo Collection

Visit the Findmypast photo collection

Screenshot of Findmypast Photo Collection search page

The first place to start looking is Findmypast’s historical photo archive. This site has an amazing collection of thousands of historical photos which are fascinating to look through.

The photos include:

  • Ancestors’ hometowns, workplaces and social circles
  • WW2
  • Local news of sports, schools and life events
  • Features photos from Library and Archives Canada

You may also search for keywords to find specific images; such as war, boxing, the 1920s, Home Guard, Arsenal, women, and you may also search by year, topic, or nation. Use the arrows on either side of the photo to discover more.

I love Findmypast and if you’re using it to search for photos of your ancestors, this is a really helpful article on their blog detailing the best records and collections to search.

You will need an account to view the results of your search but it’s free to join.

2. Ancestry

Visit the Ancestry old photo archives

Screenshot of Ancestry old photo archives search page

It’s a rare genealogist who hasn’t spent some time on Ancestry, but you might be surprised by the richness of the site’s image archives.

There are millions of old photo archives in the Ancestry database featuring all kinds of photos, including:

  • School yearbooks
  • Ship photographs
  • Professional sports players
  • Photo postcards
  • Library of Congress Photo Collection (1840-2000)
  • Much more!

Many of these may be found in the Public Member Photos & Scanned Documents database, which contains photos that members have uploaded to their family trees. 

Furthermore, millions of contributors have uploaded marriage certificates, sketches, maps, naturalization certificates, and other papers that may otherwise be hard to find.

Note: To view most photographs, you must be a subscriber or go to a public library or FamilySearch Center that offers Ancestry Library Edition.

Also, be sure to check out the Featured Collections section where you can search specific databases of images grouped by category.

3. Dead Fred

Visit Dead Fred genealogy photo archive

DeadFred is a user-generated historical photo archive that contains thousands of photos submitted by site members.

The photos are organized into albums created by the submitters, which makes it easy to browse by surname or location.

Furthermore, there are almost 18,700 surnames with images on this site, as well as 117,000 digital documents.

Aspects of the site I like:

  • ‘Mystery Photos section – is a fun feature on the website used to search photos with no names to identify the people
  • Annuals section – These photographs are organized by school name and date(s) range
  • Submit your own photos – As well as searching for photos other people have submitted, you can upload your own old photos. It’s a great way to help other people out who may benefit from finding connections to your ancestors
  • Updated regularly – DeadFred is one of the online old photo archives that seems to be updated regularly. So check it out every couple of months

Also, they have an active Facebook page which seems a great community resource to accompany the website.

4. Ancient Faces

Visit Ancient Faces photo archive

Ancient Faces people search page (screenshot)

Ancient Faces is a 100% free historical photo archive, most submitted by users around the globe.

The site includes a searchable database as well as browsable historical photo albums.

You can also choose a century or decade, a topic, an event, a military term, or a location on this page. If you discover a match for your search, click the heart icon to “like” it, comment, or share it on social media.

Part of their mission statement is ‘Everyone deserves to be remembered’ which we can all get behind. To this end, they have a great feature called ‘Collaborative stories’ which enables users to add any information they know about an individual to build up a complete picture of their past and story.

5. National Archives and Records Adminstration

Visit the National Archives photos search

National Archives and Records Administration online photo catalog

The National Archives and Record Adminstration (NARA) has a historical document and photo archive that consists of over 40 million images.

They have numerous record types to search including:

  • Census Records
  • Military Service Records
  • Immigration¬†Records
  • Naturalization Records

NARA is a great place for genealogists to be aware of but may not be as good as newspaper sites at finding relative photos.

Nontheless, they have a great section full of resources for genealogists. Its a dedicated hub page with lots of helpful information for people starting your family history research, popular topics, events and tools.

Also, check out their online research tools for genealogists which is also very helpful.

6. Newspapers.com

Start searching on Newspapers.com

Newspapers.com by Ancestry search page

At Newspapers.com you’ll find millions of images of original source documents, many of which have never been available online before. The historical newspapers database includes images from more than 2,000 U.S. historical newspapers published between 1690 and 1922.

It’s a great source to find old photos of your relatives, and to be honest, sometimes more likely than the large national online photo archives.

You need to sign up to view the newspapers but it’s well worth it as they’re a fantastic source of information for your family history research. This is because you can often find local newspapers that only covered news and events in the town or local area where your ancestors lived.

You can find wedding, business and sporting events information which are often accompanied by photographs. Using the Newspapers.com clipping feature, you can clip the photo and save it or even import it into your Ancestry account.

7. GenealogyBank

Start searching GenealogyBank

GenealogyBank newspaper archive

Like Newspapers.com, GenealogyBank is a great resource for historical newspaper images online. It boasts thousands of historical newspapers from all 50 states that you can search by keyword, topic, place or institution.

Some highlights include:

  • 330+ years of U.S. newspaper coverage
  • Billions of births, marriages and engagement notices and hometown news
  • Great for beginners and advanced genealogists and family history researchers

The site also has a handy clipping feature that lets you save or import the photos into your Ancestry account.

Both Newspapers.com and GenealogyBank can be fantastic sources to search for photos of your relatives. However, if obituaries are the focus of your research, I’d go with GenealogyBank as they have the world’s largest obituary collection online.

8. Ancestorville

Visit Ancestorville.com

Ancestorville family photos for genealogy website

Ancestorville is the passion project of Debra Clifford where you’ll find over 15,000 hand signed and identified antique photography. These include:

  • Lost family photos
  • CDV photos
  • Cabinet card photos
  • Daguerreotypes
  • Tintypes
  • Ambrotypes

They’re a great source for genealogy research as they often have photos of your ancestors that you won’t find elsewhere. If you find a photo, you’re able buy the hi-res scan.

They have an active Facebook community where they discuss topics such as lost family antique items, early photographs, genealogy surnames and family history.

9. Library of Congress

Visit the Library of Congress photos catalog

Library of Congress prints and photographs online catalog

The Library of Congress (LOC) maintains a large collection of old photos from news organizations, government agencies, private collections, and other institutions.

The Prints & Photographs Online Catalog contains over 1.25 million digitized photographs from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions.

These include historical images dating back to the Civil War as well as contemporary shots of life in America.

Some of my favourite LOC collections are:

  • The FSA/OWI Collection – This is a great collection of Depression-Era photographs.
  • The Civil War Photographs – Over 7,600 digitized items from the collections of the Library of Congress.
  • The George Grantham Bain Collection – A historical photo archive consisting of over 1.5 million negatives and photographic prints documenting New York City life and news events from

Although you’ll have a harder time finding portraits of people who aren’t well-known, it’s worth a try. You’ll also find photos from other countries here.

10. Digital Public Library of America

Visit the Digital Public Library of America

Another historical photos archive is the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

This site contains a wealth of historical images from institutions all over the US. The database allows you to access digital items from libraries, archives, and museums around the United States, including many of the ones listed above. 

One great thing about this site is that it’s searchable by topic, person, place, or event. So if you have a general idea of what you’re looking for, it’s a great resource.

Top Tip: If you’re new to the DPLA, I recommend reading their Family Research Guide to DPLA before searching the site to help you get the most out of it for your family history research.

The simplest approach to locate pictures is to type your search word into the box on the home page, then go under By Format and click image on the left side of your results page. Additional filters allow you to limit results by date range, language, subject, and other factors.

11. Boston Public Library

Visit the Boston Public Library online photo archive

Boston Public Library old photo archives (screenshot)

The Boston Public Library (BPL) has a vast historical photo archive that is searchable online by keyword or date.

The image library is comprised of three sections:

  • AP Newsroom
  • Artstor (Only available at Central Library)
  • Digital Commonwealth

One great thing about this site is that you can browse the photos by topic. So if you’re looking for photos of a specific event, place, or person, this is a great resource.

Click here to search the BPL historical photo archive.

12. Cincinnati Digital Library

Visit the Cincinnati Digital Library

Cincinnati’s Public Library, the country’s second-largest public library with almost 9 million volumes, is one of the United States’ oldest and largest. Currently the Public Library is working on a project to make rare print materials available online.

However it is still currently a great resource to find photos for genealogical research. Directories that you can search include:

  • Social directories
  • Family and regional histories
  • Property tax assessments
  • Street directories

Items in this collection are full-text searchable and can be downloaded for offline viewing and searching.

13. Flickr Commons

Visit Flickr Commons

Flickr commons public photo archives

The Flickr Commons is a collection of images from institutions all over the world that are available for public use.

You can search by keyword, or browse by topic, place, or institution.

One great thing about this site is that it’s easy to use and you can find a lot of historical photos that are in the public domain.

You can also download photos to use as you please.

Click here to search the Flickr Commons historical photo archive.

One great thing about this photostream is that many of the photos have been captioned by the library

Conclusion

A picture is worth a thousand words and this is especially true for family history research. If you’re trying to find photographs of ancestors, some of the best sources for US genealogists and family historians to start their search are:

  1. Findmypast Photo Collection
  2. Ancestry
  3. Dead Fred
  4. Ancient Faces
  5. National Archives and Records Adminstration
  6. Newspapers.com
  7. GenealogyBank
  8. Ancestorville
  9. Library of Congress
  10. Digital Public Library of America
  11. Boston Public Library
  12. Cincinnati Digital Library
  13. Flickr Commons

In my opinion these are some of the best places to start looking for photos of relatives. Many of these are free photo archives online (which is another reason I like them!) but if you’re determined to find a photo, the premium options are definitely worth it.

However, if the above resources don’t help to find photos of your ancestors, check the state archives and historical societies for the area where the family lived as there might be online photographic databases.

And if all else fails, sometimes gathering descriptions of the person from such sources as obituaries or census or military records can help to paint a picture of the person if finding a photo is proving too elusive.

I also know some people who take a photo of the gravestone and use that in place of an actual photo of the person on their family tree. Findagrave.com is useful for this if you’re not able to visit the churchyard yourself.

Eitherway, I hope this helps your search and if you have any favourite old photo archives online that I’ve not listed here, please share them with me at richard@robinsphotographs.com. I’d love to hear about them!