American Ancestors New England Historic Genealogical Society - Founded 1845 N.E. Historic Genealogical Society Seal View Your Shopping Cart Join NEHGS
  • The Computer Genealogist: Photo Sharing: What Genealogists Need to Know

    Maureen A. Taylor

    Published Date : November 15, 2002

    At the recent National Genealogical Society conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a woman told me she had just bought all the identified family photographs she could find at a local antique shop. She is part of a new trend in genealogy — rescuing photographs and trying to restore them to family members. Many individuals spend countless hours researching the people in the images they find, searching for living descendants. They might also post the images on the Internet for relatives to discover.

    As genealogists we love to share information online via message boards or by posting research on a home page, but how do all those old and new family photographs fit into online information sharing? Are you trying to identify a family photograph, share pictures with other relatives, or dive into digital photography? Several different types of websites can help you. These include online communities, reunion sites on which you can search for photographs or post your own unidentified images, and photo suppliers that print digital or film images. Sharing photographs is easy, fun, and usually free. Here’s what you need to know to be a savvy user of photo services with some sites for you to try.

    Online communities

    By far the largest online community is Post a free home page on their site, complete with photographs, and invite your relatives to participate by adding images and information of their own. Since owns Ancestry, this site is genealogist-friendly.

    Reunion sites

    While contacting relatives is one way to find new photographs for your genealogy, the Internet provides an innovative method to reconnect with those lost family pictures. You know the ones I mean. As soon as you start to ask relatives about family photographs, they tempt you with descriptions of pictures they saw years ago in the hands of long-lost cousins. Your first thought might be to track down living descendants, with the hope of locating those pictures. Another option would be to use one of the many Internet search engines to search by surname for family photographs. There are many search engine choices, but Altavista is a personal favorite because it filters out adult content and displays each hit as a thumbnail with a link.

    An easier avenue might be to consult the online reunion websites described below. A few of these sites were created by genealogists, but others focus on the collectors market for photographic antiques. Make effective use of these websites by typing your surnames into the search engines and seeing what you find — possibly a few “missing” photographs to take to next year’s family gathering. A couple of sites even allow users to post a wish list of lost images.

    •  Ancient Faces

    According to Daniel J. Pinna of Ancient Faces, users should look for an updated version of the site sometime this year. The updated site will “allow users to fully participate in our community that makes past, present, and future connections with family and friends. In addition, professional researchers and merchants will be able to post classified advertisements and list items for sale, allowing our users to find professional genealogical services, memorabilia, handcrafts, genealogical books, and supplies.” There are currently more than 1,300 photographs in their database, arranged by the following topics: military, family, and mystery photos. You can also look at the Special Collections section of the site for weddings or school photos, Civil War portraits, and others. Photographs appear with short descriptions and dates.

    •  Ancestors’ Lost & Found

    This a great site for genealogists who need a place to share photographs, memorabilia, bible records or reconnect with lost items. Take a look at their unidentified photo section to see if you can find any “missing” ancestors. It features an interesting search engine for finding material on their site. Affiliated with The American History and Genealogy Project and The American Local History Network, this site is worth a second look.

    •  Ancestral Photos

    Only a few images appear on this site. The site manager posts images and sells them for $10 each. Most have a brief identification.

    Dead Fred: The Original Genealogy Photo Archive

    Joe Bott started this site as a personal project and it has been amazingly successful. Besides featuring a creative name, the site offers researchers the opportunity to view more than 18,000 images covering 6,500 surnames. Sign up for the free newsletter and learn more about Joe and his dedicated team. They are expanding their yearbook photo section, improving their search capabilities (including wild cards), and have more planned for the future.

    •  Ford and Nagle

    Eric C. Nagle and Larry L. Ford are genealogists who have created a site to reunite people with the family photographs, Bibles, and documents the two of them have collected. While you can’t view the actual items online, descriptions help users identify whether or not an item is from their family. The site even offers a section devoted to “photographs returned to family.” Read the testimonies of people who found family photographs using this site and you’ll begin to understand why these reunions are so poignant.

    •  City Gallery

    This is one of my favorite sites, but its future is a little uncertain because it is non-commercial. Steve Knoblock works hard to keep it up-to-date with all kinds of useful material and contacts. The Old Photo Guide offers articles on topics related to identifying photographs, there is scanning help in the Digital Album, and you can share images in the Old Photo Gallery. Type a keyword into the search box and see what you find. Only members can upload images. Contact the City-Gallery editor for a password.


    You can use this site to find documents or photographs related to your family. Search by place, surname, or type of item. According to the home page, more than 1,600 items are in the database, covering more than 4,400 surnames.

    •  Your Past Connections

    Search this database for photographs and memorabilia or post a description of an item for which you are looking. Fees are set by the individuals who posted the memorabilia.

    Photo sharing sites and photo printing services

    There is yet another online option for all those new family photographs you’ve taken. If you haven’t tried sharing your snapshots online, don’t delay. The downturn in the economy affected many of the top-rated sites — some even went out of business — but there are still plenty of choices. You don’t even have to use a digital camera to participate. Most sites now develop film, in addition to printing from digital images. Most photo sharing/photo printing services allow you to email images to others, order reprints, undertake basic photo editing, and create free online albums.

    Before uploading your digital images or sending your film to a photo sharing site, become an educated user by trying several sites to see if they offer the features for which you are looking. Since some companies charge fees for their services, pay particular attention to each site’s terms and conditions. Check out the Wall Street Journal’s recent comparison of the online photo printing services (July 16, 2002, p. D2) If you’re still shooting with traditional 35 mm. film, make sure the company returns your negatives and posts the images online — not all do. Don’t forget to guard your online privacy by seeking a site that requires passwords or invitations to see your images. Read privacy statements carefully and always password-protect your albums.

    If you plan to upload all of your digital photographs to an online site without maintaining copies at home, be cautious. Consider what will happen if the site you’ve trusted to maintain an archive of your images goes out of business. Until recently, one of the leading sites was — until it closed operations. Individuals who used Photopoint can now obtain a CD-ROM copy of their photos through a third-party service.

    Don’t let these issues discourage you from exploring the possibilities of photo sharing at these sites — the sites are easy to use, offer photo editing tools, and provide new ways to share pictures with your family. With these sites, you no longer have to promise to have copies made of favorite photos — relatives can order their own prints from your online album.


    Ofoto is one of the leading photo printing sites — the Wall Street Journal named it the top site on the basis of photo quality and products. Sign up for their email newsletter to read about special promotions.


    Photoworks develops film negatives, makes prints from either negatives or digital images, and has expanded into traditional markets with a free catalog of their services.


    Excellent customer service makes Shutterfly a good choice for new users of online photo services. Like many of the other sites, Shutterfly allows you to send invitations to family and friends to view your images.


    Discover for yourself why this site was editors’ choice of PC Magazine this year. If you would like to make unique presents from your family photographs, this site is the place for you. You can order photo jewelry, pencil sketches derived from your images, or even Rice Krispy bars with a photo icing covering!


    Digital Fridge takes photo sharing to a new level with public and private albums of both images and videos. Digital video is a growing part of the home imaging market — this is the only site that allows users to share those moving images with family online.

    If you are dazzled by the current offerings for the family historian and photo enthusiast, brace yourself for more. Since this new frontier is only a few years old, the offerings change every day, so there are bound to be even more options and sites to choose from. With so many genealogists embracing new technology to pursue their centuries-old hobby, why wait to join in on the photo fun?

    Maureen A. Taylor, of is a featured columnist in New England Ancestors.

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

© 2010 - 2014 New England Historic Genealogical Society