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A face to the name: How to find photos of your ancestors

27 February 2017

Have you ever wondered where your relatives got their upturned noses, turned-out ears or mousy hair that never quite sits flat? Photos are a fantastic way of bringing you a little closer to your ancestors, giving you an insight into the people who made you what you are today.

It's possible that you're lucky enough to have dozens or even hundreds of photographs of the people in your family tree, smiling back at you through the years, giving you an insight into the people they were. It's more likely, however, that there are ancestors and relatives of yours that you've never seen other than as names in records. Photographs have the power to add a wealth of color to your family history, and you might be surprised by how many you can find right here at Findmypast.

Findmypast - London office

Your relative doesn't even have to have committed a crime or made headlines to have their likeness documented (although that can certainly help!). There are certain record sets that are much more likely to have photos than others. Here are some of the record sets you should be searching to meet your ancestors face to face.

Findmypast - London office

If you do find your ancestor in the hospital or prison records, be sure to check the historic newspapers as well to see if you can find an article that puts their internment in context. In some cases, you may even find a photo of them printed with the story.

Findmypast - London office

Images Used by permission of FamilySearch, Intl

Remember, your relative doesn't actually have to have traveled to have applied for a passport, so it pays to check, even if your family hasn't left Michigan in generations.

Findmypast - London office

After looking for the family business in the records, take a look for business advertisements in the local newspapers.

Findmypast - London office

If their individual military record doesn't have an image, try looking at records held for their battalion or platoon. It may be that you're lucky enough to strike upon a regimental photograph that contains your ancestors and their comrades.

Another approach is in our collection of millions of pages of historic newspapers. If your ancestor served in the military during World War I or II, start with a search for their name, with the option of narrowing the search fields to newspapers from the local area. If that doesn't return any results, try searching for the name of their battalion for group photos.

Findmypast - London office


It's a long shot, but simply searching for the area your relatives lived during certain dates could turn up a surprising result. Photos of local residents often appear under ambiguous headlines such as "Fun in the Snow" or "A Day at the Races", and you may just recognise a certain upturned nose in your searches.

Have you found photographs of your ancestors anywhere online? Let us know in the comments!