Do you have an old family photo you can’t identify? Are you unsure of the time period or place a photo was taken in? Perhaps you want to connect with others who are researching a specific ancestor you have an image of?
If so, Google Image Search offers a unique way to explore your family history.
Google image searches for genealogy can be used to:
- Find websites that have information about a specific ancestor you are researching by uncovering pages that contain the same image as the one you are searching with. Google does an excellent job of this and you might find that you locate websites that would not have revealed themselves if you had only searched by the name of your ancestor.
- Identify a person or persons in a photo. As with many of us, you may have old photos of relatives you cannot identify. By searching by the image you could find that another researcher has uploaded the same photo online with identifying information.
- Discover more information about the location a photo was taken in. Google does a pretty god job of bringing up matches for unique landmarks. Although the results are not usually as exact as they are with people searches, you may still uncover helpful information.
- Reveal information about the time period the image was shot in by looking at visually similar photos with dates attached.
Here’s how simple it is to uncover new information about your old photos, and the people in them, in just a few steps.
1. Find a photo you want to research. If you have a copy on your computer you will be able to upload it directly to the search box. If the image is already online you can simply drag and drop the image to search. We’ll be using the image of the boy above for an example search.
2. Visit Google’s Image Search. Once you have the search page open you can either drag and drop your image from another website into the box to begin your search, or upload a picture from your computer. To drag and drop, click and hold on an image while dragging it from another tab. Roll over the text box and it will expand into a gray area for dropping your image. To upload, click on the camera icon and chose a photo from your computer. We chose to upload our image.
3. Google will automatically show a search results page after you drop in or upload your photo. The search will showcase visually similar photos and exact matches. For genealogy purposes you will most likely want to focus on exact matches, but the visually similar images can provide helpful details about the time period or location your photo was taken in — and can sometimes even reveal different photographs of the same person. Here’s what we get when we uploaded the above image into the Google image search box.
We now know that the boy in the photo is John Clem and we have historical background information on him as well as a list of several other websites hosting the same image. Imagine if these were the results for an unidentified photo you have in your files, or for an ancestor you have hit a brick wall with. Of course, results will not be so robust for a less well-known individual, but you might be surprised how much information you can find.
4. Have a lot of results? You can further refine your search by adding or changing the keywords in the search box next to your image to make your results more valuable and relevant. Use this to limit your search to certain sites, time periods, or surnames.
Go ahead and try it for yourself! We’d love to hear about your results.
You may also like to check out this article from The Sociable on researching photo locations. It’s a great read.
Updated: Originally published in Nov 2013
4 thoughts on “Google Image Search for Genealogy: How to Use Your Family Photos to Expand Your Research”
I have found that many photos on Google are mislabeled and improperly dated.
@Gail – Yes. Google keeps all your photos that you use for searching, and then offers them for sale to strangers at their Google Store in Mountain View. You’d be surprised at the profit they make selling photos. The profits on photo sales are what they use to offer the world free photo storage, which of course they then turn around and sell those photos at their store, too. It’s a nasty business, but somebody has to do it.
@cathie – I’ve heard that if you start on one Wikipedia page and click a link to another Wiki page and keep clicking links to other related Wiki pages, that you’ll end up on a page about Hitler. Your uncle Bill must be pretty creepy looking to resemble that monster!
A great article, by the way! It only works if a matching/similar photo is already on the internet.
Does Google then keep my photo on their site??
omg i put a photo in of my uncle bill and one of adolph hitler came up lol ,i ve put a few photos in and nothing slightly resembles them 😛