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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

Easy Google Image Searches for Genealogy Research

Google image search in genealogy for Swedish church

Whether you're trying to find photos for your family histories or to see the world in which your ancestor lived, Google Image Search can help you accomplish these goals with ease.

Why Genealogists Should Use Google Image Search

Genealogists will love adding the search by picture feature on this worldwide search engine to find the following:

  • Trace the identity of a person in a photo. If you're lucky, when you upload a photo of your unidentified ancestor, someone else will have shared a matching photo with a name. However, success for this search strategy is rare for lesser-known individuals. Instead, you'll use Google for clues to discovering the time and place this relative lived.

  • Insight into your ancestors' world. From vehicles to housewares, to clothing styles, and more. Google can help you see the items and places that.

  • Images of the location where you're ancestor lived help you write their story or consider clues that a document can not reveal.

When you search with Google Images, the results have image-only content from all over the world.

This free website scours the web for related content after you type in keywords and phrases or upload a picture.

Keywords to Use on Google For Genealogy Photos

While you can type an ancestor's name into Google search and hope an image shows up, you need to think beyond a specific person. Instead, also consider the environment your ancestor lived. Many genealogy pictures feature the people, places, and things that existed at the time and place your relatives residing in a location.

A great source of what you should use to search for the search engine may stem from published genealogies that you critically read to understand. Another source of keywords to search stems happens when you edit a family history to add more clarity or historical context to make it more interesting.

If you need to know what something looked like or want a graphic that helps you visualize the past, then type that phrase into Google to see what you can find. Here is a quick list of topics genealogists will want to try out in the search engine.

  • Buildings

  • Roads

  • Landmarks

  • Specific Events

  • Cemeteries

  • Associations

  • Railroad Routes

  • Maps

  • Names

Not everything you search for on Google will return historical photos. Many modern photos appear in the results. Use the filters and onscreen prompts to narrow down your results.

Additionally, depending on the terms you use, you may discover other genealogical records. You might find baptismal records, newspaper clippings, probate records, and more. It is a search engine, after all.

Video Google Image Search for Genealogy

Watch this video to see how to search for images on Google.

How Do I Search Google Using a Picture?

The technique where you use a photo, rather than text, to search Google is called a Reverse Image Search.

Sometimes you have an old family photo that you can not identify the who, what, and when behind the picture. Sometimes you know the who, but you want to know more about their cars, hairstyles, attire, and surroundings.

In other situations, you may need help dating a family history photo. You can do all of these tasks and more using Google.

You can search by image following these steps, which are best shown in the video below.

  • Go to and click the Images link in the upper right corner.

  • Click the camera icon in the search box.

  • Either drag and drop a photo from your computer onto the Google Search page or click "Upload" to select a photo from your computer or mobile device.

  • Review the search results page.

WWII Military photos using Google Image Reverse Search

Watch this video to search Google using an image.

Don't Limit Your Image Search to People

Don't limit yourself to uploading vintage photos of people. You could upload photographs of:

  • Silverware

  • China and Housewares

  • Clothing

  • People

  • Places

  • Pets

  • Engravings

  • Needlework

  • Tools

  • Paintings

If you have a picture of something you can not identify, upload it.

Exploring the Results

Unlike a text-based search results page, Google Image Search shares photos, with a brief title for the picture and a website address. You'll find a list of exact matches for your photo uploads and key phrases, along with visually similar images.

When you click on the result, a pop-up will appear with a few more details about the image, the potential copyright status, and a gallery of related images.

Click on the images to go to the associated websites. There you may learn historical context about your ancestor along with relevant genealogical facts to extend your research.

If you scroll far enough, you might also see a "Related Searches" box with ideas for helping you to filter your results. This is in addition to the word prompts at the top of the page.

Keep filtering and exploring various websites and enjoy the rabbit hole of Google Image Searching for genealogy. Maybe you should write your search terms down in your research plan or a spreadsheet to help you stay focused.

Bonus Tip for Doing a Google Image Search for Genealogy

In the video above, I uploaded a photo to Google and discovered that the image was a vintage snapshot. I really wanted to identify the castle-looking structure in the picture.

If you want Google to focus on a specific part of a photo, use a photo editing program to crop to the region you are most interested in. Then bring that photo back into the search engine and see what happens.

I had a lot of success in identifying the castle in the photo. As it turns out, it's from the location I suspected it to be from, which isn't England or Disney Land. Watch the video to find out the location and the history.

How Can I Use the Image from Google Search?

If you're on a fact-finding mission to discover how to describe your ancestor's hairstyle or appearance or the treasures in your home, then Google Search can lead you to articles to enrich your knowledge.

The words you then use in your family stories are for you to use. You will want to cite the websites as reference pages unless you were just looking up something like, "What does a Buster Brown Hairstyle look like?"

If you want to use the image in your published family histories or video projects, you will need to check the picture's copyright status. One quick way is to use the Google Image Search filters "Tools" and then "Usage Rights."

Now, this doesn't ensure you can use the photo, map, or graphic, even with a proper citation. However, it's a good place to start.

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A reference for all blog posts and videos mentioned in the YouTube episode.

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