Family history: using photographic archives

Photographs are not just a record of people but of places, lifestyles, streets, countryside and the changing times. If you really want to understand the life of your relative, searching the photographic archives now available online and at your local record office can make their world seem real for you. The clothes they wore, their holidays and work days, their parties and local community. photographic archives

A simple way to start is to use Google and search using ‘images’. Other great starting places are Flickr, Pinterest or Instagram. I’m currently researching London during the WW2 Blitz, and a quick search produced literally hundreds of photos. One photo may lead to a new avenue of research. A studio portrait of a family member may lead you to a particular photographer. A uniform can help you to confirm a regiment or employer. History Pin is clever in that it allows you to collect images and pin them to Street View so you build up a wider picture of the area of interest.

I found Collage, the London Picture Archive, particularly useful in my focus on the capital. It has more than a quarter of a million photos of London streets and includes the London County Council’s own photographic archive. Photos can be viewed in themed galleries such as ‘Victorian London’, ‘London Fire Brigade 1866-2016’ and ‘LCC Tramway Posters’.

Not all archives focus on places. One specialist archive that I find fascinating is the National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive and Library. It holds 250,000 original photographic images from the 1840s to the present day including works by many famous photographers. The collection is currently being digitised, but the study room is open to researchers by appointment. This is the place to look if your relative ever sat for a portrait.

Another is the Library of Birmingham’s Collections website which includes a wide selection of images ranging from the Parker family’s collection of books, dating from 1538 to the present day; to ‘Fashion Plates 1771-1901’ [below].

photographic archives

Image of 19th century fashion plate featuring dress designs for women August 1860

The various datelines of the fashion sections enables the identification of clothing, worn by a relative in a photo, and connection to a particular time when it was most popular.

photographic archives

Gutting herrings in Norfolk

photographic archives

Fleetwood Online Archive of Trawlers

There are many good regional photographic archives, including Picture Norfolk [above top] with 20,000 images held by libraries across the county; West Sussex Past Pictures; Picture Oxon; Red Rose Collections has photos of Lancashire including FLOAT, the Fleetwood Online Archive of Trawlers [above bottom], and the Police Index from 1840 [top]. The regional photographic archives are too numerous to mention; simply search for ‘county’ plus ‘photographic archive’.

A quick search for my own county, Yorkshire, produced:-
The Yorkshire Film Archive [below]

Leodis, a photographic archive of Leeds.
West Yorkshire Archive Service
The Yorkshire Dales Photographic Grid Project 
North Yorkshire County Council Record Office
Bradford Museums and Galleries photographic archive
Historic England’s early photographic print collection
The East Riding archives

photographic archives

Yorkshire Film Archive

This post is inspired by an article in the June 2017 issue of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ magazine. More details here.

If you want to read more about family history research, try these articles:-
The 1939 Register
Did your ancestor train as an apprentice?
Identifying headstones

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Using photographic archives #familyhistory via SandraDanby