Searching for Family Photos with Google

By Maureen A. Taylor

I have an ancestor, James Wilson, who drives me crazy. I bet you have a few of those too! It took decades to piece together what I know about him. Despite all this research, I still can’t find a photograph of him or anyone in his wife’s family. It’s doubtful that I’ll ever locate an image of him, but over the years, I’ve been able to piece together photographs that document key points in his life.

Using the facts of his life, here’s what I’ve found (and how):

  • His Civil War records are sparse. He served as a gunner’s mate on the USS Brandywine, the USS Morse and the USS Ohio. By searching Google Images, I was able to locate images of all three of those ships and shared them on my Facebook page. This one of the Morse fascinates. It’s from the Library of Congress and appeared on Civil War Talk, along with another image.

His Civil War service records gave his physical description: 5’10-1/4,” hazel eyes, dark hair, light complexion. Only a small portion of the Library of Congress’ images are on its website, though, so a trip to Washington, D.C. would be worthwhile.

It’s a small ship. Chances are slim that James Wilson is in this photograph, but if it’s possible to narrow down the time frame he was on it, then maybe I’ll find a picture of him on board.

Hint: Check the Library of Congress website for images of places your ancestors lived, or in this case, pictures of their service.

  • The 1865 census of Massachusetts shows the family living in Charlestown. Another quick search using Google Images resulted in multiple stereo card views. Instead of a general search just for the Charlestown Navy Yard, I added 1865. It worked!

Hint: Try a very specific search first and if it doesn’t work then try again using more general terms.

  • Census records often give you the name of the street and the house number where your ancestors lived. In 1880,James Wilson’s wife and children lived on South Emerson St., New Bedford, Mass. Within moments, I’d found their house using Google Maps.

I’m still looking for a picture of him, but in the meantime the hunt for information has given me a view of his life. You can do this too.

There are more tips for locating photographs in my guide Searching for Family Photographs: How to Find Them Now.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now