Searching for Your Ancestors’ Home Movies Online

By Maureen A. Taylor

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ancestors home videos online

My father had a movie camera and I’m sure one of your relatives did too.  It was a very popular hobby.  We didn’t have sound but it didn’t matter. We supplied our own soundtrack – conversation.

The history of home movies dates back to the 1920s, but commercial films became available around 1900.  There were local studios in small towns and big cities across the country.  Many of those films are now missing.

I have our home movies and am in the process of getting them transferred to a digital format so that I can edit and share them.  There is likely a lot of “bad” footage, but I’m pretty sure there are gems too.

It’s possible your ancestor (or yourself) was captured on film at a local event or that some long lost home movies will turn up.  It’s all a question of where to look.

ancestors home videos online

Library of Congress

Last week I wrote about a movie someone took of a Labor Day parade in Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 1904.  Here’s how I found it:

  • Go to   Enter a search term in the search box.  Use a name, a location, or an event.
  • A dropdown menu next to the box lets you select format. I used all formats, but you can pick “Films, Videos”
  • Once you have results, you can narrow them even further.  Look to the left side of the screen. There are a lot of choices:
    • Available online or all
    • Type of online format
    • Placeo Date
    • Contributor

Hint:  Create a set of search terms. Use a chart to track what terms you’ve used on which sites and what you discovered. 


The Library of Congress has an account on YouTube.  The Fitchburg Labor Day video is there.  Many people have YouTube accounts to share videos they’ve shot or that they’ve found.

  • Use the same search terms that you used on the LOC.  See what turns up.  Bear in mind that more than historians use this site. A search for Fitchburg resulted in many college party videos.

Vimeo is considered a serious video-streaming site, but I use it to share work videos which means they are genealogy related.

Creating and Sharing

There are a lot of apps and tools to help you edit old movies and create new ones.  Screenflow lets you capture narration, screen activity, and live shots with the narrator.
One of the easiest platforms is (fee service).  You pick one of their formats and basically drag and drop your videos and visuals into the blocks. You can add narration too.  Here’s the best part.

  • I can add a video then edit the clip in the program.
  • Add narration into the right slide.
  • Add titles and music.

If you don’t like what you’ve created you don’t have to start over you can add blocks or delete the ones you don’t want to keep.

Once you’re done, preview your creation then produce it.  You’ll end up with formats for sharing on YouTube or on your favorite social media platform.  Want to go back and make changes?  You can edit it after production; just remember to save a copy of your original before you make them.