7 Easy Steps to Use Photos to Research Your Family History

January 16, 2015  - by 
Discover Family History Through Photos

In one old black-and-white photo that makes an appearance every Christmas, a young woman poses in ice skates as she beams at the photographer. In another faded print, three little girls with hair in pigtails clasp their arms around each other.

Once you may have simply seen these photos as part of your holiday décor. But this year, perhaps you wondered, “Who are they? What’s the story behind those photos that make them special to my family?”

According to Rachel LaCour Niesen of Save Family Photos, stories captured in old photographs can be the key to getting your relatives to share their memories with each other. To help make your family tree in 2015, we collaborated with Rachel to develop seven easy steps for using photos to start researching your family history.

7 Easy Steps to Use Photos to Research Your Family History:

  1. Sign up for an account at FamilySearch
    By signing up for a free FamilySearch account, you’ll have a place to preserve photos and memories as you build a family tree.
  1. Find old family photos that pique your curiosity
    Think like a curator as you search through boxes of old photos. Rachel says not to focus on whether a photo is technically perfect. Content is what matters – a faded or yellowed photo can still have an intriguing story.
  1. Digitize your photos
    Don’t let an old scanner get in the way of preserving your family history. “Even a quick scan or iPhone photo prevents memories from being lost,” Rachel told FamilySearch. Make digital copies of old photos whenever you get a chance.Rachel recalls a time when she took pictures of a photo wall featuring her husband’s grandmother and sisters when they were little. As a result, she was later able to learn stories about many of the photos from other relatives.Consider using the FamilySearch Memories mobile app to snap pictures and easily attach them to your family tree.
  1. Upload the images to FamilySearch
    Build a lasting database of memories about the people in your family tree by uploading your photos to FamilySearch. Photo albums can be lost, but uploaded photos will always be visible to anyone who adds that relative to their family tree.To upload your photos to FamilySearch:
    • Login to FamilySearch. If you don’t have an account yet, start your family tree
    • Select Photos under Memories at the top of the page.
    • Click on Upload.
    • Drag and drop photographs onto the plus sign, or click the plus sign for the Open File dialog box. You can upload up to 50 photographs at a time.
  1. Tag people in the photos.
    After uploading a photo to FamilySearch, identify as many people in the photo as possible. Rachel says that tagging is critical, not only because it connects photos to your family tree, but because it gives other relatives the opportunity to correct any assumptions.To tag a photo after you’ve uploaded it to FamilySearch:
    • Click on a person and resize the circle to frame their face.
    • Type in that person’s name and click Add New Person. Don’t worry about using a full legal name, just pick one others will recognize.
    • After tagging a relative, click on their name in the right menu and select Attach to Family Tree. Then search for the person or enter their ID number.
  1. Select one compelling photo to share
    Although it’s tempting to share an entire album, Rachel recommends starting small. She’s found people share more in-depth stories when asked about a single photo. If you ask about too many photos at once, you risk overwhelming relatives or making it unclear where to start.To find a good photo to start researching your family history, look for one that piques your curiosity, or that you have heard talked about in the past. Don’t stress about picking the “perfect” first photo – your goal is to have fun learning more about your family.
  1. Ask relatives to contribute.
    Rachel finds that people are more likely to share their memories when directly asked. A simple “Hey, I just found this photo of grandma when she was newly married. Do you have any memories about her?” can inspire your family to share their stories. Here are some ways you can reach out:
    • Email a link to the photo. Click on the email icon in FamilySearch to send message directly from the photo page.
    • Post the photo on social networks. FamilySearch lets you share photos to Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google Plus. Make sure to tag family members who might have a story to share.
    • Use your phone as a family album. Use the FamilySearch Tree mobile app to share photographs when you visit older relatives.

    As you start collecting memories, preserve your family stories on FamilySearch by clicking the Stories button on each photo. FamilySearch will then automatically connect that story to the ancestors you tagged in your family tree.

    Old photos are an easy way to start researching your family history. They spark memories for your relatives, help you get to know the people behind the names in your family tree, and are an engaging way to learn more about your family history.

    Sign-up for a free FamilySearch account to start your own family tree. Then get started learning the stories behind your old photos.


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  1. I do think people should be careful putting photo’s on the network.
    They are easy to be misused that way by people who do not have nice intentions.

  2. I love the idea of digitizing old photos whenever you can. Even if they’re snapshots with your phone, if you have them with you at a family get together you can have such a fun time learning about them!

  3. Your help pages are very useful. I am brand new to this and my advice to anybody who thinks they may someday want to compile a memorable family history to take advantage of TODAY and sit down with older family members, take notes, ask questions and ask about funny stories- there will be plenty! AND have your elders identify people in the old cardboard photos and write names on the back!!! Lack of info and now I am identifying everyone in current pics for anyone down the line. It’s a huge help! Thank you to all who run this website. You provide a priceless service!

  4. Why cant we use the booklet page to make up a pdf of the entire family tree and not just a few generations?

    1. Richard, call FamilySearch Research Support at 18664061830 for more information on making PDFs of family trees.

  5. After photos or documents have been memories, tagged, etc. it there a way of rearranging them so they are in chronological order?

  6. If the photos are not tagged for personal reasons but have been put into a created folder for a family, can they still be viewed by others on FS?