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How to illustrate your family history: old photos, videos, audio recordings and more

Where to find photos and other media for your family tree

Family tree

At its simplest, a family tree has a box for each individual, each of these boxes containing basic information such as a name, a date of birth and, if applicable, the date on which that person died.

A family tree looks so much more attractive, though, if those boxes also contain photographs of the people represented and this is just a start. Many family tree programs allow you to associate other media such as movie clips or audio recordings with individuals so that you can play them as you view the tree online. See also: Genealogy software explained: what to look for

While there’s a limit to how much media you’d want to cram into your family tree, as you research your family history you might decide to collect other related photographs, old maps and more.

For example, you might be interested to see how your ancestors’ home town looked when they were alive, or perhaps search out photographs of the Air Force base on which a relative served during the Second World War. Then, if you decide to share your family history on a website or, perhaps, produce a book of your family’s past, both of which we refer to in the section on publishing your family history, all this media will come in handy.

Old photo scans

Photographs of your family members will almost certainly come from within the family so start looking in those boxes in the attic and ask your relatives what they have. In addition to albums of prints, also look out for negatives, slides, old cine films and audio tapes or cassettes.

Also, for that personal touch, if they’re happy for you to do so, make audio or video recordings of your relatives as they talk to you about family members that you never met. For information about bringing old media into the digital age, take a look at our guide to see how to restore old photos, videos and audio.

In addition to media from within the family, you might find photos online that are relevant to your quest. DeadFred.com is a free genealogy photographic database but, given that even its 110,000 records is tiny in comparison to the number of people who have ever lived, don’t expect too much.

For photographs of places, though, you stand to do a lot better. One particularly useful source is Francis Frith which has a large collection of historic photographs and maps of most towns throughout the UK. Also, don’t forget about local history societies and perhaps even your local library.

Old photos

Historical maps

You might even find that some of your ancestors had the right to bear arms so a coat of arms might not go amiss against their name on the family tree.

Remember, though, it would be inaccurate to show a coat of arms that purports to be your family coat of arms at the top of your family tree because it’s individuals, not families, that are granted arms.

Coat of arms

This article is part of a larger feature on family history. Go to the introduction to tracing your ancestors.

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