Ancestry.com has over 15 MILLION users and counting! It is an easily accessible platform so it’s a great place to start when looking for photos of relatives. I’ve heard good things about checking for new photo uploads on the FamilySearch Family Tree periodically as well. Because Ancestry.com is user friendly and my online tree of choice I will focus on this platform.
Build your tree and use the hints – this is easy right? Hints are the little green leaves that show up on the corner of your ancestor’s profile. If there is a photo that’s great! You can download directly from the hint page onto your desktop. I’ve found that often these photos are not the best quality. Maybe they were scanned years ago or maybe it’s a photograph of a photocopy! Don’t lose hope! I frequently have luck messaging the original poster and asking if they have a higher quality jpg they are willing to email to me. Sometimes they have even more photos or can connect me with someone else who does.
A STEP FURTHER
Take note of the other users who have saved the image to the ancestor’s profile in their tree. Their profile pictures are listed to the right under the description of the image. There are small arrows to navigate the profiles if multiple rows are present. I’ve had luck inspecting their profile and public tree to find out how they are related to my target ancestor or how their spouse is related. (Frequently, one person in a marriage researches their spouse’s family history and their own on the same account.) If I think one of these users might have information I will send them a message saying “I saw you saved this particular photo hint to your tree. Do you happen to have any additional photos or documents or a family bible that you might be willing up upload to Ancestry.com or email to me? Even a picture with your cell phone would be appreciated! Thank you for your time.” Even if I get a “no” I know they don’t have anything. Sometimes I get a new lead as to who might have inherited these kinds of items.
A NOTE ABOUT YOUR PROFILE
We may be researching lives from the past but the Ancestry.com community is alive and well. I’ve found other users to be kind and generous with their resources and time. I’ve made dozens of friends and have learned so much through phone and email conversations about our shared ancestors and research interests.
I noticed a marked increase in message responses when I took some time to complete my profile and make it as friendly as possible. I firmly believe that a profile picture is a must. Even a quick selfie puts a face to your message. I’m often asking FOR SOMETHING from other users. I feel it’s polite to let them know I’m a real human and what I’m all about. Here’s what I include in my profile:
- a complete bio
- email address
- GEDMatch number
- State my Research Interests
- Surnames I research
- Note that I am willing to help
In my message I always include something about sharing any information I may find with them in the future. I also log this correspondence in a spreadsheet so I don’t bug them again in 6 months for the same information!
OFTEN I WILL NOT FIND THE PHOTOS THAT I’M AFTER
That’s okay. There are plenty of other images that I can use to build out the visual record of my ancestor. Photos of headstones and cemeteries, land deeds, documents, even mentions in the census. As abundant as photos are now, this was not the case for our ancestors. But that’s what makes them so precious and fun to hunt for!
My next genealogy post will be about giving on Ancestry.com and building up some genealogy karma!
Note: this involves having an active Ancestry.com subscription