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3 free photo websites to use in your family history activities

Level : All

Time to read : 3 mins

Need some relevant pictures to make a Family History story or genealogy presentation more engaging?

Is purchasing high resolution photos or other graphics outside your budget? Then read on to learn about the free websites that I use regularly myself.

Picture of Photographer from

Most written works, whether published in traditional print or online formats, are enlivened by the addition of images of some sort. If, like me, your own photos are not quite good enough for publication, then finding quality pictures online is a quick and easy way to solve the problem.

I mentioned in a previous Blog post how important it is for genealogists to be conscious of their copyright responsibilities when using another person’s work. Nowhere is this more so than in using images found on the internet.

Fortunately, there are many online sites that permit you to download and re-use their photos legally without payment. The trick is to know what their rules are, if any, regarding use and attribution. The following list are my top three sites and the reasons why:

This is my favourite simply because you can use all their photos without restriction for either commercial or non-commercial purposes. The licence even permits you to modify the photo if needed which is very unusual when using other people’s creative work. Consequently, this is my website of choice because I don’t have to interpret an image’s copyright statement/licence which is sometimes quite complex. While Unsplash requests that you add an attribution when using one of their pictures, this is not essential.The only downside is that their database is not as large as some of their competition.

If you read my Blog regularly, you will know that I often use Pixabay pictures. This is because they have such a large database from which to choose. Copyright on the images vary but many are free to use for commercial and non-commercial purposes and without the need to attribute the source. Pixabay not only has photos but also vector graphics, illustrations and videos making it a very versatile source. Before starting a search, I select the filter for horizontal images which usually work better for publishing on websites.

When you double click on the thumbnail image, the copyright details will appear indicating whether it can be freely used or not.

3. Flikr

Flikr is probably the world’s largest and best known photographic website. Copyright restrictions vary from photo to photo and it is important not to get it wrong. To this end I always select the “Commercial use allowed” filter before I start searching for an image. That way I’m not disappointed when I find a fabulous photo only to find I can’t use it readily.

Flikr also hosts a group of international public photographic archives that publish online. Called "The Commons”, this fabulous source of historical images includes The British Library, The Smithsonian Institution, the US National Archives, The UK National Archives, the New York Public Library, the Royal Australian Historical Society, the New South Wales State Archives and Records, the National Library of Ireland, the Texas State Archives to name a few. The Commons group usually list the copyright of their images as “No known copyright restrictions”.

Don’t forget that when using a Flikr image you must link back to the photograph to enable access to more information about the content and its original owner. This is entirely reasonable and is unlikely to detract from your published product.

Do you have a favourite royalty free site for pictures? If yes, why not share your knowledge here in the Comments section?


Your Family Genealogist

Picture by : Warren Wong on Unsplash

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