How to discover images of your ancestors!


13 November 2018
Criminal or courtier, noble or notorious... With perseverance, a bit of luck, and expert help from Diane Brook you may be able to track down images of your ancestors within the archives...

Criminal or courtier, noble or notorious... With perseverance, a bit of luck, and expert help from Diane Brook you may be able to track down images of your ancestors within the archives...

Some people are very fortunate and have precious family photos handed down the generations. But what if you don't have these in your family? Is there any way you can go about tracking down pictures of the generations who lived before you. In the Christmas 2018 issue of Family Tree, Diane Brook has written an inspiring account, outlining the numerous routes worth researching - to try and trace an image of one of your ancestors.

How to trace photos of your ancestors?

To help you find pictures of your ancestors, Diane has also created a chart outlining the number of photos held in respective archives, how many of those are portrait photographs, and many other useful details.

Click here to download the chart detailing which archives hold pictures of ancestors

Below, please find Diane Brook's extensive further reading. It is also a testament to the dedication she has put into her article. This is something we really value about contributors to Family Tree - the excellent attention to detail - and we hope you find these leads below useful, and wish you all the best in tracking down an image of your ancestor. If you find one using Diane's chart, or the leads below, please do let us know!

Diane Brook's further reading: sources to help you find images of your ancestors

Samples of the many articles, books and websites and even some television programmes with identified images of people.


National Portrait Gallery,

Historic England, Archive - flier, undated. Explains collection, Over 1 million photographs but of places, buildings, monuments, etc, not individuals or human groups. has sections for England, Wales, Scotland and more. Searchable but mainly places, a few with identified people.

Family Tree Magazine, May 2015, pp.58-9. ‘Free image archive’, advertisement, TheGenealogist. Mainly places but also some identified people.

Identified people are mainly the notable but some more ordinary. Also sports teams, companies, etc.

Family Tree Magazine, June 2017, page 9: V&A Photography Centre Plans in the Pipeline, transfer of Royal Photographic Society collection from the Science Museum Group, 270,000 photos, 26,000 publications and 6000 pieces of camera equipment. Centre due to open autumn 2018. Plan to digitise and catalogue the collection underway.

Film, video and television:

Family Tree Magazine, September 2015. ‘Britain on Film: Our Lives. Our Stories. By Amanda Randall. Pp 26-27. British Film Institute project to digitise examples of film heritage. With National Film and Television Archive. C. 10,000 films to watch online. searchable, browse or by location or subject. Mentions Scottish Screen Archive -

Film - Somerset History on Film, old flier for Trilith, the rural Media charity. See for details of films, Dorset and Wiltshire, 1905 to present. British Universities Film & Video Council. Somerset apparently not collected after all. May be defunct as web links to Trilith no longer work and one of the founders has died.


Family Tree Magazine, December 2015, ‘Family artworks’, by Jayne Shrimpton, pp64-67. Painted and sketched portraits. Portrait tradition began at court of Henry VIII, early 1500’s. Royal and aristocratic only, then to other higher social class people. By mid-18th century, gentry, professions, merchant class, new industrialists, bankers. Artworks in private collections, mainly better-off but occasional lower class, e.g. a gamekeeper. Many women. Costly, amount by size, medium. Often up to 6 days of sittings. Miniatures cheaper but still cost 6 days’ wages for a craftsman so well off only. Also many amateur portraits by middle-class artists, often the women in the family. Few local artists’ work was signed or dated. Try local museums and galleries for advice. The National Portrait Gallery now has a guide for family historians at Sometimes has family tradition of the sitter’s identity. See Jayne Shrimpton’s book, Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs, 2014,  for a chapter on fashions and dating.

Family Tree Magazine, May 2015. ‘Electoral Records’ by Chris Paton, pp.26-29. Image of a political cartoon of 1818 by Robert Cruikshank with ‘portraits’ of the candidates.

Specific and local groups:

National Library of Wales,  A 20th-century newspaper photographic collection, N Wales, 1930's to 1980's, much of it online, Geoff Charles collection.

Family Tree Magazine, August 2016, Mailbox, p90. ‘Romany-related issue’ letter from Sharon Heppell of the Romany and Traveller FHS. A photo in a previous issue, a well-known Romany gypsy, Elizabeth Leatherland, nee Hearn, died 1875.

Journal of the Norfolk Family History Society, vol 1, part one, Sept 1996. P.60 - David Rayner of Spindrift Print & Publishing, letter - The Lilian Ream Photographic Collection - 100,000 local negatives, many from west Norfolk area, further details and copies from Kim Bowden, Lilian Ream Photographic Collection, c/o Wisbech Library, Ely Place, Wisbech PE13 1EU., collection from 1909 to 1949 and later. Records of business lost so not clear if any or many of the surviving negatives are identified. Business was in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

British Archaeology, November December 2014. Hallam Ashley, Photographing anything that took his fancy, by Peter Hoare, pp.40-43. Article about the photographer’s contribution to archaeology, architectural recording and pathology but includes mention of portrait work, whole work dated 1931-1980. Father and grandfather also photographers, 19th century. Collection in part at Norwich Castle Museum. Book by daughter: Kathleen Davidson, Traditional Crafts & Industries of East Anglia: The Photographic Legacy of Hallam Ashley, ed A Sargent (English Heritage 2010). See online for references to collections at Historic England, and the Mills Archive, Reading. Craftsmen identified in many cases. Worked mainly in East Anglia.

Family Tree Magazine, February 2013, News, page 6 - Sheffield Archives having a centenary WWI project to scan images of serving men and women of Sheffield. Searchable image collection now at, includes identified people.

National Museum of Wales, accessed 2011, link no longer current. Article, 'Faces of Wales'. Notes - Few in Wales from 16th century, painted outside UK, then 18th, painted in England. Then photography although painting continued. Earliest at NMW, 1565, 1st Earl of Pembroke, 1568, Katherine of Berain. Extract - The portraits here are from the Museum's collection; further examples and an archive of Welsh portraiture can be seen at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, which has collected portraiture since its foundation, and in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Article Date: 26 March 2007

Cardiff Central Library - Cardiff image index by former librarian Brynmor Jones (not online as copyright issues for some images and articles). Also, 1896 photo collection, database of all named exhibitors – 112, visitors – 2619. Also unindexed if named only with no address or unidentified, about another 2000 photos – some of these are in poor condition.

Historic photography discussions on of Man., Over 28,000 photographs of Manx People and Places. Many identified and online.

Morgan, Richard, 'George Brooks' Portrait', Family Tree Magazine, November 2007, p49. Includes image of portrait with image of name of sitter in a detail, and, an engraving (different portrait). George Brooks died 1817. BG born Suffolk 1741, son of a wool comber, married well and founded a bank. Heinz Archive, 'just behind the National Portrait Gallery, in Orange Street, London. Here are kept records of all British portraits that the archive can discover.' Indexed by artist and sitter. Many records of portraits passed through auction houses.

Royal portraits including death masks: 'Tudor England: IMAGES'. Online images of royal portraits. Coloured death mask of Henry VII included. Arranged by monarch and date within each person.

National Trust Erddig site,, some servants portraits shown in part online.

From Geneanet, accessed 28/03/2012l, Genealogy Blog: Shropshire Archives Seek 'Army' of Volunteers for Photo Project. In a basement at Shrewsbury's archives library a huge stack of plain brown boxes lay on shelves in rows 24 high. Between them, they contain 45,000 photos, some dating back to the 19th Century and about many of which almost nothing is known. Head of Shropshire Archives Mary McKenzie said: "A lot of it is a mystery and that's why we need people's help." Project manager John Benson said the photos had come from a wide range of sources, from people's wills to donations from families, groups, businesses and others.

Somerset & Dorset FHS Journal, Feb 2012, Vol 37, no. 1, p 7, by Anne-Marie Wilkinson, Mid-Somerset group. Thomas and Herbert Phillips. Mid-Somerset group digitising glass plates by Wells photographers Thomas and Herbert Phillips. Plates are indexed by name and also give address or residence. All photographs numbered. Steve Wilkinson digitising and indexing. Group researching names. Example from 1870's given.

Somerset & Dorset FHS Journal, May 2013, Vol 38, no. 2, p47, by Anne-Marie Wilkinson. More Phillips Photographs. Some marriages identified, allows others to be ID'd. Index at Wells and Mendip Museum – see Index available at the Museum by arrangement. Eventual aim to put images and index online. A copy of the index is also available at the SDFHS Research Centre in Sherborne. 

Societe Jersiaise Photographic Archive, Online catalogue, over 80,000 images, over 36,000 online and searchable.

BBC4 – part one of 'Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs', broadcast on 28 September 2012, by Pamela Cox. Photos, 1860s, at Petworth House, of servants, private house collection. Knole, Kent, 18th-century painted portraits of the servants, identified. Erddig – see elsewhere here for book, notes.

Family Tree Magazine, April 2009, p88, Product reviews. Index of Surnames from Old Photographs. Collector Anne Matanle - indexed by name of sitter and photographer. See

Family Tree Magazine, Nov 2012, p93 – Classified Advert: Index of Surnames from my 'Family Photographic Collection' of named people from old photos 1860-1940s. Search Online at

Family Tree Magazine, Symes, Ruth A 'On the face of it...', May 2013, pp16-19. Descriptions and images of distinguishing marks – passports, military, criminal, hospital, inheritance. Inheritance: birthmarks, moles and beauty spots, cleft chin, widow's peak, eyebrows.

The Greenwood Tree, February 2015, Vol. 40 No.1, p15. High Ham Community Project, by Amanda Chuter and Kate Lynch – book written. 'Care has been taken to identify as many people as possible in the photographs …'  'The book starts in the 1890s and goes through to 1965.'  Over 500 scanned photographs, captions, documents and interviews. Most at the Archives in Taunton. Book 'A Somerset Parish, Memories of Village Life in High Ham, Low Ham and Henley 1895-1965. Available from

Family Tree Magazine, August 2016, ‘Ancestors on the Grand Tour’, Jayne Shrimpton, 14-17. P17, caption for image, ‘For many Grand Tourists Rome was the culmination of a long journey and it was fashionable to commission there an elegant portrait set against a ‘classical’ backdrop, such as this one of Francis Bassett by Batoni, 1778.’

Family Tree Magazine, June 2017, page 9: Forgotten Studio Photos in the Frame at Last. 165-year-old photography studio on display, Derby, WW Winter, found images in the cellars back to 1852, one of the oldest photography businesses in the world still in business. On at Derby Museum and Art Gallery, ends June 11, 2017.

Family Tree Magazine, August 2017, page 86-87: Finding Boat People. Waterways Archive. P87 – photographs of named people? Many thousands, about 30,000 and rising. Names of people and their boats. Online catalogue. Website


Family Tree Magazine, April 2015, Mailbox, page 87. Letters ‘Soldiers’ portrait pictures’ and ‘Further to photos’ about how newspapers often have photographs of WWI soldiers that do not seem to survive elsewhere. The letters confirm that the newspapers of the time solicited photographs from the families and the public.

Family Tree Magazine, June 2010, pp74-76. Puzzling over an Army ancestor? By Iain Swinnerton. Pp75-76, section on finding photographs of soldiers. First taken in 1853 during Second Burmese War and India. These early ones by Surgeon John McCosh are in the National Army Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. First official ones by Roger Fenton, Crimean War. Most individual portraits taken in home area when a young man joined up, mostly after 1880. Regimental museums have group photos, and especially feature men with medals or sporting success. Photographic Archive of the Imperial War Museum, over 5 million WWI, WWII and post-war photographs.

Family Tree Magazine, October 2011, page 89, Mailbox section: 'Aviators' photos', Royal Aero Club Aviators' certificates on Many certificates included a photo including one of the letter-writer's great-uncle. Letter from Nickie Johnson by email.


The Greenwood Tree, The Somerset and Dorset Family History Society, February 2013, Vol 38, no. 1. P.21. ‘Boys in Forms IV, V, VI Foster’s School, Sherborne, 1898’ by Barbara Elsmore. Photo shown and identifications given. Many photos of Foster’s schoolboys at Sherborne Museum.

Genealogists' Magazine, Vol. 30, Number 6, Jun 2011, p219, Correspondence, from Martyn Killion: Harrow School Hill and Saunders photographic collection, over 80,000 images. Collection acquired in 2009 by Mr Alasdair Kirk, being catalogued. Original glass plates and prints for sale.  1860s to 1970s. High social class but surname indexed. Not all images yet found or scanned. Now in 2018 site with links no longer works.

Criminals, the Poor, the Diseased

Family Tree Magazine, May 2015, page 8. ‘Records of Bedlam go online’. Records 1683-1932 to go online at Findmypast. Illustration of one record shows photo of patient. Browsing of late 19th- and early 20th-century case note images on Findmypast, 23 January 2018, showed none with photographs.

Family Tree Magazine, September 2004, pp6-7. ‘Meet some of London’s Habitual Drunkards’ by Sue Fearn. Habitual Drunkards - Licensing Act, 1902. Posters included photographs. Some 100 or so are mentioned in the article and three illustrated. Six in Wolverhampton Archive Service, four in East Suffolk (private hands?). 90 from Westminster, to be deposited in a London archive.

Foundling Museum - portraits, etc. London. 1st public gallery, 'Show Me the Monet', BBC TV, 12 May 2011. Portraits and foundling hospital? scenes on walls. Website has no mention of foundling portraits,

Usk Gaol photographs from 1871, Newport website, originals in Gwent Record Office. See Newport residents in Usk gaol, 1871-1876, from the receiving books for Usk Gaol, photographs mainly for the first two volumes of the three, 1871-1873, some in volume 3. Newport – 435 people, most with images, and with text details of name, age, crime, punishment.

National Archives enews, 6 Mar 2013: Bad boys and naughty girls. We have a range of other records available to help you trace criminals and crimes, including a series of photographs of prisoners (PCOM2/290 and PCOM2/291) from 1872 to 1873. Take a look at our helpful research guide, for more tips on researching crimes and criminals. Pay per view of each photo - £3.50.

Family Tree Magazine, May 2017, p9, 'Gaol Mugshots offer glimpse of criminal forebears', no author given. More than 120,000 records and images, felons, Swansea and surrounding area, Gaol Records, 1877-1922, on, records held by West Glamorgan RO.

Barnardo's Archives,, archive from 1874, 500,000 images, 300 films.

Sculpture, Reliefs, Tokens

Current Archaeology, issue 334, January 2018. ‘(Un)Common Currency’, by Viking Sparkes, pp48-50. Alternate currencies e.g. , p48, 17th-century tokens, 1645-1672. Pp 48-9 - 18th-20th centuries, political tokens. P49 - 19th century - hours of labour tokens. Pp40 - Personal tokens, late 18th - have relief portraits of ordinary people, e.g. Jeffrey Dunstan, ‘a disabled street-seller of secondhand hairpieces’, 1780’s-1790’s, from south London.

Restoration Home, BBC, Episode 5, Calverton Manor. 'Calverton Manor is a collage of different architectural styles with parts thought to date back as far as the 14th century. And it comes with its very own legend involving a rich widow, the local butcher, pots of gold and murder.

Broadcast on BBC Two, 8:00PM Tue, 2 Aug 2011. Accessed on-line at, 8 August 2011 (link no longer live): Simon Bennett of Calverton, Buckinghamshire. 47:51 minutes in, visit to nearby church, not named. Bust done from death mask, 48:29. Died 1682, Beachampton Church has the monument: See Victoria County History, A History of the County of Buckingham, Vol 4, William Page (editor), 1927, 149-153 at

Biebrach, Rhianydd (2010) 'The medieval episcopal monuments in Llandaff Cathedral', Archaeologia Cambrensis, volume 159, 221-239. Medieval effigies of bishops at Llandaff. Six illustrations, discussion of identifications.


Fritz Saxl & Rudolph Wittkower, British Art and the Mediterranean , Oxford 1948, repr.63(4);

John Steegman, A Survey of Portraits in Welsh Houses, vol. 1, Houses in North Wales, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff 1957

David Irwin, English Neoclassical Art, London 1966

Early anti-portrait photography feelings in west Wales:

Suggett, Richard 2008 A History of Magic and Witchcraft in Wales. The History Press, Stroud.

Page 112, section on Harries of Cwrtycadno, Carmarthenshire. “There are several early photographs of members of the Harries family; these are unusual survivals given a local prejudice against portrait photography (Fig. 12). A late-Victorian historian maintained that the old people of the Caeo district 'had the most curious fancies about pictures, and a very general dislike to have their photographs taken'.

Winter, G 1973 A Country Camera 1844-1914, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England.

Includes identified images of 'ordinary' people from before and around 1900. Includes 'a gamekeeper in the 1840s' of Lacock Abbey. Page 79, plate 107. [Search,, 1 Jan 2011, 1841 census, Lacock, districts 13, 14, 15, 16, 48, 49, and Lacock Workhouse. Talbot family in district 16 but no gamekeeper at the house (on page 24). District 16 search, 11 images: no one listed as gamekeeper. MS (male servant), three in house, all too young to be the man photographed. District 15, 6 images: no one listed as gamekeeper. District 14, 6 images: image 1, HO 107/1172/6, page 2, folio 20, John Salaway, aged 60, Bailiff, born in county, Bowden House.  No one listed as gamekeeper. District 13, 11 images: Image 4, HO 107/1172/6, page 8, folio 8, Joseph Stockhame, age 30, GameKeeper, born in county, wife Sarah, at Lackham Lodge. Next address Wotton House. Is also a Lackham House. District 48, 1 image:  no one listed as gamekeeper. District 49, 1 image:  no one listed as gamekeeper. Many others are Farmer, Yeoman, Ag Lab, Lab so could be one of those.

1851 census, Lacock, Talbot family on HO 107/1836, page 1. No gamekeeper listed in the house. District 1a, 43 images. No one listed as gamekeeper. Also districts 1b and 1c.

District 1b, 28 images. Bowden Hill, George S Gibbons, Head, mar, 49, Game Keeper, born Wilts, Corsham, wife and niece, HO 107/1836, page 13. Page 17, George Tucker, Farmer's Bailiff, also at Bowden Hill (an area), and, later same page, Bowden House, John Salway, Head, aged 70, Bailiff (90 acres 8 Lab), wife and granddaughter. Next entry, Bowden Farm, William Salway, aged 30, Farmers Bailiff (200 acres, 23 Labs), and family.

District 1c, 20 images. Page 16, image 16, folio 412,  HO 107/1836, Lackham Farm, George Lewis, aged 65, Farm Bailiff, and family.

Bryson, B (2010) At Home, A Short History of Private Life. Transworld Publishers (Random House), London. Paperback edition. p.378 (on Capability Brown) '.... but Brown's clients loved him. One, Lord Exeter, hung a portrait of Brown in his house where he could see it every day.'

p.548 (on Beau Brummell) 'Curiously, for a man famed for his appearance, we don't know what he looked like. Four reputed likenesses of him exist, but they are all strikingly different from one another, and there is now no telling which, if any, is actually faithful.'

Erddig: The Servants' Hall, A Domestic History of Erddig by Merlin Waterson, 1980, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London. Many identified portraits and photographs of staff. Examples: large group photo, 1906, 17 people, page 11, figure 10. p 36 - Edward Prince, carpenter, painted by John Walters, 18th century. p38 - discussion of 18th-century (and earlier?) paintings of servants, at Knole - footman and maid, Lyme Park, Cheshire - gamekeeper, Dudmaston, Shropshire - fool, 1719, Chirk Castle - damaged and smoke blackened. Erddig - many with verses as well. p61, figure 39 - servants at Erddig, 1852 (daguerreotype). Includes Mary Webster, housekeeper. p81, figure 49 - Mary Webster, later portrait with keys. Index, six references to John Walters. Six 1790's (Walters) paintings illustrated, 3 more from the 1830's (not Walters). Many photos of staff, all identified.

Prescott, Gwyn 'Rugby in Victorian Cardiff', Glamorgan Family History Society Journal, 102, June 2011, 34-39. Sources include D.E. Davies, Cardiff Rugby Club: History and Statistics 1876-1975: "The Greatest" (1975). C.S. Arthur, The Cardiff Rugby Football Club: History and Statistics 1876-1908 (1908), all players and officials up 1908  'and includes many superb team photos.' John M . Jenkins, Duncan Pierce and Timothy Auty, Who's Who of Welsh International Rugby Players (1991). has team histories but current players' images only.

Review, Portraits from the past - Vintage Glamour in London’s East End, curated by Michael Griesman, assisted by Frank Harris. 1st half 20th century east end of London - Jewish wedding and studio portrait photographer, Boris Bennett (ne Sokhatchevsky, 1900-1985), Art Deco studio in Whitechapel Road in the 1930s and 1940s. Some wedding photos and portraits rediscovered and collected for the book, backgrounds researched. Boris emigrated from Poland in 1922. Up to 40 weddings a day. Rachel Kolsky, Jewish London, 2012, comments on the photographs. Boris took 150,000 wedding photos. Famous so opened in the West End in 1950s, chain of retail shops, Bennett Cameras, taken over by Dixons in 1963. Photos in book include family biographies. Jewish Museum, London, hosted exhibition in 2015, including Boris’ portraits: (exhibition no longer online). Book - ISBN: 9780957699861, £25 pounds hardback, Hoxton Mini Press;

Family Tree Magazine, May 2010, p85. Review - Bromsgroves’s Victorian Photographic Treasury: The Hughes Collection. Book, includes 200 photos from over 2000 taken from 1897 for about 10 years. Includes some portraits. ISBN 9780752447124, 2008, The History Press. Listings online do not indicate how many portraits are included but one Amazon reviewer noted a photograph of her 'Nan' is included.

F.A. Greenhill, Incised Effigial Slabs - 'describes all the classes of slabs that have been made in Christendom since the Dark Ages' quote from Simon Brighton, In Search of the Knights Templar, Metro Books, New York, 2006, p.152 and bibliography - Greenhill, F.A. (1976) Incised Effigial Slabs: A study of Engraved Stone Memorials in Latin Christendom, c.1100 to c.1700, 2 vols, London, Faber.

Badham, Sally 2011 Medieval Church and Churchyard Monuments, Shire Publications, Oxford.

Others in the Shire series:

            Monumental Brasses by Sally Badham and Martin Stuchfield

            Churches and Churchyards by Mark Child

            Church Monuments by Brian Kemp, 1985, reprint 2010,  9780852637685.

            Medieval Masons by Malcolm Hislop

            Medieval Wall Paintings by E. Clive Rouse

Little, Charles T. (ed) 2006 Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Includes article on portraiture.

Saul, Nigel 2009 English Church Monuments in the Middle Ages. Oxford UP. Pb 2011. Effigies included.

Badham, Sally and Oosterwijk, Sophie (eds) 2010 Monumental Industry: The Production of Tomb Monuments in England and Wales in the Long Fourteenth Century. Shaun Tyas. 9781907730009.

Remainders no longer available from the National Library of Ireland as of 7 July 2011:

Into the Light: An Illustrated Guide to the Photographic Collections in the National Library of Ireland
By Sarah Rouse. This guide describes, indexes and illustrates the nearly 90 collections of about 300,000 images in the holdings of the National Library of Ireland’s National Photographic Archive. Almost all depict Irish subjects and were taken by Irish photographers.

Strangers to Citizens: The Irish in Europe 1600-1800. By Mary Ann Lyons and Thomas O’Connor

Over two centuries, the “outsider” Irish achieved “insider” status in countries as diverse as Spain and Sweden and came to exercise influence both at home and abroad. Theirs is one of the great human stories of early modern Europe and an emblematic moment in the universal chronicle of people on the move. The book offers an insight into their lives and times.

Ex Camera 1860-1960: Photographs from the Collections of the National Library of Ireland. Compiled and edited by Noel Kissane

The photographs in this collections were produced in the period from 1860-1960 by assorted cameras in the hands of various photographers, both professional and amateur. They illustrate many aspects of Ireland and Irish life in that period, including landscape, politics, religion, education and sport   

Photographs and Photography in Irish Local History, by Liam Kelly

This guide gives a brief outline of the history of photography from the primitive and large daguerreotype camera of early Victorian times to the miniature digital camera of today. It traces the development of photography in Ireland, how the vast number of photographs has been accumulated, where the best collections are held and how they might be accessed.