When illustrating a family history, you’ll usually only have photos of the most recent generations. If you are fortunate, you'll also have access to family heirlooms such as letters or war medals that you can photograph or scan to include in your story. Beyond that there are the records that you struggled so hard to find. Digitized versions of birth, marriage, death, census, wills, and more than be transformed into illustrations with a little cropping. But beyond that, what do you do to illustrate your story?

You can also use your ideas for context, colour and themes: locations, historical events, work activities/equipment, food, and weather can all be used—but only choose public domain (PD) images. Just because a photograph is on the Internet does not mean it is free for you to use. There are, however, many sources for free or PD photos on the Web. Always be sure the photo is in the public domain before you use it or make sure you get permission. 

Here are some places to find PD images:

On Wikipedia all images are PD, but check the details of each to see if credit is required, and they have a separate database where you can search images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Governments: US government photos are PD including those from the Library of Congress, which has a huge online image library; other governments, such as Canada, are not PD

Museums and archives such as Getty Images and BC Archives: Some organizations may grant permission for you to use images if you ask and explain that it is for non-commercial use, but you must make the request in writing and wait for a written reply before publishing the image

Google has given permission to use the images from Google Streetview and Google Earth

Commercial sites that offer copyright free images uploaded by the photographers or graphic artists to promote their work; Freeimages.com; Pixabay.com; Unsplash.com 

Sites that compile free images: everystockphoto.com is a search engine for PD images, but there are other sites you can check yourself including: publicdomainarchive.com; morguefile.com/archive; bing.com/images; oldbookillustrations.com

Some social media sites make users relinquish rights to the images they post, which means they are technically legal for your use: flickr.com/commons; photobucket (I prefer not to use these as many of the owners do not always realize they have give up their rights).

But before you choose your images, remember that the whole point of using photographs is to tell a story, so be sure that each image is related both to the content and to the other imagery. Choosing random graphics and shotgunning them through your materials will not be effective. If the imagery is unharmonious, out of place incongruous, or inappropriate, don’t use it. You may confuse your readers or even antagonize them. The images must be relevant in some way — even if you must explain the relationship using captions.  

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com 

This and all material on this website copyright KM Lowe and the Relative Writer unless stated otherwise.