Thursday, November 3, 2011

Using Google Images to find your Ancestors

I think by now, we've all heard about TinEye, the reverse image search feature where you upload an image or type in a URL pointing to an image and it will show you all the places where that image has been used in the past or is currently being used on the Internetz.

And I'm sure you've all used Google Images to find that neat and great-looking image to use on your next blog post to spice it up a bit, but do you know...

How to identify an image using the Google Image search box? You can actually drag and drop a photograph you took or one that is in your collection directly into the Google Image search box and it will bring up on web pages containing that image.

Google has already let the cat out of the bag. You can follow along with their directions from their Google Image site. Here is a screenshot telling you how you can drag your image directly into the search box. (Remember you can click on any image to make it bigger, then click the back button in your browser to go back to the blog post).

So let's get started! 

I opened up my folder with my images in it. Then I opened up the Google Images webpage and I put the folder and the webpage side by side. The first image I chose was an image of Albert Einstein that I pulled off of the internet. As you can see the image was named "Albert Einstein.jpg" and it is a very popular image which is all over the internet, so I would expect google to find multiple instances of it. 

I simply drag the Einstein image from the folder into the Google Image search box. When I started dragging, the search image box got bigger and it told me to "Drag Image Here." I managed to capture this in the below screen shot: 

Google Images had no problem finding information on Albert Einstein and finding additional images of him. It reported that there were 89,800 results, so surely you could find whatever you were looking for. 

So I have shown how Google Images can pull up information based on an iconic figure, but what about my ancestor, T. J. Benson? I have saved a copy of his photograph in my Image photo and I named it "Image.jpg." I want to see if Google Images is searching by file name or by visual image characteristics. So I drag the photograph of my ancestor into the Google Image Search box and this is what I see for results:

At the top of the page it displays the image I searched with, then below that, it displays "Pages that include matching images." And of course, the only page it comes up with is my very own blog. Unfortunately, for some reason, it does not display the actual blog post, however it does display the Archive for the Month and Year in which that blog post was made. Users can then click on the link and scroll down through the list of posts for July 2010 until they come upon the post about T. J. Benson. 

How is this good for genealogy? It has been my experience that oftentimes several descendants have the same photographs of ancestors hanging in their living rooms while they were growing up. There has been at least two instances where I've received copies of photographs in the mail from cousins and then had the same photographs show up from different cousins several years later! (And no, it wasn't because the photos were distributed and copies all over!) So I can see the benefit of running some of your ancestor's photos through the Google Image analyzer to see if any other copies of the photo has surfaced. Who knows, maybe one of your unknown cousins wrote a blog post about them! 

And what about those unknown people? Put those photos out there! You never know when you might find your photo on DeadFred!

Speaking of, I was NOT able to pull up photographs that I knew were saved in public trees on has their information locked up tight behind a membership wall. Likewise, I was not able to pull up headstone photographs from FindAGrave either. I was kind of surprised by that. I guess I kind of take access to FAG for granted.

I am not quite sure how exactly Google Images does this. But I can tell you that it doesn't seem to have a strong aspect of facial recognition because when I put random pictures of myself in the search box, it came up blank. One of my end of semester projects will be on exactly how queries are processed based on images submitted to a search box, so I might be able to answer this better come Christmas time. In the mean time try it out. Submit your photos of heirlooms, ancestors, and the cool stuff you see while on vacation and let me know about your experience!

Oh and feel free to share, tweet, etc. You know the drill!


  1. Well, this is interesting timing! My blog today was about draggubg an image of mine to Google Images to help identify a church in Louisville or possibly southern Indiana or Ohio. THREE days and MANY searches later I finally came up with a match...a drawing. Apparently there IS NO other actual photo of this old church. I find that odd. I LOVE Google Images though and use it daily for all kinds of things. Had to use it not too long ago to identify a snake from my back yard that I caught and put in a jar. Needed to know if it was a Coral snake or a King snake (similar banding but one deadly, the other harmless). Turns out it was the deadly Coral so I was glad I used heavy duty rubber gloves up to my elbows when I caught him! Google Images rocks!

  2. Thank you Ginger! I had not yet read about this new Google search capability. Can't wait to try it when I get home tonight!

  3. Lisa, wow, that's a great example of how Google Images worked for you! And I was thinking of using it to identify buildings as well and that's really cool that you found that drawing.

    Tim, give it a try and let us know if you find anything!

  4. Yeah I'm not going to Lisa's house anytime soon!

  5. Sounds interesting, Ginger! I'll have to give this a try.

  6. Ah, Google...Will you ever stop your wonderfulness?