Finding Civil War Ancestors in Photos

If you don’t own any photographs of your family taken during the Civil War, don’t despair. Here are three tips for finding your Civil War ancestors in photos that may still exist:

  1. Network with relatives. Put the word out to your family that you’re looking for old family photos. Add your specific interest in photos of particular people or families, and of ancestors in military uniform.
  2. Search family tree websites for your Civil War-era family names. Distant relatives may have posted images of those you’re looking for in their family trees. Search such sites as,,,,,, and Subscriptions may be required to access search results, but often you’ll be able to see whether there’s at least one photo attached to an individual profile, even without paying for access.
  3. Check major online photographic collections. The U.S. Army Military History Institute has the largest collection of military images from the 1840s to the present. The home page tells you how to search the digitized online photograph collection. To order and use copies legally, consult their Copyrights and Restrictions page.

Not sure a photo is Civil War-era? Learn to identify the time period by the clothing, uniforms, photographer’s mark, revenue stamp and other details in my book, Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album. Chapter 12 on Finding Civil War ancestors in photos gives many more great ideas for locating precious images of your long-lost family. Learn more about caring for your old photographs in my book, Preserving Your Family Photographs. Looking for someone to speak to your group on historical photography, family history or related topics? Contact me here.

Example: Civil War Era Photograph

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Finding Civil War ancestors in photos requires a research strategy using image database websites, historical society collections, and reaching out to family. This unidentified boy posed for R.R. Priest of Hightstown, N.J. between 1864 and 1866.

– Collection of the author