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Using Google Arts & Culture for Genealogy Inspiration

You’ve heard the familiar saying, “a photograph is worth a thousand words.” In my opinion this is especially true when we are discussing family history. Let’s face it, not everyone enjoys genealogy and your family may be  less than thrilled to hear about names, dates, and places or to see the latest addition to the 15 generation pedigree chart you’ve been updating for 20 years. But to show them images of historical events and explain how an ancestor was part of that event, that interests even the non-genealogist amongst us.

Not everyone inherits the ancestral family photos but that doesn’t mean we should automatically give up on using images. Consider historical images that depict a place or an event in place of a familial image. Historical image are also important to our family history because they provide much needed content to helping our present-day family understand our family’s historical lives. For those who enjoy posting a link to information for their family members to peruse, consider sending family members the link to Google Arts & Culture.

Google Arts & Culture

Google Arts Home

For many people, Google Arts and Culture is an unfamiliar product from the familiar search engine service. Their About web page states, “Explore collections from around the world with Google Arts & Culture, created by Google Cultural Institute.” That really doesn’t tell us much but Wikipedia provides more information about the 10 year old project, “ online platform through which the public can access high-resolution images of artworks housed in the initiative's partner museums.[1] There’s much you can do on this website including taking a virtual tour of Machu Picchu or learning more about the British Museum  to exploring your favorite artist like Frieda Kahlo but for our purposes let’s focus on how we can use it for our genealogy.

Google Arts British Museum

If we are talking about genealogically significant images we are essentially talking about historical images. To find these on the Google Arts & Culture website go to the top left of the website and click on the three horizontal lines which will reveal a drop-down menu. Near the bottom of that menu is the link Historical Events, click on that link. Now you will be on the Historical Events page and at the top of that page, under the title is the option to view results three ways, All, A-Z, and Time. There are benefits to viewing the collection using any of these options, however the Time option places the results in chronological order using a timeline at the top of the page. I would suggest using this to easily find images for the time period you are looking for.

Google Arts Historical

Discovering History


Google Arts Historical Time

By clicking on the space between years you can move the timeline and see photos that correspond to that time period. For example, currently for the time period between 1850 and 1900 I can view images relating to the American Civil War, the Franco-Persian War, and the Second Boer War. Other historical events in this collection include the Dred Scott legal case, the Victorian era, and the Siege of Paris and many more.

Google Arts Boer

Clicking on the Second Boer War collection reveals a web page with the dates of the war and a description as well as a “story” and over 500 images. You can click on individual images to enlarge each image and view catalog information.

Google Arts DDay

June 6, 2019 marked  the 75th anniversary of D-Day and Google Arts and Culture has tens of thousands of images of World War II including D-Day. These images can help your descendants understand what their military ancestor faced during the war years.

Now, I know your question at this point is  “can I use these images in my family history book/website/blog/etc.?” Google Arts & Culture is not the copyright holder of these images. Each image contains information about the original contributor (library, museum, archive, etc.) and they are the copyright holder (or have obtained permission by the copyright holder). Make sure to consult the individual repository’s website about copyright and publishing permission. However, at the very least you can share links on social media to the Google Arts & Culture website collection with your family via email, social media,  or on your website.

Give it a Try

Should you use historical images? Yes! And historical images are just what you need to help your family better understand what life was like in a different era. Google Arts & Culture is one way to do that.


[1] “Google Arts & Culture,” Wikipedia ( accessed 19 May 2019).


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WOW! What a great suggestion. Thank you!

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