01 February 2021
Want to try to find out what your house looked like when it was first built? Or discover photos of your street and its residents in years gone by? Read on for our pick of the best places to source old photos.
A big part of local history is exploring how an area has changed over the centuries or decades and a great way to do this is through old photographs and postcards. Read on for some great online and offline resources that the History Scotland team has found helpful in researching their own street stories.
1 Community-based resources
Find out whether your village has a heritage or local history group as many such groups hold archive photograph collections either online or offline. Scottish Local History Forum and British Association for Local History both have listings of regional societies.
Try a search on Facebook and/or Google for local history groups relevant to your area. There are some very active and helpful groups out there, sharing memories, photos and ideas on places to carry out your research.
2 Old postcards
You might be surprised to find that your street, however ‘ordinary’ it seems to you is pictured on an old postcard. Our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors saw postcards as the text messages of their day and there were literally tens of thousands of local views available for the UK along. Tuck DB Postcards and Francis Frith have good selections, as does eBay.
3 Your local studies library or archive
Once the Covid-19 restrictions are a thing of the past, take a trip to your nearest local studies library (sometimes part of your local museum or a larger library) or archive. These repositories usually have collections of old photographs, prints and maps donated by historians and other local people over the years. The staff there might also be able to point you in the direction of newspaper cuttings or land records relating to your street.
4 What Was There website
What Was There invites people around the world to upload their old photo collections to allow anyone to explore a particular area’s past.
Once you or anyone else uploads a photo it’s linked to Google Maps, allowing you to easily explore a particular area. At the moment there are over 1,000 photos relating to the UK and the website is a work in progress so check back peridocially.
5 Country-specific websites
If you’re searching for a particular street in Scotland, Ireland, England or Wales, try the following:
- SCRAN (part of Historic Environment Scotland)
- Historic England
- National Library of Ireland photo collections
- National Library of Wales photo collections
Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg, with thousands of possibilities both online and offline. We’d love to hear about your own ideas for sourcing photos – do e-mail us or share via our Facebook and Twitter channels.