An old proverb states that "the eyes are the windows into the soul." A genealogy corollary is that "a photo is a window into the lives of your ancestors."
I love old photos, whether they are portraits of my ancestors or historical photos for the period when they lived. And it is important to a complete research that one attempts to understand the environment that surrounds our ancestors' lives if one wants to truly appreciate what they went through.
So where can they be found? Obviously the best resource is our own photo albums and those that our relatives possess. But what about other resources? Many archives, historical societies, libraries and genealogical societies have collections of old photos. And in the past few years there has been a massive movement towards making these historical photo collections available online. Some have search capabilities where you can actually put in a surname or a location, name of a building or historical event and find what is available.
For the state of Pennsylvania, what collections are available for you to browse and/or search online? Here is a list of sites to start with. Please feel free to add in the comments other online resources that you might be aware of in the state.
Please be aware that there may be very strict rules regarding downloading or other use of the images that you may find. Copyright and other legal protections may be in force. Make sure that you read the limitations of use for any image that you find in these collections and wish to download and/or copy. It is your responsibility to adhere to the rules for all of these collections.
Please note that links to these sites may change in the future. The author (me) will not be constantly checking and updating these links, so if you find a broken link, please use your favorite search engine to locate the new link.
Pennsylvania Sites for Historical Photos
This is just a sampling of some of the larger collections. By no means is this an exhaustive list. Almost every city and county library in the state, college and university library, as well as historical society has a photo collection. Many are not available online, yet many do have online access.
- Access Pennsylvania - about 40 large digitized collections from universities and libraries - most have photo collections. A good place to start.
- Bethlehem History
- Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections
- Historical Images of Philadelphia
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania Digital Library
- Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog
- Life in Western Pennsylvania
- National Archives - Digital Photograph Collections
- PhillyHistory - Photos from Philadelphia
- Photos and Paintings of Pittsburgh - more links to smaller online photo collections
- Smithsonian Images
- UPenn Archival Photographs
- Pennsylvania Photos and Documents
- Greene County, Pennsylvania Photo Archives Project
- Lycoming County Digital Photo Archive
- Pennsylvania Old Photos - Family Photos
- York College of Pennsylvania Archives
Good luck and happy hunting!