It’s always fun to see a picture of an ancestor for the first time. I don’t know whether the eyes are really the windows to the soul. What I do know is that you can often learn a lot from a portrait just by the way the people are dressed. You can usually recognize some facial features from yourself or your living family. Even when you don’t think there’s any resemblance at first, it will eventually pop out.
But it can be hard to know where to look. That’s why I’ve collected some resources for finding portraits of your ancestors.
I want to make two reservations.
First, always check the rights to use the photo if you intend to spread it.
Second, the chances of finding a portrait are not great. On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of them available online, and you might be in luck.
A classic source for Swedish portraits is Porträttfynd (Portrait Findings). The database is only be available in Swedish, so here are some basic instructions. To the left are two search forms, and you want to use the one at the top. It’s entitled Sök i Porträttfynd. The second field allows you to select a region. If you want to search all regions, keep it at Sök i alla. Click Sök to search and Återställ to reset.
2. Svenskt porträttarkiv
Svenskt porträttarkiv (Swedish portrait archive) is available in English. It has a modern user interface that is easy to search. Join the organization for access to extra features.
DigitaltMuseum is a cooperation for museums in Norway and Sweden. It has a great user interface and can be used in English. It’s a vast source for photos. If you want to see how a place looked long ago, this is the place.
There are also portraits here. Start by making an initial search and the filters will show up on the results page. Most portraits here are probably from the military.
ArkivDigital has a user interface in English. They have two collections of portraits, both under Archive search. There’s the general Portrait Collection. These photos are from photography studios in Stockholm during the 20th century. The other is Riddarhuset Collection of Portraits. This collection has photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The site for Riksarkivet (National Archives) is free to use. And it is available in English. You switch languages at the top right. There is a database for Released Prisoners from the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century.
My last tips for finding portraits of your ancestors is to search Facebook groups. This would take some time, but it could be worth it. There are many groups dedicated to genealogy. That being said, your best bet might actually be joining local groups. Facebook isn’t great for searching, but you can always ask other members for photos of your ancestor. Make a post in English with as much details as you have about your ancestor.
Finding a portrait of your ancestor requires some work. It might not be successful. But there are plenty of options out there to try. The resources above are the most useful as of this writing. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, keep searching. The are many more small photo archives available online.
- Fångvårdsstyrelsen, Inkomna uppgifter rörande frigivna straffarbetsfångar, SE/RA/420080/01/E II ea/17 (1893), bildid: B0000949_00261, sida 4515 (https://sok.riksarkivet.se/bildvisning/B0000949_00261)
- Alfred Vikström, OLM-2008-4-139, Örebro läns museum (https://digitaltmuseum.org/021016269760/rumsinterior-en-man-intendent-alfred-vikstroms-bostad-olaigatan-26-orebro)