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 Montana 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.
(Updated December, 2020; recently added links are in BOLD)
- Archival Photographs from the University of Montana
- Beaverhead County Historic Photos
- Big Sky Country Digital Network
- Billings Library Photo Collections
- Butte History Photos
- Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives Photos
- Butte-Silver Bow Public Library Historic Photo Collection (Flickr)
- Central Montana Historical Photographs
- D’Arcy McNickle Library Tribal Historical Photo Collections
- Helena As She Was
- Historic Helena Photos
- Historic Montana
- Indian Peoples of the Northern Great Plains Collection
- Lake County Photographs
- Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog
- Library of Congress Prints & Photographs – Montana
- Miles City Flickr Gallery
- Montana Ancient Faces
- Montana Back in the Day
- Montana Dead Fred
- Montana Department of Transportation Historical Photos
- Montana Historical Photo Collections
- Montana Historical Society Photographs
- Montana Memory Project
- Montana MTGenWeb Photo Archives
- Montana Old Family Photos
- Montana Penny Postcards
- Montana Photo Archives (by county)
- Montana State University Online Photo Galleries
- Montana Tribe Photos
- Montana Women’s History Photo Gallery
- Montana Photograph Collections
- Montana, DP.LA Photos
- Montana, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives
- MT Heritage Commission – McFarland Curatorial Center – Virginia City
- Museum of the Rockies Photo Archive Online
- National Archives – Digital Photograph Collections
- National Museum of Forest Service History Photos
- North West Digital Archive
- Northern Great Plains Indian Peoples Digital Collections
- Powell County Photo Index
- Smithsonian Images
- Teton County Photos
- University of Montana Digital Collections
- Women’s History Matters Photos
- Yellowstone Gateway Museum Photos
- Yellowstone Photo Albums
For historical photos from other states as well as articles about photo research, please visit the Photos page.
Good Luck and Happy Hunting!
For other Free Montana Links, click on the category of interest: