On the Web: Breathtaking Panoramic Photos of Ancestors’ Towns

By Maureen A. Taylor

The next time you need a break, don’t book a plane ticket. First take a trip into the past in a panoramic photo. The Library of Congress has quite a collection.

A panoramic photo can be a single image or a set of pictures aligned together that offer an expansive view of a place. For instance, this lovely view of Paris.

It’s so detailed, you feel like you’re there.

Panoramic photographers sought the highest building with the best view. The puzzle in these pictures is often trying to determine exactly where they stood. Maps and other images offer helpful clues.

For a number of years I’ve researched a local Rhode Island photographer, Francis Hacker. Imagine my surprise to discover that he shot a series of five images of the Washington D.C. Mall from the Smithsonian Castle. Now I want to know exactly how he came to be the photographer of this lovely set. You can view it here.

The 1879 image captures a Washington, D.C., much different from the one we know today. Many of the familiar monuments haven’t been built yet. Look closely at the center of this picture. Recognize the landmark?

You guessed it: That tower is the Washington Monument under construction.

Search for panoramic images of your ancestor’s hometown (or your own) at the Library of Congress website by entering the name of the city or town and panorama in the search box on the home page. Choose Photos, Prints, Drawings from the dropdown menu.

On the search results page, look to the left for filters that let you narrow your results by date and location. Tell me what you find.

Panoramic pictures exist from the 1840s and theyre still popular today. All you have to do is select the panoramic feature on your camera (or in the camera app in your mobile device). Hacker and his contemporaries would be amazed.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now