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With an artistic touch

One of the big challenges genealogists face is finding copyright-free images we can use to illustrate blogs, presentations, family history books and more.

The Legal Genealogist has highlighted some terrific resources for images before, including but not limited to:

Images from the New York Public Library1

Photochrom prints from the Library of Congress2

Civil War photographs by Mathew B. Brady3

• And the amazing collection of photographs by Carol Highsmith, donated to the Library of Congress.4

All of these are, in whole or in part, in the public domain — meaning that we’re allowed to use them freely, any way we want, for any purpose (with some limits5), without needing permission from the original author or photographer — the creator of the work.6

But the vast majority of these highlighted collections are photographs, and sometimes we want — well — a more artistic touch.

Monet Stacks of Wheat

The wonderful thing is — there’s a lot of beautiful artwork that’s now available freely online and in the public domain, or at least under licenses that allow for most of the uses we as genealogists would like to make of it. And, just recently, that body of work available to us grew substantially.

That’s because the Art Institute of Chicago has recently joined other institutions in releasing thousands of high-resolution images of its art under what called the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. That license means these images are released to the public domain.7

Now to get to the public domain images at the Art Institute of Chicago website, here are the steps:

1. Go to the Art Institute website’s Collections page

2. Click on the Show Filters box

3. Cursor down to the Show Only section and click on Public Domain

And yeah, you really can use that Monet painting, above, of “Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer), 1890-91,” in your family history book…

And, by the way, the Art Museum of Chicago isn’t the only art repository to release images to the public domain. Make sure you check out the public domain images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City,8 and the Currier & Ives images at the Library of Congress,9 just as two examples.

Art online. For free. And free of copyright.

It doesn’t get much better than that.


Note: A tip of the hat to Angie Bush about the release of the Art Institute of Chicago images.

  1. Judy G. Russell, “NYPL images free to use,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Jan 2016 ( : accessed 19 Dec 2018).
  2. Ibid., “Photochrom prints: images to use,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 22 Feb 2013.
  3. Ibid., “Go ahead: use these images,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 Sep 2012.
  4. Ibid., “Through the lens brightly,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 June 2014.
  5. Just as one example, I really wouldn’t use a photo of a living person without that person’s permission, even a photo that’s out of copyright, on a pornography website. Just sayin’…
  6. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Where is the public domain?,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 Dec 2015 ( : accessed 19 Dec 2018).
  7. See “CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication,” ( : accessed 19 Dec 2018).
  8. See Judy G. Russell, “Images we can use: The Met,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 May 2014 ( : accessed 19 Dec 2018).
  9. See ibid., “Currier & Ives: images to use,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 Dec 2012.
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