Linda Clyde | Jan 14, 2019

Getting Started with Google Photos

You may not have ever considered Google Photos as a genealogical tool, but there are so many reasons to consider adding it to your family history repertoire. Genealogy enthusiast Michelle Goodrum inherited extensive photograph collections from her father and grandfather and explained that this is one of the big reasons she began using the service. In her 2018 RootsTech presentation, “Google Photos: Collect, Organize, Preserve and Share,” Goodrum said, “I’m finding that Google Photos is one way to really work with all of my material in preserving it and sharing it.”

Why Google Photos?

Just like the title of Goodrum’s presentation, Google Photos really does give genealogists a wonderful place to collect, organize, preserve and share their photos. It has unlimited backup and storage for all of your photos and videos. Even more exciting is that the service is free!

As you use the service, Google Photos follows your activity and automatically organizes your photos based on what seems to be important to you. It will sort your photos based on people, places, and things; it even has a facial recognition feature! This feature is getting better all the time, and you can help it along by tagging your photos as you add them to your collection.

Also Included is an exciting search feature that allows you to type in something you’re looking for. For example, if you’re looking for a photo in your collection that was taken by the ocean, try typing the word beach into the search bar. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that Google Photos will present you with all of the photos in your collection that look like they were taken at a beach.

Once you’re all set up and have your collection put together, another fun thing to try is typing selfies into the search bar to pull up all of the pictures of you! Goodrum made this handy suggestion for those who tend to always be the one behind the camera. Sometimes when you need a picture of yourself it’s tough to find one!

Getting Started

Using the service is pretty simple and easy to set up. If you haven’t already, download the Google Photos app to your smartphone or tablet. It’s available in the App Store, on Google Play, and on the web. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you’ll have the option of scrolling through or skipping the opening tutorial. If you don’t have a Google account, you’ll be prompted to create one. If you already have one, log in to your account. You’ll also receive a prompt to give the app permission to access your device’s photo library. Selecting Allow will bring all of the photos and videos on your device into the Google Photos app.

As you’re getting started with the app, make sure you select Backup and Sync to ensure all of your photos are automatically saved. You’ll also need to indicate if you want your photos to be backed up and synced only when you’re near WiFi or if you want Google Photos to continually backup and sync using your cellular data (this can drain your device’s battery and quickly use up cellular data if you’re taking a lot of photos).

Another important decision you’ll need to make is whether you want to store high quality images and videos or just use your original files. Taking advantage of Google’s offer of free, unlimited storage will require that you select high quality.

Navigation Tips

You’ll notice that all of your photos are presented with the most recent at the top. As time goes on, you’ll see how easy it is to look back and zoom out to see recent weeks, months, and even years in the past. Here are a few finger motions you’ll use to help you navigate the app on your smartphone or tablet:

  • Select multiple photos by tapping, holding and dragging images.
  • Zoom in and out of your collection of photos by pinching with two fingers.
  • Navigate between menus by swiping left and right.


In today’s digital world, cloud storage is more important than ever, but it’s important to remember that putting all of your photos in one basket can be risky. Goodrum brought up the term LOCKSS or “Lots of copies keeps stuff safe.” Google Photos is just one more place to put copies of your cherished family photos, but it should never be the only place. Goodrum made the following suggestion: “Use those external hard drives. Use a cloud backup. Use Google Photos. Get those pictures in lots of different places, so that if you have a disaster, you can still recover those really important and treasured items.”

Good luck and happy photo storing!

Linda Clyde

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