Historic Aerials

Historic Aerials claims to be “Home of the most comprehensive database of historical aerial photos of the United States.” Indeed, it is a huge resource.

According to information on the Historic Aerials web site:

“Take a ride in our time machine!
“Nationwide Environmental Title Research has spent the past 20+ years collecting the worlds largest database of historical aerial images and topographical maps of the United States. Our sources include USGS imagery, several private collections, and we are continually acquiring more. All the imagery we collect is painstakingly orthorectified to provide the data in a searchable and precise geo-locatable format. Our web application allows you to quickly and easily search for any parcel of U.S. land and instantly view that same area in any other year where we could obtain an aerial photo.”

While the basic service is free, the pictures displayed to free users have a rather obnoxious watermark pasted on top of each image. That makes the free images almost useless. Obviously, the web site owners want each user to sign up for a paid account in order to obtain more useful images.

Again, quoting the Historic Aerials web site:

“Need prints or digital assets?
“Simple! After selecting your geographic area, you are only a few clicks away from purchasing printed photos and/or digital images that are certified and unencumbered by watermarks that you can use for anything you need. You’ll need to be a registered user to make purchases, but registration is free! Feel free to click around in the viewer to preview all that is available, and when you’re ready to register, simply click on the Sign Up button and complete the short form.

“As a registered user you’ll be able to order prints shipped right to your doorstep. Available print sizes include:

  • 9×9 inch
  • 18×18 inch
  • 36×36 inch

“In addition to prints, you have the option to immediately download PNG, JPG, and GeoTIFF digital images of your selection. Purchase one year, or all available years for a particular parcel.

“…of course there’s more!
“The new Historic Aerials website offers a special subscription product for you or your organization. You can choose from several levels of service depending on your requirements. As a paid subscriber you’ll enjoy the following benefits:

  • Full screen viewer
  • no advertising
  • PDF builder (a real time saver!)
  • quick JPEG downloads
  • multiple user accounts

As newsletter reader Larry Parker describedHistoric Aerials:

“Using this free website, I just learned that before the subdivision was built which included my childhood house, the property had been an airport.

“A person might think that since aerial photography didn’t exits before the early 1900s, that it wouldn’t be of much use for genealogists. But using Historic Aerials, I was able to see that the building which housed my great-grandfather’s business during the 1890s still existed at the time an aerial photo was taken in 1967, but was no longer there at the time the next available aerial photo was taken in 1973.”

You can find Historic Aerials at: https://www.historicaerials.com.

My thanks to newsletter reader Larry Parker for telling me about this online service.


You can get a lot of the same information on Google Earth


Many County Auditor’s offices now have historic aerial photographs available for free as part if their real estate and GIS databases. I’ve found some that go back to the 1930s.


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