Using Google Maps in Genealogy
I usual Google Maps (http://maps.google.com) all of the time when I am researching my ancestors, especially when they were from areas that I am not familiar with. It is the first thing that I do when I find an ancestor in a new location. I use it to see where the town was located. If in subsequent records I find them in different towns, I use Google Maps to determine how far they moved. Many times the new location is a village in the same town but I would not know that without looking at a map. When they have moved a long distance I think about how they moved. Is there a river near by that they would have to cross? Would they have had a wagon? Would they have traveled by train or boat?
One thing to keep in mind is that boundaries have changed throughout time. This is especially true for countries after wars. The town I currently live in was originally part of the next town. Using the map gives you a mental image of where your ancestor lived. If you are like me, you need all the help you can get in the geography department.
For ancestors where I have a street address, I like to go visit the house and neighborhood in person. I bring my camera and take pictures. I try to imagine what the neighborhood was like when they lived there and picture them walking down the street. Depending on where the ancestor lived, it may not be possible. In that case, I virtually visit the neighborhood with Google Maps. Many times there is a street view and I can see the house at that address. A word of warning - just because I see a house at that address does not mean that my ancestor lived there. The house could be new, the houses on the street could have been renumbered, the street renamed or the street/house no longer exists. It still give you the sense of what the neighborhood was like.
My great grandparents moved quite often in a city that I was unfamiliar with. I plugged the various addressed into Google Maps and found out that they only moved a couple of blocks each time. Their biggest move was across the river to the town on the other side.
I do not limit the address search to homes. I also look at job addresses. I am able to see how far from home my ancestor worked. In many cases, my ancestors lived within walking distance of their job. I also look for other building that may have been there when my ancestor lived there (i.e. schools, churches, parks, cemeteries). Ancestors may appear in local school, cemetery or church records. Before checking those records, make sure that the building or cemetery was in existence when your ancestor was there.
One of the best features of Google Maps is that it also allows you to create your own map for free. You must have a Google account to do so but that is also free. Having an ancestor map can show migrations patterns and adds another dimension to your research.
Create Your Own Family Map
To create a map, go to https://maps.google.com/ and search for an address where your ancestor lived or worked or went to school. I will use the White House as an example. Click on Save to map and select Create a new map.
A banner will display at the top of the page. Click on View map.
Click on edit. If you would like more complete instructions, click on interactive tutorial.
Enter a title for your map and a description if you so choose. Make sure to select unlisted so that your map remains private. When done, click Save.
Use the blue balloon to mark the address you searched for. Once it is placed, double click on it to change the title and add notes. Continue to add addresses for your ancestor(s).
Your map will continue grow as more and more research is done. Consider how you want to structure your map. Do you want all of your ancestors on the map? Do you want separate maps depending on city, state or country? There is no wrong answer. It is how you want to view your map.
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Last updated on February 15, 2013
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