Discovery Your Family History

Finding Your Ancestors With Google Earth

Google Earth is a wonderful tool for finding the places where your ancestors lived. If you have used it before to view your own home or neighbourhood, then you can do the same for the homes and neighbourhoods of your ancestors, to gain more information for your LDS family search. However, if you’ve never used Google Earth before, you are in for an exciting journey. Google Earth is a freely available program online that gives you the opportunity to travel throughout the planet via satellite, and even take a leisurely stroll through your old neighbourhood, and those of your ancestors. You can use Google Earth in many ways, but there are three particular uses it has for genealogists. This program can be used to view the neighbourhoods if you have original addresses listed on census schedules, details from the bureau land management and if you know the cemetery locations. If you have not used Google earth before, then you should take the time to read the help file that accompanies the software that will show you how you can download and also install this program, the process is quick and easy.

 Google Earth Has Many Uses

 If you have wondered what it would be like to see the home of your ancestors from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, you can use Google Earth, along with addresses listed in historical census data to view this area. This is simple, if your ancestors lived in a smaller town or large city with street names, because the street name is located on the left edge of the census, as well as the number of the house where they once lived. When you have the address you are looking for, you can input it into the search box, press the go button, and take off on your virtual flight. Ah! But here’s a thought, some of the older neighbourhoods no longer exist. There are several reasons why this could have happened. For instance, the old street names may have changed, the old neighbourhoods could have been torn down to build large city complexes or it was turned into a business district altogether, or large mansions, were torn down and replaced with apartment complexes. The further you go back in history, the more likely that the old neighbourhoods were subject to changes in development. However, don’t give up on your search for these neighbourhoods, because Earth has a hidden treasure, called the Rumsey Historical maps, which allows you to view these ancient neighbourhoods that are available for certain locations. Use the check box for these maps, located in the navigation panel, on the left side of your screen, under the layers Gallery. Check this box, and then you can fly to your specified location. If a historical map of your location is available, an orange icon will appear. Click on the orange icon, then you need to click the map thumbnail to overlay the map, which will show the detailed historical map overtop the detailed modern day map. It is possible for you to find the original street where your ancestor’s family lived, depending on the details of the historical map. If your ancestors were part of a farm family, you may be able to see the original neighbourhood with just the name of a street or road. Although you may not be able to view the old homestead, you can see the area where your family lived many years ago.

 How to Use Google Earth in Your Research

 During your LDS family search, you can use Google Earth to find cemeteries where your ancestors were buried. When searching for the particular cemetery you should make sure you are searching in the right county. Google Earth may not be able to find what you are looking for on your first virtual flight. If you are uncertain where the cemetery is located, try checking the Geographic Name Information System, (GNIS) for the location, by entering the name of the cemetery, its classification, and your state. Once the system finds your search terms, check the results for county, city, and if possible GPS coordinates. When you receive the GPS coordinates, follow the instructions for entering these coordinates into Earth’s fly to box, and then fly to your chosen destination. If you have an ancestor who lived in a public land state, and was issued a parcel of land by the U.S. government, then you can find the patent records, by visiting the Bureau of Land management General Land Office, (BLM-GLO) web site. Remember that these records are only for the original government to individual land ownership transfer, and not for any other land sales, or other such land transfers. When you use Google Earth along with the GLO records, you can fly to the parcel of land that your ancestors originally owned.

 Here are the steps you will need to follow to obtain the necessary information in preparation for your Google Earth flight.

  • Click on the link that says search documents.

  • Enter your ancestor’s name and State County of residence into the search box if you know it.

  • Click on search patents.

  • Locate your ancestor’s name, and then make a note of the township, range, and section of land that he or she owned.

  • Go to Earthpoint.

  • Click on township/range section on the left hand column and then click the “convert township, range, and section” to longitude and latitude to search by description.

  • Enter your coordinates in the appropriate boxes, and then click the fly button. This will create a .klm file for you.

  • On Google Earth, open the file menu, click on open. Find and click on the file you created to open it. There you will see an overlay that shows you a large orange square, and a smaller purple square to outline the land your ancestors owned.

As you have seen, Google is not only useful to fly you to your own home, or any place of interest that you will never be able to physically visit yourself, but it is also a valuable tool for genealogical search in the ways that we discussed above to give you a visual record of where your ancestor’s lived. You can also use Google Earth to find the original U.S. county boundaries and compare them to the ones in place today. This can give you valuable information for your LDS family search.

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