Geography and genealogy go hand in hand. It’s impossible to locate records or follow family lines without understanding land formations, boundaries, jurisdictions and distances. In your ancestor searches, you’ll find that geography influenced key decisions, such as these:
- where records were created and stored
- migration paths
- locations selected for settlement
- division of farms and property in probate
And because land doesn’t move, it’s one of the few elements of our ancestors’ lives that we can always count on. Consider an old photograph. The depicted buildings may have changed, but the surrounding landmarks, such as hills, valleys and rock formations, should still exist today and can aid in identification.
Although there are geographically oriented computer applications geared toward genealogists, one of the most powerful tools can be found outside the genealogy community.
Google Earth is a powerful mapping and viewing program available for free download at http://earth.google.com. Here is an overview of a few of its coolest features:
Locating Ancestral Homes and Locations
For most researchers, it just isn’t financially feasible to travel to all of the locations where one’s ancestors lived. The good news is that Google Earth can provide you with a virtual experience that is as close to being there as your computer can take you.
Get a Closer Look
While it is certainly interesting to locate an ancestor’s home on the globe, you can’t see much detail from the virtual sky looking down over the area. To get an up-close-and-personal look at a location, you can employ Google Earth’s Street View function.
Street View offers you a panoramic view from various positions on the street. Launched in May 2007, Street View was available for only a few major US cities. Today, Google offers images of nearly every street in America, and its coverage is spreading quickly around the world.
Just how does Google do it? A fleet of cars equipped with nine directional cameras drive up and down each street and snap photographs from all directions every few seconds. When faced with narrow streets, such as those in Rome, similarly equipped Google Trikes (tricycles) make the journey.
Get your bearings
Getting your directional bearings can be difficult once you’re in Street View. To locate an address, you can hover your mouse over the camera icons that appear along the street. If unsure which particular house is your ancestor’s, look for addresses on buildings as well as on the curb. To get a closer lookat a particular area, double-click on the spot on the image, and Google Earth will slowly zoom in.
Find your ancestors on Google Earth
Most of us never get to travel to all the places our ancestors lived, but you can follow in their footsteps—virtually. Google Earth, a free software program, lets you experience faraway locations from the comfort of your own home. In Google Earth for Genealogists, you’ll tap into the program’s robust features to bring depth and a new perspective to your family history research.
Sign up today for Family Tree University’s Google Earth for Genealogists course to get started.
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