Create Your Family History Google Earth Tour

Create Your Family History Google Earth Tour

Tours are great way to see highlights in the shortest amount of time. Why not take your relatives on a virtual family history tour? You can do just that using the free Google Earth Pro software.

Read more as Lisa shares some tips and strategies to use Google Earth to create your own unique family history virtual tour.

Hop-on Hop-off Touring

One of the perks of being a genealogy speaker is that I get to travel all over the world and speak to folks who share my passion for genealogy. And it’s an added bonus when a genealogist who attended one of my sessions emails me afterwards. I love seeing their excitement spills across my screen as they share with me how they put into practice what they learned and a genealogical brick wall came a-tumblin’ down! (I LOVE my job!)

High also on the list of perks is the opportunity to see a bit of the local sites and history wherever I am speaking. Time is usually short, so I try my best to make the most of it and hit the highlights. That was certainly the case in Sydney, Australia earlier this year. There was so much to see and so little time to see it! When time is at a premium (and really, when is time ever not at a premium?) and there’s a lot to cover, I find that a tour by someone in the know is a best way to go. In Australia I turned to Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning Member (and now dear friend) Dot Elder and her husband Roly for advice on the best tour to see the city. Roly quickly dug up tickets to the Hop-on-Hop-off Sightseeing BIG BUS of Sydney. 33 stops, 2 tours, free wifi onboard, and earphones delivering recorded commentary on what was whizzing by us from the outdoor upper deck. It was the perfect way to orient the “Non-Australian” to the fabulous city of Sydney.

Family History Tour

We all have relatives who are not genealogists, and who don’t have time for or relish all the details of our genealogical findings. However, they would likely thoroughly enjoy a high-level tour of the highlights of the family tree with commentary from the expert: YOU! That kind of genealogical tour could come in many traditional forms (a book, a blog post, etc.) But if you really want to WOW your relatives, the closest thing to a Hop-on-Hop-off tour of your family’s history is what I call a “Family History Tour” in Google Earth Pro.

Google Earth Pro Explained

Google Earth Pro is a “geo-browser” (a tool for viewing geographic data) that uses satellite, aerial, and street level imagery. It also includes other geographic data that is accessed over the internet to show related information such as street names, train stations, and much more. Unlike, which is a website, Google Earth Pro is free software that is downloaded and installed on your computer. It also requires that the user is connected to the internet while using the program.

Don’t let the “Pro” name deter you. This tool is absolutely free, although just a few years ago you would have had to pay around $400 for it. If you have never installed Google Earth on your computer, you can do so here. If you already have, you can easily tell if you have the original free version of Google Earth or Google Earth Pro by looking at the icon on your desktop. If it’s blue, it’s the old version. If it’s grey, it’s Google Earth Pro.  

Many people use Google Earth Pro (which from this point forward we’ll just refer to as Google Earth) for mapping, to get a view of where they are headed or where they have been, or for their child’s social studies report. All of these are great reasons to use Google Earth, but wait until you see what else it can do!

One of the most dazzling features of Google Earth is Street View. By clicking the Street View icon (often referred to as the “yellow peg man”) and dropping him on a blue line on the map, you can get a panoramic view along many streets in the world. Street View was launched in 2007 in several cities in the United States, and now includes cities and rural areas worldwide. Check out where Google will be capturing Street View next here on their Street View webpage.


Google Street View also invites you to virtually tour many wonderful places on their highlights reels found here. Not only can you view the streets, but you can enter places you never dreamed possible. “Walk” into the abbeys and garden castles of Europe or dive deep into the ocean. Wherever you have always wanted to go is just a click away.

Example of a Family History Google Earth Tour

So what does a family history Google Earth Tour look like? Hop on the bus by clicking the video below and I’ll show you.

5 Steps to Create a Family History Google Earth Tour

The process for creating a family history Google Earth tour is easy and fun.

1. Outline the story: Like with genealogy research, you can save loads of time with some initial planning. Your first decision is which “story” you want to tell. Keep in mind that the average person’s attention span is short, so trying to include all the locations in your family tree is a recipe for disaster. Instead, pick one portion of your tree. In my example above, I told the story of a 10 year period that my great grandparents lived in San Francisco. This turns a tour into a story, which is much more interesting.

Once you have your story selected, make a list in chronological order of all of the significant locations and events that occurred. This will be your road map for creating your tour.

2. Create a tour folder: Since you will have several locations, it’s best to collect them all in one place. In Google Earth, that place is a folder.

To create a folder, go to the Places panel and right-click on My Places. Select Add > New folder. In the pop-up dialogue box, give your tour a title, and add any description you would like. Click OK to close the dialogue box.

3. Set placemarks at locations: Type the first location on your list in the Search box and fly to that location. Then click once on the folder you created to select it. Click the placemark button in the toolbar at the top of the Google Earth screen. Another dialogue box will pop-up. Fill in the title of the location (tip: keep it short so it doesn’t clutter up the map) and fill in the description (the reason this location is significant.) Click OK to close the placemark dialogue box. Now the pushpin placemark will appear on the map, and it is housed in the tour folder. When you click the placemark, the description you wrote will appear.

The placemark doesn’t have to be a pushpin icon. You can customize it by right-clicking on the placemark and selecting Properties. This will reopen the placemark dialogue box. In the upper right corner of the box you will see the default icon of a yellow pushpin (or you will you will see the last icon you used if you have customized icons previously.) Click the icon and then select for the collection of icons, and click OK. You can also change the color of the icon, upload your own, or have no icon at all.

4. Save your work: Google Earth currently doesn’t auto-save your work, so you will want to do so every few minutes as you work on your family history tour. Go to File > Save > Save My Places. Files saved in MyPlaces are only visible to you and reside on your computer’s hard drive. They are not stored in the cloud.

When your tour is complete, you will want to save the file to your desktop for easy access. In the Places panel, right-click on the tour folder and select Save > Save Place As and save it to the desired location on your computer. The file will be zipped by Google Earth so that all the components are neatly packaged in one file.

5. Share with others: Now that your tour is zipped and saved, you can email it to your family members. Simply attach it to your email as you would any document or photo. It can be helpful if you let your family member know that if they don’t have the free Google Earth Pro software already installed on their computer, they will want to do so before clicking the file. I like to provide a handy link to the download page to make it easy for them. Anyone with Google Earth on their computer can click the attachment and the computer will automatically recognize the file type and open it in Google Earth.

What Story Will Your Family History Google Earth Tour Tell?

Now I’d like to hear from you. What is the first story in your family tree that you would like to tell through a family history Google Earth tour? Sharing your ideas in the Comments below will help you solidify your idea and will certainly inspire others.


We’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg. Get in depth instructions from these resources:

Book: The Genealogist Google Toolbox 
Video Tutorial: Google Earth for Genealogy

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Now Online: England Parish Records and More

Now Online: England Parish Records and More

English parish records top this week’s list of new online genealogy records. More new or updated family history collections: British newspapers, pensions and India records; records for Brazil, Germany, The Netherlands, Peru, and Poland; UK images and deaths; US obituaries; newspapers for Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island; and more for Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Featured: England parish records and more

As England made international news with the recent royal wedding last weekend, I found myself wondering what the couple’s entry in the official wedding register looks like (they signed it behind closed doors). That disappointment notwithstanding, plenty of historical Church of England registers have recently come online.

Find new and updated collections of these English church records on the following Genealogy Giants:

  • Cheshire, England, Extracted Church of England Parish Records, 1564-1837 at is a new collection of historical parish registers from Cheshire and includes christenings, marriage bonds and licenses, marriage records, burials and even inhabitants lists.
  • Derbyshire records at There are separate collections of marriages and bannsburials, and baptisms, marriages, and burials. Dates and record types overlap, so it’s worth searching across more than one of these collections for your family.
  • Devon Bishop’s Transcripts, 1558-1887 at Close to half a million indexed names have been added to this “index to and images of baptismal, marriage, and burial records in the county of Devon….Bishop’s transcripts contain more or less the same information as parish registers, so they are an invaluable resource when a parish register has been damaged, destroyed, or otherwise lost.” This collection is free to view, as all FamilySearch collections are, but the Devon Record Office, which supplies the collection, requires that you sign in with a free FamilySearch account.
  • Northumberland Registers & Records at “Explore publications of original parish records including Early Deeds Relating to Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1100-1600, Parish Registers of Alnham, Ceadnell, Chatton & Ilderton, 1688-1812, Parish Registers of Edlingham, 1658-1812, Parish Registers of Halton, 1654-1812 and Parish Registers of Ingram, 1682-1812.”
  • Nottinghamshire Registers & Records at Five new “publications cover parish registers from the parishes of Gedling and Warsop, Archdeaconry Court Marriage Licenses and Parish Register Transcripts from the Peculiar of Southwell, the history of the county and its highways and byways.”
  • Rutland Registers & Records at Subscribers may now search 180 pages from registers of North Luffenham, 1565-1832, to uncover baptisms, marriages, burials and monumental inscriptions.
  • Somerset Registers & Records at “These records cover Bishop’s Transcripts from Wells Diocesan Registry, Parish Registers from Chipstable, Raddington, Kittisford, Pitcombe and Wilton, as well as Wells Cathedral Monumental Inscriptions and Heraldry.”
  • Wiltshire Church of England records at There are separate collections of births and baptisms; marriages and banns; baptisms, marriages and burials; deaths and burials.

More English records to love:

British newspapers at have been updated. More than 6.5 million new articles from 37 titles include “local newspapers from across the UK and Good Morning, the official Submariners newspaper during WW2.” Coverage includes “Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, the British Armed Forces, Music Halls and Theatres.”

British in India. subscribers can now “browse through 75 assorted almanacs that offer a comprehensive view of life in British India” in the collection, British in India, Directories 1792-1948. According to the site, “They contain lists of medical staff, veterinary staff, police, civil servants, and engineers working in India, as well as lists of debtors, charity members, and Freemasons. You can also discover practical information for living in India, such as gardening calendars and advice for posting parcels and letters.”

British pensions. Explore more than 150 years of pension applications in British Army Officers’ Widows’ Pension Forms 1755-1908 at “Released online for the first time in association with The National Archives, the collection includes forms and evidences of vital events extracted from widows’ pension files, including application forms, death certificates, marriage certificates, births and baptisms.”

British in India directories FMP England parish records

Sample page in 1878 British in India directory at

Continental Europe

Germany. Nearly 2.5 million indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection, Germany, Baden, Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, Catholic Church Records, 1678-1930. This database includes baptism, marriage and burial records. Another German collection at FamilySearch, Germany, Schleswig-Holstein, Kreis Steinburg, Civil Registration, 1874-1983, has also been updated.

Additionally, has recently published new German vital records collections: Menden (Sauerland) Births, 1874-1906Menden (Sauerland) Marriages, 1874-1935 and Menden (Sauerland) Deaths, 1874-1986.

Netherlands. has added over 40,000 indexed records to the free Netherlands, Noord-Holland, Civil Registration, 1811-1950. This collection includes “Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths,…ten year indexes, marriage intentions, marriage proclamations, and marriage supplements.”

Poland. has published a new collection, Poland, Krakow Apartments of Displaced Jews, 1940. This comes from the World Memory Project in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, so these records are free to search.

South America

Brazil. FamilySearch has added over 35,000 indexed names to Brazil, Minas Gerais, Catholic Church Records, 1706-1999. These are “baptism, marriage, and death records created by various Catholic parishes and diocese,” and the collection continues to be updated. Additionally, nearly 60,000 names have been added to the FamilySearch database, Brazil, São Paulo, Immigration Cards, 1902-1980.

Peru. FamilySearch has updated two civil registration collections for Peru: Puno, Civil Registration, 1890-2005 and Junín, Civil Registration, 1881-2005. These include “births, marriages, deaths, indexes and other records created by civil registration offices.”

The United Kingdom

UK images. The Irish Times and other news outlets recently picked up the news that subscription giant published a new collection of historical images: UK, Historical Photographs and Prints, 1704-1989. The Irish Times reported that the collection “include[s] more than 120 images taken in Ireland, offer an insight into daily life in Irish cities, towns, villages and countryside between the late 1800s and the 1950s.” Just for fun, try browsing the collection on the different images categories, such as transport, nurses, navy, royalty or weddings (an image from the latter category is shown at the top of this article, in honor of the royal wedding).

Recent UK Deaths. Find over 2.5 million records in Findmypast’s UK Deaths, 2007-2016. “The collection covers England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Jersey and list the individual’s name, date of death, and location of death.”

United States

U.S obituaries. has added over 2.5 million new records to its United States Obituary Notices index, which references data from, an online obituary news site.

Delaware. has published over 125,000 pages in a new collection, Delaware Newspapers, 1880-2009 from three newspaper titles: The Sunday Morning Star, Cape Gazette and Delaware News.

Idaho. has updated several vital records databases for this state, including: Idaho, Birth Index, 1861-1917, Stillbirth Index, 1905-1967, Idaho, County Birth and Death Records, 1863-1967, Idaho, Marriage Records, 1863-1967, Idaho, Divorce Records, 1947-1967 and Idaho, Death Records, 1890-1967.

Iowa. More than a quarter million indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free database, Iowa, Old Age Assistance Records, 1934-1946. According to the site, “These records include principal name, date, and place of birth; parents’ names; and contemporary addresses. The birth information is especially significant as it applies to Iowa settlers who may not appear in regular birth records.”

Kentucky. FamilySearch has added over 30,000 new records to its free collection, Kentucky Death Records, 1911-1965, which comprises indexed images of state death certificates.

Louisiana. Over 235,000 indexed names have been added to the free FamilySearch collection, Louisiana, Parish Marriages, 1837-1957. Record images are included in this collection of “marriage licenses and certificates, including a few marriage declarations and marriage stubs for the years 1837 to 1957.”

Maine. More than 2 million newspaper page images appear in the new collection, Maine Newspapers, 1861-2008. Among the 16 titles represented at present are Sun Journal, Bangor Daily News, Lewiston (Evening/Daily Evening/Wednesday/Saturday) Journal, Biddeford Weekly Journal, The Quoddy Times, Riddeford Journal, The Union and Journal, New Gloucester Independent News and The Original Irregular.

New Hampshire. MyHeritage also published nearly 650,000 images in the new New Hampshire Newspapers, 1869-2008. The seven newspapers represented are The Telegraph, Nashua Daily Telegraph, Peterborough Transcript, The Milford Cabinet and Wilton Journal, Merrimack Journal, Hollis Brookline Journal and Bedford Journal.

Oklahoma. Free at FamilySearch are nearly 25,000 new records added recently to Oklahoma, School Records, 1895-1936. According to the site, the school records are “primarily annual censuses, of pupils who attended schools in Oklahoma counties between 1895 and 1936. This collection will be published as records and images become available.”

Rhode Island. has published nearly 600,000 digital images in the new collection, Rhode Island Newspapers, 1778-1938. At launch, the collection includes 26 titles. Among them are The Morning Herald, Evening Tribune, Providence News, Manufacturers and Farmers Journal, Evening Telegraph, Providence Evening Press, Providence Morning Star, Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner, Hope Valley Advertiser and more.

Learn to use England parish records

England’s earliest useful census is from 1841, and civil records only go back to 1837. So England’s parish records just might prove your genealogical salvation. Click here to learn more about using them.

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

The Story of Memorial Day

The Story of Memorial Day

The history of Memorial Day–formerly Decoration Day–and what he will be doing to honor it are shared here by Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss. We also give you quick links to more free family history articles on researching your ancestors who gave the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield.

(Image right: Gravesite in Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, IL. Decoration Day, 1927. Photo: Chicago Daily News)

History of Memorial Day

In 1865, just after the close of the Civil War, a local druggist in Waterloo, New York suggested placing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers in his community.

The following year, another area resident, General John B. Murray, led the small village in putting flags at half-mast and decorating the gravestones of soldiers buried in the town’s three cemeteries. They repeated their efforts the following year. Many other communities in both the North and South also honored their war dead during this time period.

General John A. “Black Jack” Logan spearheaded the idea of a national day of remembrance for fallen Civil War soldiers in 1868. Logan, a former Union General, was the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which constituted living veterans of the war. On May 5, 1868, the GAR issued General Order No. 11 to designate May 30, 1868 as the day to decorate and commemorate the graves of fallen comrades of the late Civil War.

The wording of the order is very specific: “Let us then at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland them with choicest flowers of springtime…Let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor…in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us…the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.” This order later became known as the “Memorial Day Order” and can be read on the website of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs as part of the National Cemetery Association.

On this date at Arlington National Cemetery, more than 20,000 gravestones of both Union and Confederate veterans were remembered. General James A. Garfield (who later became President of the United States) and other political leaders spoke to an audience of more than 5,000 persons. In following years, May 30th became known as Decoration Day, a national day of remembrance of the Civil War dead.

history of Memorial Day General John A. Logan

General John A. “Black Jack” Logan. Library of Congress image.

After the end of World War I in 1918, the scope of Decoration Day expanded to include all war dead since the Revolutionary War. The name gradually gave way to “Memorial Day,” a term first used in 1882 that didn’t become more generally accepted until after the end of World War II. A 1968 Act of the United States Congress, which went into effect in 1971, formally calendared the dates of several national holidays, including Labor Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day—the latter to be held in perpetuity on the last Monday in May. (Veterans Day, honoring all veterans who served rather than just our war dead, is held on November 11th.)

history of Memorial Day-1917 Poster

1917 poster, Library of Congress image.

Interestingly, not every part of the United States fully supported Decoration Day. The Civil War created divisions even in peacetime, long after the guns fell silent in 1865. A number of Southern states have over the years honored their own Confederate dead on specific dates. In Mississippi, for example, they remember Memorial Day the last Monday of April. Both North Carolina and South Carolina observe this date on May 10th.  In Virginia, the last Monday of May is observed as with most of the country, but it is often called Confederate Memorial Day. 

For a little more history (and some great historical re-enactment footage), enjoy this quick video.

How I will be honoring Memorial Day

Regardless of the name given this holiday, on Memorial Day here in Utah I will remember and honor those who sacrificed so much for our country by attending a free public event at Camp Floyd. I will be wearing my Civil War uniform with other members of the Utah Living History Association as we recreate and experience camp life; drill; and fire our period weapons to remember when the camp was occupied by the Union Army from 1858-1861. I am the second person in the left in this 2016 photo from the Utah Living History Association. We strive for historical accuracy in our representation of the men stationed at this camp in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. (With the start of the war, the camp was abandoned and the men stationed here moved back East to the fighting. Next to the museum at the camp sits a small rural cemetery to honor the burials of 85 men who died from 1857-1861 who were stationed at the camp while serving with the United States Army.)

Memorial Day isn’t just about remembering those soldiers who died in battle, but about honoring all veterans who have honored us with service. We give this honor—regardless of sectional differences—to those who lost their lives during both wartime and peacetime periods.

Explore and honor your own war dead

Michael Strauss contributes the Military Minutes segment on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. Why not use his expert tips to trace the stories of those on your own family tree who served in the U.S. military?

Find your ancestors in the 5 branches of the U.S. military

Intro to US military terminology: regular, volunteer, or militiaman?

US draft registration records: Civil War to WWII and beyond

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Author: Michael Strauss, AG

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

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