How to Create an Immigration Story in Google Earth

How to Create an Immigration Story in Google Earth

Show Notes: This Elevenses with Lisa LIVE show is exclusively for Premium Members. In this Premium episode, we’ll be discussing how to create an immigration story in Google Earth.  Premium Members grab your mug and join me for the live show on July 14 at 11 am Central and join in the live chat. 

Live Chat

To participate in the live chat on YouTube, click the “Watch on YouTube” button on the video player above. This is only available during the live show. If you’re watching the video replay, you can leave comments below.

Show Notes

I. Download the Google Earth Software

Be aware that there are three different options for Google Earth:

  • Google Earth Pro Software
  • Google Earth for Chrome (web browser)
  • Google Earth mobile app.

Only the Google Earth Pro software can accomplish everything we do in this session.

Download the free software by following these steps:

  1. Go to
  2. Click the blue download button
  3. Read the Terms and Conditions
  4. If you agree to them, click the Agree and Download button
  5. Follow the installation guide
  6. Click the icon on your desktop to launch the program. (Your computer must be connected to the Internet.)

II. Tell a Focused Immigration Story

Select a story to tell. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and keep in mind short attention spans. Go longer if it’s for research analysis purposes. Define a specific period of time. I suggest starting with around 10 items to plot on the map.

III. Create a Tour Folder in My Places

Create a folder for your immigration tour in the Places panel before beginning to build the tour.  This will allow you to save items into the folder as you go which will keep you organized.  It will also make it easier to save and share your tour later.

How to Create a Folder:

  1. In the Places, panel click once on MY PLACE to highlight it
  2. Right-click and select ADD, then select NEW FOLDER
  3. Name the folder, and then add a description of what the tour will cover if you wish
  4. Click OK to close the dialogue box
  5. Now the folder appears in your Places panel
  6. Whenever you add content for your tour, click the folder once to highlight it

IV. Placemarks

The foundation component of the Family History Tour is the Placemark which you will use to mark the events that occurred in the lives of your ancestors.  Customize the icons to represent the event you are documenting.  

How to Create a Placemark:

  1. In the PLACES panel click the tour folder once to highlight it
  2. Zoom to the location where you want to add content
  3. Click the PLACEMARK button in the Google Earth toolbar
  4. Name the placemark and add a description of what it will include if you wish
  5. Click OK to close the placemark dialogue box
  6. Now the placemark appears in your tour folder and on the map.
  7. To edit the placemark so you can add additional content, right-click the placemark in the PLACES panel and select PROPERTIES
  8. When done click the OK button at the bottom of the placemark dialogue box

V. Adding Images

Photos, documents and other images that can be scanned and saved to your computer as an image file. These can then be hosted online and added to Placemarks, including but not limited to:

  • Family Photos
  • Old Postcards
  • Passenger lists
  • Diary pages

Recommended Websites for free image content:

To add historic maps to your map to help pull the viewer back in time use the Overlay button in the toolbar. Be sure to resize the map to match up with the current day map.

You will need to host your digital images online in the Cloud. Here are some options:

  • Download my instruction sheet called How to host images online for Google Earth family history tours
  • Use a photo hosing website that provides HTML embed code – Copy and paste the HTML generated by the site into the Description area of the Placemark. (Google image or photo hosting websites)
  • Upload image to your own website – You can host the image on your own site, copy the image URL, and then go to Google Earth and click the ADD IMAGE button in the Placemark dialogue box, and paste the link.

VI. Map Overlays

How to create map overlays:

  1. If the map is a paper map, scan it at the highest resolution possible and save it to your hard drive. If the map is online, download it to your hard drive.
  2. Upload your digital map to a Cloud service that assigns the image its own URL.  See instructions link in Images section.
  3. In Google Earth, click to select the project folder.
  4. Type the location in the search box and fly to the desired location.
  5. Click the Overlay button in the toolbar at the top of the 3D viewer. A dialog box will pop up and green cross hairs will appear in the 3D viewer.
  6. Type the name of your map in the Name field in the dialog box.
  7. Copy the map image URL (from the Cloud host) and paste it in the Link field in the Overlay dialog box in Google Earth. In a few moments, the map image should appear within the green cross hairs. If it doesn’t, you may not have copied the URL correctly, or your internet connection may be slow.
  8. Use the green cross hairs to reposition the map as needed to match up to the current map (this is called georeferencing). Use the transparency slider (just below the Link field in the dialog box) to compare and match up the two maps. Look for geographic points you can match up such as rivers, railroad lines, etc.
  9. When you are satisfied with the placement, click OK.
  10. If you wish to change the name of the map, right-click on the file in the Places panel and click Rename in the pop-up menu, and then type the desired name. Remember that you can always reorganize your maps by dragging and dropping them into other locations within the Places panel.
  11. Save the Places panel by going to the menu and clicking File > Save > Save My Places.

VII. Paths

  1. Click the Path button in the toolbar at the top of the screen.
  2. Type a title and description in the box
  3. Using your mouse click on the first point on the map, then click each subsequent point. You can move points if necessary
  4. When you’re done, click OK to close the box.
  5. Save your work by going to the menu and clicking File > Save > Save My Places.

Answers to Chat Questions

Question: Does the recipient of the file need to have Google Earth on their device?
Answer: Yes. Most people do, but you can always send them the download link. They can also open the file in the free mobile app. 

Question: Does google album archive count in your total google memory allowance limitation for pictures emails googledrive etc?
Answer: (from Google support page) “Images uploaded to Blogger may be compressed and optimized for the web, which results in less data usage and faster load times for readers. These images will not count against your Google storage quota. Currently there’s no way to store large images in original quality on Blogger.” Be aware that since they compress and optimize Blogger images, hosting your map images on Blogger might not be the best choice, and you may want to use a Dropbox link or photo-sharing service that doesn’t compress.  It’s fine for photos and other images. 

Question: How do I turn off map overlay?
Answer: Uncheck the box for the map overlay in the Places Panel. 

Question: Are these directions in the Google Toolbox book
Answer: Yes! See below in the Resources section. 


Genealogy Problem Solving: Conflicting Birthdates

Genealogy Problem Solving: Conflicting Birthdates

Show Notes: Learn how to resolve conflicting evidence in your ancestors’ birth dates.

resolving conflicting birthdate genealogical evidence

Lisa’s special guest is genealogist Lindsey Harner.


In this Article and Video:

Reasons for Birthdate Discrepancies in Genealogy

5 Questions You Should Ask About Conflicting Birthdates

Birth Record Substitutes

Case Study Strategies for Solving Conflicting Birthdates

Have you ever been frustrated by finding conflicting birth dates for your ancestor? The article called Birthday Wishes appears in the July/August 2020 issue of Family Tree Magazine tackles this challenge. The article’s author, professional genealogist Lindsay Harner is here to share five questions that you should ask yourself when you are comparing birth dates across a variety of genealogical records. These questions will help you get a little closer to the truth.

Resource: Download the ad-free show notes including a printable checklist cheat sheet. (Premium Membership required)

Reasons for Birthdate Discrepancies in Genealogy

Lisa: What are some of the possible reasons that we might come across birthdate discrepancies when we’re looking at a variety of different genealogical records?

(01:08) Lindsay: We’re talking about vital records, birth, marriage and death records.  I think birth records tend to be a little different sometimes, because marriage records would be recorded by churches and in civil records for many, many years and often reported in the local newspaper. Death dates are often carved on headstones. But with the birthdate, nobody can remember their own birth date, right? So, in the days before documentation, a lot of times people had to rely on what they were told by maybe a parent or a relative in terms of what their actual birth date was.

(01:58) Lisa: That’s a good point, it poses a very unique challenge.

5 Questions You Should Ask about Conflicting Birthdates

Let’s jump into your five questions, because I think they will help us find the truth. What is the first thing that we should ask ourselves when we’re seeing a discrepancy?

Question #1: When was the birthdate record created?

(02:16) Lindsay: The first question you should ask yourself is, when was the record created?

Records tend to be more reliable the closer they were created to the actual event. People tend to remember events better when they’re fresher in their minds. We tend to remember things better that happened last week than, say, 10 years ago.

Question #2: Who was the source of the birthdate?

(02:52) The next thing you’re going to want to ask is who was the source of the birth information? Was it someone who could have been present at the birth?  They’re going to be the most reliable sources of information. People such as a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, maybe an older sibling who would have been old enough to remember, an attending physician or midwife if you’re lucky enough to find a record from one of them. People like that would be much more reliable than, say, the person’s child who of course, couldn’t have been present at the birth.

Lisa: A death certificate is a good example. It will often tell the birthdate of the person who died. However, you then look at the informant, and you realize that guy certainly wasn’t there when the person was born and certainly heard about it second or third hand. So that’s what you’re talking about, deciding how much weight to give it?

Lindsey: That’s right. Yes.

Question #3: Can the birthdate be corroborated?

(04:00) The next question you’re going to want to ask is whether or not the birth date can be corroborated with other records. For example, if you have three records that report one birthday, and then you find another record that gives a completely different birthday, chances are the record that differs from everything else is probably not accurate, if you can’t find anything else that matches it.

Lisa: So, you’re saying if one thing stands out as different while everything else seems to be lining up, then we give it less weight. That makes sense. And I imagine that there are some dates out there that just don’t make sense, right?

Lindsay: Yes, that’s right.

Question #4: Is the birthdate plausible?

(04:50) You’re going to want to take into consideration everything that you know about the person when you have conflicting information. Look at all of the records you have related to them in their immediate family. That should clue you in on whether or not a certain birthday is even plausible or makes sense.

For example, if someone is listed in the 1860 census, they couldn’t have been born in 1861 or later. Or if they had an older brother who was born in 1875 their birth date would have to be at least nine months after the older sibling’s birthday.

Lisa: That sounds logical. When you’re in the heat of a research challenge, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of those very simple discrepancies. What else should we be asking ourselves?

Question #5: Is the birthdate inaccurate on purpose?

(06:00) Lindsay: The last question that I recommend you ask yourself is, in this situation, is there a reason that the source would be dishonest? There are a lot of reasons why someone may have lied about their age. I’m sure most of us have heard about boys claiming to be older than they actually were in order to be eligible for military service.

Some people may have lied just for the sake of appearances. For example, I can think of an instance in my own family tree where I have a female ancestor who was about seven or eight years older than her husband. Once they were married, all of a sudden her birth year in census records became much later because she apparently didn’t want people to know she was so much older than her husband, or they just assumed that they were closer in age. So that’s one reason why someone could be dishonest.

Another possible reason for dishonesty could be that they had a financial incentive. My grandfather got his driver’s license when he was 15. He lied about his age for many years. His driver’s license never had the right age on it.

There are all sorts of reasons that people lie. So, you’ll just want to ask yourself, is there a reason? Did they stand to gain something from being dishonest?

Lisa: That’s a very good point. It makes me think back to my first job. If anybody ever finds my first job application, they will find a bit of a discrepancy on the age because I was really anxious to get to work. I was 15, and you had to be 16 to work. But I don’t do that anymore!

Birth Record Substitutes

When we’re looking at these kinds of records, and you were talking about finding additional records to corroborate what we’re finding, what are some of the birth records substitutes that we could be looking for?

(08:15) Lindsay: Yes, fortunately, even in the years before state issued birth certificates, there are a lot of other sources that we can turn to that would give a birth date. Probably the best sources out there would be a family Bible or a baptismal record.  Chances are, they were created very close to the birth, or not very long after.

If your ancestor lost a parent at a young age, there may be guardianship records that would record their birth date.

If your ancestor served in the military, there could be various military records, enlistment records, pension records, or World War One World War Two draft registration cards that would record birth dates. They’re both available on Ancestry.

Older headstones are another source. They might not record a birth date, but I’ve seen many where they’ll record the death date and give the person’s very specific age in years, days and months. And so even if it doesn’t record the actual birth date, you can calculate it.

There are also death certificates and obituaries. There are also many records that we record a person’s age at the time that the record was created. Census records are of course a big one, and marriage records. You can use those to help calculate a range of when their birth may have occurred.

Lisa: As you list those records, I think of so many others too, like a passport application. I know I’ve seen them on There are lots of different opportunities to come up with some additional records to help determine the true birthdate.

Case Study Strategies for Solving Conflicting Birthdates

In your article in Family Tree Magazine, you provided a great case study. I always think it’s so interesting when we take the theory behind what we’re doing and really apply it to something. Tell us about the case study dealing with these discrepancies in birth records.

(10:41) Lindsay: I came across this situation a few times in my research, but probably the most interesting and perplexing case is the one I shared in the article. It’s about my great, great, grandfather, named Thomas H. Higgins. He was born in Pennsylvania in the 1850s which was many any years before Pennsylvania started issuing birth certificates. Pennsylvania didn’t start until 1906.

STRATEGY: Find out when your ancestor’s state started issuing birth certificates.

Fortunately, his life is very well documented. I have many records that record a birth date for him. Unfortunately, very few of these records match. I actually found six different birth dates for him. I went through each record and evaluated it based on the questions that we just talked about.

Initially, I believed he was born on December 9, 1856. I got that birth date from what I believe was a very, very reliable source. That birthdate had appeared in a biography my grandfather had written about him. It had also appeared in a school application I found. It also appeared in his mother’s Civil War, widows pension application, so that that date came from his mother!

However, as I continued to research him, I started to find many records that did not match that birthday and that made me start to question the accuracy of the 1856 birth date. I started to find quite a few records that said that he was born more than a year earlier in August 1855. Initially, I didn’t put much stock into some of these records, because quite often he was the source of the information. He actually was not a very reliable source because I also know that he had a history of lying about his age!

As I mentioned previously, quite often, young boys would claim to be older to enlist in the military. But in his case, he actually claimed to be about 15 or 16 years younger than he was in order to be able to enlist in the military. He was in his 60s during World War I, and he claimed to be in his 40s in order to enlist. So, I was skeptical of any record where he was the source. I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe him.

STRATEGY: Collect as many birth records as possible

Then I started to find other records. I found an additional birthdate buried in his mother’s Civil War pension application. I then found a baptismal record. They both corroborated the August 1855 birthdate. And, of course, if he was baptized in March of 1856, he couldn’t have been born in December 1856.

What was the reason for these multiple birthdates? Well, it turns out his parents weren’t married until April 1855, about four months before the August 1855 birth date. So, I believe that he was actually born in August 1855 and his mother fibbed about that in order to hide the fact that he was only born a few months after their marriage.

Lisa: That’s a great example of a reason why somebody might fudge things a little bit.

STRATEGY: Chart out the conflicting birthdates and sources.

I also really liked in the article how you shared a chart, almost like a timeline, but really charted out all the different items. It really helps you see the whole picture of all these conflicting dates, where they’re coming from, when they were created, all those things that you mentioned so that we can try to make a final determination.

The article is called Birthday wishes and it appears in the July / August 2022 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

About Author and Genealogist Lindsey Harner

Where can we learn more about what you’re up to these days?

(15:55) Lindsay: I focus on Pennsylvania and New York research primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’m always busy working on that. And you can find me on my website Lindsay’s Histories. I also have a blog there that you can check out and read more about my research.


Download the ad-free show notes including a printable checklist cheat sheet. (Premium Membership required)

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

Click to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.


Premium Podcast Episode 196

Premium Podcast Episode 196

Show Notes: Premium Podcast Episode #196

with Lisa Louise Cooke

Brush up your search skills as we review these 9 search tips. 

9 ancestry search tips

Click the player below to listen to the audio podcast:

Download the audio file mp3
Download the show notes handout

9 Ancestry Search Tips

  1. Run “fuzzy” searches

Use Sound alike and date range filters to broaden your search.

  1. Use wildcards

? = substitute for one letter in a name

* = stands for zero or more letters

  1. Go nameless

Try searching on search terms such as timeframe and location without a name.

  1. Research individual collections

Ancestry Card Catalog

  1. Check the message boards

Ancestry Message Boards

  1. Consider Member Trees to be Clues

Assume trees have errors. Always find additional evidence to confirm.

  1. Revisit record collections

Recently Added and Updated Collections on Ancestry

  1. Browse record images

When a search of a promising collection turns up empty, manually page through images.

  1. View related records

Related Search Hot Key on record image pages: R

Recommended Resources


Pin It on Pinterest