Ever thought of visiting your childhood home? Here’s a story about people who are actually buying theirs back. For the rest of us, here’s how to use Google and Google Earth to revisit your childhood home and relive some memories–without spending a dime.
Your childhood home–or perhaps another beloved family home–is your own personal address on Memory Lane. Who wouldn’t love to stroll up to its doors and recapture some memories?
The image above is of my husband’s great grandfather’s home in Winthrop, Minnesota. It’s a home that I have many photos of, have researched, and have come to feel personally connected to although I’ve never seen it in person. It’s one of many ancestral homes that I yearn to visit one day. So as you can imagine, I really enjoyed this report from The Wall Street Journal about a few lucky folks who are living the dream of not only visiting, but owning and restoring, their childhood home.
Even if you’re not interested in buying back an old family home, many of us are curious about the houses we used to love. Are those houses still there? What do they look like now? What else can we learn about them?
Let’s explore three ideas to help you stroll down memory lane. Then, I’ll share a discovery from a Genealogy Gems Premium podcast listener who recently dropped me a line.
1. Find the address for your childhood home
If you don’t recall the street address of your favorite family home, ask a relative or look it up. For U.S. addresses since 1940, you might start with the U.S. Public Records Index, searchable in part or full at Ancestry.com (volumes 1 and 2 for 1950-1993), FamilySearch.org or MyHeritage.com (click here to learn more about that database). Look also in records such as:
Johnstown, PA city directory listing, 1889, digitized on Ancestry.com.
draft registrations and other military paperwork
Social Security application forms, known as SS-5 forms (click here to learn more about them)
old family letters
newspaper articles (click here for tips on searching digitized newspaper content by address)
For U.S. addresses from 1880-1940, look to U.S. census records, which include street names and house numbers. In the example below from the 1930 census, you can see “Cedar Street” written vertically by the red arrow, and the house number written for each household entry, as shown in blue.
From the 1930 US census, Ancestry.com.
If you can’t find an address on an old record, but you think you could navigate yourself there on a map, it’s time to go to Google Earth and fly yourself there!
2. Use Google Earth to view your childhood home now
Learn all these Google skills with step-by-step tutorials and video demonstrations in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox book and Google Earth video tutorial. Click here for a special price on the bundle!
Google Earth is your on-ramp to your own personal Memory Lane. Go to the site, enter an address, and watch yourself “fly” to that address. If you don’t know an exact address but you know where to look, enter a street name or even a city. Then zoom in to the neighborhood and street section of interest. Activate Street View, if it’s available. Not sure how to do that? Watch my free Google Earth for Genealogy Video Class to get started.
Once you’ve found the location, take a close look. Is the house still there? What does it look like now? How has the landscape changed? The neighborhood?
You can use Google Earth to revisit your own childhood home or another family landmark, such as an ancestor’s homestead or burial place. (Click here to read about one genealogist’s virtual trip to an ancestor’s business using Google Earth’s Street View, and click here to see how another genealogist used historical map overlays in Google Earth to identify an old home’s location.)
3. Google the address of your childhood home
Googling the address of your family home may produce unexpected and interesting results like these:
a) Sale listings. If your house has been on the market in recent years, you may be able to find a listing with great details, and even pictures of the inside today. Top Google search results from specific addresses often bring up real estate websites with varying degrees of information, such as square footage, current estimated value, year built, most recent sale date and price, and more. Weed through these entries to see whether Zillow or another similar site shows a current or past listing for sale or rent. These may contain more details and may even have interior and exterior pictures of the house as it is now.
Watch closely—Google may bring up houses nearby, not the one you’re looking for. But even a neighborhood listing for a house built on a similar floor plan may jog your memories of the home and may give you a sense of what the area is like now.
b) Historical information. A Google search result may bring up historical news coverage or obituaries from digitized newspaper websites like Newspapers.com (a subscription may be required to view these in full). Or you may find something really fascinating, like a discovery made by Genealogy Gems Premium member Heather. After listening to me talk about this subject in Premium Podcast episode 141 (click here to subscribe), Heather wrote me this email:
“I love listening to the podcasts while driving to and from work, often sharing my own thoughts with you. This happened yesterday while listening to the latest Premium Podcast episode on family homes. I decided that I had to write and share what I managed to find! Since I have deep family roots in Connecticut back to 1650s, I managed to find a few family homes, but I started searching with the more recent generations and addresses that I knew. The two homes where my great-grandparents (Inez Hart and John Milton Burrall) and my great-grand aunts (Mary and Lucy Burrall) lived were written up in an application for the National Register of Historic Places!
The National Park Service is working on digitizing these applications. I found the application with a narrative description of the home and pictures of the interior and exterior. I have found other applications that have also included some genealogy of the family who lived in the home. Here is the website for the National Park Service and the database search page.”
Thanks for sending these in, Heather! And for sending along copies of the applications she found. The multi-page applications (more than 10 pages each!) include historical background on the buildings and former owners, as well as photos and site maps. Above is a photo–and below is an excerpt–from these applications.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase (at no additional cost to you) after clicking on these links. Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Track down your German ancestors with Germany genealogy expert Jim Beidler. He’s here to share great tips for using MeyersGaz.org, the recent online collection of crucial historical German maps.
The Meyers Gazetteer is a comprehensive, indexed map to every place name in the Second German Empire (1871-1918). It’s based on the 1912 book commonly known as “Meyers Orts” or the Meyers Gazetteer: Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs. Recently, a free version of the Meyers Gazetteer became available online at www.MeyersGaz.org.
5 Tips for Using the Meyers Gazetteer
German research expert Jim Beidler, author of Trace Your German Roots Online, recently offered Genealogy Gems followers five tips for using the site to trace your German roots:
1. Correctly locating the village of origin is often the key to finding Germany’s many locally-based records. The FamilySearch catalog, shown here, places German villages in the same political jurisdictions as Meyers-Ort (Second Empire), which can be incredibly helpful when looking for microfilmed church and other records. (Click here to learn more using the FamilySearch catalog and the end of their microfilm lending program.)
2. When searching the Meyers Gazetteer online, don’t use diacritical marks such as the umlaut (the two dots) or expand umlauted vowels (such as by turning an ä into an ae).
3. Filter search results to a specific German region to narrow results.
4. Explore places with an interactive map that allows you to zoom in and out and toggle back and forth between the past and present. After clicking on a search result, click Map. An interactive map will appear. Roll over Toggle Historical Map to see options to resize and to select whether the map shows you local jurisdictions, surrounding German civil registration offices (StdAs), and Catholic, Protestant and Jewish places of worship.
5. Click on Ecclesiastical to learn more about church parishes within 20 miles, which may have kept records on your family.
More from Jim Beidler on the Meyers Gazetteer
Genealogy Gems Premium members can sign in to our website and hear Jim go more in depth on the Meyers Gazetteer for German genealogy research in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 143. Jim applies his decades of German research experience to the latest technological advances and brings you along for the ride!
Jim Beidler is the author of Trace Your German Roots Online, one of Family Tree Books’ top-selling genealogy guides. Get an additional 10% off when you use the link above and the coupon code GEMS17.*Coupon code valid through 12/31/17.
Digitized Irish historical maps are among new genealogy records online. Also: Irish civil registrations; Irish, British, and Scottish newspapers; Westminster, England Roman Catholic records; wills and probates for Wiltshire, England and, for the U.S., WWI troop transport photos, Tampa (FL) photos, Mayflower descendants, NJ state census 1895, western NY vital records, a NC newspaper, Ohio obituaries, and a Mormon missionary database.
Beautiful Irish historical maps
Findmypast.com has published two fantastic new Irish historical map collections:
Dublin City Ordnance Survey Maps created in 1847, during the Great Famine. “This large-scale government map, broken up into numerous sheets, displays the locations of all the streets, buildings, gardens, lanes, barracks, hospitals, churches, and landmarks throughout the city,” states a collection description. “You can even see illustrations of the trees in St Steven’s Green.”
Ireland, Maps and Surveys 1558-1610. These full-color, beautifully-illustrated maps date from the time of the English settlement of Ulster, Ireland. According to a collection description, the maps “were used to inform the settlers of the locations of rivers, bogs, fortifications, harbors, etc. In some illustrations, you will find drawings of wildlife and even sea monsters. Around the harbors, the cartographers took the time to draw meticulously detailed ships with cannons and sailors. Many of the maps also detailed the names of the numerous Gaelic clans and the lands they owned, for example, O’Hanlan in Armagh, O’Neill in Tyrone, O’Connor in Roscommon, etc.”
(Want to explore these maps? Click on the image above for the free 14-day trial membership from Findmypast.com!)
More Ireland genealogy records
Sample page, Ireland marriage registrations. Image courtesy of FamilySearch.
FamilySearch.org now hosts a free online collection of Ireland Civil Registration records, with births (1864-1913), marriages (1845-1870), and deaths (1864-1870). Images come from original volumes held at the General Register Office. Click here to see a table of what locations and time periods are covered in this database. Note: You can also search free Irish civil registrations at IrishGenealogy.ie.
Over 121,000 new Roman Catholic parish records for the Diocese of Westminster, England are now available to search on Findmypast.com in their sacramental records collections:
Parish baptisms. Over 94,000 records. The amount of information in indexed transcripts varies; images may provide additional information such as godparents’ names, officiant, parents’ residence, and sometimes later notes about the baptized person’s marriage.
Parish marriages. Nearly 9,000 additional Westminster records have been added. Transcripts include couples’ names, marriage information, and father’s names. Original register images may have additional information, such as names of witnesses and degree of relation in cases of nearly-related couples.
Parish burials. Transcripts include date and place of burial as well as birth year and death; images may have additional information, such as parents’ names and burial or plot details.
Findmypast has published a searchable PDF version of a published volume of thousands of London Marriage Licenses 1521-1869. Search by name, parish, or other keyword. A collection description says, “Records will typically reveal your ancestor’s occupation, marital status, father’s name, previous spouse’s name (if widowed) and corresponding details for their intended spouse.” Note: The full digital text of this book is free to search at Internet Archive.
Wills and Probate Index for Wiltshire, England
Explore more than 130,000 Wiltshire Wills and Probate records in the free Findmypast database, Wiltshire Wills and Probate Index 1530-1881. “Each record consists of a transcript that will reveal your ancestor’s occupation, if they left a will and when they left it,” says a description. “The original Wiltshire wills are held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Archive. The source link in the transcripts will bring you directly to their site where you can view their index and request an image. If you wish to view an image, you will have to contact Wiltshire Council and a small fee may be required for orders by post.”
The Tampa Photo Supply Collection includes more than 50,000 images of daily life and special events (weddings, graduations) taken by local commercial photographers between 1940 and 1990, primarily in West Tampa, Ybor City, and South Tampa.
Mayflower descendants. AmericanAncestors.org has published a new database of authenticated Mayflower Pilgrim genealogies: Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. The collection includes the carefully-researched names of five generations of Mayflower pilgrim descendants.
New York. Ancestry.com has published a searchable version of a genealogy reference book, 10,000 Vital Records of Western New York, 1809-1850. According to a collection description, “The 10,000 vital records in this work were drawn from the marriage and death columns of five western New York newspapers published before 1850….Birth announcements were not published in these early newspapers, but many of the marriage and death notices mentioned birth years, birthplaces, and parents’ names, and where appropriate such data has been copied off and recorded here.”
North Carolina. The first 100 years of the Daily Tar Heel newspaper are now free to search in digitized format at the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. The collection spans 1893-1992 and includes over 73,000 pages from more than 12,000 issues. Click here for a related news article.
Ohio. FamilySearch also now hosts an index to Ohio, Crawford County Obituaries, 1860-2004, originally supplied by the county genealogical society. Obituaries may be searched or browsed; images may include additional newspaper articles (not just obituaries).
Utah and beyond (Latter-day Saint). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has published a database of early missionaries. It covers about 40,000 men and women who served between 1830 and 1930, and may link to items from their personal files, including mission registry entries, letters of acceptance, mission journal entries, and photos. Those who are part of FamilySearch’s free global Family Tree will automatically be notified about relatives who appear in this database, and may use a special tool to see how they are related. Others may access the original database here. Click here to read a related news article.
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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Sanborn fire insurance maps help genealogists map out their ancestors’ neighborhoods and everyday lives. Nearly 25,000 digitized Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are now on the Library of Congress website–and more are coming. Here’s what they are and how to use them for family history.
What are Sanborn fire insurance maps?
Sanborn fire insurance maps are a gem of a resource for those researching their roots in the U.S. (and parts of Canada and Mexico). These were detailed maps of city neighborhoods published periodically by the Sanborn Map Company beginning in 1867. They became available for a large number of cities by the 1880s and for many, were updated periodically for many decades. Today, the entire Sanborn fire insurance map publication series covers over 12,000 cities and includes over 700,000 maps.
Sanborn maps are valuable for “anyone with a personal connection to a community, street, or building,” explains a recent article from the Library of Congress. “They show the size, shape, and construction materials of dwellings, commercial buildings, factories, and other structures. They indicate both the names and width of streets, and show property boundaries and how individual buildings were used. House and block numbers are identified. They also show the location of water mains, fire alarm boxes, and fire hydrants.”
Here’s a sample map clipping from Elroy, Wisconsin:
How to use Sanborn fire insurance maps for your family history
The information in Sanborn fire insurance maps served the needs of urban planners, developers, and insurers, and now it can serve your genealogy research, too. A series of Sanborn maps is almost like stop-action aerial photography of your ancestor’s home and surroundings, with clues that can lead you to new documents and insights about their lives. Here’s a summary of how to use them:
1. Learn where exactly your ancestor lived. Look for a street name and house number in documents relating to your ancestors, such as city directories, deeds, WWI or WWII draft registrations, or passport applications. U.S. censuses have columns for house numbers and street names beginning in 1880, but are more likely to be filled in starting in 1900.
2. Find maps for that city. (See below for top places to find them online.) Find volumes published before, during, and even after your ancestors lived there.
3. Locate the map sheet with your family’s neighborhood using the map index in the front pages of the map volume. (Look for a street index.) Go to the correct map sheet.
4. Find the address. Look closely at the individual lot that belonged to your family, if you can identify it from the house or lot number (deeds may have lot numbers on them). You’ll likely be able to see the property boundary lines with measurements, along with the dimensions and footprint of buildings on the lot. Some details, such as as the building use, construction or whether it had asbestos or fire escapes, may be explained in Sanborn’s colorful map keys, like the one shown here from the Library of Congress website.
5. Check out the neighborhood. What kinds of buildings or features surrounded your family’s home? What schools, churches, factories, and other local institutions may have served your ancestors, and how far away were they? If you know where a relative worked, do you see the workplace nearby?
6. Compare maps from year to year. During the time your family lived there, the neighborhood likely evolved. There may have been new housing, business, road layouts, street names and numbering, and property use. You may see over time that an outbuilding was built, then transformed from a stable to a garage.
7. Use these details to create a description of your family’s everyday surroundings. Did they live in a brownstone duplex, frame home, or tall apartment building? Did their five-story walk-up have fire escapes? How close was their home to their neighbors’ home? How large was the lot, and what kinds of outbuildings were there? What kinds of buildings or features surrounded the property? How far away were the amenities they needed for daily life?
8. Note additional records to check. Do you see a nearby church, school, funeral home, cemetery or another institution that may have created records about your family? Follow up by looking for their records. (Click here to read my favorite online search strategies for finding records.)
Where to find Sanborn fire insurance maps online
Now we come to some excellent news. The Library of Congress now has over 25,000 digitized Sanborn fire insurance map sheets online! The collection description says these sheets come “from over 3,000 city sets online in the following states: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, GA, ID, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NV, OH, OK, PA, SD, TX, VA, VT, WY and Canada, Mexico, Cuba sugar warehouses, and U.S. whiskey warehouses.”
That’s fantastic, and the Library of Congress says more are coming. Recently they announced that over the next three years, they will be adding new map sheets every month until all 50 states are covered from the 1880s through the 1960s! By the end of the project, half a million Sanborn fire insurance map sheets will be online. So it will be worth checking back periodically to see if the maps you want are there.
Other digitized collections of Sanborn maps are online, too, and published collections exist at major libraries. Use the search strategies mentioned in this article to find them.
Homestead land records tell us more about our forebears who settled the western U.S. Learn more with Lisa Louise Cooke at the Land Records and Genealogy Symposium July 14-15, 2017 in Beatrice, Nebraska.
Lisa Louise Cooke will be a featured speaker at the Land Records and Genealogy Symposium in Beatrice, Nebraska on July 14-15, 2017. The 2-day event is co-sponsored by the Homestead National Monument of America, a unit of the National Park Service, and the Beatrice Campus of Southeast Community College.
Homestead land records and our ancestors
Omer Madison Kem, (later, Representative to the United States Congress) in front of his sod house in Nebraska (1886). Click image to view at American Memory (Library of Congress digital archive).
“The Homestead Act of 1862 had a profound affect on the United States and throughout the world,” states the symposium webpage. “Under the provisions of this law, the U.S. government gave away 270 million acres of land to 1.6 million individuals and families for the purposes of settlement and cultivation. Today there may be as many as 93 million descendants of homesteaders.”
Our homesteading ancestors may show up in land patent records and related paperwork. Over five million documents are searchable by name and location at the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office Records website. These databases found at major genealogy websites may also be helpful for finding homestead land records and related paperwork:
Out ancestors’ homestead land records may reveal when they purchased and/or applied for land and where they were living at the time. In many instances, immigrants had to be citizens to purchase land, so you may find information about their naturalization. You’ll often find land records in the same area purchased by relatives, which can help you reconstruct family groups and more confidently identify your family.
Participants in the Land Records and Genealogy Symposium will learn to use records of different kinds–and strategies for researching them–in their genealogical and historical research. Lisa Louise Cooke’s lectures will focus on using powerful online tools to map out your family history and find mention of ancestors that may be buried deep in online resources. Other lectures will also help you chart the stories of your frontier ancestors, many of them immigrants, who purchased land from the government in the Midwest and Western United States.
What: Land Records and Genealogy Symposium, co-sponsored by the Homestead National Monument of America (National Park Service) and the Beatrice Campus of Southeast Community College
When: July 14-15, 2017 (8 am – 4 pm on Friday, with optional dinner presentation; 8:30 am – 3 pm on Saturday)
Where: Southeast Community College, Beatrice, Nebraska
Genealogy Gems Premium website members can learn more about homestead land records in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 33, in an interview with expert Billie Edgington. (Click here to learn more about all the benefits of Premium membership, including access to the full Premium Podcast archive of nearly 150 episodes!)
Click here to see all of Lisa’s upcoming presentations: is there one near you?
Thousands of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and a national Civil War burial database are among new genealogy records online. Also: newspapers in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania; vital records for Idaho, Utah, and Washington; Catholic parish records for the Archdiocese of Boston; Maine cemetery plans; New Hampshire Civil War records and New York passenger arrivals.
Breaking news! The Library of Congress has put online nearly 25,000 additional Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps–and more are coming! Over the next three years, more will be added monthly until all 50 states are covered from the 1880s through the 1960s.
Sanborn maps show detailed information about neighborhoods, buildings, roads and more for thousands of towns in the U.S. and beyond. A sizable collection of pre-1900 Sanborn maps are already online at the Library of Congress (use the above link). Watch the short video below to learn more about them. The full length class is available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members.
Civil War burials. Ancestry.com’s new database, U.S., Civil War Roll of Honor, 1861-1865, lists over 203,000 deceased Civil War soldiers interred in U.S. cemeteries. “Records in this database are organized first by volume and then by burial place,” says the collection description. Entries “may contain the name of soldier, age, death date, burial place, cemetery, rank and regiment.”
Newspapers. We’ve noticed the following new digital newspaper content online recently:
Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania: Newspapers.com recently added or updated newspaper content for the following newspapers (with coverage shown): Chicago Tribune (1849-2016), Fort Lauderdale News (1911-1991), South Florida Sun Sentinel (1981-2017) and the Morning Call [Allentown, PA] (1895-2017). (With a Newspapers.com Basic subscription, you can see issues through 1922; a Publisher Extra subscription is required to access issues from 1923 onward.)
Hawaii: Newspaper content has been recently added to the Papakilo Database, an online archive of The Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The collection currently contains nearly 12,000 issues from 48 different publications, with a total of 379,918 articles. Coverage spans from 1834 to 1980.
Louisiana: A New Orleans feminist newspaper is now available online at Tulane University’s digital library. An online description says: “Distaff was the first and only feminist newspaper published in New Orleans….Distaff served as a forum for women’s voices in politics, activism, and the arts….A preview issue was published in 1973 and the newspaper continued to be published until 1982. There was a hiatus in publication from 1976-1978.”
Maine cemetery plans. “Many Maine cemeteries have plans originally created courtesy of the Works Progress Administration, which reside at the Maine State Archives,” states a recent post at Emily’s Genealogy Blog at the Bangor Daily News website. The post advises us that all of them–nearly 550–are now viewable online at DigitalMaine.com (search for WPA cemetery plans). “These plans are great for locating veterans; some graves are coded by the war of service,” advises the post. “With such an item in hand one could also visit the appropriate town clerk and locate a civilian’s burial as well, I should think.” Thanks for that tip, Emily!
Massachusetts Catholic church records. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (AmericanAncestors.org) has added 13 new volumes to its browse-only collection, Massachusetts Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900. “This addition, drawn from the collections of St. James the Greater in modern-day Chinatown, includes the largest volume we’ve scanned yet–1,035 pages,” says an NEHGS announcement. The collection description states that an index is being created and will be available to site members in the future.
New Hampshire Civil War records. The free site FamilySearch.org has added about 25,000 indexed names to its collection of New Hampshire, Civil War Service and Pension Records, 1861-1866. The collection contains an “index and images of Civil War enlistment papers, muster in and out rolls of New Hampshire Regiments and pension records acquired from the New Hampshire state archives.”
New York passenger lists. FamilySearch.org has added nearly 1.2 million indexed names to the database, New York Book Indexes to Passenger Lists, 1906-1942. According to the collection description, names are taken from “books of indexes to passenger manifests for the port of New York. The indexes are grouped by shipping line and arranged chronologically by date of arrival.”
Utah birth certificates. Nearly 33,000 names have been added to an existing FamilySearch database, Utah, Birth Certificates, 1903-1914. “This collection consists of an index and images to birth certificates acquired from the Utah State Archives,” says the site. “The records are arranged by year, county, and month within a numerical arrangement by box and folder number. Many of these volumes have indexes at the beginning or end.”
Sanborn maps are a rich resource for genealogy–but they’re just one kind of map that can lead to genealogical gems! Lisa Louise Cooke teaches tons of strategies for using maps to chart your family history in her Genealogy Gems Premium video series. Discover these for yourself with a Genealogy Gems Premium website membership.
Thanks for sharing this great news on Sanborn maps and more with your genealogy friends!