The places where your ancestors lived can tell you a lot about their lives. I’m going to show you a free and easy technique for plotting land in Google Earth.
Would you like to be able to find your ancestor’s property on a map today? Keep reading and watch the video to learn how. We’re going to take U.S. government survey legal land descriptions found in sources such as Federal Land Patents and quickly and easily plot the boundaries in Google Earth Pro. I’ll also show you an easy way to do it for property in Canada too.
In the video I show you how to plot the boundaries of a piece of land in Google Earth. We’re going to take U.S. government survey legal land descriptions found in sources such as Federal Land Patents and quickly and easily plot the boundaries in Google Earth Pro. I’ll also show you an easy way to do it for property in Canada too. These strategies come from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox,
Download or Update the Free Google Earth Pro Software
These days there are actually three versions of Google Earth:
Google Earth downloadable software
Google Earth for Chrome Web browser
Google Earth app
All are free, but they are not the same. The app and web browser versions are sort of “Google Earth lite.” The software is what you want because it has all the bells and whistles that will allow you to do all the things I’m going to show you today.
Plotting legal land descriptions in Google Earth has its advantages. If you’re plotting the land of your ancestors, you’ll be able to see what the area looks like today and what the current street names are. In Google Earth you’ll also have access to additional tools that you can use in conjunction with the boundaries you’re going to create, such as historic maps, area photos, and a wide range of data sets that provide more information about the area.
The first thing to do is check to make sure you have the most current version of Google Earth on your computer. Again, we’re using the software so you need to do this on your desktop or laptop computer. You want to make sure you have Google Earth Pro – LINK – A tell tale sign that you don’t is if the Google Earth globe icon on your desktop is grey and not blue. Open it and in the menu go to Help > About Google Earth. Here it should say Google Earth Pro and you can see the version number.
Now that you have it on your computer, open it up and leave it running in the background. You’ll need a decent internet connection for it to run.
Next pull up the legal land description that you want to plot. Here’s one that I have for some property owned by George Burket. I found this at the Bureau of Land Management Government Land Office Records website. This free website is where you can search for land patent that your ancestors once held.
Legal land description at GLO
Even though the Bureau of Land Management places it on the map on their website, you can’t download this or add to it. The advantage of plotting this in Google Earth is that you will have access to much more geographic data, you can add many more details to the map, you can use it in conjunction with other related mapping work that you’re doing, and you can save and share it.
This description gives us the exact coordinates of the property. Jot down the land description or keep it open in your browser tab so you can refer to it.
This website is free, although some of the features are available only with a paid subscription. Thankfully, the tool for plotting your ancestor’s land patent is free. Some of the free features do require that you sign up for a free account. The feature we are going to use currently does not.
On the Township and Range – Search by Description page you will see a field for each piece of information found in the land description. It’s important to enter this information in the order presented starting with the State. Select the state from the drop-down menu. Pause a moment to allow the fields to recalculate. This allows the appropriate data to be loaded into the next field based on your selection.
Entering data at Earth Point
After you have made each selection, click the Fly to on Google Earth button. This will generate a KML file which can be saved to your computer. KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language, which is the file type that Google Earth uses and understands. KMZ are zipped KML files which also are used by Google Earth.
Save the file to the desired location on your hard drive. Then click the file to open it. It will automatically open in Google Earth (which you already have open). The KML file is now located in your TemporaryPlaces folder in the Places panel. The land is has now been automatically plotted on the map.
The orange outline is the township. In this example it is township T20N R14E. Click the orange ball in the center of the township for details. In the details you’ll find the total number of acres in the township, the latitude and longitude coordinates for the center of the township and corners.
Township in Google Earth
The pink / magenta outline is the Section where the property is. Click the pink center dot for the details:
Land section in Google Earth
In this example Section 9 consists of 648 acres.
Notice that Earth Point was able to plot the land down to the Section level. However George Burket did not own the entire section. We must return to the land description for the Aliquots.
Aliquots in Legal Land Description
In this example, the land was the southeast quarter (SE1/4) of section 9. The land was a total of 160 acres.
We can use the Polygon tool in Google Earth to plot the 160 acres. In the toolbar, click the Polygon tool. This will open the New Polygon dialog box. Type a title, description and source citation.
As you hover your mouse over the map you will notice that the cursor is now a square shape. Click the screen on each of the four corners one at a time in order to set the four corners of the property – in this case the southeast quarter of the section. Once you have drawn the shape you can click on the handle on any corner to adjust precisely.
Click the Style / Color tab in the New Polygon dialog box to adjust the color and opacity of the acreage polygon. You can add color and thickness to the outline, and color and opacity to the fill of the shape. When you have it set the way you want it, click OK to close the New Polygon box. The Polygon is now set.
Moving Plotted Land in the Places Panel
On the left side of the Google Earth screen you will see a series of panels: Search, Places and Layers. At the bottom of the Places panel is the Temporary folder. This is where the KML file was placed when it was opened. However, like its name implies, this is a temporary location. If you want to keep it, you’ll need to move it to a filed location within the Places panel. This will not change the position of the polygon on the map, only where it is filed and saved in the Places panel.
To file a polygon, click on the file in the Places panel, drag it to the desired location, and drop it. Next, go the main menu and click File > Save My Places. This will save your work so that when you close the program it will not be lost. Google Earth doesn’t auto-save.
Turning Google Earth Polygons On and Off
The polygon plotting the acreage will be visible on the map when the box is checked in the Places panel. If you uncheck the box for the polygon it will still be there, but it will not be visible on the map. This allows you to create and save many items of interest without always having to have them displayed and cluttering up the map in Google Earth.
How to Edit a Polygon in Google Earth
After your land polygon has been set, you may want to rename it. There are two ways to do this:
On a PC right-click on the polygon, either on the map or in the Places panel, and select Rename from the pop-up menu. Type the new name and then press Enter on your keyboard.
Click to select the polygon in the Places panel (highlighting it in blue) and then go to the main menu to Edit > Rename. Type the new name and then press Enter on your keyboard.
You can also restyle the polygon and edit the text. Start by going to the Places panel and click the arrow pointing at the Polygon’s globe icon. This will open it and show the nested content. Click to select the Polygon. Now you can right-click it (PC) and select Properties – OR – go to the menu under Edit > Properties. Either way it will reopen the Polygon dialog box so that you can make the desired changes. When you’re done, click the OK button to close the Polygon.
Saving and Sharing Plotted Land
Snagit is the tool I used to capture the various views of the land I plotted in Google Earth. Learn more about Snag it by watching my videos and reading the show notes for episode 61 (for beginners) and episode 66 (advanced).
Plotting Canadian Land
Although the Earth Point website doesn’t plot Canadian land, the Legal Land Description Converter website does. It can help you find land in Western Canada (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan & Manitoba) subdivided by the Dominion Land Survey (DLS) and the Alberta Township System (ATS).
How to Plot Canadian Land
Go to Legal Land Description Converter at https://www.legallandconverter.com.
Enter the Section, Township, Range and Meridian information from the land description.
Click the Calc button.
Click the generated KML file and save it to your computer.
Click the file to open it in Google Earth. It will open in the Temporary folder.
It will fly you the location on the map and outline it for you.
Rename the file if desired, and add source information.
Add source citation.
Drag and drop it to the desired location in your Places panel.
Gwynn: I would like to know how to match plat with GPS coordinate/ current street address.
Answer: I cover how to overlay a plat map in Google Earth and discover the current street address in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
Roger D: How exact do you need to be in picking points? Does Google snap to mid-points of lines?
Answer: Try to be as exact as you can, however as I showed in the video you can reposition them as needed. Google Earth doesn’t snap.
Lyn: Can I do this with English tithe maps?
Answer: There isn’t a website converter that I know of. However I do cover how to overlay digitized maps in Google Earth in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
Google is a many-faceted gem when it comes to searching for ancestors online. Are you getting the most out of what Google offers?
Google searching–entering your ancestors’ names and other keywords into the main Google search box–is where you start using Google for genealogy. But the search box isn’t the only Google feature that can help you find hidden genealogy treasures online. Here are 7 important Google resources you need:
Google will sweep the internet for your favorite keyword searches on a regular basis! Just set up as many of these searches as you need with Google Alerts. It’s free and you can customize it to search when and what you want. Click here to learn to set up Google Alerts for genealogy.
You may already know that Google Books will keyword search within billions of pages of text in published books from around the world. Some of these books are even available to read in full on the site. Searching Google Books can lead you to facts, stories, new sources for your research and even images. For example, click here to read a post about finding old maps in Google Books.
Web content changes all the time. Sometimes the text, pictures or other content we most want just disappears. A page is revised, or a webpage or an entire website is taken offline. Use Google Cache to look at webpages that no longer exist! Click here to learn more.
I teach people all over the world how to use Google Earth in their genealogy research! Google Earth is the ultimate online map of the world: free, interactive, three-dimensional, multi-layered and crowd-sourced with all kinds of extra content. You can use it to identify ancestral hometowns and even their properties; zoom in to see what it looks like today; find old buildings, cemeteries, schools or churches relating to their lives, and more. Click here to watch a free video on using Google Earth for your genealogy.
When using Google for genealogy you can also visualize your results. Google has a dedicated area for finding the images you want, like certain people, places or historical events: Google Images. Google Images will even narrow your results to certain parameters: black and white images only; maps or pictures of people only; photographs but not illustrations and–my favorite–images without copyright restrictions that you may re-use in your family history write-ups.
Google News Archive
Though no longer actively digitizing and indexing newspapers, Google News Archive can help you locate online content for specific newspapers. Click here to access its alphabetical listing of newspapers. You can also enter keyword-searches in the search box on that webpage for all the newspapers listed here.
When you want to dig into scholarly articles, theses, dissertations and other academic sources, turn to Google Scholar. This resource specializes in searching the “smart stuff,” as I think of it. Sometimes you can find very specialized content, like a biography of a little-known minister or a history of a little tiny town. Read this inspiring story about using Google Scholar for genealogy!
Ready to learn more about how to use Google for genealogy and mining it for your own genealogical treasures? The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, is your go-to resource! In its chapters–fully revised and updated –you’ll learn more about all these Google toolsand more. Better yet, after you learn how to use these tools for family history research, you’ll find yourself using them to find all kinds of things, from recipes to trivia, to a manual for your old car.
It’s Nice to Share
I’ll bet you have friends who would benefit from this article on how to use Google for genealogy. Share it and they will be doing the genealogy happy dance, and so will I!
Here are some handy sharing buttons, or just copy and paste the URL for this article into a Facebook post or email. Thanks!
In this episode we discuss the latest genealogy news, one listener’s fabulous use of Google Alerts, and Maureen Taylor’s new history film project.
Google Earth 7 Google as just released Google Earth version 7. Google Earth is an amazing tool for genealogy so new enhancements are always welcome! This new version enables you to explore a number of cities around the world in 3D, from Long Beach, California, to Rome, Italy. The 3D imagery uses the enhanced modeling capabilities, previously found on only mobile devices.
In my video CD Google Earth for Genealogy Volume II I go into detail about 3D models and even give you resources for how you can get your own 3D models of everything from your house, to your ancestor’s home.
Download the new Google Earth 7 and get even more 3D imagery. You’ll find comprehensive and accurate tours of more than 11,000 popular sites around the world, including our growing list of cities where new 3D imagery is available.
A big change with this new version is the tour guide feature which serves as sort of a virtual local expert that suggests places nearby that you might want to explore and providing you with background information on the location. You’ll find the tour guide along the bottom of the screen, and it looks like sort of a film strip of thumbnail images representing various tours that are available. These change based on where you are on the Google Earth globe.
What’s new in RootsMagic 6 Video And there a favorite genealogy program that just got a new fresh update. RootsMagic 6 is now available, and you can see what’s new in the newest version of the genealogy database program in a brand new video they’ve published on their website at http://www.rootsmagic.com/webinars/
In the video you will see new features in action such as:
Find Everywhere feature
Live Timeline View
If you are a current paid user of RootsMagic, you can upgrade for just $19.95. New users may purchase RootsMagic 6 for only $29.95. Order online at http://rootsmagic.com/RootsMagic/
Special Holiday Offer Now through Dec. 20, 2012
Order gift copies of RootsMagic 6 for just $19.95 (plus shipping). You can also order other RootsMagic products at that same $19.95 price. Order the special holiday at http://www.rootsmagic.com/holidayoffer or order by phone at 1-800-ROOTSMAGIC (1-800-766-8762).
The next item here is that the Family Tree Service coming soon to FamilySearch.org According to a FamilySearch press release, “Within the next few months, FamilySearch will make Family Tree available to everyone on its website. The first of many updates planned for FamilySearch.org, Family Tree will provide a free and engaging way to discover, preserve, and share your family history. Family Tree will also offer specialized tools to make temple work for your ancestors even easier and more convenient.
Edit and delete incorrect data, including relationships
Connect and collaborate with others on shared family lines
Show where information came from
Link to online photos and documents
If you have questions about what Family Tree will be like or how it will work, you can log in to a special training website that offers online courses, how-to videos, informational handouts, and step-by-step training.
Get started with Family Tree today by watching the introductory video or reading about it on the training website. Family Tree will be open to everyone in the next few months.
RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City The Early Bird price for the full 3-Day Pass which gives you everything RootsTech has to offer is $149, discounted from the regular full price of $219
Students: One-day only pass for $89 and students can get a 3 day pass with their student ID for just $39
Getting Started 3 Day Pass for beginners: gives you access to over 30 classes in the Beginner track is just $39 for the early bird price, and the regular price will be $49
Getting Started one-day pass giving you access to a selection of fundamental classes for just $19
I will be at RootsTech 2013 teaching a variety of classes in addition to my booth in the exhibit hall, and some free demo classes I’ll be doing in the Demonstration Area of the Expo hall. So I hope you get RootsTech 2013 on your calendar because I look forward to seeing you there.
Ireland – National Archives launches new website
The National Archives of Ireland has launched a new genealogy website at http://www.genealogy.nationalarchives.ie/ which will initially host the 1901 and 1911 Censuses, Tithe Apportionment records from 1823-37, and Soldiers’ Wills from 1914-17.
Millions of Old Newspaper pages added to FindMyPast findmypast.com has just published millions of pages of historical newspapers from not only England, but also across Wales and Scotland as well. This collection contains local newspapers for the period 1710-1950. More than 200 titles are included. Go to http://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/newspapers
Ancestry.com launches newspapers.com On November 29, 2012 Ancestry.com Inc., announced the launch of Newspapers.com, a web site designed to offer a collection of more than 800 U.S. newspapers dating from the late 1700s into the early 2000s.
Comprising more than 25 million pages, Newspapers.com offers a historical and present-day newspapers ranging from the New York Times to small town and local newspapers throughout the United States.
According to Ancestry’s press release “The search capabilities on Newspapers.com are specifically designed for newspapers enabling users to easily search by keywords, location, time period and newspaper name.”
The yearly subscription rate is $79.95 for subscribers and $39.95 for Ancestry.com or Fold3.com members. Newspapers.com also offers a 7-day free trial that can be activated at www.newspapers.com.
Ancestry has launched a new Community Support site at Ancestry.com You can access Community Support by clicking on “Get Help” at the top of the Ancestry.com homepage. Once on Online Help, you will see a button for “Ask the Community” on the right hand side. That link will take you directly to Ancestry’s new Support Communities.
MyHeritage Buys Geni.com MyHeritage have just bought our long-term rival Geni.com – and also raised $25million in new funds. As a larger community, the users of MyHeritage and Geni.com will now receive matches with the other website family trees, and MyHeritage’s Record Matching, will benefit Geni’s users, who will get access to historical records never available before on Geni.com.
Jessica has a new blog and a question about photo storage: “…after about the 10th podcast in a row where you encouraged us to start our own blog, I finally got the message. I started my very own “geneablog” a couple of weeks ago. I only have three posts so far, but I’m pretty proud of it. Please check it out and let me know what you think. I’d love you to let your listeners know too, because that would be even more feedback! I am writing my blog from the perspective of my relentless quest to better understand the life of one particular ancestor of mine, William Park. I call it “Knowing William” and it writing it really makes me happy.” Visit her blog at http://williamparkfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/
“I recently listened to episode 119 where you talked to Michael Katchen from 1000memories. I went to the site, signed up, and uploaded pics to my first shoe box. In the interview I remember words like “social networking”, “memorials”, and “genealogy”. I am confused. All I saw on the site was my shoe boxes and some not-very-informative FAQs. I know it has been a while, but have they changed the whole premise of the website in less than a year?”
Lisa’s Answer: Congrats on your new blog! Remember posts can be short and sweet, and pack them with searchable keywords so other researchers can find you in Google Search.
RE: 1000Memories. They have indeed changed up the website since the interview. I agree with you, it seems watered down now, and not as obvious as to how to make the most of it. They seem to be focused on “simplicity.”
Barbara Shares A New Use for Google Alerts “My Great Grandfather, Edmund Charles Clark, was a builder in Bendigo, and many of his houses still stand in Wattle Street Bendigo today. I spent a lovely day photographing them, but I cannot go up and knock on all the doors however! So I have a cute way of finding out just what those houses look like today especially on the inside. I have an alert in Google for “Wattle Street, Bendigo” and it works a treat. Every so often one of the homes goes up for sale or rent, and one of the real estate websites has pictures of both inside and outside. These come up on my search and I get to see inside the homes that are still standing. One is up for rent at present and here are the pictures from Realestate.com.au of 172 Wattle Street. Isn’t it lovely? It is still much in original condition.
The Google alert function is really useful for genealogy, and I first found out about it from Genealogy Gems – so thank you very much for the gem.”
GEM: Maureen Taylor’s new gig – bringing revolutionary war history to film Pamela Pacelli Cooper, President, Verissima Productions at www.verissima.com
New Gem for Premium Members!
Sign in to your Membership and go to Premium Videos to view the brand new video Genealogy on the Go with the iPad (and tablets too!)
The iPad is built for hitting the road and is ideally suited for family history due to its’ sleek lightweight size, gorgeous graphics and myriad of apps and tools. In this class I will teach you “the tablet mindset”, the best apps for the tasks that genealogists want to accomplish, and my Top 10 list of iPad Tips and Tricks. By the end of class you will be able to turn your iPad into a family history powerhouse!