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
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!
Show Notes: WorldCat.org just got a facelift. That means it’s time to revisit this library catalog website and do these 5 important things so you can effectively use it for your genealogy research.
Video Premiere with Live Chat
Show Notes: WorldCat
If you are interested in finding out more about your family history and you want to build out your family tree, you are going to need records and resources. That’s exactly what the WorldCat website provides.
WorldCat.org is a free website that provides access through its card catalog to millions of materials from libraries around the world. You’ll find items such as:
United States Civil War and other military records
Family Bibles, church histories, and records
Publications such as directories, handbooks, and magazines
Birth, marriage, death, wills, and obituary indexes
Microfilmed genealogy and local history collections
Newspapers from around the world
It’s important to keep in mind that not all libraries participate in WorldCat, and they can participate at different levels. Therefore, you’ll find different amounts of information about these different repositories.
The WorldCat website has received a facelift and now sports a new user interface, making it a great time to get reacquainted with this rich resource. Here are five things you should do right now to take advantage of WorldCat:
#1 Sign up for a free account or transfer your existing account.
To use all the features at WorldCat that we will be discussing you’ll need to have a free user account.
To create your WorldCat account, click the Create an Account link and follow the prompts.
If you already have a WorldCat account you will need to transfer it. Click the Sign In link and follow the prompts for transferring. You can transfer your favorited libraries and lists. However, because of the new website, the following data will not be transferred: profile picture, reviews, saved searches, watched lists, interests, and tags.
Transferring can take quite a while. Leave your browser open until it completes. In fact, when I transferred it never showed complete, so after about an hour I refreshed the page and attempted to sign in again. I was prompted to create a new password, which I did, and was then able to access my account and my transferred data did appear.
Sign into your account whenever you visit the site so that you can take advantages of the many features offered, including our next item, Lists.
#2 Create and Search Lists
Lists are a great way to organize the wide range of resources you can find through WorldCat. I like to create lists for surname and subject research.
How to Create a WorldCat List:
After you run a search you will receive a list of results. Click the List (bookmark) icon on any item
Click the List icon
The add Item to List box will appear. In this box you can add the item to an existing list or click the Create List button to create a new list.
Name the list, enter a description and indicate whether it is public or private.
Click the Create button to save the list.
You can find all your lists by clicking on your account icon (upper right corner on desktop) and select My Lists
In addition to creating your own lists, you can search the public lists of other WorldCat users. Click Lists in the menu to browser popular lists. To search for a list by keyword, go to the search bar and select Lists from the drop-down menu, and search by keyword. When you find a helpful list, click the Follow button.
You can have up to 50 lists with up to 500 items.
#3 Discover Libraries
The best way to discover libraries near you is to add your location. Click the Update Location icon just under your account profile icon. Enter your town or zip code and libraries will be prioritized based on their proximity to you. If you’re going on a research trip, try changing the location to the zip code of the place you are traveling to, and then search for libraries and materials.
To browse libraries near you click Libraries in the menu. Add libraries to your list of favorite libraries by clicking the star icon on the library entry.
You can find your list of favorite libraries by going to the account icon and selecting Favorite Libraries.
#4 Use the Advanced Search Feature
The best way to search for items is to use the Advanced Search feature from the beginning. Click the Advanced Search icon to the right of the search box. (See image below)
Click the Advanced Search icon next to the search box
Start your search by selecting the type of thing you want to search from the first drop-down menu. For example, select Keyword and then type a word (such as a surname) in the field next to it. To the right of the field, select what you want done with that keyword, AND, OR, or NOT. This will include, exclude or make the keyword options. Then go to the next line and do the same thing. You can set up to three parameters.
Next add a year range if desired. For example, 1900 to 1950. Then select the type of materials you want in the results by clicking Format. For example, you could leave it on All Formats to receive all types of materials or select just Newspapers.
You can also narrow your search by language. Once you’ve made all your selections, click the Search button.
On the results page you have the option to adjust the filters in the left-hand column.
#5 Search Name Variations
As you search for family surnames, it’s important to understand that it will not automatically search for name variations. Either search for variations in separate searches or use the Advanced Search using the OR or the AND feature. (See example below)
How to search for name variations at WorldCat
More strategies for getting great search results at WorldCat
Search for family names by entering the family name followed by the word “family” (e.g., “Mansfield family”)
Search for specific people by entering the person’s full name (e.g., “Emily Mansfield”)
Search for organizations by entering terms to describe the organization (e.g., “Lutheran”)
Search for geographic locations by placing name in combination with the abbreviated and full state name (e.g., “Union City IN” and “Union City Indiana”)
You can then narrow your search by returning to the main search page and entering more specific search terms such as “Mansfield family bible”.
Include multiple search terms in one search (e.g., “Lutheran” and “Union City IN”)
Final Thoughts on the New WorldCat
Like with any change to a website, the new WorldCat takes a little getting used to, and there are a few bugs that still need to be worked out. However, by doing these 5 things you’ll have access to millions of rich resources that can help you climb your family tree.
Show Notes: If you’ve created a MyMap in Google Maps, there’s a lot more that you can do with it if you import it into Google Earth. However, exporting it out of MyMaps as a KMZ that can be used in Google Earth isn’t really obvious. The good news is that it’s not hard to do. I’ll explain how and I’ll also show you how to import the KMZ file into Google Earth.
If you have several items in your MyMaps project, make sure that each item that you want to be included in the file that you’re exporting has a checkmark next to it. Whatever is checked is activated on the map display and will be included in your exported file.
Next, in the upper left corner of Google MyMaps, you’ll see three vertically stacked dots. When we click that, you’ll get a menu that includes Download KML. KML and KMZ are file extensions that are supported by Google Earth.
You’ll also see View Map in Google Earth in this menu. If you click that the MyMaps project will open in a new web browser tab in the web version of Google Earth. You don’t want that because the web version does not have all the features that are available in the free downloadable software version of Google Earth.
Click to select Download KML. KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language. This is a geographic file. The difference between KML and KMZ is that KML is typically a single item while a KMZ is a zipped file potentially containing several items. Each placemark and data item added to your project is a single item. When you have several like in our example project, you will want to export it as a KMZ. So even though the menu says Download KML, go ahead and click it.
When you click it you’ll get a pop-up menu with two options:
Keep data up to date with network link KML (only usable online).
This will include all your data. If any of that data is coming from another source on the cloud and that source updates, your data will update in Google Earth.
Export as KML instead of KMZ. Does not support all icons. This can zip your project as a .KMZ but it might not transfer all your icons, particularly those that might be coming from another source on the cloud.
In many cases, either of these would be fine. But when in doubt, I select Keep data up to date with network link KML so that all my project data will remain current.
After you make your selection, your file will be exported to your hard drive. You can select the destination where you want it saved. It will be a KMZ file because there are multiple items that have been zipped into one package.
How to Open an Exported MyMaps KMZ File
On a PC you will see the downloaded KMZ file in the bar at the bottom of your screen. If you click the up arrow you can open the location on your hard drive where the file was saved. You can also click Open. That opens the KMZ in a program that can read it like Google Earth if it’s already installed on your computer. The easiest way to open the file is to simply double-click it. Your computer will automatically detect that you are opening a KMZ file and it will automatically launch your Google Earth software, and open and display the file in it. It may take a few extra moments to load and run because it’s trying to do two things at once, and Google Earth is a pretty robust program.
There are three panels in Google Earth:
Search (where you enter names, addresses and more to fly to locations in Google Earth),
Places (your Google Earth files and folders These are private and are not published by Google.)
and Layers (data that can be streamed from cloud sources.)
Your project file will be in the Temporary Folder of the Places Panel. Google places opened files in the Temporary folder because it doesn’t know whether you just want to look at it one time, or you want to keep it. When you want to keep a file, you will need to drag and drop it onto MyPlaces at the top of the Places panel, or into a folder you have created.
Also, Google Earth doesn’t autosave. So it’s important to save your work before you close the program. Otherwise, your file will be lost. To save your file, in the menu at the top of the screen select File > Save > Save MyPlaces.
How to Display a MyMaps File in Google Earth
There is a small arrow next to your project file in the Places panel that indicates it is a nested project folder. Click the arrow to display the contents of this zipped container. Inside is the actual MyMaps project folder or the project. Continue to click arrows to reveal the nested content. Now that you can see the individual items, you can now work with them.
To display the entire project on the screen, double-click the main project file (not one of the nested items). Click only to highlight it. Don’t click the linked title because that will only display the descriptive text you included in your original MyMaps project.
Everything that you saw in MyMaps is now in Google Earth. You can check and uncheck items within the project in the Places panel depending on what you want to be displayed on the screen.
How to Add Content to a MyMaps File in Google Earth
You can easily add additional content to your project. Click to select the project, then add content such as a Placemark. If you selected the Keep data up to date with network link KML option when you exported your file, you won’t be able to add items to the existing folders that came over from MyMaps. However, you can add individual items or new folders by selecting the top-level project.
The beauty of working with the project file in Google Earth is that you can now add content from the Layers panel, some of which was not available to you in MyMaps. You can also add additional items from the Toolbar at the top of the Google Earth screen.
A free FamilySearch account gives you access to more historical records and customized site features than you’ll see if you don’t log in at this free genealogy website. Here’s why you should get a free FamilySearch account and log in EVERY time you visit the...