Use Google Earth for genealogy to find long-lost family locations on modern maps. Here’s how!
It can be very surprising to discover that you lived somewhere that you never knew you lived. That was the case for Professional genealogist Alvie Davidson, who recently wrote to me. He’d done some fantastic sleuthing on his own recent family history, and discovered that his family had lived in Huntsville, Alabama when he was a toddler. “This is the first I have even known they lived in Madison County, AL.” But he was not sure about how to use Google Earth to help him locate the family addresses he’d discovered.
“I have learned from the U S Government that my parents lived at (three) different addresses in Huntsville, Madison County, AL when I was a toddler in 1944….I never knew we lived in Huntsville but I learned my mother worked for munitions productions during World War II at Redstone Arsenal. She worked several months toward the end of 1944 and had to quit due to onset of pregnancy. We moved to Florida shortly after she left employment at Redstone Arsenal because we show up on the 1945 Florida State Census.”
Alvie sent me three family addresses. Then he asked for some step-by-step help instructions on how to put Google Earth to work to identify their location today.
4 Steps to Revealing More with Google Earth
1. Search each address in Google Earth. Enter the address in the search box in the upper left corner of Google Earth. If you get a hit, mark it with a placemark (clicking the button that looks like a push pin in Google Earth’s toolbar) and name it. In this case I found two of the three street addresses.
2. Locate a map of the area for the appropriate time period. With a little Google searching, I found the 1940 census enumeration map for Huntsville at the National Archives website. Here’s what that map looks like. (Image right) I then went in search of each of the three addresses on the map.
In this case, I conducted a block-by-block search of the 1940 enumeration district map for the missing address: 110 Winston Street. Unfortunately, not all the street names were clearly legible on this particular map, and I was unable to locate it.
3. Overlay and georeference the enumeration district map in Google Earth to compare the past to the present.Georeference just means to match up known landmarks on the historic map with physical locations on the modern-day map, thereby allowing you to match the two maps up together. By so doing, I was able to locate on the enumeration district map the modern-day locations of the two addresses that I found using Google Earth.
There are businesses in both locations today. Below right is a screen shot showing the current location of one of those addresses. Clearly no longer the old family home.
4. Dig deeper for addresses that have changed. As I mentioned previously, I searched for the 110 Winston Street address in Google Earth with no result. If that happens to you, remove the house number and run a second search on the street name alone. Numbers can change, but it is important to verify whether the street still exists today.
In this case, Google Earth did not locate a Winston Street in Huntsville, AL. Knowing that errors and typos can happen to the best of us, I ran a quick Google search for Huntsville, AL city directories, and verified that indeed Winston Street did exist at that time in history. So, at some point between 1940 and today, the name appears to have been changed.
I headed back to Google and ran the following search query:
“winston street” “huntsville alabama”
The quotation marks tell Google that each exact phrase must appear in all search results. The phrases will appear in bold in the snippet descriptions of each result.
The result above caught my eye because it mentions the “Winston Street Branch Library.” Even when street names change, buildings named for those streets often don’t. However, in this case, the website discusses the history of the library, and the Winston Street Elementary School. According to the website, the library “became a part of the Huntsville Public Library (now Huntsville-Madison County Public Library) in 1943. In 1947, the branch was renamed the Dulcina DeBerry Library.” Perhaps the street was renamed at that time as well.
Jumping back into Google Earth I entered “Winston Street Branch Library” in the search box, and was immediately taken to the location, which is just south of the other two known addresses! At this point I would recommend to Alvie, who is a Genealogy Gems Premium Member, to watch my video class Best Websites for Finding Historical Mapsto track down additional maps from the time frame that may have Winston Street clearly marked on the map.
Once I identified this landmark, I then marked the location with a placemark. You can turn off the 1940 enumeration district map overlay by unchecking the box next to it in the Places Panel. Doing this revealed the location on the modern day map. Finally, I headed to the Layers panel and clicked the box next to the “Roads” overlay to reveal the modern day street names.
You can use this technique when you have more success than I did in finding an old address on an old map. Overlay the map, position a placemark on the location, and then turn the overlay off. With one click of the Roads layer you can now see the current street name for the old location you found on the map overlay.
Further digging online did deliver additional maps from the era and area:
We all have locations in our family history that have given way over time to new buildings and parking lots. By using the power of Google Earth, Google search, and historic maps, they don’t have to be lost forever.
Get Started with Google Earth for Genealogy
Learn all these Google skills–with step-by-step tutorials and video demonstrations–in Lisa’s book and Google Earth video tutorial. Click here for a special price on the bundle!
In this episode, I’ll share a moving family history video, inspired by a listener’s Where I’m From poem. We’ll also discuss RootsTech news, talk to author Sylvia Brown, and Michael Strauss will explain the difference between different kinds of military service: regulars, volunteers and militia in Military Minutes. Listen here or through the Genealogy Gems app.
The Genealogy Gems Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
NEWS: HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR TO KEYNOTE ROOTSTECH
Click here to read about all RootsTech keynote speakers
Click here to hear Lisa Louise Cooke’s conversation with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in the Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 133
To gain a better understanding of what life in the military was like for your ancestors, it is essential to know in what capacity someone may have served. Did your ancestor serve in the regulars, or was he a volunteer soldier, or did he have service with the local militia?
These terms are generally associated with the records of the United States Army. The other branches enlisted men using different terminology.
Because of his age he wasn’t able to enlist until 1865 when he turned 18. He was a volunteer soldier who served as a substitute for another man who was drafted.
After his discharge, he again enlisted in the Regular Army in 1866. He was assigned to the 13th U.S. Infantry, where he served one month before deserting at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.
Samuel was married in 1867 (this may have some relevance to his decision to leave the military). He lived in Pennsylvania from the end of the war until his death in 1913. Shown here in 1876, Lebanon, PA.
Both his Regular and Volunteer Army enlistment forms are included here, along with the above photograph of Samuel with his wife circa 1876 from an early tintype. The forms look very similar, as each contains common information asked of a typical recruit. However they are decidedly different as the one covers his Civil War service and the other his post war service when he joined the regular Army after the men who served during the war would have been discharged.
Learn more about the Where I’m From poetry project and hear a conversation with the original author, Kentucky poet laureate George Ella Lyon in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 185.
Hannah’s Animoto Advice:
You’ll find when using the video templates, timing the photos to the narration can pose some challenges. Originally, when she put the photos in place and “previewed” the video, the narration didn’t line up at all with the images. Hannah explains: “When I was in “creator” mode, I selected a picture that I wanted to appear on the screen for a longer duration then I clicked the “spotlight” button that is on the left-hand side in the editor column. Or If you double click the image, it will open into a larger single view and you can select the “star” button which will do the same thing. I applied this spotlight option to several photos within my gallery. I knew which photos to do this to by previewing the video several times to make sure I liked the timing of it all.
Now if your problem is not with just a few photos but the overall timing, then try editing the pace of your photos. In the top right-hand corner, click the “edit song/trim and pacing” button. Here you can trim you uploaded mp3 audio as well as the pace to which your photos appear. My photos appeared too fast on the screen in comparison to the narration I had, so I moved the pace button to left by one notch and previewed the video. This did the trick and the result was a heart-warming poem, turned into a visually beautiful story.”
Do you have a darn good reason to take action right now to get your family history in front of your family? Perhaps:
a video of the loving couples in your family tree for Valentine’s Day
a video of your family’s traditional Easter Egg hunt through the years
a tribute to the mom’s young and old in your family on Mother’s Day
your child’s or grandchild’s graduation
a video to promote your upcoming family reunion to get folks really visualizing the fun they are going to have
Or perhaps it’s the story of a genealogy journey you’ve been on where you finally busted a brick wall and retrieved an ancestor’s memory from being lost forever.
5 Steps to Jump-Starting Your Video Project
Pick one family history topic
Write the topic in one brief sentence ? the title of your video
Select 12 photos that represent that topic.
On a piece of paper, number it 1 ? 12 and write one brief sentence about each photo that convey your message. You don’t have to have one for every photo, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Scan the photos if they aren’t already and save them to one folder on your hard drive.
And now you are in great shape to take the next step and get your video made in a way that suits your interest, skill, and time.
4 Easy Methods for Creating Video Update 2022: Adobe Spark Video is now part of and called Adobe Creative Cloud Express. Some or all of the features may require a subscription.
Got an iPhone? iOS 10 now has “Memories” a feature of your Photos app that can instantly create a video of a group of related photos.
There’s the free Adobe Spark Video app now called Adobe Express which can you can add photos, video clips and text to, pick a theme and a music track from their collection, and whip up something pretty impressive in a very short time. Visit your device’s app store or Adobe Express. Watch my video How to Make a Video with Adobe Spark (Premium Membership required)
There’s Animotowhich does everything that Spark does, but gives you even more control over the content, and most importantly the ability to download your video in HD quality. You can even add a button to the end that the viewer can tap and it will take them to a website, like your genealogy society website, a Facebook group for your family reunion or even a document on FamilySearch.
And finally, if you have the idea, and pull together the photos, you can book Hannah at Genealogy Gems to create a video with your content. Go to GenealogyGems.com and scroll to the Contact form at the bottom of the home page to request ordering information.
The most important thing is that your family history can be treasured and shared so that it brings joy to your life today, and also, to future generations. The thing is, if your kids and grandkids can see the value of your genealogy research, they will be more motivated to preserve and protect it.
PREMIUM INTERVIEW: SYLVIA BROWN
In Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #155, publishing later this month, Sylvia Brown (of the family connected to Brown University) will join Lisa Louise Cooke to talk about researching her new book, Grappling with Legacy, which traces her family’s involvement in philanthropy, Rhode Island history and the institution of slavery hundreds of years. A Kirkus review of this book calls it “an often riveting history of a family that left an indelible impact on the nation.”
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer
Hannah Fullerton, Production Assistant
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
Disclosure: These show notes contain affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting this free podcast and blog!
AUDIO PODCAST SHOW NOTES: Get the very latest on the major update Google has made to Bard, and the answer to the question “Should I use Bard, ChatGPT, or any of the other chatbots for genealogy research?” I’ve got some surprising answers for you!
Listen to the Podcast Episode
To Listen click the media player below (AUDIO ONLY):
Fort Wayne, Indiana is the home of the second-largest free genealogy library in the country. Make plans today to visit one of my favorite genealogy libraries!
Learn more at https://www.visitfortwayne.com