Was This My Ancestor’s Neighborhood? Using Google Earth for Genealogy

by Sunny Jane Morton

When Lisa blogged recently about Google Earth’s 10th birthday, it reminded me of something on my family history “to do” list. A few years ago I found a postcard of what I thought was an ancestor’s neighborhood. Could Google Earth confirm it?

Jones Street, Olyphant, PA, 1910. Image courtesy of Michael Grayson.

Lisa uses Google Earth’s powerful 3D renderings of the world’s streets to identify where old pictures were taken. I knew from deeds, a plat map, and addresses on censuses and draft registrations that the O’Hotnicky lived on a certain block of Jones St. (now named Grant St.), around the corner from and behind Holy Ghost church.

This postcard of “Jones Street, Olyphant” looks like its viewpoint is from the end of the block behind the church. This would mean the tall tree shown here was shading–and blocking our view of–the O’Hotnicky home.

I opened Google Earth and flew to “117 Grant St, Olyphant, PA.” The initial view, hovering from above, was promising. The camera icon shows where I thought the photo was taken. The left arrow points to the former line of trees, in front of the ancestral address. The right arrow points to the church tower behind.

Unfortunately, when I enter Street View at that exact spot, the new church on the corner and a tall apartment building block the view that would have been seen a century ago. There is no Street View available on Grant Street itself so I couldn’t move up the street toward the church. So I moved into Street View along the side street (parallel to the bottom of the photo).

In the opening between two buildings, Google Earth gave me a glimpse of the church tower. I compared the postcard view with Google Earth’s photo. The church towers look so similar: a simple cross on top, pointed copper roof, arched tower and the building roof line. Even more striking to me is the white frame house. Was this the same white house shown in the postcard view?

These two visuals taken together–the church tower profile and the position of the white house–seem consistent with my theory of where the photo was taken. Which means that yes, indeed, this 1910 postcard shows the trees in front of an ancestor’s home as they appeared 105 years ago.

Google Earth can fly you to an ancestor’s neighborhood–and whatever clues its current landscape gives you into the landscape of the past. Click here to watch Lisa’s free video about using Google Earth for genealogy!

 

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

Here’s our weekly roundup of interesting and new genealogy records online for Brazil, Denmark, England, Ireland and the U.S.

BRAZIL CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. Over 200,000 indexed records have been added to a free collection of Pernambuco, Brazil civil registrations (1804-2014) at FamilySearch.org.

DENMARK DEEDS AND MORTGAGES. FamilySearch.org has added nearly 3 million digitized images to its collection of browsable deeds and mortgages for South Jutland, Denmark (1572-1928).

ENGLAND COURT. Ancestry subscribers now have access to a new collection of Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914(1637-1914). According to the database description, these courts “had both a civil and a criminal jurisdiction, and before 1888 they also had an administrative function. Civil cases usually appear in the court’s order books and criminal cases in the indictment books.”

ENGLAND PROBATE. New Yorkshire, England, Probate Records, 1521-1858 are now available to Ancestry subscribers. These include wills, letters of administration and inventories.

ENGLAND TAX. About a quarter million land records are now included in FindMyPast’s database of Devon, Plymouth & West Devon Land Tax and Valuation Records 1897-1949. Use these to learn about an ancestor’s residence, property ownership and wealth.

IRELAND PARISH RECORDS. Ancestry has posted an Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915 from the National Library of Ireland. Access to this index is already free on Findmypast.

U.S. – AFRICAN-AMERICAN. About 35,000 indexed records and associated images have been added to a free collection of Freedmen’s Bureau marriages (1861-1872) at FamilySearch.org.

U.S. – ILLINOIS MARRIAGE. Nearly 200,00 total indexed marriage records for Illinois have been added to FamilySearch.org across three collections: church marriages, 1805-1985; civil marriages, 1833-1889 and county marriages, 1810-1934.

U.S. – MARYLAND CHURCH. A new collection of nearly 140,000 free, indexed records from a variety of Maryland churches (1668-1995) has been added to FamilySearch.org.

U.S. WAR OF 1812. 1.3 million indexed records have been added to a free United States War of 1812 Index to Service Records at FamilySearch.org.

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World War I Free Records this Week in New and Updated Records

With the 100th anniversary of America entering World War I, this week we’re shining the spotlight on an immense collection of important WWI records that are available for free at FamilySearch. Here are all the details from their recent press release:

FamilySearch Marks World War I Centennial with Free Historic Record Collections

Salt Lake City, Utah (4 April 2017), Did your ancestor serve in World War I? As the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I approaches, FamilySearch International is highlighting its free online collections of World War I records. Millions of free draft registration, service, and naturalization records online help fill in details about ancestors who served in the military during the conflict. April 6, 2017, will mark the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I.  Search the free collections at FamilySearch.org.

A century ago, the United States joined its allies to fight in World War I—the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars.” When the U.S. joined the war effort, battles had already raged in Europe for nearly three years between the Allies and the Central Powers.

World War I anniversary free records

Almost five million American military personnel marched to war under the command of General John Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force. More than 116,000 Americans died in the war—about half from the Spanish Flu pandemic that swept the globe in 1918, killing millions around the world. Nearly 30,000 American military died of the flu before they even got to France.

The country followed the news of the war, with many people supporting the war effort in industry, farming, and other ways as they waited anxiously for the return of their loved ones. On November 11, 1918, about a year and a half after the United States entered the war, Germany formally surrendered, and terms of peace were negotiated. The nation rejoiced as soldiers returned home to rejoin their families and normal lives. But their experiences helped shape their lives, their posterity, and the country.

As the country remembers that war, many families seek to document the stories of their ancestors and friends who participated in the conflict. The veterans of that conflict are gone now, but many Americans are still alive who listened to the stories told by their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of their families’ experience during World War I. Some have documents and old letters, but not everyone has such personalized memorabilia. They may find documents in FamilySearch’s searchable online collections to provide insights.

FamilySearch World War I Records Collections:

To find details about an ancestor’s military service, start with the Family History Research Wiki, which directs readers to related documents. Type World War I into the search box in the wiki. The results provide historical context to events during the war, suggestions of records that may provide World War I information, and links to records on other websites.

The most extensive collection on FamilySearch.org is the United States World War I Draft Registration Card collection, with nearly 25 million records. During the course of the war, the amount and kind of information required on draft cards changed, but draft registration cards typically included at least the registrant’s full name, home address, birth date, birthplace, marital status, occupation, physical description, and more.

In addition, many states have registration indexes and card collections that may include other information. For example, searchable state service-card collections on FamilySearch.org for:

provide information about service records, injuries, periods of service, place of birth, age at service or date of birth, units served with, and more for hundreds of thousands of military personnel.

FamilySearch.org has also published searchable images of World War I Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits from San Francisco, California. This collection of records has nearly 34,000 records that offer invaluable genealogical information about noncitizen families during the war, including birth location, countries of citizenship, children, siblings, extended family, educational level, date of arrival in the United States, occupation, languages spoken, a description and a photo of the registrant, and more.

The United States Index to Naturalizations in World War I Soldiers, 1918 offers both indexed information about citizens naturalized during the war and links to images of the actual records.

Census records provide further clues about military service. The 1920 census did not ask questions specific to military service, but the 1930 and 1940 censuses did. Searchable images of the census sheets are online at FamilySearch.org.

One less-known collection containing information about the World War I military comes in records from the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). This volunteer organization provided programs and supplies to support the troops, the sick and wounded, and prisoners of war. Family Search.org has 27,000 images from the YMCA World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919 collection that provide names, addresses, work, religious affiliation, and army service information.

The following World War I books can be found in FamilySearch’s digital book collection online:

Learn More About World War I for Genealogical Research

Here are three more Genealogy Gems articles to help you discover more about the impact of the Great War on your ancestors:

WWI History App in New and Updated Genealogical Collections
A WWI history app for genealogy leads our top picks for this week! History buffs are going to love Remembering WWI, an app that makes your WWI family history come alive. Also in this week’s new and updated genealogical collections, Swedish church records, Canadian marriage records, Pennsylvania naturalizations, and more.

3 Tips for Finding WWI Ancestors and Their Stories
How did World War I affect your family’s lives? Start your search with these 3 tips for finding WWI ancestors.

Europeana for Genealogy: WWI Digital Archive and More
A major part of Europeana is its World War I digital archive. As the site describes, Europeana “has been running World War I family history roadshows around Europe, helping to digitize people’s stories, documents and memorabilia from 1914-1918.

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