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!
Using YouTube for genealogy can be so effective partly because of who owns YouTube: Google!
In 2006, Google acquired YouTube, a video-sharing website, not long after it was launched. Ten years later, YouTube claims the attention of a billion people around the world: a third of all internet users. At last count, more than 300 hours of video footage are uploaded every minute to the site.
Why should genealogists care? For the same reason Susan Wojcicki wanted to buy YouTube. She was supervising Google Video acquisitions at the time of the purchase and is now the CEO of YouTube. According to this article, she watched the video shown below of teenage boys lip-syncing to a famous boy band. She doesn’t admit whether she enjoyed their groove, but she did say, “That was the video that made me realize that ‘Wow, people all over the world can create content, and they don’t need to be in a studio.'” Check it out–then keep reading.
Yes, YouTube makes it possible for anyone to share videos of all kinds, including genealogy-friendly content like:
Original footage of events all the way back to the invention of the movie camera.
Family history documentaries created by users that may include your family.
Instructional videos that will help you become a better researcher, create a family heirloom, or learn the latest genealogy software.
Video tours of archives, libraries, and other repositories that will help you prepare for and get the most out of your visit.
Interviews with genealogy experts and vendors.
Entertaining videos that add enjoyment to one of the world’s most popular hobbies.
Your family in other family’s home movies.
EVEN BETTER, Google’s acquisition of YouTube means you can use the same powerful search methodologies you use for Google searches to find YouTube content you want.
Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton didn’t really believe me when she read the YouTube chapter in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Then she tried it. She discovered a 1937 film news reel showing her husband’s great-grandfather driving his fire engine! (Click here to read about her discovery and about how she’ll never doubt me again, ha ha!)
Why not take five minutes now to see what YOU can find on YouTube for genealogy?
1. Look again at the list above or click here to read more details about family history content on YouTube. Choose a family line, location, brick wall, display or craft idea to search for.
3. Browse results. If you don’t find anything useful, widen your search or come at it from a different angle.
4. Try additional topics. Certainly DON’T give up after one search! Sunny’s discovery was made on her second topic–less than five minutes after trying a first topic and realizing she didn’t know enough about that family to recognize their lives in the cool footage she was finding. Instead, she searched YouTube for a man she knew a lot about-enough to recognize him in a video that didn’t name him.
To learn more in-depth how to use YouTube for genealogy, I invite you to read my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. The YouTube chapter helped Sunny find amazing family footage in less than five minutes–see what it can do for you!
Are you using YouTube to help research and share your family history? You should be! Here are 6 practical ways and several online resources to help you do that.
YouTube is the world’s most popular online video channel and the second-largest search engine in the world. It’s now owned by Google. That means you can harness the power and flexibility of Google searching to find exactly what you’re looking for on YouTube.
Can you use YouTube for family history? Yes, in so many ways! A recent YouTube search for “genealogy” brought up 124,000 results, and “family history” brought up just slightly less. The ways you’ll use YouTube for family history are a little different than the ways you might use other search engine and “big data” genealogy websites, since every result you’re looking for is a video. But because video is such a powerful tool, when you do find something you need, it can often become one of your most valuable finds on that topic.
6 Ways to Use YouTube for Family History
Think about how to apply your own family history research to each of these ways to use YouTube for family history. Check out the many linked examples we’ve shared elsewhere on our site for more tips and inspiration:
#1 Learn more about your ancestor’s world.
Search for major historical events, images of an old ancestral town, and information about clubs, businesses, and other topics that impacted your ancestors’ lives. Was there a disaster? Find footage, like from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (that’s my own YouTube playlist because it has relevance to my ancestors), the Johnstown, PA flood of 1889 (which Contributing Editor Sunny Morton’s ancestors survived), or a disaster like this ship overturning. Click here to read a blog post by a Genealogy Gems podcast listener who hit pay dirt with historical footage on her ancestor’s town.
#2 Find your ancestors in action.
Ever since the Internet came on the scene, genealogists have been searching online for photos (or for the distant cousins possessing photos) of their family. Apply this strategy to YouTube and video. You might find them on-the-job, out-and-about in the community, or the subject of a historical news reel.Click hereto read about the stunning footage Contributing Editor Sunny Morton found on her husband’s great-grandfather.
#3 Get quick answers to specific genealogy research questions.
Got a pressing question on how to fix your Ancestry tree, or how to create crafty family history gifts? Videos on YouTube not only supply answers, but show you how. For example:
#4 Participate in online genealogy conferences from the comfort of home.
Not everyone has the time or money to attend a genealogy conference. Conference organizers understand this and are harnessing the power of online video to bring key content to users where they are.
To get started, check out the videos that feature popular conference speakers and the conference experience from channels like SCGS (Jamboree) by searching SCGS genealogy and NGS by searching NGS Genealogy in the YouTube search box or app.
#5 Make and share your own family history videos right on YouTube.
Click here to read some free tips on how to make a totally shareable video. Click here to learn more about a podcast episode and video that offer more in-depth instructions on creating a great family history video. Here are some examples of family history videos I’ve created and posted on YouTube:
#6 Learn new craft techniques and display ideas for sharing your family history.
Get crafty and creative with project ideas found on YouTube! Search for keywords such as photos, shadow boxes, quilting, scrapbooking, etc. I’ve set up a special playlist on the Genealogy Gems Channel called Family History Craft and Display Projects that is chock full of videos to get you started. Search “GenealogyGems” in the YouTube app or click here to go directly to the playlist. Recently I posted a new YouTube video that captures some highlights of projects I’ve created. You can also read Genealogy Gems blog posts that recommend YouTube videos for specific craft ideas like making a photo quilt or a message in a bottle.
Here’s a tip: When you find a YouTube channel you like, click the Subscribe button. This will set you up to be notified of new videos from that channel as soon as they are published. (Sign in to YouTube with your free Google account).
How to Get the Most Out of YouTube for Family History
Learn how to get the most out of YouTube for family history in my bookThe Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. There’s an entire chapter on YouTube! You’ll learn how to navigate your way through YouTube; conduct the best searches for videos; how to create a custom YouTube channel, playlists and home page; how to like and share videos; how to upload your own videos and more.
Google your family history with Genealogy Gems! Google has a great collection of free online search tools–all powered by the same Google search engine–that can help you discover your family history. In this new Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning video,...