4 Steps for Using Google Earth for Genealogy

Use Google Earth for genealogy to find long-lost family locations on modern maps. Here’s how!family history google earth tour

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.

You can learn more about locating enumeration district maps in my article How to Find Enumeration District Maps.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members: log in and watch my Premium video 5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps featuring instruction for locating and using enumeration district maps.

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.

georeference historic map overlay in 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.Alvie Google Earth for genealogy problem

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.

google search

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.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members: Sign in and watch the Ultimate Google Search Strategies video class to learn more.

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 Maps to 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.

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:

google earth for genealogy

 

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!

FREE video: Get Started with Google Earth for Genealogy

Google Bundle! The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Second Edition PLUS  learn how to create your own historical map overlays in my Google Earth for Genealogy 2-video CD set.

Use Google Earth to Plot Your DNA Matches

 

 

How to Find Old Rural Addresses on a Map

Have you ever found an address for an ancestor but been disappointed that it is just a Route number and a town name? Have you wondered if it is possible to figure out where they actually lived? The good news is, it is! I’m going to show you how to take a rural “route” address from the early 20th century and find it on an old census enumeration district map. 

find old rural addresses on a map

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In a recent video I showed you how to find 1950 Census Enumeration District (ED) maps. These are super helpful and also free. In that video we used the address of an ancestor that we found by hunting through old letters and documents. But for many Americans in the early 20th century that address may have just been a route number and town.

That was the case for my viewer Lisa. She emailed me after she watched the video. She writes, “How can you find the E.D. number when you only have a Route number? My relatives lived in rural Arkansas.”

This is totally doable! Follow allow these steps of this case study and they will help you find the E.D. number and census enumeration district maps, and zero in on the location.

“Route 2” & Rural Delivery

A carrier route is basically the territory one letter carrier can cover on a daily basis. So, there could be a Route 1 or a Route 2 in thousands of places around the country. It just happens that your ancestor was on, say, Route 2 in a particular township area. Although it doesn’t tell us which house, it does dramatically narrow down the place because a daily route was the same and may not have been that large. Once we find that area we can then use other sources to help us try to get even more specific.

If you’re interested in some interesting history on early rural delivery routes read Riding a Rural Free Delivery Route, 1903.

Here’s a handy PDF download from the post office: Post Office: First Rural Routes by State.

Step 1: Gather the Details

The first thing we need to do is gather some details. We need:

  • The ancestors’ names
  • The Route number address which includes the town
  • The county – which is something we can easily find online with a quick search
  • The year – in this case the address she has is from 1950.

 So, here’s what Lisa sent me about her ancestors, the Blazers:

Names: Joseph Madison Blazer and Minnie Blazer
Route number: Route 2
Address: Frazier Pike
County: Pulaski

Joe and Minnie Blazer c1950

Joe and Minnie Blazer c1950 (Image courtesy of Lisa Egner.)

Step 2: Find the Family in the Census

Now we need to find the family in the census record closest to the date of the known address.

Since the 1950 census hasn’t been released yet because I’m recording this in Jan. of 2022, we can’t yet pull up their record. So, we’ll need to turn to the 1940 census. There’s a good chance that the family was in the same location since folks didn’t typically move around quite as much or as far as we do these days.

The 1940 census is available for free at many of the larger genealogy websites like FamilySearch and Ancestry.

Here’s the Blazer family in the 1940 census, and Lisa confirmed that she believes this is the same place.

census record

On the census record we are looking for three very important things:

  • the township (Badgett Township)
  • the ED number (60-2B)
  • and any address written along the left margin. If you don’t see anything, check the pages before and after that page. (Frazier Pike)

Step 3: Search for the Township

Once you have the location or township, search for them in an online map. I prefer to use Google Earth, but I often also use Google Maps. It doesn’t hurt to check both.

In this case we have two locations to look for: Badgett Township and Frazier Pike. We’ll start with the actual address which was Frazier Pike, Arkansas. Google Earth tell us that it’s a road just southeast of Little Rock, AR. When you click the pin it also tells you the current zip code for the Frazier Pike area, so we’ll make note of that. I’m like to create a project folder (Blazer Address) in my Places panel and then save the location pin in it. I will add additional items to the folder as I find them.

finding zip code in google earth

Click the pin to see the zip code.

Next, I’ll search for the other location found in the 1940 census, Badgett Township. It doesn’t appear in either Google Earth or Google Maps. That’s probably because it’s been renamed or incorporated. Googling may be able to help so I googled: badgett township arkansas history.

This led me to a website that provided several helpful clues. It says that Badgett is “historical”, meaning that it’s the old name of the town which has since changed. It also provides us with the latitude and longitude of Badgett which we can use in Google Earth to confirm it’s location.

Get a map website

Result: Latitude and Longitude from Get a Map 

Go back to Google Earth and enter the coordinates (34°42’10” N  92°12’0″ W) in the search box and press ENTER on your keyboard. 

google earth

The locations are very close.

And indeed, it’s very close to Frazier Pike.  (image above)

I also like to look at the image results when googling. The website results are organized by the most relevant images. When I ran a search on Badgett, AR, and click Images on the results page, I see that the first one showed a map showing Frazier Pike. So, they are nearly one and the same.

Another search result was the Home Town Locator website. It says “the Township of Badgett (historical) is a cultural feature (civil) in Pulaski County. The primary coordinates for Township of Badgett (historical) places it within the AR 72206 ZIP Code delivery area.” This confirms that it is historical, the coordinates pin the same place on the map, and the current zip code is the same.

I also ran a Google search for Route 2 Frazier Pike AR. The first result was College Station, AR mentioned in Wikipedia.

A quick Find on the page search (Alt + F) for Route 2 jumps me to a nice bit of history.

In the section discussing schoolhouses we get a description of the route: “…located in the main red-dirt road called Route 2 in Pulaski County. Route 2 is now known as Frazier Pike.”

Step 4: Find the ED Map for the Closest Census

Next, we turn our attention to the enumeration district or ED number we found on the 1940 census. As you’ll recall, 1940 is the closest available census record to the date of the address, and we found Lisa’s ancestors in that record in Badgett, AR which we now know is the Frazier Pike area in Pulaski county. On that record it says: Badgett Township. ED 60-2B.

 We could google for the year of the census and the words enumeration district map. However, there’s a great free tool for finding them over at Steve Morse’s One-Step Tools website at stevemorse.org.

In the menu under U.S. Census select the Unified 1880-1950 Census ED Finder, select the year at the top of the page. In this case we will select 1940. Next, enter the state (Arkansas) and county (Pulaski). You can then select the city or town. However, in the case of rural addresses, don’t expect to find the town listed. If it offers you an “Other” option you can try and type the name of the town (Badgett) in the field provided. Don’t bother entering the route number (Route 2) because that’s not a street address, it’s a postal delivery address.

We could also run this same search on the 1950 census. Chances are you will see more ED numbers listed because the population was growing. Since an enumeration district had to be the size that one enumerator could cover in about a two week timeframe, they were often redivided as they decades went by.

Since we know from the 1940 census that township was in existence, we should receive a list of ED numbers as a result. In this case we got three: 60-2A, 60-2B. and 60-3.

steve morse census unified

Click the corresponding ED number.

Click the linked ED number that matches the one you found in the census record. In this case, the 1940 census record told us that the Blazer family was in ED 60-2B, so we click that link.

The next page lists each ED. Click the View link for the ED.

census ED numbers

Click the View link.

The View link will take you to the exact page for that ED in the ED Descriptions from the National Archives T1224 microfilm from Record Group 29. This description helps even further define the area.

1940 census description

1940 Census ED Description

60-2 A and B says, “Badgett Township – That part north of section line beginning at the southwest corner of section 19, Township 1 North, Range 11 and extending due east to township line. Show separately College Station (unincorporated.)”

This is perfect because its’ giving us the township, range and section! We can use this information to plot it in Google Earth.

How to plot a land description in Google Earth with Earthpoint:

  1. Go to earthpoint.us
  2. Under USA Utilities click Search by Description
  3. Enter the state, principal meridian (in this case there’s only one choice here thankfully), township, range and section numbers from the census description.
  4. Click the Fly to on Google Earth button.
  5. This may open automatically in Google Earth or you may be prompted to save the file to your computer. Do that and then click it to open. It is a KMZ file so it will automatically open in Google Earth.

And here are the results! The location is mapped out for you.

land description plotted

Census description mapped in Google Earth.

Notice I still have my placemark pins for the approximate location of Frazier Pike, and the center of Badgett Twp which we got using the latitude and longitude coordinates. Section 19 is outlined in purple, and the township is outlined in orange.

Since Frazier Pike is a road, turn on Roads in the Layers panel.  Now we can see that Frazier Pike is running north and south and our pin is right on top of it.

Now we can use the census description to further zero in on the area. “Badgett Township – That part north of section line beginning at the southwest corner of section 19 Township 1 North, Range 11 and extending due east to township line. Show separately College Station (unincorporated.)”

Mark that in Google Earth using the Path tool.  Click the Path button in the toolbar at the top oof Google Earth. Click on the southwest corner of section 19 (outlined in purple) and then go east and click the township line (in orange.) Give your path a title and click OK.

google earth path tool

Click the Path button in the tool bar.

Next in the census description, on the same line as “B” it says “Show separately College Station (unincorporated.)” We can find College Park by searching for College Station, AR in the Google Earth search box.

Next, we want to follow Frazier Pike going north until we are above the section line that started in the southwest corner of Section 19. Use the Path tool again to mark it on the map.

rural route address mapped

Use the path tool to draw lines in Google Earth.

Get the Enumeration District Map

Now it’s time to head back to Steve Morse’s website and get the ED map for 1940. On the page you started your search, click the See ED Maps for… button.

one step tool ed maps

Click the See ED Maps button.

On the next page select the state, county and city again and click the Get ED Map Images button.

get ed maps at steve morse

Click the Get ED Map Images button.

This will take you to a list of all of the available maps. The first link will take you to the National Archives webpage where you can look through all the maps for the area you selected. You could also look through all the individual maps by clicking each of the links listed under “Direct links to jpegs on NARA server”. However, I don’t recommend that will take longer because they are extremely large image files. It’s easier to quickly look through them on the NARA website.

get census maps at steve morse

Click the Link to NARA viewer.

Click the link to the NARA viewer and look for the township name in the map thumbnail images. In this case I’m looking for Badgett. You can do this quickly by clicking each image and then drag the larger map in the viewer around with your mouse. I found Badgett Township in the second map.

Census ED maps at NARA

Map images at NARA.

Download the full-sized map by selecting the thumbnail image and then clicking the download button (down arrow.) The full resolution map will load in your web browser. Right-click on it and Save Image As to save it to your computer.

how to download census ED map

Right-click on the map to save it to your computer.

It can help to create a map overlay in Google Earth using this map. (Learn how to do this in the newest edition of my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.) I cropped the image to just include Badgett Twp.

In fact, you can overlay both the 1940 and 1950 ED maps. Click to select a map in the Places panel and then you can use the transparency slide to fade it to reveal changes.

opacity slider google earth

Select the map and use the opacity slider in Google Earth.

Step 5: Follow the Census

The census can provide even more clues about where in an enumeration district an address was located. Using the census record and the census description of the enumeration district, it can help to highlight the area of the map. In this case, ED 60-2 is “that part north of section line” which I marked with a red path line. The Blazers address was Frazier Pike (which I marked with a green line), so this eliminated the northern area and the Fourche Dam Pike road.  To make sure that I could eliminate that area, I verified in the 1940 census that Fourche Dam Pike was enumerated separately by running a keyword search of the Pulaski County census records at Ancestry. And yes, indeed folks living along Fourche Dam Pike were enumerated separately and the road was written along the margin just as Frazier Pike was. This gives me a lot of confidence that I’m identifying the right area.

highlight the rural route address on a map

The route highlighted on the census ED map.

As you can see, there are little black squares and other markings on the map. To find out what each of those means we can turn back to the National Archives and download the page from this map collection that includes the map key.

The black squares are “Farm Units”. A farm unit square is not one family , it is the entire farm, including the owner and other families who may live and work on the farm. We also see businesses, churches, the town hall, school houses and more. We may not be able to find the exact home, but it’s possible to get very close. To do that, we need to head back to the census records themselves.

On Ancestry.com , the Blazers appear on Image 27. The filmstrip makes it easy to quickly scan through the images and browse them.

In this case, there are about 33 images or pages in ED 60-2B. The enumerator would start at one end of Frazier Pike and then make her way to the other. The enumerator wrote “College Station Pike” on pages 1 and 2. That isn’t a road today, and I couldn’t find any references to with a quick search. However, all of the other pages say, “Frazier Pike”. My guess would be that the census taker started on the west side – the hub of College Pike – and made her way east. Census enumerators visited homes and farms in a logical path, although they may have criss-crossed back and forth across the road. They listed the order in which they visited on the census form itself. In cities we might also see house numbers listed, but that’s not the case in a rural area. However, you may see pencil dots with visitation numbers written on the ED map. They were instructed to do this in rural areas in the census enumerator instructions in 1940. Unfortunately, the person enumerating 60-2B did not.

We could also look at the types of businesses and buildings shown on the map, and then look through the census records at occupations. We see a “factory/industrial” building to the east so we would look for people working in that environment in the census and see where they are living. We see a denser population in College Station along with a schoolhouse and two churches, so it would be worth looking through the census pages to see where the school teacher and pastors are listed. Folks may not have lived on the premises, but it would make sense they lived near their work.

Wedding photo Joseph Madison Blazer Minnie Mae Peterscolor

Wedding photo Joseph Madison Blazer Minnie Mae Peters (courtesy of Lisa Egner)

And finally, we want to look for renters and owners. If a family rented, a capital “R” was entered on the census. Those who owned their property were listed with a capital “O”. Since the black squares are “Farm Units” we wouldn’t expect to see a square on the map for every house. If our hypothesis is that the enumerator started on the west side, we could count the number of owned dwellings listed in the census until we get to the family living in question. Then we would count them on the map, going east. Again, it’s not exact, but it’s a whole lot more than what we knew about the address Route 2 Frazier Pike when we started!

Resources

New FamilySearch Indexing Website Launches

Are you a FamilySearch indexer, or have you considered joining this worldwide volunteer effort? FamilySearch has just launched a new website that’s familysearch indexing eventall about making indexing EASIER.

If you’re already an indexer, here are the highlights of the new site, according to FamilySearch:

  • Getting started with indexing just got easier. With an easy-to-navigate Overview page and an all-new Get Started page, the new website is the perfect introduction to indexing.
  • Looking for more indexing help? Check out the completely redesigned resource guide. Now called Help Resources, this page guides you to the help you need.
  • Find projects you want faster. In the old indexing website, you had to scroll through over 200 projects, now you can click on an interactive map and filter the project list based on language and country.

But wait, there’s more! According to FamilySearch, “The change in the indexing website is just the first step in a total redesign and improvement of the indexing experience. The coming year will see the all-new indexing program become more integrated with FamilySearch.org, bringing indexing to your Internet browser, enabling indexing on tablet devices, and much more.”

They plan to announce more at RootsTech next month, where there will be a session on FamilySearch indexing and where the FamilySearch booth will have hands-on opportunities to try out the new system. (Haven’t registered for RootsTech yet? Register here! Early-bird pricing has been extended until Monday, Jan. 27.)

 

P.S. WHY INDEX?

Indexers for FamilySearch have already generated more than a billion names that are free to search at FamilySearch.org. The company’s press release points out that improvements to the indexing site have in the past accelerated the pace of indexing and they expect that to happen over the coming year, too.

 

Here’s my favorite tip for the researcher who wants a little more out of indexing for themselves. Use indexing to become more familiar with different record types. Do a few batches of naturalization records, border crossings, church registers, etc., from different places or time periods, and you’ll quickly become more familiar with that record type. You’ll also become more adept at reading old handwriting, picking out the genealogical details from the legalese and other skills that will help you in your own research.

Google Drive: A Challenger to Dropbox and Evernote

Google Drive Packs Powerful PunchGoogle Drive is giving some of their competitors a run for their money. This free google tool is just what genealogists are looking for to create, consolidate, and organize their files.

I have been using Google Drive for about a year now. I upload my family photos, GEDCOMs, and my family history notes to the drive. I love the ease in which I can save these things to the cloud and rest knowing my hard work is safely backed up. You can imagine my excitement when our Google expert, Lisa Louise Cooke, shared her new premium video: All About Google Drive. There is so much more I didn’t know Google Drive could do!

Lisa shares ten benefits to using Google Drive and how it packs a powerful punch. Used as a file hosting service, Google Drive can offer you more free storage than Dropbox. Further, Google Drive may be a viable competitor to Evernote for several reasons. You can store files, create files, and edit them all via Google Drive. What’s even better is that Google Drive works across all different computing devices like PC, Mac, Windows, Android, and Apple. This means that syncing and accessing it all has never been easier.

Getting More from Google Drive

But wait, there’s more! Just when you thought you have heard it all, Lisa shares the power of the companion tool, Google Docs, to create documents, drawings, forms, and more. Haven’t had the money to purchase Microsoft Office yet? Not a problem! Google Docs is free to use. Lisa walks you through how to create and save a document and other files by using Google Docs. It is so easy!

Google Drive and Google Docs

You will continue to be amazed at the Google Extensions that are available from the Google Store. I had no idea there were so many. I was particularly excited to hear how I could easily save and clip items from webpages. Imagine finding a digital image of your great-grandmother’s obituary you want to save. How do you do that without having to save the whole page? There’s a Google Extension for that!

Google Drive, Google Docs, and the many extensions available really pack a powerful punch. Watch All About Google Drive to learn more about these knock-out features!

The Genealogy Gems Premium website members have exclusive access to all our full length video tutorials on topics ranging from research strategies to technology tools. They also have access to the full audio archive of The Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast. Click here to learn more about The Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.

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More Gems on Google Drive and Tools

How to Use Google to Search for Family History & Genealogy

7 Free Google Search Features Every Genealogist Should UseGoogle Drive and other tips

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