Using Google Earth to Research Your Ancestors’ Neighborhood

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 22 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: August 20, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. 

Please note: As is often the case with technology, sometimes things just don’t work like you think they will. As it turns out, items displayed clearly on my computer in Google Earth were not displaying in the live stream or captured on the video. Don’t worry, if you ever want to create a digital movie of your Google Earth maps, Google Earth has a video recording feature built in so this won’t happen. However, I did everything in this episode live and in real-time through live stream which apparently was at the root of the problem. Keep reading, because I have all the notes for you on what we covered, as well as screen shot images of everything that did not appear on the screen in the video!

Using Google Earth to Capture Your Ancestors’ Neighborhood

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and we are going to have some fun exploring one of my ancestors’ neighborhoods. Along the way I think you’ll pick up some interesting ideas on how you can explore your ancestors’ lives in a deeper way by getting to know their neighbors.

While you may not find it worthwhile to create a project like this for every family in your family tree, it could prove very helpful for:

  • writing a story
  • writing a family history blog post or article
  • writing a book
  • creating a family history story video
  • teaching kids about the family history
  • satisfying your curiosity!

We see our ancestors’ neighborhoods when we review census records. But have you ever wondered what was life really like in their neighborhood? This project can answer questions such as:

  • Did they live close together?
  • Did they share the same backgrounds?
  • Did any of them work together?
  • Did they have things in common?
  • Were there a lot of children on the street?

The Google Earth Neighborhood Project

The genealogy project I’m creating in Google Earth in this video is the neighborhood of my great grandparents who lived in San Francisco from 1900-1912. Now, don’t be discouraged if your ancestors were farmers. Remember, everyone has neighbors and a community. Every community has records.

All the techniques covered in this video are covered in detail in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox available here. 

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Available in the Genealogy Gems Store

The family: Charles Allen & Ellen Burkette

The Census: The 1910 U.S. Federal Census tells us that they lived at 288 Connecticut Street, San Francisco, CA.

Most of their close neighbors, don’t appear on the same page with them. Instead, the neighbors of Connecticut Street appear on the previous page. Always look at the pages before and after the page where you find your ancestor. Often you will find other relatives, close friends, and other people with connections to your family.

For this project we will need the free Google Earth Pro software. Although Google Earth is available in a Web version and an app, these do not include all of the same tools. I always use the software. If you already have Google Earth, check to see if you have the most recent version.

You will also need an a good internet connection to operate Google Earth.

Follow along with the video with the notes below.

Rumsey Historical Maps

In the Layers panel, turn on Rumsey Historical Maps in the Gallery by clicking to check the box. Gold medallion icons will appear on the map. Hover your mouse over the icons to see the title and date. Click the select a map. In the pop-up box, click the thumbnail image of the historic map to automatically overlay it.

The map will be listed in the Temporary Places at the bottom of the Places panel. You can click drag and drop it to any location within the Places panel. 

Videos in Placemarks

Videos before and after the great earthquake of 1906 (See Images) Add videos from YouTube to placemarks by copying the Share embed code and pasting it into the Description area of the placemark.

Video displayed in a Google Earth placemark

Historical YouTube video displayed in a Google Earth placemark.

Map Overlays

Click the box to activate items like the custom map overlay I created using the 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Connecticut Street. Learn how to create map overlays in episode 6 of my Google Earth for Genealogy video tutorial series.

how to use google earth for genealogy

Digital download video tutorial series available in the Genealogy Gems store.

Search for Addresses

Search for addresses like 288 Connecticut, San Francisco in the search box in the upper right corner of Google Earth.

Add Placemarks in Google Earth

Set a placemark for a home by clicking the Placemark icon (yellow pushpin) in the toolbar the top of the screen.

Use Street View to Get a Closer Look

Visit the street up close and person with Street View. Click on the Street View icon in the upper right corner, drag it over to the map, and drop it on the blue line.

Add Photos to Placemarks

Photos can be embedded into placemarks, such as the photo of my Grandpa and his father (See Image) 

Old family photo displayed in Google Earth placemark

Photo of my grandather being held by his father displayed in a Google Earth placemark.

and the photo of my Great Grandfather next to his streetcar. (See Image)

Placemark in the Places panel displaying a photo

Click the placemark to display the photo.

If you add images from your computer, they will only appear when the map is viewed in Google Earth on your computer. If you host the image in cloud on a photo sharing site or your own website, you will be able to share your map file with other people and they will be able to view the images. 

Plot Where Your Ancestors Lived Using Placemarks

Search for each family address and mark the locations with placemarks. 

3D Models in Google Earth 

3D models (like the streetcar I showed) are created by other Google Earth users and are available online. The HTML code is pasted into a placemark. (You can learn more about this in episode 13 of my Google Earth for Genealogy video tutorial series.

Search for Neighbors

Search for the addresses of neighbors you find in the census and other records.

Census photo displayed in Google Earth placemark

The census image displayed in a Google Earth placemark.

In this case I searched for the address I found for Bertin & Lenora Hall (293 Connecticut.) Bertin was a locomotive engineer, born in the United State, and they were renting their home.)

Add a Folder to the Google Earth Places Panel 

You can add folders to help keep your items organized in the Places panel by right-clicking on MyPlaces, and selecting Add > New Folder. Name the folder as desired, and then drag and drop it to the desired location in the Places

Use Historical Maps from a Variety of Years

Comparing the locations with maps from various years helps you see the evolution of the neighborhood. Notice that some maps don’t line up exactly with the modern map. This is due to inaccuracies often found in old maps.

Add Country of Origin Icons

We can learn more about the makeup of the neighborhood by designating their country of origin. Some neighborhoods may be predominately filled with many people from the same country or even village. Others, like my Great Grandfather’s neighborhood, were quite diverse:

Burkett – U.S.
Hall – U.S.
Dunne – Ireland
Becker – German
Harrington – England
Crawford – Scotland
McTiernan – Irish
Rutherford – Canada
Geib – Germany

Customize Placemark Icons

Add custom icon images to represent the family’s country of origin. Images around 40 px x 40 px work well. (Premium Members click here to download the icons I used.)

Customizing the placemark icon

Customizing the placemark icon in Google Earth

The Google Earth Opacity Slider

Use the Opacity slider to make a map overlay being displayed more transparent. Start by clicking the space just below the map in the Places panel in order to select it. Then click the Opacity button at the bottom of the Places Slide the slider to change the transparency.

Add Details to the Placemark Description

I typed information into the Description area of my placemarks such as their occupation, fully street address and country of origin. Typically the first two lines of text will be visible in the Places Click the placemark to open and read or add all of the information desired.

Researching and Recording Occupations

Explore old maps, city directories, county histories and other resources to locate possible places of employment. You can then mark each location with a placemark. I used the “wrench” icon to represent work.

Search for Locations

Where did David Rutherford work? I searched for “Cannery San Francisco” and sure enough Google Earth found a site in the northern part of the city.

The Neighborhood School

Let’s not forget the children – I marked the school attended by my grandfather and a photo of him with his classmates. (See Image Below)

Old family photo - Grandpa and his school mates

My grandpa and his school mates c. 1911.

The Future of the Neighborhood

The neighborhood continued to grow well after they left as revealed by another David Rumsey historic map from 1938 found in the Layers Panel > Gallery.

Resources for this Episode

How to get better Google search results faster – Episode 13 Elevenses with Lisa

Episode 13 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: June 25, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

 

The first 4 minutes of the video is the “Waiting Room.” This welcomes viewers and counts down to the start of the live show.

Today’s Topic: How to get better Google search results faster.

Our Goal: Up to 90% reduction in the number of search results, and higher quality results on the first few pages.

In this session we discussed:

  1. Identifying what you already have, (the “searchables”) and
  2. using Google Tools to flesh out the details
  3. so that we can tell a richer, more complete story.

Start broad and then analyze your results to determine if you need to narrow your search by adding more details and search operators.

Reviewing your initial search results will possibly reveal alternative spellings you may want to explore.

The search operator we used in this episode was quotation marks.

Example: “Washington McClellan”

Quotation marks can be used on single words or phrases. They tell Google that:

  • all search results must include in word or phrase,
  • the words must be spelled exactly as you spelled them,
  • the words in phrases must appear in the order your typed them.

You can have multiple words and phrases in your query.

Example:  “mcalister” “harness” shop “logan utah”

If you discover an address during your searching, you can plot it in Google Earth. Search for it in the search box. Click the placemark button in the toolbar (the yellow pushpin icon) to mark the location.

(Learn more about using Google Earth in episode 12 of Elevenses with Lisa available here.)

Time Saving Tips:

  1. When reviewing large webpages, quickly find your keywords (“searchables”) by doing a Find on Page: Control (PC) or Command (Mac) + F. Type the words in the pop-up box to jump directly to them on the page.
  2. On the search results page, click Image results in the menu. This allows you to quickly spot sites with images that appear to be applicable to your search goal. Click the image to visit the site.

 

Google Genealogy

Use the quotations marks search operator in all of the free Google tools.

 

Learn More with These Resources

Book: Cooke, Lisa Louise, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Genealogy Gems Publications, print.
Video Series: Cooke, Lisa Louise, Google Earth for Genealogy digital video download series, Genealogy Gems Publications,
For a limited time use coupon code EARTH11 to get 25% off both of the resources above at the Genealogy Gems Store here.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Use code EARTH11 to get 25% off

Answers to Your Questions

Gwynn: If I have a My Google Map and pin on those will they show up on the google maps desktop version or do I have to redo them? For example, I have a map of Ohio with ancestor dates and locations.
Lisa: Google has recently added a button to the toolbar that will take you to Google Earth on Chrome. So, if you are looking at your placemark on the map and you click that button, it will open the same general location in Chrome, but currently it will not bring the placemark with it. I would not be surprised at all though if we see that functionality in the future.

Ceirra: I ​played with Google Earth from last week but couldn’t get back to even 1937???
Lisa: If you mean there were no Rumsey Maps (in the Layers panel) in a particular area, that’s not uncommon. That’s where pulling maps from other sources like the David Rumsey website can help. He has 100,000 maps digitized, searchable and downloadable that you can then use to create an overlay in Google Earth. And there are many, many other online sources for old maps. Read: The Best Way to Find Old Maps for Genealogy at the David Rumsey Website

Cynthia: If we have something from our relatives, what is the best way to put it on the internet to share with others?
Lisa: I really think posting on your own blog is the best way to share. It also provides a vehicle for being found by other researchers interested in your family when they Google. I have videos on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel explaining how to set up a free Blogger blog.

MargtheCar: Are quotation marks case sensitive?
Lisa: No.

Steve: ​If you had two different spellings of a name, do you run separate searches for put both spellings in one search?
Lisa: You could run this search: “washington mcclellan” OR “Washington mcclelland”

Kelli: I ordered google toolbox 3. I have the first two. Are they worth sharing – or have things changed enough that I should just toss them? Shelf space, you know :).
Lisa: They are worth sharing if you warn them may encounter some things that no longer work or have changed. Search has some of the biggest changes. The Google Earth section hasn’t changed  much since the last edition of the book.

K M Vaughan​: Can we legally use the image from the library?
Lisa: Check the website for terms of use, or contact the library for permission.

Gwynn: Lisa, what do you think of the new google books viewer, Im not a fan because I cant see the source.
Lisa: It takes getting used to, I agree! But I think the overview page is actually quite an improvement. I’m publishing a newly updated version of my class Google Books: the Tool I Use Every Day in Premium membership that features the new viewer.

Karen: Can you use – minus?
Lisa: Yes indeed. Here’s an example of combining quotation marks and minus sign in the same query:  “Richard Lincoln” -abraham – president

Robyn: I don’t find that the 1850..1880 works for me. What could I be doing wrong
Lisa: Problems could include:

  • Running the search on mobile
  • You have a space in the string – no spaces
  • There are no available results that include those numbers
  • Using more or less than 2 periods

K M Vaughan​: Can your Google tools on mobile
Lisa: Yes, all the tools (such as Google Books, Scholar, Patents, etc.) can all be used on mobile, however you may find some minor differences, and some search operators may not work.

Cynthia: ​I have been trying to find the marriage certificate of my grandmother and her 3 husband, in 1953 and cannot find anything. What can I do to marrow the search
Lisa: Without the benefit of seeing the specific situation, I would recommend focusing your search on the record collection you need rather than the names of individual ancestors. I go into detail on this strategy in the book.

Carolyn: What did you use to make the video?
Lisa: I used Camtasia which I LOVE. Stay tuned, because next week we’re going to talk about making videos and some of the my favorite free tools as well.

Doug: What tool do you use to create the entries in Google Earth for the presentation (the autoplay part)?
From Lisa: I used Camtasia. Stay tuned, because next week we’re going to talk about making videos!

Genealogy Gems Premium Member Resources:

Log into your membership here on the website. (Learn more here about Genealogy Gems Premium membership.) In the menu under Premium click Premium Videos and then click the Google topic tile. There you will find videos with downloadable handouts: 

  • The Google Search Methodology
  • 5 Google Search Secrets
Video Classes by Lisa Louise Cooke

Google Video Classes by Lisa Louise Cooke

Today’s Teacup

 Blenheim Palace Grand Cabinet china. Learn more about Blenheim Palace, the home of Winston Churchill, at the website.

Blenheim Palace

Garden-side tea time at Blenheim Palace

 

From You

The best part about teaching is when I get to hear back from you about what resonated with you, and how you used what you heard to make a wonderful discovery. Doris has been a Genealogy Gems premium member since 2015 and she wrote to say “I’m finally listening to the Elevenses series! Just watched Episode 1 and wanted to share a find.”

Doris explained how she used my tip on being sure to turn the page of passport application records to ensure you don’t miss additional pages. She made quite a discovery!

Thank you to Doris for sharing her story. I sent her the video I created and the photo that I enhanced and colorized at MyHeritage. 

Enhance and colorize your photos at MyHeritage

Enhanced and colorized old family photo – learn more here at MyHeritage.

Click here to try enhancing and colorizing photos for yourself!

Resources: 

Live Chat PDF– Click here to download the live Chat from episode 12 which includes my answers to your questions. 

Show Notes PDF – Genealogy Gems Premium Members can click here to download the show notes PDF for this episode. (Log in required.) Become a Premium Member here

I Want to Hear from You

Did you give this Google search operator a try in your genealogy searching this week? Please share your experience.  And of course I’m always interested in your questions and feedback. Please leave a comment below. This is your chance to join our community’s conversation!

 

 

 

 

Ways to Use Google Earth for Genealogy – Elevenses with Lisa Episode 12

Episode 12 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: June 18, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

The first 4 minutes of the video is the “Waiting Room.” This welcomes viewers and counts down to the start of the live show. This week’s Waiting Room features a Google Earth tour of about 100 Elevenses with Lisa viewers who have commented in the Chat forum during the YouTube Live show.

The Google Earth discussion begins at the 5:15 mark.

Today Topic: Ways to Use Google Earth for Genealogy

Google Earth Pro is now free and simply known as Google Earth. It’s available in three forms:

  1. Google Earth Web (in the Chrome browser),
  2. the Google Earth app,
  3. and downloadable desktop computer software which offers the most robust set of tools.

This session focuses on the desktop software.

Google Earth provides a 360-degree, 3-dimensional way to view your ancestor’s world! It’s a tool that can be used for solving genealogical questions as well as visually telling the stories of your ancestors’ lives.

 

From You:  

From Lynnette: “I love spending time with you on Elevenses. I was especially thrilled to view the google earth for genealogy segment on Episode #11 especially because San Francisco is my hometown (although I grew up in Menlo Park).

All of my great grandparents came to San Francisco in the mid-late 1850’s. So, I decided to jump into Google Earth and see if I could find the homes of my family.

There definitely is a learning curve for Google Earth but I am wading through all of the help you have on your website! I just ordered your toolbox book also. I was thrilled to see that you will be doing Google Earth on June 18 on Elevenses.

My great grandparents, George and Sarah Atkinson’s home was located 1876 15th Street, SF. I entered the address into Google Earth and up popped their home. AMAZING! 

George Atkinson's home. Google Earth for Genealogy with Lisa Louise Cooke

Compare this photo with how it appears in Google Earth today in episode 12. (Photo courtesy of Lynnette Bates. )

Very few changes have been made since they resided there about100 years ago. It is incredible!

My grandfather’s shop was at 1785 15th Street and they had previously lived at 11 Clementina St. Neither on theses places exist now but I have located all of the places on the David Rumsey 1915 SF map although I have not figured out how to add it to Google Earth I have wonderful large photos of all of these places.

Lynnette's family

Lynnette’s family in front of their home. (Courtesy of Lynnette Bates)

My family actually did not live far from yours. Google Earth has added a new dimension to my desire to preserve and share my family history. Thanks again for all of the fantastic hints, inspiring stories, and wonderful ideas and encouragement that you provide! Happy grandmothering!  (We have 38 grandchildren!)”
Lynnette B.

After watching this episode Lynnette followed up on her progress.

“It was fun to see my information on your Elevenses this morning!  I really want to put this all together.  I have added the 1915 SF map and pinned the home on Clementina and the home and shop on 15th Street.  I have added a description but can’t figure out how to add the actual old photo to the description!  Will keep working on it! (Note from Lisa: See Chapter 18, page 201 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.)

George Atkinson was a wood turner.  He exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  I had fun looking at YouTube videos last night of the fair.  You are just giving us too many great ideas!  Thank you. (Lisa’s note: Read my article How to Find Family History on YouTube in 5 Steps.)

I also found some other interesting information on your website.  The article and map of shipwrecks around Ireland was fascinating. (Note: She is referring to my article 5 Free Online Historical Maps for Genealogy.) I actually located the site where my great uncle George Henry Flack died on the shipwreck of the Alfred D Snow in 1888. You never know what can be found even after an exhaustive search!”

Getting Started with Google Earth

Download the free software by following these steps:

  1. Go to http://www.google.com/earth/download/gep/agree.html
  2. Click the blue download button
  3. Read the Terms and Conditions
  4. If you agree to them, click the Agree and Download button
  5. Follow the installation guide
  6. When complete click Run Google Earth (Your computer must be connected to the Internet.)

 

Navigating Google Earth on the Desktop

The Google Earth software is comprised of the following components:

3-D Viewer
View the globe and its terrain in this window. Use the navigation tools in the upper right corner to zoom in and out and view the map from different perspectives.

Toolbar
The toolbar above the 3-D Viewer provides one click access to Google Earth tools such as placemarks, polygons, overlays, paths, tours, historical imagery, emailing, printing, and more.

Search Panel
Locate a geographic location by typing the address, latitude and longitude coordinates, or names of the location (ex. Library of Congress) in the search box.

Places Panel
Save, organize, and revisit your placemarks and maps in the Places Panel. These are your private files, stored on your computer.

Layers Panel
Access a collection of points of geographic interest that can be displayed on the 3-D Viewer. Includes features such as roads, cemeteries, churches, and historical maps.

 

Cemeteries in Google Earth

You can use Google Earth to search for cemeteries in the areas where you ancestors lived. Start by searching for the name and town in the Search box. Google Earth can also show you where cemeteries are. It’s fairly comprehensive but of course may not include all tiny privately family cemeteries.

 

How to Find Cemeteries and Houses of Worship with Google Earth:

  1. In the Layers panel click to open More
  2. Click Place Categories
  3. Toward the bottom of the list click the small arrow to open Places of Worship
  4. In the nested menu click Cemeteries. Small cemetery icons should appear on the map. If you don’t see them right away, try zooming in or out depending on how close to the ground you are.
  5. In this list you can also click to turn on a variety of places of worship such as churches and synagogues.
  6. Hover your mouse over an icon to reveal the name.
  7. Click the icon to reveal the pop-up box which may contain more information including a website link or photo.

 

Rumsey Historic Maps

How to Find and Turn on History Maps:

  1. In the Layers panel, click to open (Click the small arrow next to Gallery to open the nested menu.)
  2. Click the box for Rumsey Historic Maps.
  3. You should see Rumsey icons appear on the screen. If you don’t, zoom farther out until you do.
  4. Click the desired Rumsey icon on the map.
  5. Click the map thumbnail image in the pop-up box to overlay the map.

How to Download More Rumsey Maps:

  1. Click any Rumsey icon
  2. At the bottom of the pop-up box click the link that says Download links to all Rumsey historical maps.
  3. This will download a file containing several hundred more historic map overlays to the Temporary folder at the bottom of the Places
  4. Drag and drop the file onto MyPlaces at the top of the Places
  5. Save your work in the menu: File > Save > Save MyPlaces. 

Search for and download more free historic maps from the David Rumsey website. The features nearly 100,000 historic maps. Read my article The Best Way to Find Old Maps for Genealogy at the David Rumsey Website for instructions on finding and downloading free maps from the David Rumsey website.

Placemarks are the Containers for Your Content

You can use placemarks to mark locations on the map. They can be customized with a variety of icons and can be colored coded. Placemarks can include photos, images, text, website links and HTML code.

How to Create a Placemark:

  1. In the PLACES panel click the tour folder once to highlight it
  2. Zoom to the location where you want to add content
  3. Click the PLACEMARK button in the Google Earth toolbar
  4. Name the placemark and add a description of what it will include if you wish
  5. Click OK to close the placemark dialogue box
  6. Now the placemark appears in your tour folder and on the map.
  7. To edit the placemark so you can add additional content, right-click the placemark in the PLACES panel and select PROPERTIES
  8. When done click the OK button at the bottom of the placemark dialogue box

Resources

Cooke, Lisa Louise, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Genealogy Gems Publications, print. www.ShopGenealogyGems.com

Cooke, Lisa Louise, Google Earth for Genealogy digital video download series, Genealogy Gems Publications, www.ShopGenealogyGems.com

Use coupon code EARTH11 to get 25% off both of these resources.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Use coupon code EARTH11 to get 25% off

Genealogy Gems Premium Member Resources:

Log into your membership here on the website. In the menu under Premium click Premium Videos and then click the Geographic topic tile. There you will find 6 videos with downloadable handouts: 

  • Google Earth for Genealogy (Beginner) 
  • Create a Free Google Earth Historic Map Collection 
  • 5 Ways to Use Old Maps for Genealogy
  • Best Websites for Finding Historical Maps
  • Time Travel with Google Earth (Intermediate) 
  • Finding and Using Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Today’s Teacup

I picked up my mug a few years ago while on the road to one of my speaking gigs. We stopped by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri and toured the famed author’s beloved Rocky Ridge Farm. 

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield MO

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

From the Website:

The Historic Farmhouse

 “As visitors make their trek to the historic Rocky Ridge Farm, the first sight they’ll see is Laura’s and Almanzo’s beloved farmhouse. It remains as it was in 1957 and stands as an official project of the Save America’s Treasures National Trust for Historical Preservation. 

Laura, Almanzo and daughter, Rose, arrived in Mansfield from South Dakota, August 30, 1894. They purchased a forty-acre farm, which had a one-room log cabin near the spring and ravine. After living in the log cabin through the first winter they built a room onto the side of it in the spring of 1895. The next spring (1896) they moved the new room to the present historic house location, where it is now the kitchen. A second room, with an attic space above it, was added to create a two-room house with an attic bedroom for Rose.”

Stay smart and stay brave! Thanks so much for watching friend. I’ll talk to you soon.

Next Episode of Elevenses with Lisa

Episode 13 will air Live on June 25, 2020 at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Set your reminder now here at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.

Resources: 

Live Chat PDF– Click here to download the live Chat from episode 12 which includes my answers to your questions. 

Show Notes PDF – Genealogy Gems Premium Members can click here to download the show notes PDF for this episode. (Log in required.) Become a Premium Member here

I Want to Hear from You

At the end of the episode I suggested that you try and map out your own story starting by setting a placemark in the location where you were born. Did you give it a try? What other projects are you excited to get going on? And of course I’m always interested in your questions and feedback. Please leave a comment below. This is your chance to join our community’s conversation!

 

The Best Way to Find Old Maps for Genealogy at the David Rumsey Website

Old maps are vitally important for genealogy because the characteristics of a location can change in many ways over time. Historic maps help us understand the world as it was at the time our ancestors lived. 

Here is a short list of just a few of the things that may have changed:

  • Street addresses
  • roads 
  • town names
  • county boundaries
  • waterways that may have been filled in or opened up
  • railway lines 

In fact, the country itself where they lived may be a completely different country. For example, my German ancestors lived in Prussia in the 19th century. Today, that area is part of Poland. Therefore, all of the village names have been changed to Polish names. 

The David Rumsey Map Collection is an excellent place to go to find maps of your ancestors homeland for free.

Best way to find old maps at David Rumsey

Watch the Map Search Video

I’m going to explain the 7 steps to finding the maps you need for your genealogy research at this wonderful website! I highly recommend that you watch the short video below to see it in action as you read. The player will stay with you as you scroll down the page. 

Step 1: Go to the David Rumsey Map Collection Website

The first thing you need to do is go to the David Rumsey website here. You’ll be greeted on the home page with glorious historic maps. (Stay focused because it’s easy to get distracted by all the fascinating maps!)

Old maps for genealogy at David Rumsey website

Scroll down on the David Rumsey website home page.

Step 2: Scroll Down to the Bottom of the David Rumsey Home Page

While you can search for a place name in the search box at the top of the page, there’s a better way to search. Scroll down the page until you get to Featured App: MapRank Search (it’s almost at the bottom.)

Step 3: Launch Map Rank Search

The Featured App – MapRank Search is the best place to search the website, but it’s easy to miss because it’s not at the top. So go ahead and click the Launch MapRank button in the upper corner of this section. 

launch map rank search at David Rumsey website

In the Featured App: MaprRank Search section click the Launch MapRank button

When you click the button it will open a new tab in your web browser which will take you to the Geographical Searching with MapRank Search page.

Quick Tip: The Fastest Way to MapRank Search

You can get there faster by going directly to https://rumsey.mapranksearch.com. I didn’t take you straight there from the beginning because I think it’s important to be aware of the home page and everything else it offers. However, today our focus is conducting the optimal search for old maps for you family history. 

Step 4 Selecting the Map Time Frame

Here’s what the search page looks like. 

David Rumsey MapRank Search Page

The DavidRumsey.com search page

There are two very important features on this app page that will help you get the best results possible: the time slider and the location search box.

The time slider is located beneath the map:

Timeslider for map search

Time Slider for searching maps by time frame

It’s important to first select the time frame that you are searching because that will dictate the results you get when you search on the location name. (We’ll get to that in just a moment.) 

There is a slider on each end of the timeline. Slide them to specify the desired time frame. In my example below, I’m looking for maps between 1800 and 1900. 

time slider for map search

Searching for maps between 1800 and 1900

As you move the sliders, you’ll notice that the maps in the right hand column will change. This is because only maps that fall within the range you select will be offered in the Instant Search Results column. But before we look at those, we need to type in a location in the next step.

Step 5: Selecting the Location

With your time frame selected, now you’re ready to type the location in the search box.

As you type, the app will make suggestions. But wait! Before you click the Find a Place button to run the search, look carefully at the list of suggested locations that may appear. Many locations names can be found in different areas. That is certainly the case with the name of the tiny village where my great grandfather was born: Kotten.

searching a location for maps

Type the location name to search the maps

In fact, the list doesn’t even include the Kotten I am looking for.

In cases like this, it is best to search a little more broadly. When Kotten was part of Prussia, it was located in Kreis Johannisburg so I could try searching for that. Even better might be to search for the largest city in the area since Kotten was such a tiny village. Arys was the largest city in the area. 

Once you type in the name (and select from the suggestions if needed) click the Find a Place button just to the right of the search box. 

Step 6: Analyze the Map Results

In my example of searching for the city of Arys (which is the name it was known by in the 19th century when it was part of East Prussia) the modern-day map displayed is actually Poland.

Poland map

My search resulted in a map showing Orzysz, Poland

However, the David Rumsey website does a good job of cross-referencing the older German names (Arys) with the new Polish names (Orzysz). This is another reason why searching for a larger city works well. Larger cities are more likely to be in the David Rumsey system for cross-referencing, and of course they are easier to spot on the map. Generally speaking, the location you searched will be in the center of the display map. 

Quick Tip: Verifying Location Names

Another quick way to cross-reference location names (or verify your findings in David Rumsey) is by searching for the name in Google Earth. In the example below, I typed in the Prussian city of Arys. Google Earth will offer options if more than one matching result exists.

I was a bit surprised to see “Arys” as one of the three listed results since it is not called that today. When I clicked Arys it took me to the city of Arys in the Turkistan Region of Kazakhstan, far away from Poland! Clicking Orzysz in the results list took me to the area of Poland that was once East Prussia. This confirms the results I received at the David Rumsey website. 

Finding a map location in Google Earth

Learn more about using Google Earth for Genealogy by watching my free class here

Now it’s time to review the map results listed in the Instant Search Results column on the right. Isn’t it fantastic that David Rumsey’s website not only presented me with the correct Polish location, but also maps published between 1800 and 1900 that include Arys? I think so! 

Finding the city on the David Rumsey map

Map results appear in the column on the right side of the page.

Click the map you think best suits your needs. The map will open in in a new tab in your web browser. (These browsers tabs provide a nice bread crumb trail for your searching activities.) 

All of the source information about the historic map that you chose will appear in the column on the left. (See the image in Step 7.) If you decide to use this map you’ll definitely want to accurately cite the source. Learn more about the importance of source citations here.

Step 7: Export the Map

I was delighted to find the village of Kotten on this map of Arys published by Reichsamt fur Landesaufnahme in 1893!

When you find a map that you would like to use for your family history research, export it to your computer. To do this, click Export in the upper right corner of the map and select the desired size. You can select a size ranging from Small Thumbnail to Extra Extra Large. Keep in mind that the larger the size, the more clarity you will have as you zoom in closer and closer. This is very important if you plan on using the map in an overlay in Google Earth. You can learn how to create your own map overlays in my video tutorial series on using Google Earth for genealogy available here, and in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

how to export an old map

Click “Export” to save the map to your computer.

Be patient while downloading to your computer because it can take several moments to export a large map. The saved file will probably be zipped. To unzip it, on a PC right-click and select Extract All from the pop-up menu. This creates an open version of the folder containing the map. 

Get Started Finding Your Ancestral Locations in Old Maps

With this step-by-step process you are now ready to explore any given ancestor’s world through the rich details of historic maps. I can’t wait to hear what you discover! Please be sure to leave a comment below. And if you found this tutorial helpful, will you please share it with your friends on social media so we can help even more people find the homes of their ancestors? Thank you!

How German Address Books at Ancestry.com are Helping Bust Brick Walls

My genealogy research looks a lot like yours. Some family tree lines go back to pre-Revolutionary War. Other lines are richly researched well into the early 19th century.

And then there’s THAT family line. You know the one I mean. The one where the courthouse containing the records we need has burned down, or the records were microfilmed ages ago but are still sitting in the FamilySearch granite vault due to copyright issues. Or worst of all, it appears the needed records just don’t exist.

Don’t let these obstacles allow you to give up hope.

bust brick walls with German Address Books at Ancestry

Every day, new records are being discovered and digitized. Records that have been languishing in a copyright stalemate might suddenly be cleared for publication. Or a cousin could contact you out of the blue and has the letters your grandmother sent hers. We never know when the records we’ve been waiting for, searching for, and yearning for, will bubble up to the surface.

Today I’m happy to share my story of a recent breakthrough that I never saw coming. Follow along with me as I take newly unearthed rocks and use tools to turn them into sparkling gems.

This is Almost Embarrassing

My one, agonizing family line that stops short in its tracks ends with my great grandfather Gustave Sporowski.

Gus & Louise Sporan German Genealogy Records Bust Brick Wall

Gustave and Louise Sporowski (personal collection)

It’s almost embarrassing to admit. I’ve been at this nearly my whole life, and genealogy is my career for goodness sake! But there it is, a family tree with lovely far-reaching limbs except for this little stub of a branch sticking out on my maternal grandmother’s side.

I was about eight years old the first time I asked my grandma about her parents and their families. (Yes, this genealogy obsession goes back that far with me!) I still have the original page of cryptic notes she scratched out for me during that conversation.

Notes German Address Books at Ancestry Genealogy Records Bust Brick Wall

Excerpt from Grandma’s original notes. (Personal collection)

She had several nuggets of information about her mother’s family. However, when it came to her father Gustave, she only recalled that he was the youngest of seven brothers. No names came to mind. I’ve always felt that if I could just identify some of the brothers, one of them may have records that provide more details about their parents.

According to his Petition for Naturalization, Gustave Sporowksi and Louise Nikolowski were married in LutgenDortmund, Germany. This indicated that both moved west from East Prussia before emigrating. While I knew Louise’s immediate family were in the LutgenDortmund area as well, I had no idea whether Gustave moved there on his own or with his family.

Naturalization Record German Address Books at Ancestry

Gustave Sporowski’s Petition for Naturalization.

Gus (as he was later known) emigrated from Germany in 1910, landing at Ellis Island. He toiled in the coal mines of Gillespie, Illinois, and eventually earned enough money to move his wife and children west to California in 1918.

After filing his papers and years of waiting, he proudly became a U.S. citizen in 1940.

On that paperwork, he clearly states his birthplace as Kotten, Germany. You won’t find this location on a map today. In 1881, the year he was born, the area was East Prussia. I remember the hours I spent with gazeteers many years ago trying to locate that little village nestled just within the border of Kreis Johannisburg. Being so close to the border meant that he could have attended church there or in a neighboring district. 

The records in the area are scarce, and today the entire area is in Poland.

Surprisingly, the records situation is quite the opposite with his wife Louise, also from East Prussia. She lived not far away in Kreis Ortelsburg, and the records for the church her family attended in Gruenwald are plentiful. I’ve managed to go many more generations back with her family.

And so, poor Gus alone sits in my family tree.

I periodically search to see if there’s anything new that has surfaced, but to no avail. I even hired a professional genealogical firm to review my work and suggest new avenues. I guess it is good news to hear you’ve pursued all known available leads, but it’s not very rewarding.

Over time, we tend to revisit tough cases like this less frequently. They become quiet. Digital dust begins to settle on the computer files.

And then it all changes.

German Address Books at Ancestry.com

I regularly make the rounds of the various genealogy websites, making note of new additions to their online collections. I typically publish the updates on a weekly basis here on the Genealogy Gems blog. It makes my day when readers like you comment or email, bursting with excitement about how one of the collections I mentioned busted their brick wall. I love my job.

This week I’m the one who is bursting!

It started simply enough. My third stop on my regular records round-up tour was Ancestry.com. The list of new records was particularly robust this week. The word “Germany” always catches my eye, and the second item on the list jumped out at me:

Germany and Surrounding Areas, Address Books, 1815-1974

German Address Books Ancestry Bust Brick Wall

“Recently Added and Updated Collections on Ancestry,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 05 Sept 2019)

I should have had a healthy dose of skepticism that I would be fortunate enough to find anything. But to be perfectly honest, I felt instinctively that I would! Have you ever just had that feeling that your ancestors are sitting right there ready to be found? If you’ve been researching your family history for a while, then I’m guessing you have. Such a nice feeling, isn’t it?

So, I clicked, and I simply entered Sporowski in the last name field and clicked Search.

Experience has taught me that there haven’t been a lot of folks through history with this surname, so I’m interested in taking a look at anyone who pops up in the results. And yippie aye oh, did they ever pop up!

German address books results list at Ancestry.com

“All Germany and Surrounding Areas, Address Books, 1915-1974,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 05 Sept 2019)

The results list include 31 people with the surname of Sporowski!

These names came from the pages of address books much like the city directories so common in the U.S. Since this collection was new to me, I took a moment to read up on the history.

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GENEALOGY RESEARCH TIP: Learning the History of the Genealogy Record Collection

To truly understand what you are looking at when reviewing search results, we need to acquaint ourselves with the history of the collection.

  • Why was it created?
  • What does it include?
  • What does it not include?

Look to the left of the search results and click Learn more about this database.

It’s definitely worth clicking this link because the next page may also include a listing of Related Data Collections, some of which you might not be aware. These could prove very useful, picking up the pace to finding more records.

In the case of foreign language records, look for a link to the Resource Center for that country. There you may find translation help and tips for interpreting handwriting and difficult-to-read script.

German Genealogy Help at Ancestry.com

Ancestry Help Features

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On the Learn more about this database page, I learned some important things about these search results.

First, not every citizen was listed. Only heads of households were included. This means that wives and children would not appear. I did find some widows, though, because they were the head of their household.

Second, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) was used on this collection. Ancestry suggests looking for errors and providing corrections. But this information about OCR also implies something even more important to the genealogist. We must keep in mind that OCR is not perfect. In this case, I planned on browsing the collection after reviewing the search results to ensure I didn’t miss anyone. This would include targeting people listed in the “S” section of directories for towns I might expect the family to be.

I was particularly thrilled to see the name “Emil Sporowski” on the list.

Several months ago I found a World War I Casualty list from a newspaper published in 1918.

German Military Casualty List Ancestry.com

On it was listed Emil Sporowski and he was from the village of Kotten. This was the first mention of Gustave’s birthplace in the record of another Sporowski that I had ever found. So, you can imagine my delight as I stared at his name in the address book search results.

German Address Books at Ancestry.com bust Brick wall

“All Germany and Surrounding Areas, Address Books, 1915-1974,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 05 Sept 2019)

The icing on that cake was that he was listed in the address book of Bochum. That town name was very familiar to me because I had seen it on a few old family photos in Louise Sporowski’s photo album. Although the photos did not have names written on them, I could easily identify the folks who had the facial characteristics of Louise Nikolowski’s clan, and those sporting the large eyes with heavy lids like Gus.

Sporowski from Bochum Germany photograph

Photo from Louise Nikolowski’s photo album.

Spreading the German Addresses Out with Spreadsheets

With one and a half pages delivering a total of 31 Sporowski names, I knew I had some work ahead of me to tease them apart. This got me thinking of Genealogy Gems Podcast episode that I’m currently working on, which features a conversation with professional genealogist Cari Taplin. When I asked Cari how she organizes her data, she told me that she uses spreadsheets. I’m not typically a spreadsheet kind of gal, but in this case, I could see the benefits. Spreadsheets offer a way to get everybody on one page. And with the power of Filters and Sorting you slice and dice the data with ease. My first sort was by town.

Excel Spreadsheet tracking German Address Books at Ancestry.com

My Excel spreadsheet tracking German Address Books search results at Ancestry.com

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GENEALOGY RESEARCH TIP: Free Genealogy Gems Download

Click here to download the simple yet effective spreadsheet I used for this research project. If you find your German ancestors in this collection, it’s ready to use. Otherwise, feel free to modify to suit your needs in a similar situation.

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As you can see in the spreadsheet, these address books include occupations. For example, Emil was listed both as a Schmied and a Schlosser. A simple way to add the English translation to my spreadsheet was to go to Google.com and search Google Translate. Words and phrases can be translated right from the results page.

Translating German words found in Address Books at Ancestry.com

Translating the Occupation found in the German Address Books using Google Translate (Available at https://translate.google.com. Accessed 05 Sept 2019)

You can also find several websites listing German occupations by Googling old german occupations.

I quickly ran into abbreviations that were representing German words. For example, Lina Sporowski is listed with as Wwe .

A Google search of german occupations abbreviations didn’t bring a website to the top of the list that actually included abbreviations. However, by adding one of the abbreviations to the search such as  “Wwe.” it easily retrieved web pages actually featuring abbreviations.

One of the top results was by friend of the podcast Katherine Schober and her SK Translations blog post called 19 Most Common Abbreviations in German Genealogy.

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GENEALOGY RESEARCH TIP: Use Search Operators when Googling

Notice that I placed the abbreviation in quotation marks when adding it to my Google search query. Quotation marks serve as search operators, and they tell Google some very important information about the word or phrase they surround.

  1. The quotation marks tell Google that this word or phrase must appear in every search result. (If you’ve ever googled several words only to find that some results include some of the words, and other results include others, this will solve your problem.)
  2. They also tell Google that the word(s) MUST be spelled exactly the way it appears on each search result. This is particularly helpful when searching an abbreviation like Wwe. which isn’t actually a word. Without the quotation marks, you will likely get a response from Google at the top of the search results page asking you if you meant something else.

Click here to receive my free ebook including all the most common Google search operators when you sign up for my free newsletter (which is always chock full of goodies).

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Katherine was my guest on Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode #151 available exclusively to our Premium eLearning Members. She’s also written a couple of articles for Genealogy Gems on German translation:

When to Use Google Translate for Genealogy–And Best Translation Websites for When You Don’t

Translating German Genealogy Records: 9 Top German Translation Websites

Deciphering Place Names Just Got Easier

I’ve written an article you may find helpful not only for translation but also to help you with pronunciation called How to Pronounce Names: Google Translate and Name Pronunciation Tools.

As it turns out, Wwe. stands for Widow. This tells me that Lina’s husband was deceased by 1961.

Finding the German Addresses in Google Earth

The most glorious things found in these old address books are the addresses themselves!

Google Earth is the perfect tool to not only find the locations but clarify the addresses. Many were abbreviated, but Google Earth made quick work of the task.

Unlike other free Google Tools, Google Earth is available in a variety of forms:

  • Free downloadable software
  • Google Earth in the Chrome Web browser
  • A mobile app

Each has powerful geographic features, but I always recommend using the software. The web version and app don’t have all the tools available in the software. All versions require an internet connection. You can download the software here

In the Google Earth search box I typed in the address. Don’t worry if you don’t have the full address or if you think it may be spelled incorrectly. Google Earth will deliver a results list of all the best options that most closely match.

In my case, reliable Google Earth not only gave me complete addresses, but also the correct German letters.

Finding the full name of the German address in Google Earth

Finding the full name of the German address. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

Soon I found myself virtually standing outside their homes thanks to Google Earth’s Street View feature!

House of my Germany ancestor found in Google Earth

Home of my German ancestor found in Google Earth in Street View. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

Here’s how to use Street View in Google Earth:

  1. Zoom in close to the location
  2. Click on the Street View icon in the upper right corner (near the zoom tool)
  3. Drag the icon over the map and blue lines will appear where Street View is available
  4. Drop the icon directly on the line right next to the house
  5. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate in Street View or simply use your mouse to drag the screen
Using Google Earth Street View

Using Google Earth Street View. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

I went through the entire list. As I found each location in Google Earth, I checked it off on the spreadsheet.

Addresses found in German Address Books marked in the spreadsheet

Addresses found in German Address Books at Ancestry.com marked in the spreadsheet

GENEALOGY RESEARCH TIP: Create a Folder in Google Earth

When you have several locations like this to plot, I recommend creating a folder in the Places panel in Google Earth. It’s super easy to do and will help you stay organized. Here’s how:

  1. Right-click (PC) on the MyPlaces icon at the top of the Places panel (left side of the Google Earth screen)
  2. Select Add > Folder in the pop-up menu
  3. A New Folder dialog box will appear
  4. Type the name of your folder
  5. Click OK to close the folder
  6. You can drag and drop the folder wherever you want it in the Places panel
  7. Click to select the folder before placing your Placemarks. That way each placemark will go in that folder. But don’t worry, if you get a placemark in the wrong spot, just drag and drop it into the folder.
How to Create a Folder

Creating a Folder for the German Addresses found at Ancestry.com (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

It didn’t take long to build quite a nice collection of Sporowski homes in Germany!

German addresses in the Google Earth Places panel

German addresses in the Places panel. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

The beauty of Google Earth as that you can start to visualize your data in a whole new way. Zooming out reveals these new findings within the context of previous location-based research I had done on related families. As you can see in the image below, all the Sporowskis that I found in the German Address books at Ancestry.com are clustered just five miles from where photos were taken that appear in Louise Sporowski’s photo album. 

Data Visualization: My German Families found in Address Books

Data Visualization in Google Earth: My German Families found in Address Books. (Map data ©2019 Google Earth software: accessed 6 Sep 2019)

I’ve Only Just Begun to Discover my German Ancestors at Ancestry.com

We’ve covered a lot of ground today, but this is just the beginning. There are additional sources to track down, timelines to create, photos to match up with locations, and so much more. In many ways, I’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities. But I need to stop writing so I can keep searching! 😊

I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey with me. Did you pick up some gems along the way that you are excited to use? Please leave a comment below! Let us all know which tips and tools jumped out at you, and any gems that you found.

 

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