One Way to Get Acquainted with your Ancestors

A few months ago I watched a webinar by Lisa Louise Cooke entitled, “3 Reasons to Map Your Ancestor’s Hometown.” I learned a lot, but I’m going to take this in a complimentary direction. Geography lets us know more details about our family than we realize.

First, let’s look at people who live in a city. Look at city directories and censuses for addresses of where the family lived. Find a map of the city and locate each of the homes. You might find photos of the area or home where they lived. If you know their religion, you can find the nearest church and narrow down the search for their records. If they filed citizenship papers, you can find the nearest appropriate court who handled these records (especially appropriate before 1906). Courthouses also hold wills and probate. Finding them will provide new clues about your family.

Storage of records about our families may no longer be associated with the location where they were created. Check with the local genealogical society to find out where they are.

People who lived in the country may have owned their farm or ranch. Land records provide a good sense of the size of their property, the various purchases and sales, and the crops/livestock they kept. When you find the ancestor’s probate, you may discover the division of property that explains why some family members left the area while others stayed.

We have found homes and land for various family members and it helped us better understand their lives. For example, on a trip to Blekinge, Sweden many years ago, my husband and I stayed in the home his grandmother had grown up in and was still in the family. What a wonderful experience to walk the land around the house, go into the church she attended, and look inside the school she attended.

If you have the opportunity to visit the homes of your ancestors, please do. You will be rewarded. But, if you cannot travel to that location, Google Earth’s Street View can show you what the area looks like today.

According to Lisa Louise Cooke in her presentation, she said, “Street View offers you a panoramic view from various positions on the street. Launched in May 2007, Street View was available for only a few major US cities. Today, Google offers images of nearly every street in America, and its coverage is spreading quickly around the world.

“Just how does Google do it? A fleet of cars equipped with nine directional cameras drive up and down each street and snap photographs from all directions every few seconds. When faced with narrow streets, such as those in Rome, similarly equipped Google Trikes (tricycles) make the journey.

“Getting your directional bearings can be difficult once you’re in Street View. To locate an address, you can hover your mouse over the camera icons that appear along the street. If unsure which particular house is your ancestor’s, look for addresses on buildings as well as on the curb. To get a closer look at a particular area, double-click on the spot on the image, and Google Earth will slowly zoom in.”

With this information, I hope you will try to find where your ancestors lived and locate their homes using Google Earth. Have fun and let me know what you find.

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