Friday, February 19, 2010

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy: Online Mapping Tools

Week 7: Play with Google Maps. This is a helpful tool for determining the locations of addresses in your family history. Where your ancestral homestead once stood may now be a warehouse, parking lot or field. Perhaps the house is still there. When you input addresses into Google Maps, don't forget to use Satellite View and Street View options for perspectives that put you right where your ancestors once stood. If you've used this tool before, take some time to play with it again. Push all the buttons, click all the links, and devise new ways it can help with your personal genealogy research. If you have a genealogy blog, write about your experiences with Google Maps, or suggest similar easy (and free) tools that have helped in your own research.

I first started playing with Google Maps about a year ago. I was trying to match up a picture of the Dienes hat store in what I then thought was downtown Springfield, Illinois, to current buildings there. Supposedly my great-great-grandfather, Fred Dienes, sold a hat to Abraham Lincoln. Since I already had a Google account (obviously, since I'm using Blogger), it was easy to use the My Maps feature to tag and save various locations.

View Springfield, Illinois in a larger map
Turns out I was wrong about the photo--it's actually of the Chicago hat store after the Dienes family moved there around 1878. Since I have a lot of ancestors and current family in the Evanston and North Chicago areas too, today I started a map there as well. This is rather challenging, as street names were changed frequently in Chicago, and houses were renumbered there in 1909 and in Evanston in 1893.

It's fun to check the street views as well. Most of the original buildings are gone, but the house where my Pape great-grandparents lived from at least 1882 to at least 1920 was apparently still standing in 2007.

I also started mapping the places in Germany where my ancestors are from (and some current distant cousins live). Alas, street views are not available for the small towns I'm mapping. I've spent entirely too much time messing with these three maps over the last few days, but I expect it will be quite helpful in my research.

I also played around a little with MapQuest. I prefer this tool when I need directions as I think they are superior to those in Google Maps. Also, their satellite imagery is more up-to-date, at least for the town I live in. In Google Maps, our small subdivision is under construction, so it's 2003-2005, while in MapQuest, it's from 2007-2009. Street views are not available for my small, non-suburban town with either tool. MapQuest also has a personal mapping feature (called My Places), but it requires setting up an AOL account, which I didn't want to do just now.

[52 Weeks to Better Genealogy was developed by my friend Amy of We Tree and is hosted by]

© Amanda Pape - 2010

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