I imagine the first thing most people did when discovering satellite images on Google maps was to check out their own house. They might have been surprised that such a clear aerial picture of their homestead is available, or bit freaked out by it. For most genealogists, I think the second thing they did was look for an ancestral home; I know I did. Did you? If not, what are you waiting for?!
Google maps – or one of the several other similiar sites – is a great way to “visit” your relatives’ homes without leaving your kitchen. With just a few clicks, you can peruse the old village and zoom right in on the house. You might also be lucky enough to have a “Street View” of the area, which brings you right down to street level, and allows you to take a simulated sight-seeing drive through the neighborhood.
To find these satellite images, go to Google Maps and type in the address. When the map appears, click on the icon in the upper right corner that says “Satellite.” Continue to zoom in for a street view. It takes very little practice to learn how to move the image around the way you want it and to travel down the street.
I have personally visited and taken pictures of many of these homes, but for the sake of demonstrating the current topic, here are a few examples of my relatives’ homes as shown on Google maps:
It’s not only domestic addresses that are available. You can tour villages throughout Europe just as easily. Here is one example from Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England; the approximate location of the 1861 home of my Fourth Great-Grandparents Thomas and Maryann (GRUBY) HARTLAND. Their daughter Hannah married James PHELPS in NYC in 1872.
Of course there are a couple of caveats to searching your family’s past addresses. First, house numbers do change over the years. What was #6 and 23 Carroll Street previously is now #24. The best way to determine the current address is to do a house history/ deed search on the property. If you haven’t done that, I’ll have a blog post with instructions soon.
Also, addresses are not always in the exact location that the mapping system places it in. Similar to your GPS device, it will take you close, but might be a couple of houses off.
There is certainly the possibility that your ancestor’s home no longer exists. In the photo above of O’Donnell Street, you can tell by looking at neighboring buildings, that this is not the original structure. (But my cousin Mona and I still stop in during our research trips to Baltimore for some seafood quesadillas.) My great-grandparents home in Carteret was the victim of “Urban Renewal” in the 1960′s. And in many cases, the entire area might yield little if any resemblance to the neighborhood that once was.
Even if the house you are looking for is not there, or if you can’t pinpoint the exact location, these satelitte images are a great way to get the lay of the land. You can see the topography of the area, how close it is to natural features like rivers or lakes, or far it is from a city center.
If you are getting cabin fever from being in the house this winter, take this opportunity to do some touring right on your laptop. And just imagine how much you are saving on airfare!