Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tracking your 19th Century Ancestors using 21st Century Technology

MyMaps - GoogleMaps
Finding your ancestors is like finding a needle in a haystack - and decades ago, it was even harder.

Today we have geosynchronous satellites using GPS, 24x7 access to knowledge across the globe, databases with index's to help us find the elusive document, and Googlemaps.

In all genealogy or family history trips, I use googlemaps (among other features, tools) to help preplan the trips.   One important element is in locating hotels, families, cemeteries, historical societies, court houses, and more.  The benefit of googlemaps is that you are able to also create your own personal map, showing details that are important to your research and it also helps you to really connect the past with the present.

One powerful feature lets you overlay an image, like an old map and this can be useful for locating forgotten places or helping paint the landscape of what it looked like so many years ago.   In one case, I was able to use the overlay feature to help me to locate an old cemetery from the 1800's that was no longer on any present day maps. The local families remembered a cemetery but it seems it was moved 75+ years ago. Of course, this happens occasionally, but when and where are sometimes harder to determine if records are sparse.

Another unique feature of googlemaps is that it allows you to use terrain to help visualize what you can see today and what your ancestors might have seen. Using google's Sketchup, I was able to render a 3d image of my great grandparents home, based on homestead records and old pictures. I actually integrate the 3d home into googlemaps and was able to get a 360 degree view of what it looked like, including time of day and time of year.

These powerful features help us truly visualize the places our ancestors lived to make a life for themselves and for their future generations. Future posts will tell more details about how to use these tools. If you have questions, feel free to contact me.

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