Sunday, November 9, 2008

Learning about places in your family history using the Internet

Below are some notes from a workshop "Learning about places in your family history using the Internet" that I've presented several times to local genealogical interest groups. When we say the Internet is an "information superhighway", that includes information about places all over the world. The amount of geographic information on the Internet, in the form of pictures, maps, and articles, has grown immensely even since I first gave a presentation like this two and a half years ago.

Although getting pictures of where you ancestors lived may not help you get through that "brick wall" on your pedigree chart, the information can be a nice supplement to your published family histories and can help you feel a stronger connection to your ancestors.

Getting pictures of your ancestors’ homelands

  1. Open a Web browser to

  2. Type in a place name and click Search

  3. Browse the pictures that appear

  4. If you see one you want to save, right-click it with the mouse and click Save Picture As…

  5. Optionally, leave a comment for the person who posted the photo. Use a “junk e-mail” address

Why is this useful?

  • Supplement your histories with beautiful photographs of your ancestors’ homelands.

  • See what the area looks like without visiting it.

  • Communicate with people that took the photographs.

  • Add your own interesting photographs for the benefit of others.


  • Submit JPG photos. They are smaller in size and will load quicker.

  • Can’t submit photos of people to Panoramio.

  • Flickr provides a similar way to browse photos on a map, but the photos can be of anything.

My ancestors' homeland: Killybegs, Ireland. Photo obtained from Panoramio.

“Driving” through a neighborhood

  1. Open a Web browser to

  2. Click the StreetView button. You’ll see some cameras of areas where StreetView is available.

  3. Zoom to one of the cities with a camera icon or type in an address from one of those cities and click Search Maps. You should see a little yellow man and some streets outlined in blue. The blue streets have StreetView.

  4. Drag and drop the man onto the street you want to view. A viewer window should appear.

  5. Use the arrows on the viewer window to take a “drive” down the street. You can look to the right or left, zoom in and out, or turn around.

Why is this useful?

  • Tour your ancestors’ neighborhoods without actually having to go there.

  • Enter addresses from vital records, journals, etc. to see what the area looks like.

  • Take a screen capture of a house, landmark, etc. for your family records.


  • If you something you want to save a picture of, press the Prt Scr (Print Screen) key. Then open Paint and click Edit > Paste. Then save the file.

  • If you’re taking many screen captures, try SnagIt by TechSmith software.

  • The address that Google Maps gives you may not put you at the exact house. Some prior knowledge of the area is helpful.

  • If your area doesn’t have StreetView, keep checking back.

My great-grandparents' former home in South Gate, California, as seen in Google Maps StreetView.

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