Google Earth for Genealogy and Historical Maps

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Lisa Louise Cooke, who presents the Genealogy Gems podcasts, when she presented a seminar to my local genealogy society. She covered several topics, but my attention was drawn to her presentation on using Google Earth to enhance our genealogical knowledge. Now I have to admit I played with Google Earth and maps several years ago, but didn’t do a lot with it because there weren’t many digital maps available for many of the towns in which I had the most family history interest. Like everything else we find on line, there is a lot more available today than yesterday.

Have you discovered Google Earth yet with its fantastic ability to allow historical map overlays onto current land views? If not, I highly recommend Lisa’s free Google Earth for Genealogy and Map Your Family History with Google Earth tutorials.

Using digital historical maps, it is possible to overlay plats of cemeteries where family members are buried, Public Land Survey maps (township-range-and-section maps) and other historical maps that provide a visual image of where our ancestors lived compared to how that same area looks today.

Today, I have no Google Earth overlays to share. However, I plan to spend the next few weeks playing with maps and Google Earth to see what I can create. I promise a future post about my experience and results.

If you, too,  would like to try this out, you need to first download Google Earth on to your computer. It’s free. Next, you need some historical maps to get started. I’ve searched on line and compiled quite a few websites where different types of historical maps are available, in digitized format, and all are free. (If you are looking for a particular town and can’t find any digital maps for free, I did come across a site – unnamed because I don’t want to promote any for-profits – but you can easily find it with a Google search.) My goal was to include at least one state site for each of the fifty states, but several states don’t have their own archives and instead provided links to some of these first few sites.

If you have any tricks of the trade to share about using Google Earth and maps, please leave a comment.

Here are sites that have large collections covering multiple, if not all, states:

University of Texas, Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection

David Rumsey Map Collection

Bureau of Land Management Land Patents 

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Historical Topographic Maps

Library of Congress

Historic USGS Maps of New England and New York at the University of New Hampshire

For those researching in Canada:

Library and Archives Canada

State Collections:

Alaska Digital Archives
University of Colorado Boulder
University of Connecticut
University of Delaware
University of Florida
University of Georgia
University of Idaho
Illinois – University of Chicago Library
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Kansas – Wichita State University
Kentucky – University of Louisville
Louisiana Digital Library
Maine at UNH
University of Maryland
University of Massachusetts Lowell Libraries
University of Michigan
Minnesota Digital Library
Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Missouri – The Kansas City Public Library
Montana Memory Project
Nebraska – Omaha Public Library
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
New Jersey – Princeton University
New Jersey – Rutgers University
New York – Cornell University
New York Public Library
University of North Carolina
Oklahoma State University
University of Oregon
Pennsylvania – Free Library of Philadelphia
Pennsylvania – Historic Pittsburgh 
South Carolina – The South Caroliniana Library Map Collection
Tennessee State Library and Archives 
Texas – University of Houston Libraries
Vermont – Middlebury College
Library of Virginia – including Civil War maps
Virginia Tech
Washington State University
University of Wisconsin Digital Collections








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