Family History + Google Earth = A Great Partnership, Part 1

UPDATE: This is a multi-part mini-tutorial. Part 2 is coming on Monday, January 19.

I first mentioned Lisa Louise Cooke’s program on using Google Earth in conjunction with family history research back in October, but this is the first chance I’ve had to relearn what I’ve forgotten and talk about it.

Google Earth is a lot of fun to use with family history information. First, if you don’t already have it installed on your computer, do that now.

Once it is installed, you are ready to go. Choose a place to search for – one that has a special meaning for your family. It can be an exact address, such as a house where the family lived or it could be a place, like a church the family attended. However, do no choose an area that is a gated community or an uninhabited place for this practice. Google doesn’t enter such areas and you won’t be able to use the street view icon.

Your home screen should look similar to this, but without places saved in the box on the left:

Google Earth Home Page
Search box is in top left corner.

Before we explore Google Earth, now that it’s installed, we need to create a practice folder. I called mine “Passaic, NJ Highlights” because I was born there and lived in Passaic until I was eleven.

1. Choose a name for your folder.
2. Look at the Places box on the left side of your screen. Click on My Places to highlight.
3. Right click and choose Add and Folder.
4. Type in the folder name you have chosen. You can add a description about the folder contents if you like, but this is only a practice folder so it isn’t really necessary. In the future, if you want to add a description, image or link, all you need to do is right click on the folder name, scroll down to Properties and click. The description box will open and you can edit it.
5. Click OK and the folder is now in Places.

We are ready to practice.

I chose to enter Roosevelt #10 School in Passaic, NJ, which was the school I attended. I knew the school was on Harrison Street, but didn’t know the address. It didn’t matter because when I typed in the school name and city, Google Earth gave me the address and I just clicked to choose it. Google Earth zoomed in to the location, which looks like this:

Roosevelt #10 School, Passaic, NJ

Notice that there is a site marker at the school location. On the right side of the screen are some directional circles for moving around the map. Below the two biggest circles is a person icon. If you drag that icon to the street where your chosen destination is, you will switch to street view.

Roosevelt School, Street View

Here is my elementary school, still looking much as I remember it. My kindergarten class was on the first floor, bottom right side and my sixth grade class was on the third floor on the top left hand side. The girls’ playground is seen on the area to the right (where the cars are parked) and the building seen behind the school is actually the school gymnasium, which connects to the main building via a special corridor in the middle of the back side of the second floor.

I’d like to save this address in my Passaic Highlights folder in “My Places.” Here’s what I need to do:

1. Click on my “Passaic Highlights” tour folder to highlight it.
2. Next, click the Placemark button in the Google Earth toolbar.

Click on Placemark icon – the yellow push pin

3. Name the Placemark. You can also add a description here if you like.
4. Click OK. It’s now in your folder. If you want to edit the description later on, just right click and go down to Properties, the same way you would edit your folder name.

If you are interested in more detailed information, Lisa’s website is While most of the Google Earth tutorials are available to premium (subscription) members, if you go to her website, you can find a “Free Google Earth for Genealogy Video Class.”

There are also free videos on YouTube about using historical maps for genealogy, along with adding images and taking neighborhood tours.


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