Genealogy and the GIS

I first read about GIS – somewhere online months ago and had no idea what it was. I still don’t hear much about it, but more and more localities are beginning to put databases online with free public access.

GIS or Geographic Information System is defined by the National Geographic Society as: a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface. GIS can show many different kinds of data on one map. This enables people to more easily see, analyze, and understand patterns and relationships.

Sounds sort of like Google Earth, you say? Well, yes and no. It’s much more than Google Earth, as counties around the United States are using GIS to post online information about property owners, tax rates and amount paid and, in some cases, even photos of the property.

Last year, when I first tried using GIS, so little came up that I forgot about it. This time around, I had much more success, although it is evident that implementation is still a work in progress in some towns and counties.

Here is what I found:

My first stop was Passaic County, New Jersey, looking up a couple of my old addresses.

It wasn’t immediately evident how to access data, so I clicked to enter the Passaic County Property Pilot map, just below the disclaimer.

Next, a nice map highlighting Passaic County came up, with data entry boxes on the left side to enter a town and address.

Next, a computer-generated map of Summer Street came up, but on the right side was current tax information for the house, including the current owner (whose name I blocked out), lot size, when the house was last sold and for what amount and the current tax valuation. I was actually quite shocked to see property taxes of over $8600 for a house valued at $264,907 located in an inner city!

Next, I tried looking for the same information on my second childhood home in Wayne, which is still in Passaic County:

The map came up, but no address. It looks like they haven’t gotten to the W towns yet, but I will check back in a few months to see if Wayne has been finished.

Next, I wandered up to New Hampshire. I was looking for GIS for Belknap County, but nothing came up. There is a New Hampshire GIS, though, which is up and running:

I looked in the drop down menu in the Quick Tools green button in the top left corner of the map, but I didn’t see a way to locate the same kind of information I found in Passaic.

I was looking for a house in Meredith, so I next searched for “Meredith GIS.”

I entered an address, which I won’t share because my relatives still own the property, but in addition to the type of tax information I found in Passaic, there were a couple of bonuses:

House in New Hampshire

There is detailed information about the structure of the building and there is also a photo of the house, which is on a road that GoogleEarth has not traveled.

My last visit was to San Bernardino County, California. That was pretty much a bust because parcel numbers, tract numbers, etc. are needed and if a search is done by name, no maps are provided and even the property address is blocked.

Locating a GIS takes a bit of searching since it appears that towns, counties and states all have access to it. The websites are exactly set up to invite browsing either, so you might have to try some of the links to find property information.

However, if you know house addresses where your family lived, you might find some neat data to add to the story of your family’s life. It’s worth a few minutes of internet searching.

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