Thursday, January 3, 2008

Using Google Earth

There are two very important, but often neglected aspects of family history. One is becoming acquainted with the localities your ancestors lived in. If all you have is dates and places, you will feel much less connection than if you had a few pictures, a map and a brief history of the area. Another important aspect is going beyond the superficial dates by piecing together a timeline of their lives.

These are fairly disparate aspects of research, but you can make good progress toward both of them by creating a Google Earth file for the life of an ancestor. I'll explain:

In case you've never used it, Google Earth is a free software package that allows you to view a satellite map of the Earth. You can zoom in on your house, rotate for a bird's eye view and even view others' photos of the scenery on the map. One very useful utility is the ability to add place markers. If you have a fair amount of information on the life of an individual, you can create a trail of markers on a map that show where the person lived.

To make a file, first open Google Earth. You want to make a progressive trail of place markers, so find the birth place in the map. When it is centered in the map, click the button that looks like a pushpin (it's along the top) and a marker will appear in the center of the map. You can drag it around to the correct location. An information box will open up, and this is where you type a title for the marker and give some information.

Create a marker for each location in that person's life, and write a short description of what they did there. Then you need to organize the labels chronologically. Right click the "My Places" command in the "Places" tab on the left side, and create a new folder. Give the folder the name of the person you are researching, and then drag the place markers into that folder in the order you want them displayed.

You don't want to lose all your work, so right click the folder again and save it.

Here is an example to give you an idea.

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