Google Earth – It’s Fun and It’s Free

Google Earth – It’s Fun and It’s Free

Google Earth is a program that lets you “fly” anywhere to view satellite imagery.  It does require a download from but the desktop version is free.  It displays modern views, but it is still fun to see the terrain where the ancestors lived, especially in rural areas that are still sparsely populated. 

MapsUSGS Fact sheet Sept 2002 provided the following information about using maps in family history research: 

Old and new maps can help you track down facts about a branch of your family. How? In the United States, birth, death, property, and some other kinds of records are normally kept by the county governments. If you can name the place where an ancestor lived, new or old maps of that place may also show the county seat where useful data about your kin can be obtained.

Old maps can be particularly useful in this regard because pinpointing the name of the place where an ancestor lived can be like trying to hit a moving target. Many towns, counties, cities, and even countries have experienced numerous name changes over the years.

Though their names have changed, some of these places may be noted on an old map. The location of some others may be found in sources such as lists of abandoned post offices, local histories, government records, microfilm records, or clippings from old newspapers, old city directories, or old county atlases kept in the library archives of a town, city, or county in the region. has more information.  is a website for searching land patents and homestead records by state, and then by the owner’s name.  While the first name isn’t required, the last name must be spelled exactly the way it is in the files, so you may have to try some alternative spellings – such as Mullenax and Mullennax.  Some images are on line and can be downloaded for free.  Full records can be ordered from the Bureau of Land Management.  These records give property descriptions in the aliquot system – township, range, and sections. has a tool for converting the property descriptions to Google Earth coordinates.  If you have Google Earth on your computer (and why wouldn’t you, it’s free and it’s fun), you can click on the button and fly to the location.  Once you fly to the section, you can figure out the exact location of your ancestor’s land.  John Mullennax had property in Idaho, Boise meridian, 8N, 1E, section 11, S ½ SE ¼ (south half of the south-east corner of section 11).  He also had the NE ¼ of SE ¼, and SE ¼ of NE ¼.  Google Earth has a nice view of the property.  It looks like much of that section was cross-fenced on the section lines, and those borders are visible in the satellite images.  This area is now called Soldier Creek. 

Historic maps are available on the Internet – some for purchase, some as free downloads.  Some sites are:  This site allows a search by community name or family name.  The maps come up with the “Historic Mapworks” watermark over the image, but still can be zoomed up enough to see details.  The 1878 Barton map can be found here. There are plat maps that allow a search by the owner’s name. These maps are available for purchase.  The United States Geological Survey began its topographic atlas of the United States in 1882. The University of New Hampshire’s Library’s Government Information Department holds a working collection of over 55,000 paper USGS maps. This online collection of over 1500 USGS topographic maps includes complete geographical coverage of New England and New York from the 1890s to 1950s.  They have a link to  which includes more states. The Library of Congress includes railroad maps that might help show how a family member moved – covered wagon?  Or was there a railroad established?   has 27,800 maps of mostly North and South America, but also world maps.  specializes in New England and New York includes maps for sale, but also free downloads.

If you have a street address (from a city directory or census, for example), you can Google that address.  If you get lucky, you might find that it is for sale, and the realtor may have posted not only exterior photos, but interior as well.  Going to street view may give you a nice image of the home where your family lived. 

Disclaimer:  Nope, I have no affiliation with any of these websites or businesses.



  1. September 6, 2011 at 08:24

    I do have Google Earth and I love it! Thanks for posting all this information. I’m excited to see what I’ll find.


  2. Your cuz said,

    September 6, 2011 at 12:13

    AND IF you can locate and procure the Certificate # off the Bureau of Land Management record/s, you can go to the National Archives (I not II) and get an actual copy of your ancestor’s application and/or paperwork. One that is actually signed, in your ancestor’s own handwriting. Or their “X”, which sometimes also produces that audible gasp.

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