Updated: Feb 5, 2019
An important key to your family's past is the places they lived. Maps can offer important clues for genealogists. They can be used to determine the nearby towns and cities where your ancestors may have left behind records in nearby churches, libraries, newspapers and more. Maps can also add visual appeal to your family history scrapbook.
Google Maps Satellite View is a great tool for a birdseye view of the towns or neighborhoods your ancestor lived. Their "Street View" can sometimes allow you to see the actual home your ancestor lived in, a school they attended, or a church they were married in - providing the place is still standing, of course. Click here to see other sites and resources I use to find old maps online for free.
Another great, free resource you can use to "go back in time" is HistoricAerials.com. Using their map viewer, you can enter the coordinates or street address of a location, and then choose previous years to see aerial imagery from those years. These images were presumably photographed by airplane, and therefore only go back to about the 1930s, however.
I was on a mission to locate a picture of the home in which my family lived when I was five years old. It was the home of a young couple who convinced my parents to move out of state and offered to let us live with them until we found a home of our own. We only lived there for about a year, but still, it held a special place in the earliest of my memories. It was a large, old home with giant rooms, multiple staircases, and a room like a widow's watch from which we had an amazing view of the surrounding land. I considered it a mansion and had fun exploring the house and the surrounding woods with my sister. The photo shown here was taken in the home, but I was hoping to find a photo of the house itself. I knew the name of the town and recall it was at the end of a long driveway in what seemed to be deep in the woods. The dirt driveway was lined with wild strawberries we used to pick and eat after school. Next to it was a fire station, as I recall hearing the siren blaring frequently. I was able to find the address easily with Google Maps by locating the fire station.
Next, I entered the address at HistoricAerials.com and selected the year 1979, which was soon after the time we lived there. Sure enough, there it was - just as I remembered it, but with fewer trees. The house is circled in yellow here, alongside the long driveway my sister and I used to walk down to catch the school bus. I was in kindergarten and she was in first grade.
Before I explain what I found next, I'd like to share a little more back story. It was in that home that I first watched the movie The Wizard of Oz. Maybe the movie left an impression in my 5-year old mind, but for some reason, in that old house I had a recurring dream - or nightmare, I should say. I still recall it vividly to this day. In the dream I was upstairs in the bedroom I shared with my sister, looking out the window. Down below, an angry witch was driving what I thought was a big tractor. She waved her fist, cackling as she circled the house over and over, destroying the property. It was somewhat disturbing, quite perplexing, and as I grew older, increasingly more comical - a witch? On a tractor?! But many years later, what I found on HistoricAerials.com made that dream downright creepy.
The next available image for that location was taken in 1986. What do we see? A bulldozer clearing the land! The house was demolished and they were making way for a new development. What was once a driveway lined with strawberries is now a cul-de-sac lined with houses. HistoricAerials.com took me back to the past, where I seemingly was given a glimpse into the future. Check it out! Let us know if you find anything interesting about the places you or your ancestors lived!