Sunday, May 8, 2016

Leveraging Google Maps in Genealogy

I posted about this a few years back, but after meeting up recently with my cousin Sara (great granddaughter of my great-great grandmother's brother Meyer), I realized it bears repeating and updating.

You've probably used Google Maps to get directions.  But did you know that you can create personal maps of places your ancestors have lived to help visualize their migration and how close various branches lived to one another?
Locations in which my family members have lived

In addition to being able to customize the look and color of the various "pins," the pins can also be put into different layers, allowing only certain layers' pins to be displayed.
The same map above but with two of my layers turned off
In addition to being able to customize the way that the pins look, you can add text &/or pictures to describe what each is representing.
Showing the text associated with one of my family towns
You can look at topographic and satellite views of the area to better understand why people lived--and moved--where they did.
Some of my family towns in the Carpathians.  Note how they're in villages along the valleys

While you're creating your map, look at what other information Google has about each town.  They may well have photos of the town--or if you're really lucky, they'll have StreetView, which allows you to virtually stroll around town.
Photo of the Kolodne Area via Google Maps

How do you make such a map?  Start by going to and selecting "Create Map."

Pick a name for your map and choose your privacy settings.  Then click on Done.  Your map has been created!

Now you need to add places.  Just search for a location in the search bar near the top of the page.  Once it finds your location, click on the location pin in the map, click "Save to map," then make sure the correct map is selected.  Press "Save" and it will be added to your map!  Do this for each location you want to save.
Adding a site to my map
You can now customize your locations.  Go back to "My Places" and then click on your blog name.  You'll see all of the locations that you have added.  Click on any location to edit, and you can change what the marker looks like, what is displayed, and you can also add notes and pictures.

Any other ideas of how to use Google Maps to further your genealogy research?  Please comment below!

(What are Google's rules for publishing their maps?  See here:

Note:  I'm on Twitter.  Feel free to follow me (@larasgenealogy).

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  1. Lara, this is reall helpful. I had no idea you could do these things with maps. One question---how did you embed these into your blog? Did you cut and paste using a clipping took? Or did you use the code on Google Maps? I think I've been doing even that part wrong. Thanks!

    1. For these, I used a clipping tool. But if you look at my prior post on Google Maps, I have an embedded map. One thing I realized is that embedded maps update even after they're posted if you update the underlying map.

    2. OK, I went back and looked at that one, and I see it is also interactive, not static (for better or worse). I prefer to clip as you did in this post, though their attribution rules seems to require use of the HTML code. Not sure why as long as you include the right hand corner, as you did. Thank you!

  2. I have bookmarked this for future reference. I had an idea that you could do this, but your description is great. And yes, street view is very cool.

  3. Lara, this is a great idea! I shared your post with several Facebook groups. One question people are asking is what to do if the name of a place has changed over time. Any suggestions that I could pass along would be very helpful.

    1. Glad you enjoyed! I use the modern name (which is how Google Maps finds it) but often write the prior name(s) in the comments about it. A good start to finding a modern name is using JewishGen's Community Database here:

    2. Thanks Lara! I will pass info along.

  4. This is a great idea! I may have to start on an ancestry map today. Thanks!!

  5. I just spent an entire morning mapping out to my great-great grandparents. So much fun!

  6. Also note there is an interactive map on every Jewish Locale page -- under the maps there's a link to JewishGen Resource Maps -- it would be great if the info could be exported so it could be on personal google maps but I find this very under-known resource sort of amazing! :-) - Erika

  7. Totally using these maps for my One Name Study and maybe link them to my profiles at WikiTree. I will see what happens. As always, learn so much at your blogs.

  8. Lara, have you seen how in Google Earth you can also overlay a historical map on the modern one, as well as doing all of the things you mention above? Family Tree magazine had an tutorial article on "Overlay Maps in Google Earth" July/Aug 2015
    or just view how to here:

  9. There is a very neat way of including Google Maps -- including street-views, and I'm assuming these customs ones too -- into a blog-post so that they remain interactive, i.e. not just an image snapshot. An explanation may be found at:

    (apologies if this is a duplicate post -- blogspot was offline earlier today)

  10. Just wanted to let you know that I followed your suggestions in my latest blog post and also mentioned your post in doing so.
    You can see it here. Thanks!

  11. Lara, I'd saved this blog post and today created my personalized family map. Thank you so much for clear instructions!