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June 14, 2010

Using Google Street View to See an Ancestor's Home

Google Maps is my new best friend in Genealogy!

My grandparents were born in England in a town called Ramsgate in Kent. I've never been to England but I've always wondered what the houses they lived in look like. What are the streets like where they played and walked to school?

Recently I discovered Google Maps Street View and I'm thrilled. Using Street View I was able to see the home where my great grandfather died in 1920. He'd lived there for almost 20 years before his death and seeing it was a very moving experience for me. I could picture my great-grandma coming out the front door and walking to the nearby shops to get groceries. So many images came to my mind!

Here's how I did it. From census and death records I knew that my great grandparents lived at 40 Grove Rd in Ramsgate. I searched for that address using Google Maps. The screen that opens can be set to see Satellite, Map or Hybrid. Here's what I saw using Hybrid:

I could zoom in or out, I could change that to satellite view or whatever I want.

I could also click on STREET VIEW which is an option in the little white popup window with the address and tiny photo. Choosing that gave me this:

It's the view taken from the street looking at their home. Now, Google Maps isn't 100% accurate so you do need to do a little moving around to be sure you are looking at the right house! In this example, the red "A" balloon/pin was pointing to a house next door. So I moved down the street looking for house numbers and names. Great grandpa's home was called Pentreith (as per his obituary and other records) and lo and behold on the house beside the Red "A" balloon was a black door with the number 40 and over it the word Pentreith. That was the correct house.

I knew where Grandma and Grandpa lived when they were little, I knew where they were born (the actual houses) and even further back - because all of this information is available on census records. The English census was taken every 10 years so I had 1901, 1891, 1881 and so on to look through. Using all those records back to 1841 I can gather addresses and cottage/house names to try to find the actual buildings (if they still exist)

I will be having quite a bit of fun over the next few weeks looking for houses and cottages in England where my ancestors lived. You can do the same thing world-wide but be aware that not all locations have a street view option. But give it a try, see what you can find!


Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

I just started using Google Maps and Google Earth about 2 months ago and I have had an absolute BLAST! It's great for finding cemeteries and I was even able to relocate a place I'd been to 12 years ago. I didn't have an exact address but I could remember a small gravel road just before a sharp bend in the main highway. I looked for the sharp bend and found the road I was looking for. Too much fun! I love new toys!

Renae said...

wow, this is something I had not thought of. Guess how I will be spending my day off? Thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I've been using Streetview for a while for the exact same thing. Another site that is great for rural locations in the UK is

You were lucky - the house number didn't change over the years - but it's always a possibility. For example, Hillary House in Aurora, Ontario (built in 1862) has the current address of 15372 Yonge Street, but the number beside the front door says '72'.

nicolajr said...

Great idea, I'll be looking some places out soon, just hope they haven't knocked them down.