Visiting Ancestral Homes and Businesses in Your Jammies, by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

Many people visited one or more of their “home” places during the November and December holidays. These homes of ours, and of relatives, have special places in our hearts. Recently, I was sharing Christmas stories with a friend, and I was reminiscing about the large windows in living room of my childhood home where we would sit and watch for Santa. Of course, one of my sisters or I always saw that sleigh in the sky! In this same vein, I received a neat Christmas gift from a genealogy friend. She had an artist draw the tree that was in the yard of her childhood home and had it incorporated into Christmas cards. We can create these kinds of memories, too.

Several weeks ago I drove past several of the St. Paul homes from my past. Just a few days ago I visited them again, including the places where we lived in Mountain View, California, many moons ago. I did the last visits without even leaving my home office. Have you ever heard that phrase, “You can’t go home again?” As long as you have Internet access, you can visit some of your old homes and those of some ancestors.

Maps and Pictures of Homes
A few clicks online and you might be looking at a map of your old neighborhood, small town, or the town square. Other pictures of old homes abound in libraries and historical societies. You local library may have access to the Sanborn Maps online which show the location of buildings and homes, street names and building numbers, sidewalks, fire hydrants, roofing materials, and what the structure is constructed from (i.e. brick, wood, etc.). These were used for fire insurance purposes. Today they are a favorite of genealogists and the microfilms are found in many libraries and historical societies. The more than 660,000 maps were drawn from 1867-1970 and covered 12,000 towns and cities.

Old real estate firms may have pictures of area homes. In one instance, the Confer Realty Company saved 2,500 photos of houses sold from 1900-45. These Minneapolis photos are now housed at the Hennepin History Museum. If you or an ancestor resided in a historic home no matter where, you may get a house history in addition to a picture. A book might have been published with pictures of selected homes in one town. Many images of older pictures are appearing on historical society websites.

Google Maps
Google provides us with a new tool, Street View for looking at those homes as they are currently. Street View launched last spring and is expanding. Currently, only some major cities have street views, but for some areas, that includes nearby cities. The panoramic and direct views of houses and other buildings were taken recently.

When you open up Google Maps look for the button Street View in the upper-right section of the map, and once you arrive at that U.S. map, click on a city that has the camera icon. Then type in an address.

Or, begin by typing in a street address and city such as “101 Newbury Street Boston,” and then clicking on street view once you see Newbury Street on the map, and in seconds you can view the entrance to the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Once there, you can move your cursor on the image and check out the panoramic view of the buildings on both sides of Newbury Street near NEHGS. Maybe you want to visit the Dallas Public Library. Type the address “1515 Young St. Dallas” in the search box. When the Dallas map appears, click on Street View. The terraced building that houses the main library, including the genealogy section, is right in front of you.

Basically, you will see a little figure of a person and an arrow. Move that person to the arrow and view your building. This figure is your tool for moving around the city to find different locations. Streets that are outlined in blue are the ones that have street views at Google Maps. Google offers basic tutorials on using its maps.

Before You Visit
Wondering what a courthouse actually looks like? Check Google Street Views. How about that library with the local history room? Check Google. Do the same for parking lots, especially to determine which street has an entrance. Visualize area restaurants. Look for landmarks that will assist you as you may be driving to a location you have never visited before.

Where to Find Those Addresses
There are many places to find older ancestral addresses. Some federal and state censuses list addresses. Old family correspondence may yield addresses. City directories for multiple years will show the families at the same address for many years, or show they moved a lot. Dig out your old address book or your mother’s that is sitting in your closet. Check out each address. Learn if the house numbers and street names have changed for your localities of interest.

What Cities Are Included?
Currently, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, St. Paul and Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland (Oregon), Providence, San Diego, San Francisco, and Tucson are included.
Some Caveats
As mentioned above, the areas covered vary by city. Some neighborhoods may not be part of the street level views. I was able to see my late in-laws’ home, but not my grandmother’s apartment building just a block away. Still, the vast majority of my home city, St. Paul, has online views. A few cities in other countries are showing up as well.

Concerns about privacy and security issues have risen and certain places, such as shelters for abused women and children or some government buildings, have been removed or are not clearly visible.

Google is not the only online entity with such images of homes and other buildings, but at this point, it has the largest collection and is now expanding to other countries. Don’t blame me if you totally forget to change that load of laundry once you start with these helpful images. Once you are at Google maps, you will find additional tools and paths to take.

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About the author
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, a Minnesota resident, is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer who is frequently on-the-road. She coordinates the American Records & Research Course at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She writes for several periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments and additions to her columns will reach her a
[email protected] or via her blog She regrets that she is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of requests. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. Your name will not be used, but your place of residence might be listed (i.e., Salina, Kansas).

Paula’s upcoming speaking engagements:

  • February 23, 2008, South St. Paul, Minnesota
    Minnesota Genealogical Society Class
    Class: Researching Your American Indian Ancestors
  • April 12, 2008, St. Louis, Missouri
    St. Louis Genealogical Society 38th Annual Family History Conference
  • April 17-19, Cincinnati, Ohio
    Ohio Genealogical Society 47th Annual Conference

5 thoughts on “Visiting Ancestral Homes and Businesses in Your Jammies, by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

  1. If you want a close up aerial view of your old home Try “Live Search Maps” for my new home town in Midway, Utah you can get view of about 65′ to the inch. I can identify the piles of cement board going into the construction of my house in the fall of 2006. There are street maps, Aerial views and aerial views with the streets names.

  2. Goooogle seem to be ok for larger cities but I find MSN’s Maps And Directions does a lot better for country and small towns. I use it a lot with my Real Estate sales.

  3. This comment taken us away from how to look up houses in jammie’s, although I like that too! But it IS about making sure the original look and view are preserved. As I said in another blog not log ago, when “we came home again” after inheriting the “HomePlace”, we did extensive remodeling. Had too Cloth wiring still there! And we did preserve “essense” of the 100 square foot Craftsman Cottage built by my husband’s Grandfather in 1918, only after they tore down original house they bought in 1884. They built on the same lot. This was a predominantly German neighborhood in Creston, Iowa, where the workers flocked when Railroad came through around 1870 I believe. They all stayed within a 6 – 8 block radius of other families.Spoke German, built German Lutheran Church so services could be said in German. I digress, but it helps feel the importance of the little house on the corner, that we felt very responsible for. But in the end, after preserving some woodwork and central collinades, I needed a modern house. Added on etc. But before we changed it, I had a local painter I know come down and paint the original house and the trees that weren’t there now on a medium-sized handsaw that belonged to this common hardworking RR engineer with 8 children in that samll house. It still hangs above the back door entrance (the main door!).A PS,6 months after they moved back in, just before Thanksgiving 1918, on Easter weekend 1919, he at 55, came in from yard and fell to kitchen floor and died. Leaving Grandma a widow to raise them all alone, but in her new updated home! I know I always go long, but I think the relationships within and WITH the house are so fascinating. Forgive my length again.

  4. Sorry, should have edited first. House was NOT that small. 1000 square feet! Big difference!

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