Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No Passport. No Reservations.

I stopped living on a jet nine years ago and don't miss the constant hassle of airports, hotels and lost hours from home and family. The only trips I really enjoyed were those that involved family history research or visiting Disney. Why Disney didn't build a large complex in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, I'll never know, but it certainly would have been perfectly sited in my opinion..... at least in the summer....

When you don't live near the location where many if not most of your ancestors lived for generations, short visits just don't afford enough time to visit all the libraries, vital record centers, ancestral homes and cemeteries you'd like to see.

Before your research trip, you plan out everything you want to see and put a star by the things you have to see and do.

Your schedule goes exactly as planned and so there is little time required in those areas of your research again. Right?

I suppose that there is a statistical probability that is true for someone at sometime, but I probably wouldn't believe it even with proof.

In my last post, I talked about losing myself in Google Books. I didn't mention how much time I Google Earthspend using Google Earth in my ancestral research.

It is too bad that Google doesn't offer frequent flyer miles, because I'd never have to pay for a flight again in my lifetime.

I don't accomplish everything on my list when I travel on family history research trips. I always find ancestral families that lived in the area I just visited AFTER I get home. I never find all of the cemeteries and ancestral homes that I planned to visit.

What to do? Research trips are expensive. Talking momma into one more 'exciting' week browsing through dusty archives in the basements of a government buildings with walls covered by the requisite green tile is a tall order, even though she loves genealogy too.

There is at least a partial solution to my dilemma. I book the next flight on Google Earth and fly back to discover the cemeteries and buildings that I wish I'd found or known about when I was there in person.

Then I start creating pin markers for each of the locations with descriptive names and save them with descriptive file names. Soon, migration patterns emerge. They help me better plan my next research trip to the library or ancestral location.

I create multiple files that cover a variety of topics. One is completely comprised of cemeteries pins only. Another is comprised of the locations where my ancestors lived. By using different colored pins for each family, I can easily separate them into my various lineal families.

One file is based entirely on occupations and historical events. They help me understand why many of my ancestors were constantly on the move westward, often homesteading or claiming bounty land grants for military service. Yet another file shows me where the principal ports were located on the coast of New England and the number and color of pins tell me whether the ships based there were whalers, merchant or military ships.

With these maps, I have a quick visual reference that opens new vistas of contemplation regarding my ancestral quest. By zooming in, around and across the various pins, I see arenas of exploration that I haven't considered before.

Animating the burial location file allows me to visually observe migration patterns that aren't necessarily linear. Reading the burial locations in my database doesn't necessarily equate to envisioning the migration path moving west, then north, then south and even back east again. Why did they do that? Hmmmmm. It is time to rethink my research plan yet again.

I animate some of the files to help teach our grandchildren about their ancestors. They are young, but watching the flight from ancestral home to ancestral home around the world is second nature in their view of the world. They expect to have tools and presentations like this and hence pick up the meaning of what they are seeing almost immediately.

Within minutes, I have to surrender the mouse so they can run the show, explore the program and as if by osmosis, learn the interface and tools in Google Earth so they can start adding additional data points that I've overlooked or haven't considered.

The virtual world is theirs but I'm not ready to give up my seat in it. Neither should you. If you aren't using Google Earth in your own ancestral quest, download the free application today and get with it. It is easy to use and of course even if you get hung up a little, just ask your kids or grandkids to help and they'll have you up and flying in short order.

While writing this posting, Dan Lynch left a comment on my last posting about Google Books. He has written an excellent book called "Google Your Family Tree" that would be an wonderful addition to your library and research skills. Perhaps Santa will bring you a copy if you ask for it.

Post a note and let us know how you use Google Earth in your own ancestral quest. I'll bet there are hundreds of ideas that you've found that will benefit the entire family history community.


Becky Thompson said...

I haven't used it a lot but I have explored it a bit. After reading your post I'm going to take a better look at it. I've got to check into the "animation" thing. Dan Lynch's "Google Your Family Tree" is a terrific book and worth the money. Christmas came early for me. Thanks for your great post!