Editor’s note: This genealogy column ran in the June 28, 2015, issue of the Tribune-Star.

The Wabash Valley Genealogy Society hosted a webinar for the January 2015 program called “Using Google Earth for Genealogy.” Presented in live time via the internet by Lisa Louise Cooke, the presentation was an immediate hit with the audience. You might even say the effect was “mind blowing.”  Cook presented many tools and uses for Google Earth that I, and I believe most of the others in the group, had no idea existed. Some of the techniques she presented were how to use Google Earth to get the location of the buildings in an old family photograph, how to access and use the historic maps that exist on Google Earth (even overlaying them on the modern Google Earth view), and how to display and overlay the township and range information for a tract of land onto Google Earth.

This last subject interested me quite a bit because I had been trying to locate and exactly pinpoint some of my ancestors’ and relatives’ land tracts on the present-day map. I laid this ambition aside for a few months, but recently took up the task of finding the land tracts on Google Earth. I was successful, and thought I’d share this technique with others.

First, you need to download Google Earth, which is free. Visit www.google.com/earth/download/ge/agree.html if you have a regular computer with Windows, Linex or Macintosh operating systems. If you have a tablet or phone, since there are so many kinds, just google “download Google Earth for (name of device)” and you will be taken to the appropriate site for the download.

After the download, be sure to take the tour and play around with the program until you understand the basic operation. You can go anywhere in the world by entering that place in the search option. Once there, you can move around and zoom in or out by using your cursor and the navigation tools on the right. Play around with the layers to see what items you want marked and labeled (like places, roads, boundaries and buildings). Sometimes having all of these enabled interferes with seeing the geographical features below. Also experiment with the toolbar on top because it has some very useful features including adding a place marker, saving or emailing a page, measuring distances, and going back in time to see what the area looked like in other years.

Now you are ready to find that ancestor’s tract of land on the modern-day map. First you must have the coordinates of the land, which you would get from a deed, the BLM GLO website, or another source. (This only works for land described in townships, ranges and sections.) Let’s say the land is in Carroll County, Missouri, the 5th principal meridian, Township 53 north, Range 23 west, the northeast quarter of Section 27. This might be abbreviated by 5thPM, T53N, R23W, NE¼ S27. Now go to the Earthpoint website that will convert this legal description and overlay it on Google Earth. The site is located at www.earthpoint.us. You have to first create an account. Ignore anything it says about paying because what you will be doing is offered for free. Next, go to the menu on the left, and under Township and Range click on “search by description.” You will be taken to a screen where you will enter the state, the first principal meridian, township, range, and section from drop-down menus. Next click on “fly to Google Earth” and away you go! Back on Google Earth, you will see the area outlined on the view of the earth and under “Places” on the sidebar menu, your Earthlink information will appear.

The Earthlink site can be used for other types of searches – for example, latitude and longitude. I entered the coordinates for a cemetery from Find A Grave, flew on to Google Earth, and voila – I was taken right to the cemetery. It also has help features to answer your questions about how to do things, how to save the grids, and how to get rid of the grids.

So don’t hesitate – fly away to Google Earth by using the Earthpoint website.

Recommended for you