Google Street View is not yet a well-used source for genealogists today. But if Google continues its project of taking picture of (almost) every street around the world, the service will be a great time machine for future genealogical researchers.
Google launched its Street View project on May 25, 2007. Their cars began to drive on roads across the globe and take horizontal images at 360 degrees and vertical images at 290 degrees. With the camera safely placed on a pole on the car roof, streets are photographed at all possible angles, except for the angles blocked by the car roof.
Google Street View is also documenting other places
Not only pictures of streets are being documented, but eventually more and more the inside of some public buildings. Google has also recruited hikers to bring a 22 kg backpack of 15 cameras that documents the surroundings as the walker moves into the terrain. That way, anyone who wants to go to Trolltunga in Norway for example, can easily go in the comfort of the chair in front of their own PC.
North America, Australia and Europe are very well documented. Russia has also gotten a number of its streets photographed, while still a lot of photography remains done to get most of the roads in Africa and Asia documented.
Historic Google Street View
Those of us who live in North America, Australia or Europe may, as Google’s Street View project is getting on, enjoy the Historical Street View images. Google’s cars repeat their rounds every few years on previously documented roads to be updated on how everything looks like. We can now begin to go back in time and see how a house or a neighbourhood looked like 8-10 years ago.
It may be nice to go 8-10 years back in time to see how one’s own neighbourhood has changed in a relatively short period of time. If future family researchers, say in about 100 years, are fortunate enough that Google’s project is still happening online, they will have a hugely exciting source of their ancestors’ lives that is, our lives today.
Not surprisingly, some people are being documented by the Google Street View car on their way through the streets. However, people are made anonymous by blurred faces, but who knows, maybe Google once in the 2100’s can remove the blurring for the benefit of our future descendants.
Here’s how to find historical street view photos
- Go to maps.google.com
- Click on the location where you want to see street photos
- Click on the thumbnail of the street image that appear
- At the top right of the street screen you will find the time when the picture was taken. If more pictures have been taken over time, you can choose which year you want to see the street image from.
Note that not all streets yet are documented over several years.
The instructions above work on the PC, but Google has also added street view functionality on Google Maps apps for smartphones and tablets. However, here you may not be able to see when the photo was taken or to change the time you want to see.