Using Google Maps to discover more about how your ancestors lived


If you are fortunate enough to have an address for where an ancestor once lived, and yet again fortunate in that the place of residence is still standing, then you will find that Google Maps, and its streetscape setting is an excellent tool for genealogical research. 

I thought that I would use an example of this by using this database to search out a house that my grandfather and his family lived in, in 1907.  22 Britannia Road, Ilford, Greater London.  The first picture you see is a long view of the road and a map which places it on a map of London. 

Image from Google Maps.

This is where you start to investigate the neighbourhood, and see what traces lie there from 1907, when the family lived at that house.  Looking at the street it is clear that these are late Victorian, row houses, and therefore the house at 22 is the same house that the family lived in.  The neighbourhood was therefore rather new when the family moved in.  The houses are all the same size, and features.  The house itself is white painted brick, but its neighbour at 24 probably reveals what it would have looked like when it was constructed, as its brick is not painted, and the lintels and cornices are also unpainted.    The front door at 22 is recessed and there is a paved brick walk, with a lovely little garden in front.  The house seems to have two rooms on the top front so there were probably around four bedrooms in the home.  This is good, because they had five children, four who must have still lived with them when they lived here.

If you travel along the road a bit, you hit a high street (Ilford Lane), which features now a number of shops, and no doubt had similar kinds of retail in the early twentieth century as the buildings seem to date from about the same period. 

If you flick back onto the map of Ilford, you will see where the local school is, on Cleveland Road, not that far a walk for the kids.  I know from consulting the school’s archives at the Ilford Library that my grandfather and great aunt both went there.


From jiggling around between streetscapes and map I cannot find an Anglican Church nearby.  So I am not sure where they worshiped (if they were attending Church regularly).  I also am unsure where my great grandfather worked, but it would most likely not have been in the immediate area, as the area appears mostly residential. 

So what happens when the house they lived in no longer exists, and the neighbourhood?  This is a problem I faced when I had to deal with the place where my great-great grandparents first lived when they had their first child and got married (circa 1860).  Their address was 18 Granby Terrace, Hampstead.  Well the street is still there, but the house is not.  Instead it made way mostly for the train tracks running into Euston Station. 

So instead I found a feature listed on the map and went from there.  First since I knew it was close to Euston I googled that, then I saw that even closer, there is a place called Stalbridge House, so I googled that, and that is when I started on my virtual walk in the neighbourhood.

Stalbridge House is on Hampstead Road, and is actually a mid to late Victorian apartment block.  It was clearly built after my family lived around here.  It is surrounded by 1970s concrete masterpieces, which must have clearly altered the nature of the neighbourhood.  Walking down Hampstead Road I am faced with even more ugly concrete and an overpass.  Turning right, I find myself on Granby Terrace.  To the right is a wall, and on the other side of it are the train tracks leading to Euston.  To the left is a pink apartment building, which dates probably from the 1970s, behind it are lower level blocks that are older, but still 20th Century.   The street indicates nothing from its earlier past. 

So I return to Hampstead Road and go down it further from Granby Terrace.  One road up, Morning Crescent shows a much more interesting pattern of construction, which looks like it could date from earlier in the nineteenth century.   It is typical terraced row housing.  I went online then to google the name of the street, thinking that there was some architectural merit, or perhaps protection afforded to these houses.  I was right. According to Wikipedia, it was built in the 1820s, so it would have been standing at the time of my great-grandparents’ living in the neighbourhood.  Now according to Wikipedia, which honestly is not the most reliable source of information, when these houses were built, the neighbourhood was surrounded by green fields and open country, but was still close to town.  Later in the Victorian era (which is not a clear date for my purposes) the houses were split into flats and housed artists and artisans.  According to the article, there was a school at Granby Terrace, Wellington House Academy, where Charles Dickens went to school.  (Before the time, therefore of my family’s occupation).  

So while the neighbourhood is mostly changed, I can still use the visual images and the streetscape to ferret out some information on the neighbourhood, and then take my research further.

Walking virtually down the street then, provides the genealogist a way to connect in some manner to the lives that their ancestors lived.  What is even better, the person does not have to live in the same area to find things out.  It is a useful tool, and with a bit of imagination and creativity, can be made to assist your research endeavours further.