Google Maps is a free web map server application that offers street maps for Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United States and much of western Europe, plus satellite map images for the entire world. Google Maps is just one of many free mapping services on the web, but its ease of use and options for customization through the Google API makes it a popular mapping option.
There are three map types offered within Google Maps - street maps, satellite maps, and a hybrid map that combines satellite imagery with an overlay of streets, city names, and landmarks. Some parts of the world offer much more detail than others.
Google Maps makes it easy to locate places, including small towns, libraries, cemeteries, and churches. It is important to note that these are not historic listings, however. Google Maps draws its locations from current map and business listings, so the cemetery listings, for example, will generally be larger cemeteries that are in current use.
To create a Google Map, you begin by selecting a location. You can do this through search, or by dragging and clicking. Once you've found the location you want, then switch to the "find businesses" tab to pinpoint churches, cemeteries, historical societies, or other points of interest.
My Google Maps
In April 2007, Google introduced My Maps which allows you to plot multiple locations on a map; add text, photos, and videos; and draw lines and shapes. You can then share these maps with others via email or on the Web with a special link. You can also choose to include your map in public Google search results or keep it private - accessible only through your special URL. Just click on the My Maps tab to create your own custom Google maps.
Mashups are programs that use the free Google Maps API to find new and creative ways of using Google Maps. If you're into coding, you can use the Google Maps API yourself to create your own Google Maps to share on your Web site or email to friends. This is a bit more than most of us want to dig into, however, which is where these Google Maps mashups (tools) come in.
All mapping tools built on Google Maps require that you request your own free Google Maps API key from Google. This unique key is required to allow you to display the maps you create on your own Web site. Once you have your Google Maps API key, check out the following:
- Community Walk: This tool is easy to use and allows plenty of room for pictures and comments for each location. You can customize your markers and colors, so you could use one color marker for paternal lines and another for maternal. Or you could use one color for cemeteries and another for churches.
- TripperMap: Designed to work seamlessly with the free Flickr photo service, this one is especially fun for documenting family history travels and vacations. Just upload your photos to Flickr, tag them with location information, and TripperMap will generate a flash-based map for you to use on your Web site. The free version of TripperMap is limited to 50 locations, but that is enough for most genealogy applications.
- MapBuilder: MapBuilder was one of the first applications to let you build your own Google map with multiple location markers. It's not as user-friendly as Community Walk, in my opinion, but offers many of the same features. Includes the ability to generate Google Map source code for your map which can be used to display the map on your own webpage.