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Yesterday I took a quick summer genealogical trip to visit my ancestors in the upper west side of Manhattan, the booming city of Columbus, Ohio and the bustling Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri. I
made my departure sometime around 5:00 p.m., arriving back at my home in Oklahoma in time to complete our evening supper.

As I swept through tree-lined streets of upper Manhattan in the Washington Heights neighborhood, I felt a flutter of anticipation that moved from my head down to the tip of my toes: That 'wow' feeling all family historians experience from time to time. I glided around corners of steel buildings on further past stoplights, arriving at west 143rd street, now vacant from years of population change.

Quickly saying my goodbyes to my Irish Rolston ancestors, I spun upwards to make a leap west to Columbus, Ohio. As I glanced downward onto the neighborhood where my paternal great great great grandmother lived, I toured several landmarks close to her home. Living on the edge of the German Village of Columbus, I passed through a lovely small residential community of brick homes and streets. Old German breweries now converted into condominiums and shopping centers provided a nostalgic backdrop to my ancestor's life in the middle 1800's. I strolled past apartments and darted through alleyways to catch a glimpse of great great great grandmother Delia's home where she lived for over thirty years.

And then feeling a need to buzz over to Missouri before my family in Oklahoma began calling me home, I landed firmly in the middle of a very busy, car jammed area of the business section of St. Louis. As I stood on the downtown street, I found myself in the middle of an intersection with tall towering buildings to the right and long, wide streets of concrete pavement. Stretching my neck to look down north 7th street where my great great grandfather Clark lived, no houses or apartments were found, only commercial buildings. And so I moved upward out of St. Louis and back toward Oklahoma, landing right were I left: my kitchen table.

As genealogists, we begin to feel a desire to see, hear and experience what life was like for our ancestors. Learning the histories of their communities and the events during their lifetime can provide us with a deeper sense of who our ancestors were. And making a virtual visit to their home sites provides an inkling of where they lived and what they came from. Of course a hundred years of city and community growth changes the visual setting, but grabbing a glimpse of the area of an ancestral home without leaving your own can make for a genealogical whirlwind day.

Google Earth is a fun, free and very easy to use time travel device for any family historian. And with the increased digitalization of city directories, a genealogist can board the virtual train and make numerous ancestral visits within a few head spinning minutes. I found my great great grandmother Euceba's Manhattan address off of her 1900 US Census. And my great great great grandmother Delia's 1879 German Village address was downloaded from a Columbus, Ohio directory; both from Ancestry.com. My ancestor, Clark Matthews, was found in the Kennedy's 1860 St. Louis city directory on Genealogy St. Louis.

As I peered around the corner of my ancestor's street in upper west Manhattan, I hoped to catch a glimpse of great great grandmother Rolston standing in the window with her apron neatly in place, mixing a cake for evening supper. But the vision was unfortunately not there, leaving it to my ever-eventful imagination: A quick virtual genealogical trip on an otherwise lazy afternoon.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
 


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