Once or twice a month I teach a class on Google for Genealogy. At the beginning of each section, I always ask the class members about their previous experience with various Google features including Google Maps, Google Books, Google News, Blogs and many other apps and features. In many cases, my questions draw a complete blank. No one in the class has ever tried or even knew about the feature or function. This is interesting because almost every person in every class uses Google's search function. Google is the modern Swiss Army Knife of the online world. If some of the features aren't pointed out to you, you simply use the most popular ones and ignore the rest.
Google Maps is goldmine for genealogists. It is a given fact that almost all genealogical research is tied to geographic locations. For the most part, records were and are kept in the geographic area where the events occurred. During my recent attempts to find the name my great-grandfather carved into a rock in northern Arizona, I searched Google Maps, Google Earth and lot of other maps to find the location. Yesterday, I was working with a patron at the Mesa Regional Family History Center and her mother's family came from Little Falls, Morrison County, Minnesota. In looking on Google, I find that there is a Wikipedia article on Little Falls and that the population was 7,719 in the 2000 U.S. Census. It was the boyhood home of Charles Lindbergh, the aviator. Since our meeting yesterday was quite short and she is just starting her genealogical research, I am pretty sure she doesn't yet know all of these facts.
On Google Maps, using Street View, almost every street in the town has been photographed. She could do a virtual tour of the entire town. Using the Census Records, she could likely identify the exact residence of all of her relatives and it his possible that most or all of the homes are still standing. Google Maps even has a new "3D" view that splits the images into 3D compatible images and I suppose that with 3D glasses you could view the images in 3D.
Many of the features of Google Maps are obscure. They are "hidden" in the link to "My Maps" that is right next to the link to "Get Directions." Clicking on My Maps opens up the rest of the entire world of apps for Google Maps. By further clicking on the link for "Browse the directory" you open up a whole new world of Google Map functions. There are, as of April 2, 2010, 1309 different apps that can be used with Google Maps to enhance the amount of information available from the maps. These apps include, a Distance Measurement Tool, an Area and Distance Calculator, GPS Location, Find anything around you, Position Finder, Elevation Contours, Custom Marker Icons, Map of Tourist attractions, and on and on and on.
Now, tell me, how many of you were even aware that these hundreds of apps were even there?