The Secret of Google Maps

Poland with Fav Star

When it comes to genealogy, I would be lost without a map – it’s like being lost in the forest without a compass. My default for viewing my ancestors’ world is Google Maps.

Sure, it has boundaries as of today’s world and I know some have strong feelings about Google. However, it’s my first go-to when I need to locate a village, city, restaurant, gas station, you name it.

Poland in today’s world isn’t a large country but from my own experience, it took me a year or two to start to recognize names of mid-size cities and local landmarks in what was the Western Galicia. My great-grandparents came from today’s Kolbuszowa and Tarnobrzeg counties but many times those towns may not appear so I found I could add “starred” locations.

My “home” parish, located within the borders of Poland today

A starred location is like saving a favorite website in your bookmarks. Anytime I lose my place and not sure where to go, I know I can just look for the star! Google offers a help guide if you’re not sure how to star a location.

Google Maps allows me to also get to know the area, local shops as well as the current house number (similar but not exactly like an address in the US). If I zoom in close enough, house numbers appear!

Zoomed in image of a Polish village, with current house numbers

House numbers are important in Polish genealogy; they help ensure you have the right family, as there could be many with the same surname in the same village. (I’m really sorry if your surname is Nowak.) If your family lived at house number 10, there’s a chance if you follow house number 10 throughout the vital records, it’s going to be the same family. But, keep in mind that in the early 20th century many Polish villages re-numbered the houses. So house number 38 in the above image will not be the same house number 38 in the vital records from 1863.

I’ll write more about house numbers in a later post, including how I had the wrong Andrzej Wąsik as my ancestor in my tree when I had just begun my Polish genealogy journey.

The last secret I will share today is the option to review the local area, including names of neighboring villages. There were quite a few inter-village marriages so understanding where and proximity to the village where the marriage is taking place is critical. For example, here is my 2nd great-grandparents’ marriage record from 1890:

marriage record of Maciej Wąsik and Ewa Kopeć, Brzostowa Góra, 1890-11-12
Majdan Królewski Civil Parish Files, years 1890-1894, held at the State Archives in Kielce, Branch in Sandomierz

The marriage takes place in the village of Brzostowa Góra, where my 2nd great-grandfather is from. However, my 2nd great-grandmother, Ewa Kopeć, is from Huta Komorowska. Looking at Google Maps, I can tell that Huta Komorowska is just due west of Brzostowa Góra.

Huta Komorowska on the left and Brzostowa Góra on the right. You can also see my starred pin for Majdan Królewski!

It’s not a far distance and furthermore, it’s in the same Catholic parish, so it’s reasonable to assume I found the correct Huta Komorowska.

As my ancestors’ world continues to evolve, I’m sure Google Maps will too.


  1. Donna Gawell

    I discovered something so interesting! My great-grandmother’s house was located right across from the church and the family still has a “newer” house on the property. Using Google maps, I was able to locate the property and the German’s launching site of their V1 and V2 missiles from Blizna. It was just a 15 minutes walk from her home and she was living there during the war (verified by my Polish cousins.) That means this dear old woman had about 200 missiles sailing over her home for a few years during WWII!

    • Oh my gosh, Donna, I can’t believe it – how did your dear ancestor cope with all those missiles?! I couldn’t imagine – we have some very strong ancestors in these Poles!

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