Home Sweet Home…of Your Ancestors

Have you often wondered what your ancestor’s home may have looked like or the street they lived on?  I have…

Have you ever had a chance to actually see the place where they lived?  I have…and, without actually being there.  Let me show you how you can do the same thing.

Sometime ago, I was thinking about my g-g-grandfather, Edward Harris.  He was born in Tredegar, Monmouthshire, Wales in 1854, and he died in 1929 in Lykens, Dauphin Co., Pennsylvania.  I could only imagine him as a boy growing up in Wales, the son of a coal miner in the town of Tredegar until the age of 9, when his family came to America in 1863.

I often wondered what kind of house he lived in, and what the conditions were like.

Then I got an inspiration…being an computer and records manager,  I have always kept abreast of new technology and innovations.  The Google Maps street view had only been in existence for a year or two, and I would go look at old places I used to live and see what they looked like now.  Then it hit me…can I see where any of my ancestors used to live?

So, on a whim, I brought up the census of 1841 of Wales for my Harris family.  I’ve traced them back to Jenkin Harris (b. abt. 1791), wife Mariah (Llewelyn) Harris and children:


At the top of the page to the right, I saw PLACE, but no street name, but the word do, which means ditto.  This census page was part of pages 25 & 26.

So I looked on page 25 and sure enough, there was the street name, Charles Street, but no street numbers.


I went on to the 1851 census for Wales, and found my Harris family (notice the name is written down as Harry, a common Welsh name) on the same street, with an address number, 72 Charles Street:


Once I got a street address, it was on to Google Maps…I think you probably already know what direction I’m going with this (pun intended).

I typed in the street address with the town name and country and hit Enter.  Of course, in the U.S., you would type in the address, city or town and the state.  On the left, it shows me a small image of the street and house and on the right, it shows the map with the location flagged with a marker:


I grabbed the Google Pegman icon at the bottom…(in the rest of this post I will be referring to the Pegman icon as PI):


I dragged and dropped the PI onto or close to the map marker (SPECIAL NOTE: some roads were not driven by Google for various reasons, too small; etc.).  When you grab the PI and drag the PI over the road, only those roads with a center line of the road “light up” as a blue line.  If there is no center line of the road, you cannot drop the PI on it:


Here is the house where my g-g-g grandfather Jenkin, his siblings and his parents Jenkin and Mariah Harris were living in 1851 in Tredegar, Wales:


72 Charles Street – Notice the can near the front door with the large numbers on it – “72”!

I did the same thing for the 1861 census, finding my Harris family at a similar address on the same street:


At 90 Charles Street, Tredegar, in the Parish of Bedwelty, Monmouthshire, Wales.   Edward, my g-g-grandfather, was the eldest son, at 7 years old.  Notice Eliza Bevan and her children living there, sister-in-law to Jenkin Harris, Eliza was the younger sister of Jane (Simmonds) Harris.

The house of the Harris family at 90 Charles Street in Tredegar:


The number 90 is on the small plaque next to the front door.  This was more than likely the place where my g-g-grandfather Edward was born.

Let’s Go Shopping…

Pressing on to another example, my g-g-grandmother, Rebecca (Hensel) Harris, was the wife of Edward Harris, and sister of Thomas A. Hensel.  The Hensel and Harris families were very close.

Thomas Hensel ran a very prominent clothing store in Lykens, PA, that was considered to be one of the best in the area.

Thomas Hensel began a clothing store in 1891 with his partner, J.J. Nutt, buying out L. Marks who moved to Carlisle, PA.  In 1895, Thomas bought out his partner, and began Hensel’s Clothing.  In March of 1904, he moved his store to the Israel Building at the intersection of Main St. and Market St. in Lykens.

Here is an old postcard I got from the Lykens/Wiconisco Historical Society of the intersection of Main St. and Market St.:


Using Google Maps, we’ll see if the Israel Building is still there.  Following the same steps before, I typed in Main Street and Market Street, Lykens, Pa:


As before, I dragged and dropped the PI onto the marker on the map:


And here is the result:


Same building, although quite worn down, but the spire and the unique architecture of the building is a dead giveaway.

Here is another old photograph I got from the Lykens/Wiconisco HS at the same intersection:


One last photograph I wanted to share, although I could not find it on Google Street View, was the house of Thomas A. Hensel, that was eventually passed down to his daughter, Azilla (Hensel) Brown.  She is sitting on the front porch with some family members.  It must have been the 4th of July or Memorial Day.  Notice all the patriotic bunting :


I would like to give special thanks and appreciation to Sally Reiner, curator of the Lykens/Wiconisco Historical Society, whom I reached out to in 2012, for all the photographs, newspaper clippings and information regarding the Harris family and the Hensel family .  Turns out, Sally is an actual cousin of mine through the Hensel family.

Paying Our Respects

Let’s try one more…this time, I want to see if I can find where my ancestor, John L. Miller is buried.

In the Google Maps search field, I just typed in the name of the name of the cemetery, Calvary United Methodist Church Cemetery, Wiconisco, PA.

I grabbed the PI and dropped it on one of the cemetery roads (SPECIAL NOTE: Some cemetery roads were not driven by Google.  As a reminder, when there is no center line for the road, you know you cannot drop the PI on it):


Now I am at the cemetery.  Chances are pretty good that I might not be able to actually see the headstone for John L. Miller, but most cemeteries have a cemetery site plan that you could call the cemetery for to get a location of where your ancestor may be buried, or there could be one out on the internet that you could search for.  Just do an internet search for the cemetery you are looking for and the town it’s located in.


Using the navigation of the Google Street View, I can now navigate around the cemetery to see if I can find where John is buried and maybe see his headstone.

It may not always be the case that you will be able to locate the residence or historic place of an ancestor. Buildings and homes were often demolished over time, and so there is no physical structure to see, but at the very least, you can still get a chance to check out the neighborhood.

Now, take a virtual journey to the past and go visit your long, lost relatives.  Go see the historical places where your ancestors lived, or it may be the location of a significant battle your ancestor fought in, or if you have an ancestor across the pond that had wealth, power or royal connections, there may be possible castles to see.

The only limit to this journey is your imagination…so, go have fun on your “stay”cation!

Images from Ancestry© and Google© Maps and Google© Street View

Featured Image – A portion of Monmouthshire Map Lithograph by Thomas Moule c. 1831 found on Wikipedia

Brian S. Miller

2 thoughts on “Home Sweet Home…of Your Ancestors

  1. Great tutorial, Brian. I’d like to note that house numbers may have changed over time especially where new buildings were springing up between the older. City directories and, of course, the census can be used to verify they stayed in the same house and only their house number changed.


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