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Which Global Map is Best for Genealogists?

Don't rely on one mapping tool when there are a few excellent ones.

I'm the oddball who searches on Bing instead of Google. I love Bing's features (a daily image and top news stories). Plus I rack up points to swap for $5 Amazon gift cards.

As a genealogist, I wondered which of these free map systems is better:
So I tested them side by side.

I chose to explore a small island in Italy where my uncle was born. I don't know the name of the street where his family lived, but I wanted to have a look around town.

When you enter a place name in both Google Maps and Bing Maps, there is a left panel with information. Both offer some quick facts about the place from Wikipedia. Google Maps offers photos, Street View or panoramic pictures. Bing Maps seems more interested in helping you travel to this destination. They offer info on places to stay and things to do. Note: Google Maps has that information, too, but it takes an extra click to get to it.

When searching for places where my ancestors lived, I want clear images, street names and a street-side view. For this location, the tiny island of Ponza, Italy, Bing Maps came up way short. You can see by these side-by-side comparisons that Bing's images are not clear and it's missing some street names.

Comparing Bing Maps and Google Maps side by side was eye-opening.
Comparing Bing Maps and Google Maps side by side was eye-opening.

Google Earth Pro is a downloadable program, but you can launch it from a website, too. It offers the same image detail as Google Maps, but it adds a topographical component. You can see if the town is flat, mountainous, or in a valley. (It is available for Windows and Mac. Go to their website for more information and to download.)

To test the level of detail each tool can give you, I zoomed in on a church in the town. I went all the way to street level and Bing Maps was the clear loser—for this location. It could not zoom in very far on the church and street view was not available at all. Google Maps and Google Earth Pro gave me the same streetside view of the church. But Google Earth Pro also gave me the lay of the land.

I did more side-by-side comparisons using 3 houses I've lived in: one in Pennsylvania and two in New York. Once again, Bing's overhead view didn't get very close to my house, and it was a bit fuzzy. Google lets me zoom in all the way until it switches to street view. Google Earth Pro also lets me get really close, and adds a more 3D quality.

It may seem like a slam-dunk to you that Google Maps is the clear winner, with Google Earth Pro coming in second for its topographical view. But I always check both Google and Bing. You will find cases where an address doesn't exist in one map, but it does exist in the other.

Bing has one terrific feature important to a genealogist. It shows the county name. I can put in a street address, and at the top I see "United States - PA - Bucks Co. - Upper Southampton Township."

This feature is one reason why I always go to both maps.
This feature is one reason why I always go to both maps.

As a genealogist, you owe it to yourself to bookmark Google Maps, bookmark Bing Maps, and install Google Earth Pro. Happy virtual travels!


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