GPS Spreadsheet

by JL Beeken on 11-14-2010

As I’m going through my photos I’m filling in missing addresses and GPS co-ordinates. I’ve worked on this before but I actually missed a few out of 12,000. Because addresses repeat across the years, as I go through my folders I have to scroll through a longer and longer unsorted list of addresses and co-ordinates to find what I need.

So I decided to put everything into a spreadsheet that’s easily sorted by column. I can’t show you everything because then I’d be giving away secret information.

I don’t have one of those gizmos that record location every 5 seconds, so these are all co-ordinates that I’ve searched for myself using Google Maps and pinpointed on rooftops and so on.

The way I see this, if your descendants don’t know where you’re talking about they might not know what you’re talking about.

Back between 1920 and 1950, there was a path that ran between my grandmother’s house and my great-grandaunt’s house from back to back. There still is except they don’t live there anymore because they’ve been dead for a long time. I’ve heard about that path all my life. My mother has a thing about it. I’ve never asked her why, (I really should) but it was back in the days when she and my Dad were courting and I suspect “things” happened along that path. Not that she’d ever admit it.

It was years before I was able to go to Google Maps and see it in aerial view. It was years before I ever saw photographs taken there. So, as you might imagine, it’s really important that I have the exact co-ordinates for both houses. Because if the co-ordinates were off by 3 houses and people in the future were looking down on the wrong path I don’t think I could stand it.

To make a list to use in conjunction with IPTC and GPS software, these are generally the columns that you’ll need.

GPS Spreadsheet

If a school, for instance, has a street address I will put that under ‘Location’ and then I’ll put the school name under ‘Keyword’. I’m able to refer back to the spreadsheet as I work and be consistent in how I embed the information in my photos.

It’s really handy to have the co-ordinates in one place. If I’m working on Ohio photos I can sort the ‘State’ field so I’m only looking at Ohio addresses. Then my weary eyes don’t have to scan through everything else.

I also include any addresses I still have to look up co-ordinates for. This changes over time. Six months ago there was an address that showed only farmers’ fields as seen from an airplane 1,000 feet up. Last week, the same address-search showed roads.

Obviously, many of the old photographs will not have co-ordinates but even putting a city or a state in the IPTC address fields is better than nothing. Because your photos are so familiar to you, it seems everything should be obvious to others but it really isn’t.

If I’m consistent with the addresses it makes it possible to search them across thousands of photographs. Anytime I want I can go directly to ‘the path’. It just looks like two backyards run together. It really does. Grass, trees, bushes. I don’t get it.

Until I see a photo of my father holding my older sister on her Christening Day and I can pinpoint the exact spot in my grandmother’s yard on a map and then I totally get it.

If you need free IPTC/GPS software, get GeoSetter. It’s a million times better & safer for your photos than Picasa. In fact, GeoSetter can also keep a Favorites List of addresses and co-ordinates and automatically fill the fields for you, so you don’t even need a GPS spreadsheet.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Coupe 11-16-2010 at 7:41 AM

JL – what do you do about old photos where the buildings have been bulldozed into oblivion? I’ve got a collection of postcards of Douglas (my hometown) that span from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. Whole swathes of streets (some of which I can remember from my childhood) are no longer there. Much of the centre of the town has been rebuilt and streets and lanes no longer exist.

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JL 11-16-2010 at 11:25 AM

What I do? Not speaking for ‘all family historians’ – if I can pinpoint the location on a map, I still add the co-ordinates. There’s still a story there. If you have pictures that’s perfect. Here’s the picture, here’s the story, here’s the location on a map.

For instance, my parents had a paint and wallpaper business when I was a baby. I have a newspaper clipping with a photograph of my mother inside the store putting up Christmas decorations. On the map the store is now a parking lot. (And I only know that because my mother told me where it was.) I take the co-ordinates anyway, add them to the photo and tell a short story in the caption.

In the case of ‘whole swathes of streets’ – obviously, you’d then be dealing with approximate GPS. I would not put co-ordinates unless I knew exactly because anyone looking, without an explanation, would be confused by the present-day buildings. I’d just add the story to the caption and point people in the general direction. I use screenshots of maps instead so I can say it was approximately in such and such area.

If you were an obsessive genealogist, like many of us are, you could try to find an older map of the town, overlay it on the present one, and find exact co-ordinates that way.

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