Using technology to time travel through history

Using technology to time travel through history

By Mark Olsen, Contributor | Posted - Dec. 8, 2011 at 12:17 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- I just revisited my childhood home, even though it no longer exists.

As I walked down Canyon Oaks Drive in Irving, Texas, I approached the cul-de-sac where I biked in the summer, wished for snow in the winter and raced for the finish line in my teens. (Don’t tell my parents, but we could hit 60 mph and more before we reached the corner. I wondered if the skid marks were still there.)

Thirteen years ago, during a very hot summer, my parents moved. I had moved out long before, but I went home to help them. We packed up many years of memories and cleaned the clutter left from raising 12 children.

My dad stopped by the house during a trip to Dallas last fall. He found a condemnation notice and a “No Trespassing” sign. I was shocked. It was my house. They couldn’t just tear it down.

I called the city of Irving. Yes, it was gutting the house and would demolish it. No, there was nothing wrong with it. The problem was the old bridge in front of the house. When it rained, the culvert — officially named Delaware Creek — often overflowed into nearby yards and homes. So they were removing the bridge and house, and building a park.

I think they should call it Olsen Park.

Today, several months after my dad’s visit, both structures are gone and the park is open.

Yet there I stood, in the middle of the street, looking all around the neighborhood, and at my house. I saw the tree I hit on my bike, splitting my lip. I stood in the very spot where I was knocked unconscious while delivering newspapers. The paper bag got caught in my bike chain and flipped me.

"We can go back in time to the very streets where we were raised, assuming they are still there - or were, when the Google car last passed by."

I inspected the pesky corner that took out the side of our van a few times, as inexperienced drivers turned too quickly onto the bridge. I saw the oak trees and the poison oak which occasionally tried to kill me, when I was hanging Halloween ghosts or Christmas lights.

It wasn't magic or an exceptionally vivid memory that allowed me to be where I wasn't and see what's not there any longer. It was Google Street View, which conveniently (for me) hasn't been updated since they tore down my house.

One afternoon, I wanted to see the new park, and simply googled my old address. “Olsen Park” wasn't on Google yet, but my old house was. I found myself reliving my youth. I virtually walked up and down the street, looking at my neighbors' homes, and I walked to my elementary school of 30 years ago.

As we work through our own family history and memories, we can go back in time to the very streets where we were raised, assuming they are still there - or were, when the Google car last passed by. I can visit my first apartment and my college home-away-from-home. I don't have to buy a plane ticket or take long drives. I can revisit my history from the comfort of my home in Utah.

I work with genealogy data every day at FamilyLink, but this is still amazing. I've taken screen shots of my childhood home. I've taken my own children on a virtual tour of my old neighborhood, one click at a time.

Over the coming holidays, I'll share this wonder with childhood friends and with my family. I might even persuade grandma to walk with me through her hometown and visit her childhood home. A photo of grandma's face when she sees it, or maybe even a video she’s narrated, would be a good thing to add to my family tree.

Mark Olsen is a blogger and a genealogist. Mark is working on his own family history and works at, a MyHeritage company, where he is affiliate manager.----


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