(+) How to Use the GPS You May Already Own but Didn’t Know You Had

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

GPS (Global Positioning System) devices are very useful tools for genealogists. These devices can be used to find locations easily and are often accurate plus or minus ten feet or so. Genealogists typically use GPS receivers to find or document cemetery tombstone locations as well as to find old homesteads, courthouses, libraries, or even fast-food restaurants when traveling on research trips.

I have frequently used the U.S. Government’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) at http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic/ to locate old cemeteries, even small ones of only a dozen graves or even less. TheGNIS attempts to provide the precise location of EVERY named place in the United States, including towns, cities, mountains, lakes, and much more. Cemeteries are only a small part of that huge database.

The information provided in the GNIS includes the exact latitude and longitude of each named feature, including cemeteries. GNIS provides the exact location of the entrance to each cemetery although not the location of individual tombstones within the cemetery. The GNIS data is “read only.” That is, you read the information in a web browser and then manually copy the displayed latitude and longitude into a GPS receiver of your choice. More sophisticated and easier-to-use systems are now available.

While early GPS receivers cost thousands of dollars, the technology advanced, sizes shrunk, and prices dropped. You can now purchase a basic GPS receiver for $60 while advanced models can cost several hundred dollars, and a few special-purpose units command even higher prices. Such devices are nice to have, but many of us cannot justify those prices. You might not be aware that you may already own a GPS receiver.

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