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Genealogy Geocaching: Exploring Your Roots

Many genealogists describe their attraction to genealogy as the way genealogy is like a puzzle or a mystery waiting to be solved. For those of us enamored with genealogy we feel that we are on an adventure. Geocaching is one way to help your non-genealogist family members get a feel for the adventure that is family history.


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Have you received a GPS (global positioning system) as a present and wasn't sure of all the ways you could use it? These small handheld electronic units use satellite technology to determine your position on the earth. In genealogy, people use GPS's to record locations of ancestral homes and gravesites. These units are invaluable for recording the location of out of the way gravestones that are not easily found. When I went and found my great-great grandmother's tombstone, the cemetery couldn't even find it with their own map, so my husband used his GPS and we recorded the coordinates so that we could let other family members know exactly where to find it. But there is one fun way to use your GPS that could really help you make your family history come alive for the non-genealogists in your family. Heck, they may even beg you to learn more about their family history.


What is geocaching? According to the official site for geocaching,, geocaching is, "an entertaining adventure game for GPS users. The basic idea is to have individuals and organizations set up caches all over the world and share the locations of the caches on the Internet. GPS users can then use the location coordinates to find the caches." Basically people hide small containers, called caches, with a paper log, pencil and small toys or other giveaway items. The idea is that you log onto a geocaching site, look at the available caches and choose those that you are interested in looking for. Depending on the person hiding it, geocaches may be virtual, may lead you to a historical site, might lead you down a mountain or just a cool new place to explore.

You can learn more about how to geocache from the above website or like with almost anything nowadays there is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocaching by Jack W. Peters. Additional books on geocaching can be found at Barnes and Noble's website ( Other web sites having to do with geocaching include, Buxley's Geocaching Waypoint; Geocaching with; and Geocaching Garmin Style. A great article about geocaching with kids is at

According to their members have hid over 24,000 caches in 221 countries. From the website you can enter a zip code or city or country name to get a list of all available caches. Caches might be hidden in historical places, city parks, mountains, buildings, almost anywhere. Once you choose which caches you want to look for, you download the coordinates and then go look for it. The coordinates you are given are to the exact place that the cache is hidden. Enter those coordinates into your GPS and the GPS will help direct you to the right area. In theory, it seems pretty easy but, let's just say if you haven't ever used a GPS to find a location, you are in for an adventure!

One way geocaching can be used as a family activity is to go find caches that are hidden in historical areas. (Note: there are rules about caches and not disturbing areas that could be damaged because of the extra foot traffic. Some caches are virtual, meaning that you go explore the area but there is not an actual container to be found). It's an opportunity to learn more about history while on a treasure quest! For example, one of the cities near our home is Colton, California. This city is in the western end of San Bernardino County. One of the things that Colton is known for is being the home of the Earp family, as in Wyatt Earp. Some of the caches hidden in Colton have to do with the Earps. One cache entitled Morgan's Rest has to do with the cemetery that Morgan Earp, the youngest of the Earp brothers, is buried. Other caches are at the burial spot of Virginia Cooksey Earp, wife of Nicholas Earp and the resting place for James and Adelia Earp. What I like about the information given for these caches is that the person who is responsible for the cache, actually added pedigree information so that you could learn more about the Earp family.

When I have gone geocaching with my kids I usually tell them a little bit about the site, give them a history on it and explain why it is important. The kids love to go geocaching because usually in the caches there are small toys, pencils, key chains, or stickers. The idea is that you leave something and take something.

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with genealogy? Well, anyone can hide a geocache. One way you can introduce geocaching to your family is by hiding geocaches in areas that might relate to your family history. Maybe an ancestral home, a workplace, a neighborhood, or places that might have meant something to your family would be great places to hide a cache. Virtual caches could direct family members to graves of ancestors, or along a migratory trail that your pioneer ancestors traveled crossing the plains, or maybe even the church where a grandfather was christened. A family history geocache hunt could tell the story of your family in a way that would interest family members of all ages.

When I think about my Chatham family and a geocach adventure I would like to put together, it would lead family members first to the Sacramento City Cemetery where my great-great grandparents, Joseph and Bertha Chatham are buried. I would then lead them to the area formerly known as Mills Station, now a part of Sacramento, where the family homesteaded. I would then have the family go to city of Folsom, where Uncle Jimmy Chatham worked in mining on the dredgers. A stop at the Folsom History Museum would help the family learn more about gold mining and get an appreciation for the work of family members. A final stop might be the California State Archives where descendents could see pages from the Great Register of Voters that list our family as they voted through the early part of the 20th century. As I would give clues to the coordinate for each area, I would also provide some information about our family in those places and why those areas are important to our family's history.

There are a few rules to consider in preparing to place a cache such as who owns the property it will be placed on and what is allowed in a cache. For more information on registering your cache and placing a cache, see's policies at:

Geocaching would be a fun activity to do during a family reunion. Four or five caches hidden in areas that pertain to your family's history would be a great way to break up the day and allow people to get a break from the traditional family reunion activities. Geocaching is also a great way to spend some time on a family vacation. Finding caches in cities that your ancestor's lived can help you learn more about the area and get to know your ancestral stomping grounds.

So many genealogists describe how their attraction to genealogy has to do with the way that genealogy is like a puzzle or a mystery waiting to be solved. For those of us enamored with genealogy we feel like we are on an adventure. Geocaching is one way that you can help your non-genealogist family members get a feel for the adventure that is family history.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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