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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Saroo Brierley, Indian Orphan, Uses Google Earth to Find His Family

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 at 1:05 PM

click to enlarge Unfortunately for Google, it remains unclear how helping orphans find their families can be monetized. - THEMERCURY.COM
  • Unfortunately for Google, it remains unclear how helping orphans find their families can be monetized.
There is now evidence showing that Google Earth is good for more than just pictures of naked rooftop sunbathers and Frenchmen urinating on gardens.

An Indian man named Saroo Brierley used the Bay Area tech giant's satellite image program to find his home and reunite with his family 25 years after getting lost as a child.

It all started back in 1987 when the 5-year-old Brierley got separated from his brother while at a train station in Khandwa -- a town in central India. India Express reported last month that the boy got onto a train and fell asleep; and the train was traveling in the opposite direction from where he was supposed to be going. Ten hours and 900 miles later Brierley woke up in Kolkata, which is on the eastern edge of the country.

Things only got worse from there.

The Mercury, which dubs itself "The Voice of Tasmania," described what happened next as if it was a rising action of an Old Testament parable: "For a month, he tried to find his way back, almost drowning in the River Ganges and nearly being abducted by a man who intended to sell him as a slave."

Brierley, who eventually ended up at an orphanage, was adopted by Tasmanian parents, and worked at their industrial supplies business. He later learned that his brother whom he was with at the train station was found dead on the railway tracks.

At the age of 20, Brierley began searching for his natural family, using his dogged persistence, a ridiculously keen memory, and a one-two punch of Google and Facebook.

He spent years scouring Google Earth images of India's towns until he spotted the one that matched the memories he had from when he was a child -- the town of Ganesh Talai.

"Using Google Earth, I spent so many hours zooming in and out looking for something I recognised," Brierley, who has the surname of his foster parents, told the Mercury.

With the name of his hometown in hand, he tracked the locals on Facebook, e-mailed them, compiling enough clues to narrow his search. With all this new information, he traveled to Ganesh Talai and dug around until he found his natural family.

His mother later revealed to him that fortune tellers had told the family they would reunite.

It remains unclear whether Google will be able to monetize these sorts of happy endings.

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