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Gadgets and Gear for Genealogy

Gadgets and Gear for Genealogy

If all goes as planned I will be taking a trip and there will be research. Since my last trip my toys have changed.


My new phone is an old smartphone. It’s a Nokia E71, their version of a Blackberry. It has a camera and internet, some apps but it is an older phone. It has built in free GPS. It has built in tethering [which I have not tried]. The best part: unlimited talk, text, internet – everything – is $45 a month, no contract. So I can stand in a cemetery, take pictures and send them on by text message or email as a backup. It has a micro SD card which means I could fill one and swap it out too. 


I have an iPod Touch, before the camera was added, which has copies of my genealogy database and some files. See FamViewer and GEDViewer for a discussion of the database programs. I have since added Families which works with Legacy genealogy software only. I switched to Legacy last winter but that’s a story for later.


In the spring I added an iPad2. An iPad is an iPod Touch with a much larger screen. [I am told Apple hates that remark.] I love my iPod Touch so a larger would make it perfect, right? Well, yes and no. I find my iPad2 to be just a bit too big to be comfortable. That is my only complaint though. It has a front facing camera and a rear facing camera. Certainly the database is easier to read on the larger screen. The digital genealogy books I carry are also easier to read. I did not buy the version with the built in cell internet service. It was more expensive and I didn’t want to commit to a contract. It soon became clear I’d love the iPad2 and even the iPod Touch better if they had internet service.


Thus the latest addition to my genealogy toolbox is a Virgin Mobile hotspot. It is a small device, easily fits into a pocket, and up to five devices can connect wirelessly to the internet through it. If you buy your device at a certain very very large retailer [and only then] you can also buy from them 1GB of service for $19.99. It’s good for 30 days. You can renew or not, as needed, or you can sign up to automatically add a new GB every 30 days. 


Finally, in addition to standard backups to a separate removal drive and backups to the cloud I started backing up to an additional removal drive. About once a month I take the drive to the safety deposit box, which is built to withstand a category 4 hurricane, deposit it and bring the old home to fill.

Useful Tools Addendum

Useful Tools Addendum

I have been a long time user of the Firefox browser but lately I have been using Chrome a lot. Both are free. Both have good and bad points. I think it is a personal thing. Safari, the browser from Apple, which you can use on a Windows computer, is visually interesting. It’s on my iPod Touch. I have not figured out Opera. It’s on my phone and I do plan to try it on my computer. I don’t use Internet Explorer, mostly because it is the most prone to viruses but I think there is some rebellion there too. Some programs work better with some sites than others. If one isn’t working well with a favorite site experiment with another. Yes you can use five browsers if you want. Web site managers generally have several.

Chrome has a slick add on that allows you to clip a page or part of a page and send it directly to Evernote. It integrates well with Evernote, just fill out the notebook and tags and it is gone. Firefox uses Evernote’s clipper which has not worked all that well for me, not to mention it is always behind the current version. The two don’t seem to be communicating. What? You are not using Evernote? You really are cheating yourself of an excellent free tool. I keep all my notes from everything in it. I don’t know how people live without it.

Since I have scanned all my paper and saved it in pdf I am now looking for a program to read and manipulate pdf documents. I originally used Adobe Acrobat Pro, a good but expensive program from a less than supportive company. My version isn’t working well with Windows 7 and I really don’t want to buy the upgrade. I have used NitroPDF reader and PrimoPDF to print. I tried the entire suite but I had problems with it, probably more related to me than it since I insist on using WordPerfect and they use Word. [It’s a bigger issue than you would imagine and seems to be getting worse. Think Corel v. Microsoft.] I’d prefer not to have six programs. If you have suggestions let me know.

FamViewer Genealogy App

FamViewer Genealogy App

One of the things I miss most about my Palm is having my TMG database available. I read about the [limited number of] genealogy apps for the iPod Touch and iPhone and checked each one out. A huge red flag was the limit in database size.

FamViewer, the most expensive at $14.99, did not seem to have a limit and reviewers commented that it didn’t. They also commented that it was easy. I confess, due to the price [it is expensive as Apple Apps go] I waited several weeks before I decided to give it a try.

My file contains over 10,000 names and yes, I uploaded them all. That tells you it worked. Is it easy? Yes it is but getting it set up requires some prep time. I advise going to the company’s website and reading the limited instructions. The limited instructions almost changed my mind. I’m glad it didn’t.

The first thing you need is Bonjour on your computer. Unless you are using an Apple computer it isn’t likely to be there. Not only am I using a PC, it is a 64 bit and I run Windows 7. A little research turned up that this would not be a problem. I downloaded the proper file. However, when I went to install it I was asked if I wanted to “repair” or “remove.” Some application had installed a small version on my computer. It’s almost always easiest to remove and start over which is what I did.

The next thing you need is a GEDCOM of your file exported from your genealogy software. That took awhile, quite awhile, due to my large file.

Following the instructions, which were very clear, I uploaded the file. It took seconds. My entire file seems to be there. Although it is a GEDCOM it has many of the events as well as notes and sources. It may not be my complete file but it is probably enough information to travel with.

In the end I uploaded the file using the Windows by IP address method rather than Bonjour because I use that method for other apps and it seemed easier at the time.

You can also enter notes into the program on any person. These notes, of course, do not magically migrate to your genealogy database but you can email them, individually or in batches, to yourself so you can add them to your database when you get to it. They remain on your iPod Touch/iPhone until you are ready for them.

How much space does that database take? Apparently not much. I didn’t make a note but I had commented to a friend regarding how much free space I had the day before. She was concerned about filling hers up. I said I didn’t think it would be easy, that I still had 20+ GB free. After installation I still have 20+ GB free and I also downloaded another app, some podcasts and some additional music.

And I now have my genealogy with me.

iPod Touch as a Genealogy Tool

iPod Touch as a Genealogy Tool

For years I depended on my Palm personal digital assistant [PDA] to keep me organized and keep all my information at my fingertips. My Palm contained my entire database from The Master Genealogist, every single fact.

Software changed. Palm changed. I was left without a PDA and was unsuccessful in my search for an appropriate replacement. I thought my Blackberry Smartphone would do it but it doesn’t.

Recently I bought an iPod Touch. Basically it’s an iPhone without the phone or camera. It has my calendar, my contacts, applications, music and pictures. Podcasts like Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems and genealogy lectures from iTunes U are “other” under music. You could add tv shows and movies although I can’t imagine watching any on the 2 x 3.5″ screen.

One of the first apps I downloaded was Evernote. I don’t know how people live without it. I keep all my genealogy notes in it. On the iPod Touch you can make notes but you need the internet to see your stored notes and to sync. This is also true of Dropbox, another application. If you put a file in your Dropbox you can see it on you iPod Touch when you have wi-fi. The iPod Touch has wi-fi but you need a wi-fi source to use the internet. When you have that the internet is your oyster. More and more places have wi-fi internet these days.

I downloaded several pdf reader apps, found one that works for me called pdf Reader, and uploaded Michael John Neill’s Casefile Clues collection to the iPod Touch. I wouldn’t want to read a book [you can though – in fact there is a Kindle app] but blogs and such work quite well. The pdf files are stored on the iPod Touch – no wi-fi required.

I’m not impressed with the genealogy apps at the moment. Although GEDViewer looks promising it cannot handle more than 2-3,000 names. I’m sure it is just a matter of time until one I like comes along.

You can record voice memos too.

The virtual keyboard takes a bit of getting used to but I have become an accomplished one finger typist. Think of the hours I wasted learning to type correctly!

If it had a camera and continuous internet connection it would be about perfect. Oh wait, that’s an iPhone. I suspect there’s one in my future.