3 Tech Tools Every Genealogist Should Have

December 8, 2015  - by 

Fifty years ago, genealogy was difficult work. Yesterday’s genealogists spent hours in libraries, combing through mountains of old phone books and stacks of dusty records. Progress was slow and frustrating. However, with the advancement of the Internet, social media, and online databases, connecting generations has become easier than ever before.

“There is always information available to you wherever you are,” said Lisa Louise Cooke, founder of Genealogy Gems, at a 2015 BYU conference on family history and genealogy. “Genealogy is no longer a retirement sport. Everybody can do it.”

While there are hundreds of technological tools to help you find your ancestors, here are three that can really boost your family history research:


For the busy genealogist on the go, a tablet should be at the heart of the toolbox. This lightweight and trendy tool can help you in your search for ancestors wherever there’s a Wi-Fi connection.

“I have almost, in many cases, replaced—when I’m researching in a library—my laptop with my tablet,” said D. Joshua Taylor at the 2015 RootsTech conference. “I take it with me to do on-demand searching when I’m on the airplane and I’m connecting through the Wi-Fi. The images take a bit to load, but I can certainly still find an ancestor or two.”

Similarly, Taylor said that keeping his family tree on his tablet or phone makes it easier to share.

“When I’m sharing my family tree with others, I do it through a tablet. I do it on a mobile device. I very rarely open the laptop anymore and show my family tree.”

Family history apps from Ancestry, TreeView, and MyHeritage are all optimized to work on tablets and mobile phones as well.


Evernote has quickly become a popular tool among genealogists, and many use it for notes and to-do lists. But that’s just the beginning. More than simply taking a note, Evernote allows you to save hyperlinks, audio recordings, and images. You can even sync Evernote between your laptop, desktop, tablet, and mobile phone and access your files anywhere.

“I have been hooked on Evernote for several years now. It is by far the single most highly used app in my personal and professional information management system,” writes genealogist Colleen Greene. “I use it all day every day—on my Macs, my PC, my iPhone, and my iPad. Every single note that I type on my mobile devices (and oftentimes on my regular computers) goes into Evernote.”

Taylor said he’s even used Evernote to gather audio interviews from family members.

“I’ll set up a shared, collaborative Evernote notebook, and I’ll add the questions within the text. And then [my family members] will have links where they can simply record their voice to answer the questions.”

Taylor said that these audio files can be more valuable than written text when it comes to documenting family history.

“This preserves their voice,” he said. “So rather than just having the written text, I also have the voice of my relatives that might be lost.”

If you’re interested in learning about how to use Evernote in your genealogy work, check out the video below:

External Hard Drive

Since the dawn of the personal computer, experts have strongly encouraged backing up files. Despite this wise counsel, we’ve probably all experienced the helpless feeling of staring blankly into a nonresponsive computer screen, knowing that important files might not be recovered.

“Numerous options exist when choosing an external drive, from . . . flash drives to CDs to portable devices and external hard drives,” writes genealogist and author Gena Philibert-Ortega. “Your decision about what to use will depend upon the amount of space you need as well as what works best for you.”

Taylor said that because external hard drives are so important, it’s worth investing in the very best.

“Keep it current,” he said. “This is a piece of technology. It’s going to have to be updated. I typically try and avoid deep discounts on hard drives because they’re often the end of style or end of season.”

What tech tools have you found to be useful in your genealogy work? Tweet us your thoughts @RootsTechConf.

This is the first article in a four-part series exploring how to build a genealogical toolbox.


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  1. Backing up your genealogy data on to a hard drive has some major disadvantages. If your home burns down or your home is burglarized, you have lost your genealogy data. The best place to put your genealogy data is in the Cloud. I believe Dropbox still offers free disk space in the Cloud for small users.

    1. The world is going to the cloud and, as you point out, limited cloud services are free for users with small space requirements. Dropbox’s home page no longer mentions free accounts though they may still be available as are similar services from Microsoft and Google. — I’ve used Dropbox for years and love it but not for my primary genealogy storage.

      As a retired computer professional and an amateur genealogist with nearly 50 years experience I’ve learned that NOTHING beats duplication starting with paper. Paper lasts 100s of years. I’ve seen technology come and go from vinyl records to VCR recordings to CDs, DVDs, and thumb drives.

      I recommend that everyone use at least 3 forms of storage for everything they want to save. My favorite 3 forms are paper, external drives (thumb drives and USB hard drives), and free internet services such as FamilySearch and Wikitree. (1) PAPER – Digitize then print your stories and audio transcripts to share with family including one-of-a-kind documents such as old photos and certificates. Save them in plastic sleeves in a 3-ring binder. (2) Save the digitized versions of these paper documents on your external devices. You could have more than one. To prevent loss from fire, etc. you could store one offsite like businesses do by keeping a copy at a relative or friend’s house. (3) Upload these digitized versions to genealogy websites. Most now accept some form of such uploaded photos, stories, even audio files. Until FamilySearch or other free sites permit video storage, you could establish a YouTube account which I recommend over social media because YouTube does not require one to have an account to view videos. I share old 8mm films this way which reminds me. Don’t forget to convert files regularly to new formats. We converted 8mm silent family movies my father made to VCR then later to digital MPEG-4 and uploaded to YouTube. Older family members love it! Their grandchildren enjoy them too. Use .TXT and .PDF file formats for text files, lossless .JPG for photos like FamilySearch uses. These formats and methods have been used successfully for generations. Contact me for more suggestions.

    2. Office 365 gives you Microsoft Office and 1TB of storage. I believe it is currently $69/year for 1 or $99/year for 5 people.

    3. Yes, Cloud storage is great for SMALL users. That said I have gigs and gigs of Genealogical data, research, pictures, lists, etc. My family research tree has over 58k people. The cost of using the Cloud as well as below high bandwidth internet connection makes using Cloud storage impractical as well as very expensive. Hard drive with removal offsite is much better for many in this scenario. So, I would be at least a middling or large user of Cloud storage, and don’t have a budget to fund it.

  2. I agree that using online storage is much better than an external drive. The services are not all the same, for example Carbonite does not backup video but BackBlaze does. You set it up and everything backs up automatically – you never lose a file. An additional benefit is that once your files are stored in the cloud, you can access them with your phone or iPad form anywhere.

  3. I have been directed to Evernote before. What does it do that the Google Docs family of programs does not do? I keep my research notes in the cloud using the Google programs.

    1. Hi Bob,
      On a totally different subject as you area Preece I have a couple of questions for you. Did the Preece’s come from England? Who was the first Preece to become a Mormon? Do you have a GEDCOM you could send me with the details?

      I have been recently extending my tree and have found a connection to lots of Preece’s… I personally am descended from Thornton’s who were pioneers to Cache Valley… hope you can help.

      Best Wishes / Eddie (Herbert Edward Clarke)