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.”
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.