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Mobile Genealogy: Family History Research on Your Phone, Tablet & More!

Tony Bandy examinesthe latest developments in the world of mobile genealogy! (page 7 Aug/Sept 2011)

Since our last investigation on integrating mobile phone technology and software with your family research, in the April/May 2010 issue of Internet Genealogy, I’ve had a chance to revisit this topic — and what a difference a year can make! From a flood of new hardware types and technologies to a virtual cornucopia of applications and software, integrating mobility into your genealogy projects has never been easier! If you’re ready for change, now’s your opportunity — Take the plunge!

What’s Changed?
While to most of us, a year seems to be a long time period, in the software and technology world, it’s really not. Some of the biggest changes have been seen in the hardware realm with the continued growth of the tablet and other new devices. Apple’s iPad continues to dominate this niche, but other manufacturer’s are bringing their own tablet interpretations to consumers, utilizing Google’s Android software as the operating system.

Although displaced somewhat by the popularity of the iPad and other new devices, cell phones have been changing also, with innovations such as dual screens, folding keyboards and high-speed processors. Don’t overlook the amazing growth of eReading devices such as Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and others. With the ability to carry thousands of digital eBooks and even audio and pictures, these devices are proving popular as well.

But it’s more than just about the hardware, it’s also the software, the applications that run on these magical devices. With new hardware capabilities, the software has become more powerful, sometimes even as capable as the genealogy software we might install on our desktops and laptops.

But do these mobile changes and updates really affect how we go about our family research? Ultimately, I believe we’re at the beginning of a fundamental shift in how we conduct our genealogy projects. Transformed from offline research via microfilm and paper-based documents to a personal digital electronic file located in many places at once, these mobile devices and applications will enable us to be constantly connected to friends and family online through social media sites, as well as more data-driven sites like, and others.

The quantity, as well as the quality of the information will continue to grow as more data, formerly locked away in paper-based formats, becomes digitized and available for online use and download. While ultimately, we don’t have a crystal ball and I do not claim to know the future, I feel we have a lot to look forward to!

Moving from theory to reality, let’s take a closer look now at hardware. While cell phone technology has changed somewhat, the real revolution and evolution has taken place in the smartphone field. But we can’t overlook the newly emerged tablet market as well, since many of the newly made tablets also have roots in this same smartphone technology.

So what makes a smartphone smart? Beyond just phone calls, devices such as Apple’s iPhone and others go a step beyond, enabling you to run “apps,” or software programs that do a myriad amount of things, such as GPS, browsing the Internet, and even telling you how to cook dinner!

The same thing can be applied to tablets such as the iPad and others. Given the larger screens, improved controls and better connections, these larger devices bring even more powerful applications, integrated word processors and more. From the genealogy perspective, these applications can enable you to take your mobile device onsite and upload information to your family file, browse databases, and integrate pictures, all without bringing a big, heavy laptop.

Given this approach, how do you choose what device will work for you? It can be confusing and even expensive if you make the wrong choice, so evaluate your needs first. Plan on spending time at a local store such as Best Buy, Target or your favorite retail outlet. Use the devices on display, try out the controls, get the specifications and see what works and what doesn’t.

If you are thinking about making the unit a primary part of your genealogy tool kit, look for hardware reviews online. See what genealogy applications work with the device you are looking at. If you are part of a genealogical group or even just your circle of friends, get other’s opinions, especially if they already own one of these devices.

To help get you started, I’ve outlined the three current form factors you might encounter. Use this as a springboard for more information.

Smart phones lie at the heart of this revolution and it seems a never-ending stream of new devices are becoming available everyday. While we may know of the highly popular Apple iPhone, don’t overlook the relative newcomer, Google’s Android-based phones. Also, Microsoft has very recently overhauled their older Windows Mobile operating system to Windows Phone 7, bringing about massive change and updates.

As far as specifics, double-check camera and memory options for any device you choose, as well as the ability to stay connected to the Internet and cellular network either via Wi-Fi or your cell phone provider’s data plan.

Being connected at all times is a huge factor, and can increase your efficiency, whether you are interviewing someone at a family reunion, or at a small family cemetery doing research on a long lost relative.

Here are some manufacturer links to their available smart phone products. If you already have a cell phone, check your provider’s online support pages as well for more information.

• Apple’s iPhone:
• Google’s Android-based phones:
• Windows 7 mobile phones:
• Blackberry:

Given the astounding success of the Apple iPad, this category of devices continues to be popular in 2011, with 2012 being forecasted for even more growth. While we all may be aware of the iPad, there are many new devices to consider also. Have you heard about Google’s Android-based tablets, such as the HTC Flyer and others? How about the Blackberry’s Playbook or the Motorola Xoom?

These devices bring a whole new level to our family research! More “mini-laptop” than anything else, there are many genealogists that have given up their laptops for tablets such as these... to see the rest of this article, subscribe now and request to start with this issue