Essential Reading

'I have been a family historian for more than 40 years, and a professional historian for over 30, but as I read it, I was constantly encountering new ways of looking at my family history....Essential reading I would say!' Alan Crosby, WDYTYA Magazine

Friday, 25 November 2016

Get more out of your hand-held computer - Family History Research

If you enjoy this article, why not follow me for more creative approaches to family history?

Ask for a Tablet for Christmas - To Help Your Family History Research

Click here for more on books by Ruth A. Symes

Don't forget to enter your email address in the box on the right to follow this blog!

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if when next visiting archives or relatives for your family history research, you didn’t have to pack pens, papers, albums or library books? After all, how often do pens leak, papers get torn, or notes fall out of order or go missing? Memorabilia can sometimes be just too precious to take out of the house and reference material is very likely to be far too heavy to carry. The answer lies in your hand-held computer. Used to its full potential, your handy tablet can act as a micro-office combining multiple functions such as filing cabinet, photograph album, search tool, scanner, library and much, much more. 

                                                                                                             By William Hook -  WikimediaCommons

Jargon busting
Tablets include iPad, which uses Apple’s operating system (ios) and Android devices such as Kindle Fire HD, Samsung Galaxy or Google Nexus. Smartphones have many of the same functions, but because of their smaller size can be less easy to read and operate – though they have the advantage of working outside restricted wi-fi areas. With small variations, any of these devices can facilitate your family history research in many different ways – tracing your roots need never be such hard work again!

1 Take material with you and keep it safe
Tablets are small and light enough to carry easily and can be carried in their own special case. Don’t worry about security. You can set a password to ensure that no one else has access to your personal information.

2 Take, store and send photographs
The large clear photographs that can be taken on a tablet are one of their finest features. Store the photographs (and even short videos) in labelled files on your device for easy retrieval. If interviewing elderly relatives, there is no better way to jog memories than a slideshow of images of people, places, family properties and heirlooms.

3 Download family history apps
There are all sorts of apps (applications) that you can download on to your tablet to help you with your family history research. These can be found by clicking on the ‘App Store’ icon on your iPad or the ‘Play Store’ icon on your Android-operated appliance. Search for relevant apps either by name or by browsing under the keyword(s) ‘genealogy’ or ‘family history’ to see what is currently on offer. Some apps are free and others require payment by credit card or PayPal account. Some apps will provide the tools for you to draw up and manage your own family tree on the tablet itself. Others are databases of potentially vital information (the history of the British Peerage or collections of scanned old newspapers, for example) and services (such as how to organise a family reunion).

4 Scan documents
Download an app that will turn your tablet into a scanner and then make copies of all your important family history documents: censuses, certificates, letters, and even old photographs. These will act as a vital back up to the originals. JotNot Scanner (for iPad) and TinyScan (for iPad or Android) are two such apps available for free.

                                Staff member retrieves files from the National Archives, Kew (Wikimedia Commons Images)

5 Take notes when you are out and about
You can type notes on your tablet when visiting archives, or even when talking to family members. On the iPad, the basic note-making facility ‘Notes’, will be already installed; Android-operated appliances have the ‘Memo’ facility. Alternatively, you can download a more sophisticated diary or journal app from the App Store/Play Store, for example Evernote, which allows you to sync your files across all your electronic devices. You then sign in to Evernote from any computer to access and update the files.
Some notepad apps will allow you to doodle or draw (a useful facility if you want to record gravestone engravings, or the design of heraldic crests, for example).

                                                           Look for alternatives to writing notes by hand

6 Plan research trips
The Assisted–GPS (Global Positioning Chip) inside most hand-held computers can give you the co-ordinates of exactly where you are, and (combined with Google Maps accessed through the internet), can help you to plan research trips to other places. Use the GPS function also to pinpoint graves and other places important to your history and then pass this information on to other interested family members. Unless you have ‘3G’ installed on your tablet, you won’t be able to use it to help you navigate whilst you are actually travelling. Smartphones, however, since they have on-the-go internet access, can be used in the car, on the train etc.

7 E-readers
Many family history books and articles can now be purchased online at as Kindle downloads. Store these in your Kindle App to read at your leisure. The advantages of reading from a Kindle rather than a book are many: you can, for instance, read wherever you are, carry lots of books simultaneously, adjust the size of the text to suit you, find key words and move easily between different parts of the book. Other retailers, such as Barnes & Noble, WH Smith and John Lewis, make their own brand ebook readers.
l iBooks is Apple’s ebook store,
l Googlebooks ( allows you to preview books and in some cases read the text of entire volumes online, if the titles are in the public domain.
l Project Gutenberg ( provides electronic access to thousands of older books that are in the public domain.

8 Search & save information
Your tablet is connected to the vast array of information sources available on the worldwide web. Google ( provides easy access to information and images. Wikipedia ( is a good starting point for answers to all sorts of questions about the past, but remember to check the reliability of the information. Join one of the commercial genealogical websites; or for instant access to information such as parish records, censuses, birth, marriage and death indexes, military records, records of travel and migration, electoral rolls, land tax records, historical surveys, newspaper reports and much more.
l If you see an interesting webpage that you would like to return to, simply bookmark the page onto your home page, or ‘clip’ the page to your note-taking app. Alternatively, you can take a screenshot by simply pressing the home button and the power button simultaneously. Retrieve the information from your photos folder. You can send copied information to yourself via email and, if necessary, print it out from your desktop computer at a later point.
l Dropbox,, is an online facility that allows you to save information from your tablet onto an external server so that it cannot be lost. Your folder can be shared by others provided you allow them your access details.

9 Join a social networking site
Social networking sites are free and allow you to share information quickly with lots of other people who are interested in the same family, place, time period, institution or whatever.
l My Heritage ( is a social networking site specifically for family historians.
l Facebook ( hosts pages devoted to individual families (listed by surname).
l If there is no page on these sites for your family already, why not think about creating your own? Read about how to do this at You will then be able to post news and photographs about your own family history and invite other family members across the world to post theirs.
l Linkedin ( is a social networking site for professionals. Here you can connect with experts in various aspects of genealogy.
l Twitter ( allows you to post very short pieces of news (maximum 140 characters). Here you can choose to ‘follow’ your favourite family history writers, and other interested people may choose to ‘follow’ you. 

10 Communicate with others
Emails (or messages sent directly from iPad to iPad in real time) are quick, cheap and easy to send and can be less embarrassing than a phone call and less formal than a letter. And if you are feeling particularly bold, why not try out a video messaging service (such as Skype, Google Hangouts, or – on iPad only – Facetime) to see and talk to newly-acquired or long-lost relatives, or to send a recorded video message to them.

This article first appeared in Family Tree Magazine UK

#familyhistory #ancestors #ancestry #technology #android #tablet #ipad #handheldcomputer #familyhistoryresearch 

See family history books by Ruth A. Symes at