Using your mobile device for genealogy is a great idea, but with that convenience takes some additional know-how. Back-up your mobile device images in a few simple steps and you’ll never say, “I lost my photos on my phone!”
“I lost my photos on my phone!!”
This is NOT what you want to hear from a dear friend who is also a genealogist. So my heart sank when Genealogy Gems Contributor Amie Tennant’s email dropped into my inbox.
“I spent 6 hours researching at a cemetery and archives in a far away location. You won’t believe this, but when I got home I realized my smartphone wasn’t working. I had taken all the tombstone images with it, all the document copies were made with it, all my notes were on it. And I hadn’t even had time to back it up.”
That’s the problem, unless you back up as you go, you can’t be sure that just an hour later it won’t all be gone. These days you’re more likely to snap photos of records with your phone than a camera. But with that convenience comes the need for a new game plan to keep those precious images safe.
Back-up Your Mobile Device Images: The Plan
I put together an immediate email to Amie with a restoration and preservation game plan. If, like Amie, you are using your smartphone and mobile devices more and more, you’ll want to put this plan into place too.
First, I advised Amie to visit her phone store (for example, The Apple Store if you have an iPhone) and see if they could retrieve the lost photos and data. You never know unless you ask!
Image of Amie’s 4th great-grandfather she was able to retrieve.
Next, it’s important to consider automatic back-up options. Automatic back-ups are great, which is why I love BackBlaze. But BackBlaze is back up for your computer. The BackBlaze app on your phone only gives you access to those computer files, and doesn’t back up your phone.
One option is to back-up manually as you go. In other words, as soon as you snap that image of a record, save it to a Cloud storage service such as Google Drive or Dropbox. You could even activate Cloud back-up so that it happens automatically, though with the size of image files, you would likely need a paid subscription service to allow for adequate storage space. However, if you are going to continue to use your phone as a genealogy tool, it may be well worth the investment. Let’s look more closely at these two options:
Free Manual Option: If cost is an issue, you can save your photos to a free Dropbox account at the time you take the photo, and then move to more permanent storage on your computer at a later time.
1. Take the photograph
2. Tap the photo in my iPhone’s Photos app
3. Tap Edit and do a quick edit to clean it up (improve contrast, rotate so that it is right side up, crop to get as close-up as possible)
4. Tap Done to close the editor
5. Tap the Share icon and tap Save to Dropbox
6. Select the folder in Dropbox where I want to save the image and tap Save
However, it would definitely be faster and simpler to have your phone automatically backing up to the Cloud.
Low Cost Automatic Option: If your phone is going to be one of your genealogy tools, then automatic cloud back-up may be worth the low cost of around a dollar a month.
Personally, I am not a fan of iCloud even though I have an iPhone. I just don’t find it very user friendly to work with. Setting up your photos and videos to automatically back up to your Google Photos library via Google Drive is another option. Again, since photos and videos do take up a lot of space you’ll likely need to invest in a low cost monthly storage plan. Click here to learn more, or Google search Google Drive Plan Cost (or substitue the name of the service you are considering) for current plans.
Bottom line: There are several Cloud services available for our smartphones and mobile devices, so there’s sure to be one that’s right for you. Where ever your images find their final resting place, make sure it has Cloud back-up.
Amie’s Response to the Plan
I quickly sent the plan to Amie. She responded by saying:
“Thank you, Lisa! It was devastating. You were right, a nice man at the phone store was able to restore them! But, I don’t ever want to have this happen again. When I set up my new phone, a Samsung Android, I noticed a setting that said something like “automatic save to Google drive” and it would sync your images. So I clicked it “on” but now I can’t find where I did that! Any ideas?”
Troubleshooting Backing-up Your Mobile Device
When people shoot me a question, my usual response is “Just Google it!” I Googled Automatic backup of android phone and got several great hits on the results list.
One article on Android Fact.com was particularly helpful. (Read the full article here.) Remember, it can get pretty expensive to be instantly uploading images with your cell phone carrier. I suggest clicking Wi-Fi Only to ensure that uploading only takes place when you are connected to Wi-Fi.
I regularly emphasize backing up important documents that live on your computer. But let’s face it: If you have a smartphone, it would be oh, so sad to have to say “I lost my photos on my phone!” So don’t wait—back up your smartphone or mobile device today.
Another Tip for Using Smartphones for Genealogy
Here’s a another mobile computing tip my book Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet and Smartphone for Family History Research.
Smartphones and other mobile devices offer a plethora of editing tools. It is well worth the investment of a few extra seconds to clean up and maximize images as you go. This is particularly true of records that need to be clear for future reference or printing.
Try applying a filter to your images for maximum readability. I like the Noir filter in my iPhone’s Photos app editor.
More Gems on Using Mobile Devices for Genealogy
How to Use Your Mobile Device for Genealogy: Free Video!
3 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Mobile Device
Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished June 11, 2014
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Download the Show Notes for this Episode
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 35: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2
In Episode 34, Patricia Van Skaik, Manager of the History and Genealogy Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, talked with me about the unique genealogical resources in public libraries just waiting to be discovered. She gave us some great ideas on how to prepare for your visit to get the most out of your time at the library.
Today, we go deeper into genealogy research at the public library. Pat is back and she talks to us about:
- How to search an online library card catalog, including advanced search methods;
- What kinds of unique collections may be at public libraries, and helps us learn to ask for exactly what we want!
- The obstacles librarians face when it comes to cataloguing large and unique collections that may interest genealogists.
So dust off your library card and grab your book bag and let’s head back to the public library!
Top Library Tips from Pat and Lisa
- You don’t have to be advanced on computers to use advanced searches. Use these to home in clearly on what you’re looking for!
- Don’t think of the public library as just as place to go look at their holdings. Talk to librarians about how to use resources (databases, websites) and how to evaluate what you’ve discovered.
- Some items are buried at the library. Asking for help may lead to accessing just the records you want. Examples include items in pull-out collections, closed stacks (not in the public areas of the library) and maps, which aren’t always listed in the card catalogue.
- Tell the staff what materials are important to you. Your interest may lead these items to become more accessible, or be indexed or digitized.
Separate your search terms in advanced searches. Don’t just keyword search “marriages San Francisco.” Enter these terms separately in the advanced search. You may bring up items not found while searching these keywords together.
A lot of local history and genealogy materials do not circulate through interlibrary loan. Some items are totally unique and people travel to that library to see it, so they don’t send it out. One option is to ask the librarian to check the index and table of contents, then scan or photocopy the pages of interest to you and send them. There may be a charge for this but it’s better than not being able to get the book at all!
Finally, don’t make assumptions. Particularly, Pat says, don’t assume that…
- A small library doesn’t have much advanced technology;
- A library resources only cover its immediate locale; and
- If you can’t see it is not there! Ask about closed stacks.
Links for Public Libraries and Library Resources
WorldCat.org (to search for materials across multiple libraries)
Library Finder websites:
Opening pages of rare 1905 Sanborn Map of San Francisco, showing city just before 1906 earthquake. Find the entire map book at the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection
Genealogists rely on historical maps to help us navigate the geography of our ancestors’ lives. One of the most important resources available online is the David Rumsey Map Collection. Well, Rumsey recently announced on his website that he will be making more than 38,000 of his historical maps–everything he’s currently got online–available at the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).
I blogged recently about the DPLA, which aims to create an enormous, free digital library we can all access online. It will be great to have the Rumsey map collection searchable on the DPLA so we can search these maps while we look for any other sources on any particular location our ancestors lived. “Maps tell stories that complement texts, images, and other resources found in the growing DPLA library,” says Rumsey. “And the open content policies of my online library fit perfectly with DPLA’s mission to make cultural resources freely available to all.” He applauds what the DPLA is trying to accomplish and even encourages other collectors to donate content.
Rumsey has spent years collecting thousands of old maps and putting them online. Now he’s working to share them even more widely. His entire collection of about 150,000 maps will eventually be housed at Stanford University. Meanwhile, we can all enjoy the thousands of images we can search on his site or at the DPLA.
Google’s free program Google Earth includes nearly 150 historic maps in the Layers panel. You can also add historic maps downloaded from Rumsey’s site to Google Earth by using the Overlay feature. My video tutorial series called Google Earth for Genealogy will show you how. You can also get step-by-step instructions in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Or get them all in a discounted bundle.
It’s common to hear of long-lost relatives who rediscover each other online or through DNA tests. But nearly 100 years ago, another new technology–the radio–united a pair of long-lost siblings 40 years after one ran away.
This newspaper article reports that Alonso Jones’ children were sitting around one day in 1926 listening to the radio. Then they heard the announcer say, “Alonso Jones, wherever you are, listen…Your sister wants to see you at Worthington, Ohio. She has not seen or heard from you in forty years. You were born at Antiquity, Meigs County, Ohio, at the time of the Civil War….”
“You were reared by Captain William Roberts, an Ohio River flat boat man. You went with him on a produce boat when you were a boy and ran away while the boat was lying at the bank in Arkansas.” The article reports that the man telegraphed his sister and arranged to meet her. What a great story! And what a great family history find for anyone researching Alonso Jones or his sister, Mrs. Robert Eakin, or his guardian, William Roberts!
Salt Lake Tribune, January 1, 1926, p. 1. Digitized at Ancestry.com.
This article illustrates two fantastic tips for newspaper searching.
FIRST, I originally found this article in the Salt Lake Tribune, digitized at Ancestry. I was struck because the story was about people from Ohio and Arkansas–not Salt Lake. As we still see today, local news stories of the past were often reported in other cities. When searching digitized newspapers, don’t automatically discount search results that otherwise seem right but appear in out-of-town papers.
SECOND, curious about this story, I used Lisa’s search strategies from her book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox to search for more information about the people mentioned in the article. I got a hit on a possible match for the riverboat caption. I also found that the Google News Archive had this same article in The Evening Independent in St. Petersburg, Florida (shown above). The copy above is much clearer to read and slightly different. For these reasons, it can sometimes be worth looking for duplicates of news articles and/or obituaries for your relatives.
Want to learn more? Genealogy Gems Premium members can also listen to Premium podcast episodes GGP 36 and 3GGP 37 about newspaper searching (Lisa talks about Google News Archive in episode 37). Or get the ultimate scoop in How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers! It’s packed with inspiring family history finds in the newspaper and all the tools you need (online and offline) for finding your own.