Did you know your iPad or tablet computer can be one of your best genealogy buddies? It makes it easy to access and share family trees, documents, and photos on-the-go. It can even help you gather NEW family history treasures: images, interviews and more.
However, iPads aren’t just miniature laptops. They work differently and in very specific ways, depending on what apps you have. If your tablet time has been limited to playing Angry Birds and checking your email, then it’s time to check out these 7 great ways to use a mobile device like an iPad for genealogy:
1. Access family trees
Access your online family tree (and even make changes) with apps like those from Ancestry,FamilySearch, MyHeritage and RootsMagic. Last we checked, Findmypast doesn’t have a mobile app, but its website is optimized for mobile devices (meaning it’s friendly to iPad users).
Access old family pictures from your iPad to share with your relatives. You can put them right on your device’s hard drive, which makes them accessible even if you don’t have a wireless signal, but space on iPads is often limited. So make the most of your iPad’s ability to access cloud-based storage by putting your pictures in iCloud or on Dropbox.
4. Image new research finds
When you research your genealogy in libraries, use your iPad to take digital images instead of wasting time and money on photocopies. Image pages from a county or local history or take a snapshot (and a closeup) of a historical map. You can even take digital shots of microfilmed materials! Learn more here, and always get permission at each library before you start taking pictures.
5. Organize on your iPad
Keep track of all your genealogy sources with Evernote–and keep all your sources at your fingertips by using the Evernote app. My new Evernote for Genealogists Quick Research Guides, available both for Windows and Mac users, are cheat sheets that will help you start using Evernote immediately across multiple platforms.
6. Access podcasts, books and magazines on your iPad
Genealogy podcasts are the online equivalent of radio shows–all about family history! You’ll find tons of free, entertaining and informative content in:
The best apps for genealogy are the ones that help you accomplish what you need to, not just the ones intended for family history use (like the free family history game Family House). For example, sometimes you need a quick magnifier and flashlight to better see old documents or photos–here’s a great app suggestion for that. Also, many of us find ourselves turning more frequently to YouTube. Well, there’s a YouTube app–click here for ideas on using it for genealogy.
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Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse by Lisa Louise Cooke, with anin-depth look at over 65 apps, 32 fabulous tricks and tips to make you a power iPad user (and not just for genealogy!) and “see it for yourself” demos in recommended online videos. It’s available in print and e-book.
When you’re working on our genealogy, you’ve got data and records coming from all directions: websites, interviews, archives, downloadable documents, and more. Some of it you’re actively working on, some of it you need to save for later, and the rest has already been analyzed and is ready for archiving. This variety of data requires a variety of storage locations.
Watch episode 71
In this week’s special episode of Elevenses with Lisa (episode 71) I’m going to share with you my genealogy data workflow. We’ll talk about how it all fits together to ensure an uncluttered desk and the ability to instantly put my hands on what I need when I need it. If that sounds like something that you need help with, please join me this week.
Three ways to watch: 1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above. 2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat.
Episode 71 Show Notes
Barbara left a comment saying she found our recent videos that we called How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole helpful (episode 68 and episode 69), but she did had a question about Evernote. She asks, “Once you have processed (the genealogy record) and extracted the information you need, do you remove them from Evernote and place them in your digital genealogy filing system? I get a bit confused in thinking about what the other purposes of Evernote might be. Wouldn’t I just save my documents, newspaper clippings, etc. to my digital files on the hard drive and also to my Google Drive folders? Is there any need to also have them in Evernote?”
This is a great question, and I think the best way to answer it is to talk about my entire genealogy workflow in which programs like Evernote play a part.
It really helps to have a consistent way to capture and find what you’re actively working on. My workflow works great for me, but its just one way. Follow along with me and see if this might be a flow that will work for you.
The Genealogy Data Flow
Let’s start off with an overview of my workflow. And there are really 5 major workstations, if you will, that your data flows through. Some of these we’ve discussed previously here and also in several Premium Member videos:
Active Genealogy Work
This is the stuff we are working on currently. I several different tools to capture and work on these items: Evernote, genealogy website subscriptions, “pending” folders on my computer, pending tabs in my 3 ring notebooks and physical pending box on my desk. We discussed this in Elevenses with Lisaepisode 7.
Conclusions added to Master Genealogy Database (Software on your computer)
Archival Digital Storage (your computer.) See episode 8 (Digital Archiving) You can certainly keep archival items in Evernote as well.
Archival Paper Storage (your binders.) See episode 6(Paper Archiving)
Not everything I find while researching is ready to be archived the moment I find it. Some items are actively being found and worked with such as:
Items I’m exploring for the potential application to my current research project
Items pending analysis
Items playing a role in a bigger research question that I want all together for now.
Bright Shiny Objects (BSOs) – stuff I found along the way that doesn’t relate to my current research goals
Not everything is captured on my computer. Many items (photos, audio and video records, typed notes) are captured on my phone and my iPad. So, I need an easy way to funnel everything back to one active workspace. A cloud-based notetaking service allows me to do this because it’s available as software on my computer and an app on my mobile devices. All synchronize through my account on the cloud. I use Evernote (affiliate link – thank you for your support of our free content) so I’ll refer to that, but there are others out there like OneNote, and Google Keep. (Learn more about how to user Evernote in episode 70.)
Evernote allows me to:
Capture and hold items
search and retrieve more effectively than on my computer thanks to OCR (subscription)
work my genealogy research plan
easily collaborate with another researcher by sharing a single link
Store and share media such as audio and video recordings
OK, so does everything go straight into Evernote? The answer is no. So let’s take a look at what happens to a digital item when I get it. I’m going to call it data, but it could be a downloaded genealogy record, a web clipping from a website, a photo of a gravesite I took with my phone, or anything else that includes information I want to use.
Working Your Genealogy Research Plan
When we work our genealogy research plan, we will inevitably locate documents. Typically, these are digital, but sometimes we find a physical document and make a digital copy of it.
Before a digital item is deemed relevant and ready to archive, we have a lot of work to do. We need to evaluate and analyze the document to determine its value and its possible application to our family history. If deemed reliable and applicable, we then need to extract the data and enter it into our family tree software. We may also decide to add some or all of the information to other places such as our online tree if we have one.
Many times, all of this work can’t happen in one sitting. We may need to be able to review and work with the item several times before we’re finished with it. I call this “processing” the document.
Even after its processed, we may still need the item nearby for reference as we work our research plan in the hopes of reaching our goal. At this stage, I consider this item to be “Active.” The opposite of that would be items I consider to be “Archived.” An archived item has been fully utilized and is no longer playing an active role in my research plan. That’s not to say I may not need to reference it again in the future, which is why it must be archived where I can retrieve it. The point is that the item is not relevant to my current active research. For example, perhaps it pertains to my mother’s side of the family and right now I’m working on my father’s side of the family.
My active digital items are typically added to Evernote, which I consider to be my Active workspace. It is not my archival space. However, this is not to say that you can’t store everything in Evernote forever if that’s what you want to do. You certainly could. I’ve given this a lot of thought and there are a few reasons why I don’t store everything in Evernote.
The main reason I don’t store everything in Evernote is that I’m a firm believer in retaining control of my data. If we store everything on a website or in a cloud service (which Evernote is), they (or their hosting provider) could pull the plug tomorrow and it would all be gone. I certainly don’t think that would happen overnight, although there are real cases of that happening. But I don’t want to take the risk, and I don’t want to have to scramble in a panic to move a mountain of data because I’ve been given a 30 day notice that a service is ending or has been sold to another company. (And let’s not even think about the possibility that the email notification of that happening went to my Spam folder!)
In order to retain control of my family history data, my long-term data storage needs to be within my control: my computer, external hard drives (both backed up with Backblaze) and paper print outs. That being said, when it comes to my active research project, I’m willing to trade the risk for the speed and convenience of using an online tool or service such as Evernote. My active research is a small fraction of my total research, most of which has been archived on my computer.
So, when I first find an item, I have a decision to make: where am I going to put it? Will I save it to my computer or to Evernote? It depends on what it is.
Items I save to Evernote:
Items needing OCR to be most useful. Examples: Newspaper articles, web clippings
Items created with my phone or tablet. Examples: Photos of gravesites and documents, interview audio recordings, videos of research trips
Items needing analysis before confirmed as pertaining to my family. Examples: Record downloaded from a genealogy website. I want these in Evernote because everything is together in one place. Tags and the search feature allow me to instantly retrieve any combination of records I need at any given time for cross reference. And if I need to share any or all of the items with another researcher it’s easy to do with just one share link. A cloud notetaking service make working your research plan much easier. (Premium Members watch my video class Collaborative Genealogy with Evernote.
Example:Items pertains to my family but not part of my current research project.
Downloaded genealogy records I don’t have time to process right now.
All items are tagged with relevant information to make them quick and easy to find in addition to keyword searching.
Items I save to my computer hard drive:
Items to I want to keep that have been processed.
Digital scans of visual items. Examples: Family Photos, old postcards
Large files created on my computer (audio, video).
I have a solid system for organizing my folders and file on my computer so it’s quick and easy to find them. If you’re a Premium Member you can watch my step-by-step classes on how to set that up for yourself on my website GenealogyGems.com.
The bottom line is that whenever I need to find something for my active research project I’m going to search my notetaking service first, and then my computer hard drive.
Archiving Processed Items
Once I reach my research goal and I’m done actively using those sources, I’m ready to archive them. I could just leave everything in Evernote, but I want to make sure that all genealogical documents that I referenced as a source in my master database, are archived on my computer for long-term storage that I control, and that is being automatically backed up.
An important thing to understand about Evernote is that you can’t just download everything with one click in its original file format. However, you can save individual digitized items in your note, such as genealogical records, to your hard drive. Since there is no lifetime storage limit, I leave the note intact in Evernote, and I save the image to my computer hard drive. Save the image by right-clicking on it (in Windows, & I think it is Command click on a Mac) select Save As and save it to the appropriate archival folder. I do this at the end of the research project. Now you may feel like your “research project” never ends! But I’m referring to a genealogy research plan.
How to save a document image to your hard drive from Evernote.
You can learn how to create one in Evernote by watching my Premium video class Using Evernote to Create a Research Plan. (Premium membership required.) Of course, after I’ve answered my research question I quickly develop the next one and build a plan around it. So, you’re right, it never actually ends – thank goodness!
How Do I Find It Later?
My software database is the brain of my genealogy operations. I may have family tree information on various genealogy websites, on my computer, in Evernote and maybe even on my own family history website. But my database is the final word on what I have found and believe to be accurate. As I draw conclusions and add data to my family tree in my database, I cite my source. Therefore, everything I need to know about my tree is in one location I control on my own computer. If someone asks me a question about someone in my family tree, I can quickly look up the information and also see where I got it (the source).
“Your genealogy database software is the brain of the organization.” Lisa Louise Cooke
When I want to refer back to one of those sources I would look in one of three places:
My computer archival digital files (especially if it’s not part of my active research plan). This is easy to do because I know my folder system well, and it guides me. I’ve never lost anything yet!
Evernote (particularly if the source is part of my current research plan.)
The surname binder (if my citation tells me or I suspect it would be an archived piece of paper.)
Because I stick to my system, I usually instinctively know where to look. And because of they way each is set up, I can find things FAST!
Of course there are always exceptions to any rule, and there may be an item or situation that doesn’t fall perfectly neatly into a category or activity. Use your own best judgement on how to handle those. OCR search capability and great systems for digital and paper items will make it possible to find what you need when you need it. And most importantly, you’ll retain control over your family history legacy.
Be sure to share your Evernote credentials in a secure place and share them with a trusted relative so that the account can be passed on in the future. Learn more about protecting your legacy by watching my video class Saving Your Research from Destruction. (Premium membership required.)
Are you worried about access to your online tree if you let your Ancestry.com subscription lapse? The tree should still be there. But take these steps to be sure your Ancestry family tree remains accessible and secure–along with the records you’ve attached to it.
What Happens if Your Ancestry Subscription Expires
Many people start researching their genealogy with an Ancestry subscription. They build their family tree on the web site, adding details about their relatives.
Then they sift through Ancestry’s billions of historical records and add hundreds or even thousands of new names, dates, relationships and other facts to their family trees. Along the way, they attach records to each ancestor as evidence of what they’ve learned.
All of this adds up to a unique family tree that is precious to your family.
However, it is very common for the busyness of life to call them away from their genealogy research for a while. This is what happened to Genealogy Gems reader Beverly. She wrote to me, concerned about what will happen to all her hard work on that Ancestry tree:
“I have been a member of Ancestry.com for a long time and have worked on several trees. I love to work on my genealogy but lately have not had time. Can I drop my membership and still retain my trees? I plan to get my membership back at a later day. Right now I am wasting $20 a month.”
Beverly, I hear your pain!
We all go through busy seasons. It’s easy to cringe at the thought of paying for genealogy website subscriptions we aren’t currently using.
But the idea of losing all our progress on those web sites if we let our subscription lapse is worse. Your Ancestry subscription has not only included your online family tree, but also all of the records that you found and attached to that tree.
According to Ancestry, the answer is yes, you can still access your trees with your login credentials after your subscription lapses. The most important thing is that you don’t delete the tree or the account altogether.
Ancestry continues to host people’s trees because they want our tree data to share with others, and to give people a reason to come back!
But be aware that if you do not renew your Ancestry subscription, your account will revert to a free guest account. (Your user name and password will remain the same.) This means that you will not be able to access most of Ancestry’s historical records, including the ones you’ve already attached to your trees. And I say “trees” because many people have multiple family trees on Ancestry to be concerned about.
To see the historical genealogy records that you have attached to an ancestor in your online tree, click on a person in your family tree, and then click Profile:
How to find genealogy records attached to a person in your Ancestry tree.
You will be taken to their profile page where you will see the genealogical sources you have attached.
If your Ancestry account expires you can’t access records attached to your tree.
These are records that you will not be able to access when your subscription expires.
If Your Ancestry Subscription Expires: Tree Preservation Strategy
If you plan to let your Ancestry.com subscription lapse for a while, but you want to continue to work with your online trees, consider taking these steps:
1. Download a copy of every record.
The first thing to do is download a copy of every record that you’ve attached to your ancestors’ individual files on Ancestry.com.
You can do this by opening the image of the record, clicking on the Save/Saved button at the upper right, and clicking Save to your computer. I suggest doing this even if you don’t foresee letting your subscription go in the near future.
Saving a document to your computer from Ancestry before your subscription expires
2. Save each record in an organized wayon your computer.
If you don’t have a consistent way to organize these document images, you’ll soon become overwhelmed with files that all sort of look the same and you won’t be sure what year they are or which ancestors they pertain to without opening each one!
Yes, Ancestry does continue to maintain your trees, but what guarantees do you have?
Data loss does happen even on big websites, and sites change their practices and policies sometimes. If that happens, you could lose all the information you’ve carefully added to your tree.
4. Start using computer software for your “master family tree.”
Don’t just keep your family tree online where you don’t have complete control.
A “master family tree” is your most complete, up-to-date version of your tree (or trees, if you build separate ones for separate family lines).
Keeping your master tree on your own computer keeps all your tree data at your fingertips without any subscription required. Having one master file matters even more once you start sharing your tree on other websites or with relatives.
I use RootsMagic, and that is why I happily agreed to them sponsoring my Genealogy Gems Podcast. It works for Mac and the PC.
I like its affordability: there’s a free version you can try for as long as you like, and the full software will cost you the same as about 90 days of access to Ancestry.com.
RootsMagic has tons of advanced features to help you create family history charts, books, and reports, and a great user support community online.
Learn More about Ancestry and the Other Genealogy Giants
Keep up with news and changes on the “genealogy giants” websites with our ongoing coverage of Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com here.
Disclosure: this post recommends carefully-chosen products and services for which we receive compensation. Clickhere to read my full disclosure statement, and thank you for supporting the free content we provide at Genealogy Gems.