Monday, January 11, 2016

Dear Randy: How Do You Use Your Smartphone to Do Genealogy?

I had this question asked in email recently, so I thought I would answer it on my blog too.

Here are the first two screens on my iPhone:

The routine tasks I perform on my iPhone almost every day are:

1)  I read my email every morning before I get on the computer.  It's easier to delete the emails I don't want on my phone.  One glance and I can delete it.  It takes more time to delete them in Gmail on the computer.  The ones I save in this first read I can respond to using Gmail later in the day.  This is purely for time efficiency.

When I'm away from my computer, I can also reply if necessary on my phone.

2)  I can read my Feedly news and blog reader when I'm watching TV or am away from the computer.  Again, it's a time efficiency thing - I read 300-400 feed items a day and I find I can check 100 on my phone in 15 minutes while it takes 30-45 minutes on my computer.

3)  Facebook - it's more time efficient to read my page, the pages of my Family, the Group pages, and the general newsfeed on my phone than on the computer.  I can comment too.  I can also upload photos directly from my phone to Facebook.

4)  Twitter - I check Twitter several times a day.

5)  Calendar is indispensable - it tells me before I know I have something planned, as long as I have put in the best notification time. It syncs to all of my devices.

6)  Google+ - I can check my Google+ feed, plus Communities, and respond if necessary.  I do this only once or twice a day.

Other mobile apps I use occasionally, not every day:

7)  Photos - I take all of my photos on the iPhone, and using iCloud they add themselves to my computer's files when I put the phone next to the computer.  The camera is good enough to take photos at repositories of book or periodical pages, or of microfilm images.

8)  RootsMagic - I try to keep the file updated so that I always have my family tree in my pocket, with notes and images.

9)  Ancestry - I have one of my trees synced and can add records from Hints when I'm bored or away from my computer.  I can also search Ancestry for my tree people.

10)  MyHeritage - I have one of my trees synced and can add Record Matches to my tree people when I'm bored or away from my computer.  I can also search MyHeritage for my tree people.

11)  FamilySearch - I can see what information is in person profiles in the FamilySearch Family Tree.

12)  RootsTech or SCGS or FGS or NGS apps - I use the conference apps to select classes and tell me what classes I need to attend when at the conference.

13)  Evernote - I use Evernote occasionally to add thoughts or notes to myself when away from my computer.

14)  FindAGrave and BillionGraves - I use these apps occasionally to find a cemetery, or to see if a cemetery photo or memorial are already available.  I have not used them to take gravestone photos yet, or upload them to the websites.

15)  CamScanner - I have the free app, and have used it on occasion.  I probably should use it more at repositories to correct parallax problems.

16)  23andMe - I added this some time ago, in hopes it would show me DNA matches, but it only deals with health questions.  Oh well.

17)  I have Pinterest and Instagram synced to my accounts, but don't use them much.

18) iBooks - I added quite a few PDF or MSWord documents to this somehow and can see some of the QuickGuide type of documents when I'm away from the computer.

19)  Dropbox - I have quite a few documents in my Dropbox and can access them when I'm away from the computer.  I have some reference books and conference syllabi here.

20)  Google Maps - I can use Google Maps to find details about places my ancestors lived, or get directions to an address, check traffic, find a place to eat, etc.

So, I can use my iPhone for many genealogy and family history related tasks.  I don't use all of them every day or even week, but I could use them when I need them.

The iPhone fits in my pocket and goes with me everywhere I go.  I also have a Samsung Galaxy tablet with almost all of the same apps, but I don't use it as much because I don't carry it with me everywhere.  One thing I do use the tablet for is to serve as a hotspot when I can't get free wifi (like at a library or at a hotel).

I love my iPhone - I just wish the type was larger.  It's not easy to read sometimes.

What other apps should I be using for genealogy and family history?  What are your favorite mobile apps?

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Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

Wow. I have Ancestry & Find a Grave. Didn't know there were so many others!

Dianne A said...

Randy, have you tried the larger type option on your iPhone? There are 3 larger settings than the default and it's simply a matter of selecting that in Settings > Display & Brightness > Text Size.
Not every App supports Dynamic Type, but many do.

Jana Last said...


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!

Hiztorybuff said...

I love learning how others use their iPhone for genealogy. I'm hoping you know that a 3-finger tap brings up the magnifier so our oldereyes can read the text.

Randy Seaver said...

Really? A three-finger tap? Any 3 fingers? I didn't know that! I'll try it out.

Thanks -- Randy

Jo Henn said...

What an interesting and helpful post. Thank you for sharing it. I wanted to let you know that I have included it in my current NoteWorthy Reads post: