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Family history on the go with apps

With the accessibility of phones, tablets and helpful apps being developed constantly, family history work is easier than ever before and is available to people of all ages.

During the RootsTech 2015 conference held in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Feb. 14, in a session titled, “Family History on the Go Using Phones and Tablet Apps,” genealogist Crystal Beutler and app developer Rhonna Farrer joined forces to talk about apps and how to incorporate them into family history research.

“With the aid of our phone and tablet we are no longer bound to big blocks of time to get started or get our [family history] work done,” said Sister Farrer. “You will be surprised what you can do with your phone in just 10 minutes using your mobile devices. Next time you are … at the salon, or you are waiting at a dentist appointment … use [that time] to do family history.”

With many options available to do family history work on a mobile device, Sister Farrer and Sister Beutler shared a list of ideas — and apps — to help individuals get started.

First, they talked about websites that create a family tree that can also be accessed from a phone or tablet.

“You can do research on your phone,” said Sister Beutler. “Ancestry, My Heritage and FamilySearch all have tablet and phone apps. The apps sync with your computer so whether you are working on your computer, tablet or phone, all of the information in your tree is consistent.”

In order to understand the difference between the sites, Sister Beutler explained their abilities and how they vary. With Ancestry and My Heritage, an individual’s family tree is his or her own — meaning it cannot be changed by others unless they are invited and given permission to do so. These trees have the ability to share information with others publicly, or kept private. Individuals can view the trees of others if the creator has made the tree public.

“FamilySearch is different from Ancestry and My Heritage in the sense that it is one global tree shared by all,” she said. “So everyone that is using FamilySearch contributes to and edits the same tree. We are all working together to find our ancestors and share pictures and stories about them.”

When someone creates a tree in FamilySearch, information they submit can be viewed and changed by others without their consent. Along with that, individuals can view and change information submitted by someone else without their consent.

“Ancestry and My Heritage now have the ability to link to FamilySearch, so that means you can work in Ancestry or My Heritage and then link to FamilySearch and contribute and extract information … without compromising your individual tree,” Sister Beutler said. “Right now, you have to do [that step] from a computer, but I am sure it is only a matter of time [before it will be available in an app].”

Another way individuals can do family history work utilizing their phones is through using a cemetery app.

“Sometimes you get stuck doing research,” said Sister Beutler. “A lot of times I’ve had success finding information about my ancestors using cemetery apps.”

A few different apps allow individuals to look up their ancestors in a database made up of contributions from cemeteries, historical societies and volunteers. Often these apps also include obituaries, pictures and biographies. Some even give the option to request a picture of a headstone.

“If you know where an ancestor is buried, you can request that a volunteer in the area photograph a headstone for you and upload it to the database where you can extract it,” she said. “And, you can contribute to their database by taking photos of headstones and uploading them in to the app, which will then help other people who are looking for those people.”

Another tool for family history work is the camera on a mobile device. Too often there is only one tangible — and often weathered — photo left for generations in a family.

“The camera feature on your phone or your tablet can be used as a scanner,” said Sister Beutler. “If you are at a relative’s house and they have that coveted family photo that everybody wants and nobody ever gets around to getting the picture out of the frame, use your phone to take a picture of it. If you are in the library and you find a book full of information that you want, rather than running to the copy machine or writing it all down by hand, use your phone and take a picture of those documents. The same goes for old records in boxes you have — such as documents — use your phone and take a picture.”

Cameras are a great tool to create a digital inventory and capture family heirlooms and keepsakes.

“After scanning with your phone you can improve the quality of your photo with apps,” said Sister Farrer. Individuals can even enhance a photo copy of a photo with apps — and it takes only a few minutes.

Different apps use filters allowing people to restore their photos to cleaner and clearer images, which can then be saved for other projects, printed from a phone or be used for more than just a family history. Some ideas the presenters shared were to use the images on reunion invitations, t-shirts and other products.

One of the most important ways to use a phone or tablet to do family history is through apps that help document a personal history.

“Now it is really easy to create your personal history with your phone,” said Sister Beutler. “It only takes a minute or two to write down bullet points about certain events in your life. ... [If] all you are going to get to are those bullet points, the memories will be priceless to your children and to your grandchildren once you are gone.”

A few apps the presenters suggested were blogger, Day One and Project Life.

“If you need ideas to write about, there are even places you can go to get help,” she said.

Many social media sites have “write your story” prompts that provide a weekly topic to help people get their histories written. Through documenting photos, thoughts and experiences — even if brief — individuals are creating their own family history.

“We are the bridge builders between the past and the future,” Sister Beutler said.

Sister Farrer added, “We are building that bridge between the past and the future. If we don’t do it, who will?”

Visit RootsTech.org to view this session and other sessions from Rootstech 2015.

[email protected] @marianne_holman

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