At some point during your childhood, you may have let slip a choice phrase and ended up like Ralphie in the 1983 movie A Christmas Story: gagging on a bar of Lifebuoy soap. Sure, your mother taught you to steer clear of four-letter words, but we can think of one that’s guaranteed to put a smile on a genealogist’s face—and on Mom’s: FREE.
Whether your mobile device is a smartphone or tablet, Android or iOS, you’ll find gratis apps that can boost your research efficiency and help you grow your family tree. Except where noted, all of the apps listed here are available in both the iTunes App Store scroll to the bottom and click Browse App Store) and the Google Play Store.
• Adobe Photoshop Express: Whether you’re recording and sharing today’s memories with the camera built into your tablet or smartphone, or you want to improve an old family photo on the go, Adobe’s Photoshop Express app does it. A swipe of the finger crops, rotates or adjusts color. Or use artistic filters such as Soft Focus and Sketch. And there’s no such thing as mistakes or damaged originals: A copy of your original file is always saved, and undoing and redoing are a snap. Looking for more-sophisticated manipulations? Specialized Adobe Packs are available for in-app purchase.
• Ancestry: The Ancestry app has gained a lot of momentum since its original release. The newest version not only lets you review your family tree on your smart device, but also create a new one from scratch. You can add and edit family members, check out “shaky leaf” hints, and even upload photos.
• Billion Graves: “Let’s work together and put all cemetery content on the map for everyone to share” starts off the description of this specialized camera app. You can chip in by using the app to capture pictures of cemetery headstones and upload them to the BillionGraves.com website. If you allow the app to know where you are, it updates the location where each photo is snapped.
• FlipBoard: Although not targeted to genealogists, FlipBoard is the perfect vehicle for bringing your favorite family history blogs and websites together in one place, in a gorgeous magazine format. Sign up for a free account to get started. In the app, tap the magnifying glass icon, then Your Flipboard. Here’s where you customize your content. Try searching for the word genealogy and then selecting the type of content from the bookmark menu. A simple tap of the plus sign by an item will add it to Your Flipboard, creating a personalized collection of genealogical goodness.
• Library Locator: Where’s a library when you need one? Let the free Library Locator app lead the way. As you travel in search of ancestors, this iOS app uses GPS to find the nearest public library from 13,000 across the United States. You also can search by ZIP code to plan ahead for your next adventure.
• MyHeritage: The new year brought a new version of the MyHeritage app that’s well worth the wait. It leaps beyond viewing into building and editing your family tree on your smartphone or tablet. Getting the scoop at a family reunion? New editing screens allow you to add those just-uncovered details as well as correct errors on the spot.
• RootsMagic: One of the newest apps on the mobile scene, this iOS app has been much anticipated by RootsMagic software users. Version 1.0 lets you view (no editing capabilities yet) your RootsMagic file with no conversion. Not a RootsMagic user? No problem. Use the free desktop software to convert files from programs such as PAF, Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, and of course the standard GEDCOM file format.
• RootsTech: Even if you can’t make the trip to Salt Lake City for FamilySearch’s national RootsTech Family History and Technology conference, the RootsTech app lets you share in some of the action. Follow the activities, speakers and exhibitors, and view attendees’ uploaded photos. The FamilySearch YouTube channel is a tap away in the Videos section. And if you’re fortunate enough to be there, nifty tools help you make the most of your conferencing time.
Charts and forms
Even though it seems as if everything is going digital, there’ll always be times when you want to write down your findings. These sites offer an array of useful, free genealogy forms for collecting and documenting data, and charts for displaying your research results.
• About Genealogy: Download and print family tree charts and forms including US census extraction forms. You’ll find traditional family trees to print, as well as interactive charts so you can type in the fields (using the free Adobe Reader software ) and save to your computer.
• Access Genealogy: Get goodies that give you a place to fill in the blanks. Free downloads include a Family Tree Chart, Research Calendar, Research Extract form, Census forms, Correspondence Record worksheet, Family Group Chart and Source Summary form.
• AnceStories: Looking for something a little different? Here you can download unique forms for recording research activities, including Cemetery Employee Interview, Funeral Home Employee Interview, Online Research Log, US Research Checklist, Timeline Worksheet, and a Family History Center Lookups form.
• Ancestry.com: Deep in the Ancestry.com website is a diverse collection of downloadable forms and charts. Select from the Ancestral Chart, Research Calendar, Research Extract, Correspondence Record, Family Group Sheet, Source Summary, and US, UK and Canadian census forms.
• Disney’s The Tigger Movie: Capture the kids’ attention and imaginations with three Winnie the Pooh-inspired family trees. These colorful and whimsical printable charts are perfect for framing.
• Family Chartmasters: The Family ChartMasters pedigree chart creation tool, Family ChArtist, is a great way to make a decorative 8.5×11-inch chart for scrapbooking, framing or gifting. Type your data or upload a GEDCOM and choose one of the simple pedigree chart designs. Then edit your information and choose from hundreds of borders, backgrounds and embellishments. You even can use your own pictures. Print your chart for free or order a large, professionally printed version.
• FamilyTreeMagazine.com: Our own website offers a wide selection of downloadable forms divided into categories for Basic Charts and Worksheets, Research Trackers and Organizers, Census Forms, Immigration Forms, Record Worksheets, and Oral History and Heirlooms.
• MarthaStewart.com: The Queen of Crafting offers a decorative Family Tree Fan Chart template you can print, fill out and frame. Look under Crafts, then Clip Art and Templates, then Memorykeeping, or type family trees into the search box on the home page. You’ll find several lovely downloadable chart templates and instructions, plus other “good things” including genealogy videos, keepsake crafting and family tree display ideas.
• Misbach Enterprises: This site offers 10 high-quality downloadable genealogy charts in PDF format. Just click on the one you like and print it, or download it for later use and printing. They all fit a standard 8.5×11-inch sheet.
• ZaptheGrandmaGap.com: Author Janet Hovorka dishes up a fun way to help the youngsters in your life catch the genealogy bug. Download pedigree charts with kid appeal as well as a 35-page My Time Machine activity book—it’s full of questions to ask grandparents and places to write down genealogical information.
Photos and images
• America As It Was: Explore a sizeable directory of websites featuring vintage public domain postcards organized by US state. Got a few minutes for browsing? Click on the automobile at the bottom of the home page for a state-by-state postcard tour.
• Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University: Here, search 90,000 images from rare books and manuscripts by keyword. Start by clicking the Search link on the home page, then click Digital Collections Online from the drop-down menu and type your keywords.
• Classroom ClipArt: Find easy-to-browse public domain images of world history. They’re geared for the classroom but useful to anyone looking to illustrate stories of the past. In addition to classic clip art, you’ll also find photos, engravings and maps.
• Exclassics: Old classic books are great resources for images—just take a look at the 18th-century Newgate Calendar, which many English parents kept on hand as a warning to their children between 1750 and 1850. Explore Exclassics for other works with public domain images.
• FOBO: From Old Books dot Org: Click search to scour this collection of images digitized from a variety of old books now in the public domain. You also can browse by book title, such as The Grammar of Heraldry by Samuel Kent (1718) or The Antiquities of England and Wales by Henry Boswell (1786; I love the maps in this one).
• Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum: Peruse thousands of copyright-free photographs showing the Great Depression, the New Deal and WWII eras.
• The History Place: Child labor in America 1908-1912: Explore these riveting images showing the childhood reality of many of our ancestors, with the original captions from famed photographer Lewis W. Hine. Note that only noncommercial, non-internet use of the content here is allowed.
• Karen Whimsy’s Public Domain Images: Peruse engravings and other artwork from a personal collection of old books, magazines and postcards. Scroll down the home page for convenient links to categories including a nice collection of Edwardian-era fashion images.
• Library of Congress American Memory: Explore still and moving images, prints, maps and sheet music that document the American experience. Collections are organized by subject, and may have unique requirements for use. Be sure to check the copyright information for each item you wish to use.
• New York Public Library: More than 700,000 images from books include historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera and more. Low-resolution images are free to download for personal use; there’s a fee for high-resolution images.
• Photos of the Great War, World War I Image Archive: Travel back to the Great War with these images spanning 1890 to 1930. The site is part of the World War I Document Archive.
• Project Gutenberg: Not all books are illustrated in this ever-growing collection of 12,000 public-domain (in the United States) tomes, but type the keyword illustrated into the search box to find those that are.
• Reusable Art: Here’s a sizeable collection of vintage drawings, illustrations and photographs from books, magazines and other printed materials. You can use the linked menu on the left to drill down to the desired images, or run a keyword search in the search box just below the menu. Check the publication information with each image for copyright details.
• US History Images: Thousands of public domain images depicting US history up to about the Civil War live here. Chronological organization makes them easy to find. Bookmark this site, because new images are added regularly.
• Wikimedia Commons: Wikimedia Commons hosts only freely licensed photos, illustrations, sound files and other media. With more than 16 million uploaded files and counting, the site claims to be the largest free “images-only” online repository. You’ll find media tagged specifically with the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark.
• World War II Poster Collection: Witness the same wartime propaganda your ancestors did: The Northwestern University Library houses more than 300 public-domain posters the US government issued from the onset of the war through 1945. Cite the library and the website URL if you use an image.
If your research has ranged much beyond one family, you’re probably scouting for a way to organize your family tree. Genealogy database software could be just the ticket—and you don’t have to spend and arm and a leg to get enough power to accomplish the task. Several great options are just a free download away.
• Ancestral Quest Basics: This free genealogy software works much like FamilySearch’s Personal Ancestral File program (which is no longer being updated). It has all the essential features for working with your family tree.
• MyHeritage Family Tree Builder: Use this Windows software to create your family tree offline or on a secure site at MyHeritage.com. You can print decorative family tree charts from your online tree (order larger copies for a fee). The program supports 36 languages and its SmartMatching technology searches for matches to your ancestors in other users’ trees.
• Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition: This free version of the popular Windows software includes family and pedigree views, a to-do list, research log, event reminders and more.
• RootsMagic Essentials: You’ll get many of the core features of the award-winning RootsMagic software for Windows in this free version: the Source Wizard, loads of reports and charts, unlimited data capacity and more.
Tip: Family Tree Magazine freebies include forms, cheat sheets, how-to videos, a monthly podcast, several webinars and online articles.
Tip: Want deals on genealogy records? See if your library offers free access to subscription sites such as Ancestry.com and Fold3, type free into the Ancestry.com card catalog for a list of the site’s no-cost databases, and utilize free sites such as FamilySearch.org and USGenWeb. Check library and state archives websites, too.
On the House
Don’t stop your genealogy bargain hunt on the web. It pays to take advantage of offline freebies, too. Start your “shopping” at these places:
• FamilySearch Centers: At these Family History Library branches, you can use in-house computers to access a variety of subscription genealogy websites. Most centers also have copies of often-used local records, and be sure to ask about classes and workshops. Visit FamilySearch.org to find the center nearest to you.
• State libraries and archives: A wealth of historical reference books, records and other materials make your state library and/or archives well worth the trip. The holdings of these facilities vary by state, so check online to decide which best suits your research needs. Find state libraries listed here and state archives listed here.
• Local public and university libraries: Libraries in your ancestor’s town likely have local history materials you won’t find anywhere else, along with librarians experienced in local records.
• Genealogical and historical societies: Not all societies maintain offices or research libraries, but if the one in your ancestor’s town does, pay a visit for local research expertise and records on area families.
For Plus Members
• 89 genealogy freebies
• 26 money-saving research tips
• Research Trips on a Shoestring
Family Tree Shop
• Six free genealogy sites digital download
• Official Guide to RootsWeb.com
• Tricks for Using FamilySearch.org video class
From the May/June 2013 Family Tree Magazine