Choosing a GPS Device

By Steve Paul Johnson Premium

For marking the locations of cemeteries, churches or your ancestor’s homestead, a low-end GPS device (under $200) should suffice. Cheaper models mark coordinates just as accurately as pricier ones—they just lack a lot of bells and whistles you’ll probably never need for genealogy.

The two most popular brands are Garmin and Magellan They’re equally accurate, but Garmin boasts strong, sturdy construction, while Magellan models come packed with features and offer high-resolution displays. Here’s a look at four models:

    Garmin GPS 12


  • Garmin GPS 12: The GPS 12 has a receiver strong enough to acquire satellites in some closed quarters. It can store up to 500 waypoints—more than any genealogist will need. It has a sturdy feel and an easy-to-read display. Lasts about 24 continuous hours on four AA batteries. $150.

    Garmin eTrex

  • Garmin eTrex: Garmin targets its lowest-priced model to beginners and casual hikers. The eTrex is small enough to fit in your shirt pocket. It tends to lose satellites under heavy tree cover or in closed quarters, and doesn’t have the same sturdy feel as the GPS 12. But if you plan to use it in your car or in areas devoid of heavy tree cover, it should suit you just fine. Takes two AA batteries with an average life of about 20 continuous hours. $110.

    Magellan GPS 315

  • Magellan GPS 315: This model is comparable to the Garmin GPS 12. It has a lot of features the Garmin doesn’t, such as a moving map display; a high-resolution, customizable screen; and sun and moon positions. Despite the high-res screen, I found the display a bit harder to read at times. With two AA batteries, it weighs less than the Garmin but only lasts 15 hours. $150.

    Magellan GPS 310

  • Magellan GPS 310: The 310 is similar to the GPS 315 but stores fewer waypoints and has no moving map. For purposes of marking coordinates and helping you find your destination, though, it still does the job quite well. Uses 2 AA batteries, with an average life of about 20 hours. $100.