Head to your favorite app store on your smartphone or tablet, and you might feel you’re in a three-ring circus. Across the big top that is Apple’s App Store, for example, apps rotate in a ring begging to be downloaded, angry birds shoot out of cannons, and the arcade games dominate the field.
The show, though exciting, might leave you too dazzled to know where to look first for the apps you need or how to evaluate the features of the ones you’re considering. But we’ve got the just the ticket to help you tame the lion of app choice overload: A guide to the best apps on earth for the genealogical tasks you face.
The Strong Men
These are the mobile apps that pull a lot of weight, giving you constant access to your online tree and/or the ability to search for historical records. Most have been around for quite a while, relatively speaking, and are backed by large organizations with the resources to continually beef up their offerings with updates. You may be familiar with some of these, but if it’s been a while since you took a look at them, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much heavy lifting they can do.
Ancestry.com • Free • Android, iOS (including Apple Watch) and Windows
Ancestry.com is one of the most powerful websites under the family history big top, making its free app a logical choice for genealogists. It gives you access to view and edit your Ancestry Member Tree and to search for relatives in Ancestry.com’s vast collection of more than 16 billion historical documents—provided you subscribe to the site’s records collections—from your mobile device. The app features the Hints tool, which lets you know when Ancestry.com has a record that potentially matches a person in your tree.
Ancestry has expanded the app’s tools for managing your tree. You now can add family members to your tree right from Facebook. If you’ve tested with AncestryDNA, you can explore your ethnic origins from within the app. Other new features include intuitive tools that let you quickly resize relatives’ profile images, and in the iOS app, take a shortcut to your member tree with a Spotlight search. You also can hide or show family events and Historical Insights to customize the LifeStory view (part of the reworked member trees rolled out last year). With an internet connection, all of this synchronizes with your Ancestry account.
If you have an Apple Watch, you can receive new hint notifications with photo previews, save or ignore photo hints, keep up to date on comments others make to your tree, add voice dictated comments, and get “on-this-day alerts” for your family history events (for example, that your great-great-grandmother was married on this day in 1872). It’s free to set up an Ancestry Member Tree, but you’ll need an Ancestry.com subscription to make full use of all the app’s features, such as hints and searching for records.
FamilySearch • Free • Android, iOS
FamilySearch is a must-visit free genealogy website, which makes its Family Tree app a must-have as well. It brings your entire FamilySearch online tree to your mobile device, synchronizing each edit and addition you make. Be aware that profiles on this site’s tree are accessible to any member whose tree connects to that person. You can benefit from others’ information—or they could introduce incorrect information. The app also makes it easy to enrich your tree by adding photos and stories to its branches.
Start by signing up for a free FamilySearch account, then download the app and sign in to your account. On the first screen is a Pedigree Chart, which you can resize easily with your fingers. Tap a person on the tree to access his or her information. Source information appears, showing you where your genealogical data comes from. The menu across the top of the app slides to the left to reveal more options, such as Spouse, Parents, Sources, Photos, Stories and Charts.
You can locate historical records on the FamilySearch site by tapping the three dots icon on a relative’s profile, then tapping Search Records. If a record is indeed your ancestor’s, tap the Attach to Family Tree button to add it to your tree.
If you need a little help using the app, tap the three horizontal lines icon at the top of the screen. There, beginners will find a terrific Quick Start feature that will prompt them through the process of building a family tree. Or tap Help to access answers to frequently asked questions and support.
MyHeritage • Free • Android, iOS
The MyHeritage website is growing in popularity around the world, and it’s got a fresh new update that includes a completely redesigned version of the mobile app for iOS and Android. The enhanced app, with a better-looking and more-intuitive interface, lets you:
- build and edit your MyHeritage family tree
- fully synchronize your MyHeritage tree with your tree in the Family Tree Builder software (a free desktop program from MyHeritage)
- search more than 5 billion historical records on MyHeritage (with a data subscription to the site)
- preserve and share your genealogy information
MyHeritage has more than 20 million family trees, and more than 4 million people worldwide have downloaded the MyHeritage app. “Worldwide” is the key word here: A major strength of MyHeritage is its global customer base. For example, in Denmark and Norway, the MyHeritage app is currently ranked among the top five apps in its category on the App Store and Google Play. These users are family historians who, like you, want to make connections with relatives. And last year, Google selected the Android version as a featured app in more than 100 countries. MyHeritage also supports 32 languages, making it truly a global genealogy app and particularly suited to international research.
MoboTap Inc. • Free • Android, iOS
The one thing you probably do more than anything else on your tablet is surf the web. While your first instinct on an iPad is probably to use Apple’s Safari web browser, and on the Android, Google’s Chrome browser, I’d like to propose a better way to browse: Dolphin is one of the most powerful web browsing apps available, and it’s free.
The folks at Dolphin are keenly aware that there’s more to accessing a website than just typing in the URL. In fact, with Dolphin you don’t even have to type in the address to access a website. The Gestures feature saves you browsing time by letting you program a simply drawn, one-stroke “gesture” that links to any website you regularly use. You also can set up gestures to execute regular tasks you do on a browser, such as open a new tab.
To start, tap the pointing hand icon, then tap the gear icon on the pop-up window to see available default gestures. These include Go to Bottom (of the page), Go to Top (of the page), New Tab, and launching a few popular websites such as Google. You can add customized gestures as well as delete any you don’t want. You can also create gestures by navigating to a web page in the Dolphin browser, tapping the plus sign (+) next to the URL at the top, drawing a gesture, then tapping Save.
Another excellent feature for speeding up your online searches is Find on Page. When you land on a lengthy web page, tap the three horizontal lines icon, tap Find on Page and finally, type in the word or phrase you seek.
Other functions you’ll find here include:
- Send to Device allows Dolphin to connect to your other devices and synchronize your bookmarks between them. For example, if you save a bookmark on your tablet while at the library, you can access it later on your phone as well. After the first sync, Dolphin will periodically check for updates to your bookmarks and automatically add anything new to all your connected devices.
- W-Fi Broadcast lets you share web pages with folks nearby
- Print connects you with AirPrint printers
- Copy Link copies a URL to your device’s clipboard so it can be pasted elsewhere
- Open with Safari opens a page in the Safari web browser
In addition to being a powerful browser, Dolphin also has an Evernote web clipper built right in, so you can save pages, articles and more from any website you visit to your free Evernote account. Start by tapping the Share icon and then tap the Evernote elephant icon. Because many websites are mobile-friendly, providing you with just one article on the screen at a time, you’ll see that the green button says Save Article. If you’re browsing a website with multiple components on the page, you may see another option for Save Full Page. The area to be saved will be outlined in yellow. Before you tap the Save button, take a moment to title your note, select a notebook if desired, tag it, and add comments. The first time you use the clipper, you’ll need to authorize Dolphin to connect with your Evernote account.
As a genealogist, though, you may need to do more than just save an item. You might want to circle where your ancestor’s name appears on the page, for example. With the Annotation tool in Dolphin’s Evernote clipper, you can do just that. Tap Annotate and use the Brush tool to mark up the item. Use the eraser to remove any unwanted markings. When you’re done, tap Save. You’ll see a thumbnail image of your annotated clipping above the Save button. Tap Save again and Dolphin will send it to your Evernote account.
And finally, Dolphin’s Gear icon gives you even more control over your mobile browsing experience, including the ability to clear your data, add a background theme, change the font size, and set it to open with the page you last viewed.
The Lion Tamers
A genealogy database on your computer puts you in control of your tree, but you also want to be able to access that data when you hit the road. These companion apps to two popular desktop programs let you take your tree with you.
RootsMagic • Free • Android, iOS
If you use RootsMagic software to log your research finds, you’ll love the free RootsMagic app. It serves as a companion viewer to the desktop software, letting you access your family tree information on your mobile device. The app is designed to let you view—but not add to or edit—your tree. It also includes tools such as a perpetual calendar, date calculator, relationship calculator and Soundex calculator.
Clear instructions make it easy to load your family tree from RootsMagic on your computer into the app via Dropbox or iTunes. Even if you don’t use RootsMagic software, you still can use this free viewer app. Simply download the free version of RootsMagic Essentials software and start your tree or upload a GEDCOM (the universal format for family tree files).
TelGen, Ltd. • $14.99 • Android, iOS • Supports Legacy Family Tree 6, 7, and 8
The Families app is designed to work in conjunction with Legacy Family Tree genealogy software, manufactured by Millennia Corp. To use the app, you’ll need to first install the free Families Sync companion program on your PC. This will convert your Legacy Family Tree files to the required format for the app, letting you transfer the files to and from iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android devices.
Families Sync transfers your files between your mobile device and your PC via a Wi-Fi network connection or a USB cable. “It is also recommended that iTunes is installed when using a Wi-Fi transfer, as this enables Families Sync to automatically detect when your device is ready for a transfer,” instructs the Families website. Alternatively, you could use Families Sync just to convert your family file to the required format, then transfer the file using email or Dropbox.
Once your Legacy Family Tree database is loaded into Families, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the functionality of the app. This includes the ability to create new family files from scratch; view ancestral information in a variety of ways; add photos from your camera or photo album; search by given name, surname or Record Identification Number; and view addresses in Google Maps.
The Balancing Acts
There’s a lot to juggle when it comes to genealogy: documents, stories, photos, trees and more. These apps will help you find the right balance and fly through your research with the greatest of ease.
Evernote • Free • Android, iOS
If I were able to download only one note-taking app, Evernote would be it. Evernote isn’t just an app, but also a website and a cloud service. The goal is to help you remember everything—notice an elephant is the logo.
And just how does Evernote accomplish this amazing feat of memory? With easily retrievable notes you can use to store typed information, content clipped from the web, photos, PDF files and even audio. In addition to letting you search all your typed notes, if you’re a Premium subscriber, Evernote scans your web clippings, images and PDFs with Optical Character Recognition (OCR)—making those notes searchable, too. So rather than organizing information in file folders, you can throw them into a virtual pile and then use the search tool to pick them out as needed. If this makes you nervous, you also can label each note with one or more “tags” (such as a surname, type of record, locality, etc.), which helps you retrieve a bunch of related notes at once.
These tools organize your research notes and back them up on the cloud so you can access them from any web-enabled device using the Evernote app.
FamilySearch • Free • Android, iOS
If you have a family tree on FamilySearch, you’ll love using Memories. And if you don’t have a FamilySearch tree, this app may convince you to create one. It provides an easy way to collect photographs, stories and audio recordings, and bring them together with your family tree.
You’ll need a FamilySearch account to get started. The Memories app will synchronize with that account when you’re connected to the internet. Without an internet connection, you’ll still have convenient access to your data through the Memories app.
Download the Memories app, then tap the gear icon to go to the Settings menu and log in to your account. Under Settings, you’ll also find the Help section, where you can get tips for using the app, see what’s new and provide feedback.
Start by adding old family photos. Tag the faces to automatically add the images to those relatives’ profiles in your FamilySearch Family Tree. You also can snap images of genealogical documents with your mobile device and tag them with the people named.
The app’s Stories feature is an easy way to collect details about the photos you’ve added. Expand your storytelling to favorite family jokes and sayings. If you don’t want to type it all, tap the microphone key and dictate your story. The story is attributed to you and includes the date you created it. Finally, don’t miss the Audio tool. Use it to interview family members and record audio memories about your parents and siblings, family traditions, vacations and more.
Send in the Clowns
Clowns bring smiles to our faces, and these apps will bring smiles to your face and the faces of the children in your family—the future genealogists.
THIS DAY in My Family History
Kaik3 • 99 cents • Android, iOS
Here’s a simple, fun app that dishes up all the events that happened on this day in your family history, and how you’re related to the people involved. You’ll need a free FamilySearch Family Tree to use it.
If an ancestor’s story has been on the back burner a little too long, this app could be just the nudge you need to go back and pick up that research. And your living relatives will be blown away at your incredible memory when you remind them it’s the anniversary of a particular family event. Once you install THIS DAY, the app will prompt you to log in and connect with your FamilySearch.org account. Select how many generations you want to include (up to six) and tap Download Ancestry. Tap Settings to select which events you want included. On days when there’s no family anniversary, the app tells you simply to “do some family history!”
Little Family Tree
Yellow Fork Technologies • $3.99 • Android, iOS
Another app that works with your FamilySearch family tree, Little Family Tree helps you set up engaging family history games and puzzles for the toddlers and preschoolers in your family. There are photo puzzles and matching games for names and faces. The clever Heritage Dress Up Game calculates the child’s heritage makeup based on information in your family tree. When the child selects a nationality, an ancestor from that place appears, providing a more personal connection to that heritage. Tap Play and your child can dress a paper doll character in traditional attire.
Don’t let yourself get distracted by sideshow apps. Become the ringmaster of your mobile device and take your genealogy show on the road with the best apps under the Big Top.
|Ancestry||Ancestry.com||Free||Android, iOS||Build and edit your Ancestry Member Tree and search Ancestry.com’s historical records (view them with a subscription)|
|Family Tree||FamilySearch||Free||Android, iOS||Build and edit your FamilySearch Family Tree and search FamilySearch.org|
|MyHeritage||MyHeritage||Free||Android, iOS||Build and edit your MyHeritage family tree and search MyHeritage.com for records (view them with a subscription)|
|Dolphin||MoBo Tap||Free||Android, iOS||Surf the internet, create “gestures” for frequent online tasks, save content to Evernote|
|RootsMagic||RootsMagic||Free||Android, iOS||View your family tree on RootsMagic software|
|Families||TelGen||$14.99||Android, iOS||Build and edit your family tree in Legacy Family Tree software|
|Evernote||Evernote||Free with premium option||Android, iOS||Store notes in a variety of media; clip and store web content; automatically index images of documents (like obituaries)|
|FamilySearch Memories||FamilySearch||Free||Android, iOS||Store photos, stories, video and audio in your FamilySearch account|
|THIS DAY in|
My Family History
|Kaik3||99 cents||Android, iOS||Get notifications of birth, marriage|
|Little Family Tree||Yellow Fork Technologies||$3.99||Android, iOS||Create family history games for kids|
Tip: Even if you prefer to keep your family tree research offline, posting at least a skeleton tree to the family tree sites mentioned here can serve as “cousin bait” and help you connect with more relatives.
From the March/April 2016 Family Tree Magazine.