Your phone and tablet can be in­valu­able tools for re­search­ing your fam­ily his­tory when out and about. Genealogy ex­pert Nick Peers rec­om­mends the es­sen­tial apps for tak­ing pho­tos, record­ing con­ver­sa­tions and more

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Syn­chro­nise all your re­search

When car­ry­ing out your fact-find­ing on the road you should al­ways make sure your phone or tablet holds the lat­est version of your re­search, in­clud­ing pho­tos and the all-im­por­tant fam­ily tree. There are sev­eral pro­grams that of­fer al­ter­na­tive ways of do­ing this.

You could, for ex­am­ple, in­stall the Roots­magic app ( www.roots­ App) on your phone and sync it with the Roots­magic pro­gram on your desk­top PC. Al­ter­na­tively, you could use the Fam­ilysync tool in the PC version of Fam­ily Tree Maker 2017 ( www.snipca. com/27193) to up­load your tree to your An­ces­try ac­count (­ces­ via its Plan tab, then in­stall the free An­ces­try app (, see screenshot be­low left) on your de­vice. This gives you ac­cess to your fam­ily tree on the road, let­ting you up­date it wher­ever you are.

Need to jot down notes while out and about? Mi­crosoft’s Onenote (An­droid:; IOS www. of­fers many clever ways to or­gan­ise and share your notes, and lets you add pho­tos. For more ba­sic note tak­ing try Sim­plenote ( www. sim­ Pair these apps with their down­load­able PC coun­ter­parts to keep your notes in sync.

Cap­ture old fam­ily pho­tos

Imag­ine the sce­nario: you’ve been in­vited to view a col­lec­tion of old fam­ily pho­tos, but you can’t take them away with you to scan later. The an­swer is to use your phone’s cam­era on a tri­pod to en­sure sharp re­sults. You’ll find sev­eral per­fectly good tripods on Ama­zon for £10 to £15, such as these 42in mod­els from Pal­ad­inz ( and Futa (

You should also con­sider sign­ing up for a free Joyflips ac­count ( www.joyflips. com). This app is pur­pose-built to speed up the process of pho­tograph­ing mul­ti­ple pic­tures. While it’s avail­able only for iphones at the mo­ment, an An­droid version is com­ing soon.

Once you’re in po­si­tion, set up your tri­pod on a flat sur­face where you’ll also place the pho­tos, ideally on a plain back­ground. Make sure they are well-lit – nat­u­ral light­ing is best – and have your pho­tos ready to hand. Mount your phone on the tri­pod so its rear-fac­ing cam­era is point­ing straight down at the table top.

Next, open Joyflips and tap Scan. Line up the first photo un­der your phone and ad­just the tri­pod so the photo is framed cor­rectly in the viewscreen. Tap the record but­ton and wait for the green cir­cle to close and a tick to ap­pear, in­di­cat­ing the photo has been snapped. At this point re­move it and put the next one in place. If nec­es­sary, tap Pause to re­frame the shot be­fore tak­ing the photo.

Tap the mic but­ton (see screenshot above) to nar­rate de­tails while the pho­tos are snapped, let­ting you record use­ful in­for­ma­tion about who’s in each photo, or when and where they were taken. When you get home, use the app to crop, edit and man­age your pho­tos, which will be up­loaded to your Joyflips ac­count on­line, ready for shar­ing or down­load­ing to your PC.

Scan doc­u­ments and edit text

Your phone or tablet can also be used as a doc­u­ment scan­ner. While you can al­ways take pho­tos of doc­u­ments us­ing your

phone’s Pho­tos app, we rec­om­mend us­ing Mi­crosoft’s free Of­fice Lens app (An­droid; IOS in­stead. It can au­to­mat­i­cally cor­rect skewed scans, so you don’t have to be too pre­cise when lin­ing up the doc­u­ment. And it uses op­ti­cal-char­ac­ter recog­ni­tion ( OCR), which lets you turn snaps of typed doc­u­ments into Word files you can edit.

When you open Of­fice Lens, leave ‘Doc­u­ment’ se­lected as the scan type, then line up your doc­u­ment in the viewfinder. The app will then at­tempt to de­tect its edges (see screenshot above). When you’re happy, tap the cir­cu­lar cap­ture but­ton and wait. Af­ter a short pe­riod, the scan will be pre­sented to you – it should be per­fectly square and leg­i­ble. If not, use the crop and ro­ta­tion tools to ad­just it. Tap the cam­era but­ton to scan any ad­di­tional pages or the tick but­ton to fin­ish.

Now you need to de­cide where to save the doc­u­ment, and in what for­mat (doc­u­ment, im­age, PDF or as ed­itable text). For ed­itable text, choose the Word op­tion. You’ll need to sign into your Mi­crosoft ac­count to use this fea­ture.

Find your an­ces­tors’ graves

One rea­son for tak­ing your re­search on the road is to track down the burial records of your an­ces­tors. Once you’ve used ser­vices like An­ces­ to find their fi­nal rest­ing place, in­stall the Bil­lion­graves app ( www.snipca. com/27196, see screenshot be­low) to see

if the ceme­tery has been added to its data­base, and if any head­stones there have al­ready been pho­tographed. Per­haps your an­ces­tor’s is among them, in which case you can write down the de­tails from the im­age.

The app can also direct you to the cor­rect head­stone us­ing a map of the ceme­tery, or you can use it to take a photo of the grave­stone if it’s not yet been archived, ready for tran­scrib­ing and up­load­ing to Bil­lion­graves as well as adding to your own records.

Record in­ter­views with your rel­a­tives

Other fam­ily mem­bers hold a wealth of use­ful in­for­ma­tion – what you need to do is find an ap­pro­pri­ate way to un­lock it. A sim­ple, in­for­mal chat in a friendly en­vi­ron­ment is one of the most ef­fec­tive ways to do this, per­haps armed with pho­tos and other fam­ily mem­o­ra­bilia to help steer the con­ver­sa­tion in the direc­tion you want.

Rather than try­ing to jot down notes as you chat, why not sim­ply record the en­tire con­ver­sa­tion on your phone? iphone users can use the built-in Voice Memos app to record a con­ver­sa­tion or in­ter­view. But if you’d like more struc­ture to your chat, try Sto­ry­glory ( https://sto­ry­glory. me), which lets you at­tach record­ings of con­ver­sa­tions to spe­cific pho­tos.

The free version lets you cre­ate and store your videos on­line in­def­i­nitely, which you can ac­cess via the app on your de­vice or through a web link in your browser. If you want to down­load the story (in a video for­mat) you’ll have to pay £3.99 a month. There’s no con­tract, so you could up­grade once ev­ery six months, say, solely for the pur­pose of down­load­ing ev­ery­thing to your PC, then can­cel im­me­di­ately.

An­droid users should try the free Canomapp app (, which lets you at­tach pho­tos and notes to your record­ings, as well as add ‘pins’ to book­mark spe­cific sec­tions. Both apps pro­vide use­ful tools to help you or­gan­ise your in­ter­views, making it eas­ier to re­fer to them dur­ing your re­search.

One quick tip: al­ways make a test record­ing be­fore you be­gin to en­sure your phone’s mic picks up every­one’s voice clearly.

Share and present your re­search

If your phone or tablet’s fam­ily-tree app doesn’t pro­vide you with an in­spir­ing way to share fam­ily sto­ries, look for apps you can use on your PC and mo­bile de­vice, so you can present your re­search, doc­u­ments and pho­tos in an en­gag­ing story for­mat. Mi­crosoft Sway ( https:// is the per­fect tool for turn­ing lots of dif­fer­ent el­e­ments (doc­u­ments, pho­tos, etc) into well pre­sented sto­ries.

Your phone’s screen can seem a lit­tle cramped, so ask if your fam­ily mem­ber has ac­cess to a Chrome­cast or Ap­ple TV de­vice, which you can use to project your mo­bile app on to the big screen. If you bring your own Chrome­cast with you, be sure to use the Google Home app on your phone to let you con­nect it to your fam­ily mem­ber’s Wi-fi net­work.

In­stall the An­ces­try app to ac­cess your fam­ily tree on your phone or tablet

Tap the Mic icon in Joyflips to record your com­ments on the pho­tos

Look for an an­ces­tor’s head­stone us­ing the app Bil­lion­graves

The Of­fice Lens app de­tects the edges of a doc­u­ment when scan­ning it

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