Written by: Jake Fletcher
The genealogy world is at a crossroads right now. Some purists continue to avoid adapting modern tech innovations into their research procedures, while others have fully embraced the brave new world of modern genealogy.
At this point in time, most of us are straddling in the middle. All of us incorporate some type of technology into our genealogical research or at least interact with it on some level.
Another reason we are at a crossroads is the span of generations and their varying familiarity with technology.
Being 25 years old, I’ve been accustomed to computers, cell-phones, and other gadgets most of my life. But for older generations, like the baby boomers, many of them had a learning curve when adapting to the computer age.
If you’re one of the few resistant to change, consider how these five tools I mention and use daily may increase possibilities for your research and how much you could accomplish. You might also want to consider how the genealogy work you’ve put your life into will be preserved for future generations and modern technology offers some good solutions.
For those who already love incorporating modern tech gadgets into our daily lives and especially with genealogy, these may be familiar to you or will at least present a new idea on how to adapt it to your research.
1. Cloud Storage
My job as a genealogist has me traveling quite a bit. If there are documents, data files, or any other type of media that I need at any point in time, I store it in the cloud.
“Cloud” is a buzz word for data that is stored on remote servers. Programs that offer free cloud space to users include Dropbox and Google Drive. They offer a limited amount of free storage and users will need to pay fees to increase the memory, but it’s worth it.
2. Microsoft Excel
Excel is a software tool that allows users to enter and analyze data in spreadsheets. I’ve incorporated excel into many aspects of my genealogy. These include research logs, time tracking, project management, indexing records, and creating an inventory of family papers.
Excel might be my biggest asset when it comes to tracking all of this information and allowing me to sort, analyze, and manipulate the data in multiple fashions. Doing this all by paper, at least for me, would prove to be too much of a headache.
Smartphones, and to a greater extent tablets, function basically like handheld tablets. I need my smartphone when I go to repositories to look at records for several reasons. The cameras embedded in smartphones are so high quality that you can bypass the need to bring a scanner or digital camera.
You can then upload these photos to your cloud storage software, send in an e-mail, or post on social media. It has truly revolutionized how I as a genealogist go about my day-to-day work.
Files stored in the cloud can be pulled up on my smartphone and examined when I need some information to make sure I’ve found the record of the ancestor I’m looking for. I can also save notes and look at them later when needed for a particular project. I love the number possibilities with these tech tools for genealogy!
4. External Hard-Drive
Worried that your computer will fail you and erase all your data? Consider purchasing your own remote hard-drive. They are relatively inexpensive, you can get a hard-drive with a terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of memory for $50. That’s more than enough for most people.
Cloud storage is certainly reliable for preserving data, but I’d recommend you go the extra mile and purchase one of these to back up your genealogy data. You can copy this data onto as many computers as you choose.
I have a flat-bed scanner at home for working with family papers. Over the past year, it has seen a lot of use from the wealth of documents I have inherited from relatives.
Having a scanner is a relatively hands-free way of making a digital copy of all my research documents that I store on my home computer. After conferences and presentations, I scan the handouts as well, so I have easier to access to my genealogy education resources. This allows me to cut down on the paper clutter and I can then recycle the originals when I’m done scanning them.
For the sake of fragile documents, a flat-bed scanner is recommended. Sometimes office printers functions as “all-in-one” machines that offer a scanner. You might want to check out the Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner which allows for scanning on the go at the archives or at the home of a relative.
The one disadvantage of using tech gadgets is that the world of technology changes all the time. Most innovations inevitably become obsolete, because newer gadgets come along. So we need to adapt and that comes through knowledge and staying current with new innovations.
To stay up-to-date, consider following the blogs of genealogy tech experts:
There are many more you could follow.
One more gadget I’d suggest for surveying online content and staying current with the genealogy world is to use a program called Feedly. Feedly is an application for computers and smart devices that allows you to save links to blogs that you follow regularly. You can visit your Feedly page whenever and keep track of the latest posts in one central place.
Think of it as creating your own custom morning newspaper!
Jake Fletcher is a professional genealogist, educator and blogger. Jake has been researching and writing about his ancestors since 2008 on his research blog. He currently volunteers as a research assistant at the National Archives in Waltham, Massachusetts and is Vice President of the New England Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG).