Electronic Gadgets Part 3 – put your family tree on your phone

Well, I’ve done it, and I’m very happy. My family tree is on my phone and goes with me everywhere.

 How have I achieved this remarkable feat, you may ask? Read on!

 You may remember that I have been trying to replace 4 heavy little electronic gadgets with one or two. I bought a new phone, a Nokia E65, to replace my previous phone, my PDA and my MP3 player for those long trips out to repositories. My phone is wonderful, it has a microSD card, which I replaced with a bigger, 2GB, card on which I can store music and podcasts for those long trips on the train, and it has the capacity to store my family tree as well, so I don’t have to carry my PDA unless I know I will want to take lots of notes using the portable keyboard. The camera it has is inadequate for taking images of archived documents, but 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. It also happily browses the web for me, so I can do anything from checking opening times of repositories to watching ABC TV for free while I am waiting!

So all I had to do was get my family tree onto my phone, so that if I find myself with time to spare or unexpected records become available I can quickly check to see what I need to find. All my names, places and dates would be readily available.

I use The Master Genealogist (TMG) to keep my family tree data in order, and I use the companion product Second Site to turn my data into web pages for the web or to publish on CDs. It seemed to me that if my phone could read html web pages it should be able to read html that was stored on the phone. SO that was what I did, I created a “website”, or a set of html pages, using Second Site, and uploaded them to my phone. I then created a bookmark so that I wouldn’t have to go delving into document folders to find the index page.

Of course, I had to tweak the settings a bit for use on a very small screen. I’m still experimenting with this, and if you try it for yourself, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Exclude exhibits. If you want pictures of your ancestors on your phone, put them somewhere else. Even a small photo will take up most of the screen, so you will have to scroll past it. Of course, you can use links to them instead of embedding them if you wish.
  • Set one person per page. This will create a lot of pages, which will take a long time to download to your phone initially, but I assumed that each file will load quicker when you select the person you want to view.
  • Use a very simple theme – lots of coloured boxes doesn’t translate well to the small screen, and takes longer to load.
  • Use a simple format that doesn’t put space in between columns, as do the 2- or 3-column formats. On the small phone screen you will see the first colum and then blank space, requiring a lot of scrolling across. I used the Narrative format.
  • Reduce the number of tag types according to what you think you may need when you are out and about.
  • Suppress memos if you have long stories in them.
  • An icon next to your direct ancesors and other important people makes them easier to find.
  • Skip the long description of the site that you’ve put on your real website, and the Compiler details. You know who you are, and no-one else will see it.

I am sure other things will occur to you as you go along.

Once you’ve uploaded the files to the phone, find the index.htm file open it to see how your website looks. You may need to do this a few times until you are as happy with what you see as you can be. Those of you with more html knowledge than me can probably restrict the size of the window – I will get to this one day, and in the meantime I don’t mind scrolling. Get the properties of the file, ie its filepath, and create a bookmark in your web browser so that you can go straight to it from your homepage. And there you are!

The phone-based website will never replace what I have on my laptop, so if I am going somewhere to do concentrated research on my own family I will take my laptop with me. I just use it when I am somewhere that I could look something up quickly, like a newspaper or a new set of probate indexes, that I wasn’t expecting and so I can check the date that g-g-grandfather So-and-so died.

And, of course, you need a reasonably “smart” phone to do this. One that will browse the web, and preferably has expandable memory. Give it a go and let us all know how it went.

My website is http://www.caroleriley.id.au/familyTree/index.htm.

Which family tree software is best?

This is a big question. The Society of Australian Genealogists attempted to help find an answer for 25 or so budding genealogists earlier this month in a day-long seminar showing demonstrations of 6 different family tree programs – Family Tree Maker, Legacy, Personal Ancestral File, Reunion, something else, and The Master Genealogist.

The answer is different for everybody. I find that TMG is best for me, after doing some thorough research (as a good genealogist does!) on the features of each program a few years ago. So far I haven’t seen anything to change my mind about this, although I’ve seen programs that do some things better and have nice little features that I like, none of them have enough of these to make me want to change programs.

The question, then, is – which family tree software program is best for you? You have to work out what is important to you. Any program you use should have the basics, and I would be very surprised to find any on the market, or free on the internet, that don’t. The first one I ever used that my uncle, an amateur programmer, wrote, and although he was a good programmer he was not much of a genealogist. For example, the program didn’t have a place to put death dates. This is what I mean by basics – any program you find will have places to put basic information – birth, christening, marriage, death and burial dates and places, links to spouses and children, the sources for all of this, and some way to get the information out again – reports and charts.

After the basics everything else really are just extras that you may or may not decide you need. So you need to see how easy it is to use, and understand. There are different layouts, some that look like a family group sheet on the screen with parents at the top and children in a list underneath, and others that look like Windows Explorer with folders that open other folders.

Before you go out and buy a program, try one of the many free ones. Cora Web has an excellent page on family history programs here http://www.coraweb.com.au/software.htm that I won’t try to copy. Or have a look at the Genealogical Software Report Card at www.mumford.ca/reportcard/ for a comprehensive comparison of all of the popular programs.