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Jan 13, 2022

Carry Your Genealogy Database in Your Cell Phone

This week I purchased a new cell phone. It is a modern “smart phone” combining a telephone along with many capabilities of computers.

One of the first things I did was to load my entire genealogy database into the phone, consisting of full data on more than 4,000 individuals and including all my source citations, text notes, “to do” lists, and more. In fact, I even have a few old family photographs stored in the cell phone that can be displayed on the telephone’s built-in screen at any time.

The entire effort of loading my database was easy, requiring less than an hour to complete. I now have my genealogy data with me at all times. I can check my notes and even update the information while at the library or a local Family History Center, or even if I meet a fellow genealogist at the local grocery store. I always have my cell phone with me whenever I leave the house. Now I always have my genealogy database with me as well.

Adding data onto a cell phone is easy these days. I purchased one of the new devices that is both a cell phone and what we used to call a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). In the past, I have carried a cell phone and a separate PocketPC or Palm device. The new combination PDA phones combine the two into one. In fact, my new cell phone/PDA combo is actually smaller and cheaper than my old PDA, yet it has a larger screen and is easier to read. Even better, it has a real keyboard; I am not restricted to entering data with a stylus.

My new cell phone/PDA not only stores all my genealogy information, but it also includes a pocket-sized version of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as numerous other programs. Using Word and the built-in wireless networking, I can even write newsletter articles and post them to the newsletter’s web site at http://eogn.com without using any other hardware or software. All I need is my combination cell phone and the included software.

If that is not enough, the particular cell phone that I purchased also functions as a portable music player. Similar in functionality to Apple’s famous iPODs, my new cell phone/PDA allows me to listen to music files stored inside the device. I can also transfer music from any of several online services “in the cloud” and listen to them with the stereo “earbud” headphones included with the unit.

In fact, I can even post pictures directly to the newsletter’s web site within seconds after snapping them with the built-in camera. I can do this from nearly any location by using the built-in high-speed wireless network. Again, no other hardware or software is required: everything is built into the twelve-ounce device clipped onto my belt.

Because the cell phone/PDA has built-in high-speed wireless data, I can surf the web and even check my e-mail at any time. Unlike the short-range “Wi-Fi” wireless networks, this unit will work while riding the commuter train, while sitting in any airport lounge, or most anyplace else in any metropolitan area. Modern cell phones are not restricted to short-range “hot spots.” I can also use the new device as a high-speed wireless modem on my laptop, using the laptop’s big screen and its more powerful operating system. The high-speed wireless data connection will not work in many rural areas, however.

While the new cell phone has all the functions one expects in a modern cell phone, it is also a full computer. You can obtain third-party programs written for handheld computers and install them onto the cell phone. I now have enough storage to keep all my genealogy data, all my e-mail from the past year, a telephone book with more than 1,000 names, addresses, and phone numbers, plus a few thousand MP3 music files. That’s not bad for a device that weighs twelve ounces!

In this article I will describe my thought process in selecting the individual components. I will include a checklist of things to consider when selecting a new cell phone. I will also give a short description of the process of installing the genealogy software and data.

Cell phones with built in computers are available with several different operating systems. The two most popular operating systems found in cell phones are Google’s Android operating system or Apple’s iOS system.

Modern smart phones should be able to run almost any genealogy program that is designed for those operating systems. The best-known handheld genealogy programs include:

For Android: Family tree & DNA from MyHeritage, FamilySearch Tree from FamilySearch, Heredis, GedStar Pro Genealogy Viewer from GHCS Software, and Ancestry: Explore your family tree & genealogy from Ancestry.com.

For the Apple iOS operating system, the more popular apps appear to be MacFamily Tree from Synium Software, Heredis, and Family Tree Builder by IW Technologies,

NOTE: I haven’t reviewed all of those apps and am not prepared to make any suggestions as to which one is “the best,” if any.

In addition, many people download and install the apps from MyHeritage.com and/or Ancestry.com which simply access the huge databases online and reformat the information to display it properly in the smaller screens of these devices.

I am one of those people who does not use a separate genealogy program and database installed in my cell phone. I find it simpler and easier to use the Android app from MyHeritage and therefore can always access my current information online.

Here is a checklist I created when evaluating which cell phone/PDA to purchase, along with some of my comments. I would suggest that you might want to add your own selection criteria to this list:

1. Operating System: Both Android and iOS devices work well and have a wide variety of Apps available. The choice strikes me as being one of personal preference.

2. Size: some of these units are bulky. For men who wish to carry the device on a belt, the size will be very important. Ladies who carry cell phones in their purses may tolerate a larger unit as long as the weight is acceptable to them.

3. Keyboard: Some of these units have no keyboard. Others have a tiny keyboard right below the screen. Again, personal preference seems to be the most important factor.

4. Display: Can the display function in both portrait and landscape (sideways) mode? (Almost all of today’s devices can do that.) You will be surprised how much easier it is to read data-filled pages in landscape mode.

5. Display size and legibility: All of these devices obviously have small screens. However, some are smaller than others. Default font sizes also vary from one manufacturer to the next. You probably want to examine one of these devices in use before purchasing to make sure that you can read the screen easily, without eyestrain.

6. Display shape: Traditionally, almost all handheld computer display screens had a 4-by-3 aspect ratio (like a standard television set). In other words, the screen length would be 133% of the width or vice-versa. Some of the new devices now feature square screens: the length and width are identical. Not all third-party software works with square screens. You need to either purchase a device with a 4-by-3 screen or else make sure that your preferred handheld software will work with square screens. (This issue will probably soon go away as all the software vendors will add square screen capabilities to future software releases.)

7. High-speed wide area data network: Will the unit function on long-range high-speed cellular networks for checking e-mail or surfing the web? If so, what is the monthly charge for using this function? (I spend about 99% of my time accessing online sites with (free) wi-fi.)

8. High-speed local data network: Does the device have built-in 802.11 “Wi-Fi” networking? Most of today’s “smart phones” have this capability.

9. Can the unit be used as a high-speed modem on your laptop computer? Some of today’s “smart phones” will function as modems and will be very useful when traveling. With a cell phone modem, you can check e-mail or surf the web from almost anyplace.

10. Bluetooth networking: Most cell phone/ these days include Bluetooth capabilities, but you should verify that Bluetooth is included with the unit you select.

11. Available memory: More is better.

12. Storage expansion: Many cell phones with built-in handheld computers (but not all of them) feature the ability to add an extra memory card for extra storage. Most of today’s devices use Secure Digital (SD) or mini-SD cards. You will need the extra storage if you add a large genealogy database, MP3 music files, word processing documents, and more.

13. Camera: most of today’s cell phone/PDAs include a camera. Many of them will even record full-motion video. Some people work in areas where cameras are not allowed. If that includes you, look for a cell phone/PDA that does not include a camera. They are easy to find although cell phone stores typically do not keep the camera-less cell phones in stock. The store employees may have to order it for you.

14. Music: You may want to use your cell phone as a portable music player. Most of today’s cell phones feature stereo music playback of MP3 files. Since the built-in speakers are not suitable for music reproduction, plan on using earbud stereo earphones. Check the specs before purchasing if music is important to you.

15. Multimedia: Do you want to watch movies or other video clips on your cell phone? I find such things to be boring, but others are very enthusiastic about the multimedia capabilities found today. The cell phone providers offer widely different services, so shop around and compare services.

16. Processor speed is a trade off. Slower processors obviously produce slower results, which can make it difficult to multi-task. However, faster processors consume a lot more power and may significantly reduce battery life. Cell phones with the fastest processors may not keep a battery charge more than eight hours or so. Devices with slower processors may last three or four days between charges.

17. Quad band GSM: If you travel internationally and want to use your cell phone from other countries, make sure that you purchase a phone with the proper capabilities. In short, you want a quad band GSM phone. See http://www.thetravelinsider.info/roadwarriorcontent/quadbandphones.htm for an explanation of these terms. Also, make sure that your cell phone provider enables calls from international locations. I speak from experience: four years ago I was in London with a quad band GSM cell phone, but my provider in the United States didn’t allow international calls on my cell phone account. I paid an outrageous long distance charge to call the United States from my hotel room’s phone. My new cell phone is a true quad-band GSM phone and makes international calls from most countries at no extra fee.

18. Office applications: If you wish to use Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, or other office productivity programs, purchase a Windows Mobile/PocketPC device. The office applications are included, and they work well. I have written short newsletter articles on my cell phone’s keyboard but do not wish to use it for longer articles.

Selection

After comparing about a dozen different cell phone devices against the above list, I purchased a Pixel 6 Pro. It was expensive, but has all the feature I want. For $19.95 (U.S.) per month, I get unlimited talk and text from kore than 100 didifferent countries. Accessing online data costs more but the fees are modest. I no longer worry about bills for $300 or more in roaming fees when returning from a foreign trip.

I am now surfing the web, reading e-mail, writing newsletter articles and listening to the Grateful Dead, all by use of my new cell phone.

The cell phone market is highly competitive, and new units appear almost weekly. Your local cell phone store may have available devices not listed above. Prices also vary widely and cell phone companies seem to be in love with rebates that appear and disappear overnight. Your total cost may be very different from the list price. However, if you compare the offerings against the above checklist, you should be able to find a device that meets your needs.

When you and I meet at the next genealogy conference or at a courthouse, let’s compare (portable) databases!