April 23rd, 2013

Great Gadgets to Help With Your Genealogy Project

The recent death of Steve Jobs, one of the original founders of Apple Computers, got me to thinking of how the wonderful technological inventions he gave to the world can benefit genealogists. Of course the computer itself is these days integral to the research of genealogists; the internet contains a goldmine of material, and its organizational capabilities are beyond compare. But there are other gadgets such as the iPad and iPod that some family historians might not realize can be extremely valuable genealogical tools. Previously such instruments may have been unaffordable to the average genealogist, but as competition soars, thankfully prices descend, and many family historians can now benefit from the array of gadgets available.

There are other items as well such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that might not be so well known to the masses. Even little ole technology illiterate me has learned to make use of much equipment I thought I could never master. The truth is once you’re over the initial fear of technology and learn to make use of these implements; you won’t want to work on your project without them. Besides, they can save money and time, so what might seem like an expensive purchase is n fact a wise investment.  This Blog is especially for those who may not yet make use of as much of the digital technology that is available to us, or may not even be aware of some of the items at hand, so forgive me if I begin with the most common contraptions; digital cameras, scanners, and image editing software.

Digital Cameras, Scanners and Image Editing Software

When digital cameras first became available they were expensive, but as their popularity has soared and the technology behind them improved, they have become quite affordable. They are excellent tools which the genealogist can use for photographing fragile documents, tombstone inscriptions, or even the locations where your ancestors once lived. Of course the immediate advantage of a digital camera is that you can view the picture immediately, not having to wait for development to see if the picture turned out. This can be extremely important when photographing such things as tombstones, for which visits may be rare and expensive occurrences.

When there is no digital camera available, scanners can be used to digitize traditional photos. These are electronic devices that have also come well down in price, and there are models such as the Wolverine PASS-100 that are battery powered and small enough to pack in a briefcase. I have read four reviews of this model and they were all complimentary of it. It is also one of the more reasonably priced scanners on the market at around $70.00.

Once an image has been digitized, there is editing software available that can enhance it. Defects like cracks and spots on those old family photos can be removed, making for a clearer picture. Make sure that you always keep a copy of the original when you alter a photograph however, as this will ensure you have a backup if something goes wrong in the editing process.

Personal Digital Assistants

Palm Pilots as their affectionately called by those in the know, are becoming increasingly popular with genealogists. There are several software programs such as Personal Ancestral File (free download) that are compatible with them, enabling the family historian to take their entire family history with them wherever they go. These pocket sized instruments fit handily in your purse or coat pocket, and are great for note taking and checking off your research to-do lists. An excellent model is the Tungsten T5 which is one of the less pricy options, and one of the easiest to use.

Global Positioning Systems

These handy devices can pinpoint your position to within 15 – 20 yards. They are particularly useful for recording the locations of graves, ancestral homes, unmarked cemeteries and other important geographical locations. Some genealogical software programs allow you to record the latitude and longitude of significant places, thereby preserving that information for future family historians. In addition, when travelling or researching in an unfamiliar or foreign location, a GPS can help you to get where you’re going safely and speedily.

Removable and Portable Drives

Portable hard drives are becoming increasingly useful to genealogists. They are now available in capacities that even home computers didn’t have ten years ago, and are especially useful for copying files from a PC to a laptop for a research trip, or for simply backing up your files. Some are available in the size of a keychain; therefore you can take many of your files with you when wishing to share what you’ve accomplished so far with family or friends on their home computer.

IPods and IPads

Probably the most modern of all the electronic gadgets that can be useful to genealogists, both have their unique uses. Ancestry.com has recently released a software program specifically for use with IPads. Their software allows you to display multi-generational family trees, share photos, and display records with the touch of your finger. IPods are handy if you wish to take along a genealogical tutorial with you. There are many record or repository specific tutorials available to download online, so when you’re visiting that archive, you can simply plug in your headphones and research with the step-by-step help of an expert.

Hopefully you will see the benefit that modern technology offers to us as family historians. Of course you don’t need all of this equipment to research your family tree, but they all have their particular value, and can make researching and organizing your project much more efficient – and fun too! Aren’t sure what you want for Christmas, how about asking Santa or that special someone for an IPad!