Apptitude: Use smartphone to research genealogy, post family shots

Posted: September 28, 2012

Here's a look at smartphone applications to foliate a family tree, digitize and post old family snapshots, and probe for family connections among obituaries published around the world.

Ancestry, by Ancestry.com, for Android and Apple, is free - at the start. When you load Ancestry, it asks you to sign up. You'll have to decide if the family tree you'll build is public or private. Going public makes it a bit easier for possible distant relatives to find you and get in touch.

To start building your tree, tap on the icons marked with your name, "Add Father," and "Add Mother" to fill in details and add photos. As you do so, and the family tree grows, the app dips into the Ancestry.com database and begins to notify you (with the appearance of little green leaves on your family tree) that information may be available about you or others that you've named.

This is where the app can begin to get pricey. You have to purchase access to the records, and they start at 99 cents each. An alternative is to sign up for a month's access - at $22.99 for a "U.S. Discovery" collection of records that include census records going back to 1790.

For $34.99 for a month, you get access to a "World Explorer" international collection of what is billed as 10 billion records that include 16th-century birth, marriage, and death records from the United Kingdom.

Alternatively, an "Evidence" button on the bottom of the app screen takes you to the Ancestry.com website, where you'll see a list of records that may be associated with your name. Here, an invitation to sign up for records access noted a free-trial period of 14 days, and reduced monthly rates for a six-month subscription.

When it comes to posting those pictures of parents and grandparents, ShoeBox, by 1000memories, is a free app for Android and Apple that customizes the smartphone camera for digitizing old printed photographs. Yes, dig out the shoe boxes full of snapshots and get scanning.

The app detects the edges of a printed photo and helps you cleverly square it off. Then you can add identifying information such as date, names, and location. Finished photos get uploaded to the 1000memories.com site, where you can sort them into digital "shoe boxes." If you choose, photos can also go to Ancestry.com, described above, where you specify who on your family tree to associate the photo with.

Photos can go out as well to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Family searches often mean hunting for obituaries, and ObitFinder, free from Legacy.com for iPhone, is one good way of doing that. The app searches obituaries from 975 U.S. and foreign newspapers, going back for a decade or more in many cases. You can also browse specific newspapers. If the death was recent, you may be able to leave a word of condolence, or send flowers.

Obituary, free for Android, but $1.99 in the App Store, by CWIC Technologies L.L.C., lets you browse recent obituaries from hundreds of newspapers, but doesn't have a search function. The app has a dedicated button for celebrity obituaries and a poignant section of "Military Heroes" obits.


Contact Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5114, rkanaley@phillynews.com or @ReidKan on Twitter.

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