I have carried my entire genealogy database in my pocket for some time now. In fact, for the past few months my genealogy database has been in my cell phone. Whenever I leave home, the records of 3,000+ people in my family tree go with me. That includes all relevant facts, text notes, and source citations. At genealogy conferences or society meetings, I can quickly compare notes with others. When doing research at a genealogy library, a county courthouse, or other archive, I can take the cell phone out of my pocket and easily compare new information against the research I have already completed.
All of this is possible with a program called The Pocket Genealogist, produced by Northern Hills Software. A new version of The Pocket Genealogist was released recently, and this week I had an opportunity to upgrade.
Click on any of the images to see full-sized versions.
Note #1: In the "good old days" of only two or three years ago, there were two separate devices: handheld computers and cell phones. However, today's world often sees them combined. Many "intelligent cell phones" now include complete handheld computers in the same casing as the phone. Even better, the software involved usually links the two together. For instance, you can usually dial a person's telephone number simply by clicking on his or her record within the Microsoft Outlook data stored on the handheld computer. Most such devices allow you to "surf the web" as well as read and write e-mail. You can also install new programs on these combination cell phones/handheld computers.
Purchasing a combined cell phone/handheld computer is always cheaper than buying two separate, similar devices. Strangely, most of the combination units are even cheaper than buying just a stand-alone handheld computer of similar capabilities. If you have a need for both a cell phone and a handheld computer, you can save a lot of money by purchasing both within a single unit.
The Pocket Genealogist is a program that operates on handheld computers that use Microsoft's PocketPC or Windows Mobile 5 operating systems. Such handhelds include the Hewlett-Packard iPAQ, Dell Axim, Toshiba PocketPC, and similar devices from a number of other manufacturers. The same program also works with a wide variety of cell phones that include PocketPC or Windows Mobile computers, including the Treo 700w, several units from Samsung, several more from Motorola, and my favorite: Cingular's 8125. It does not work with Palm operating system handhelds, however.
Note #2: The PocketPC operating system was recently split into two versions: Windows Mobile 5 and Smartphone. However, Smartphone hasn't gained much acceptance. Most cell phones that use Microsoft's software use Windows Mobile 5 or the earlier PocketPC, not the less-capable Smartphone version. The rest of this article applies equally to handheld computers and cell phones that use either the PocketPC or Windows Mobile 5 operating systems.
When I first started researching my family tree back in the years B.C. (before computers), I carried my notes with me in the form of hand-written family group sheets and pedigree charts. I inserted them into a 3-ring binder.
As time went on, I obtained more information and filled more sheets of paper with information. Eventually, I needed a second binder. Later still, I added a third and even a fourth 3-ring binder to carry all my records with me on library visits. I had to obtain a book bag and then a second book bag. Did you ever carry four fully stuffed, 3-ring binders in two book bags for several city blocks from a parking garage to an inner-city archive? It's a wonder that my arms didn't stretch to orangutan length!
Of course, finding the information I wanted within all those books was another challenge. Some days I spent more time turning pages in my own 3-ring binders than I did in turning pages in the record books! More than once I muttered, "I thought I already had him listed in here somewhere…".
Handheld computers have changed all that. Anyone can carry a device weighing only few ounces in a pocket, a purse, or even clipped on a belt. Information is available almost instantly, thanks to the search capabilities of The Pocket Genealogist and similar programs. Want to find stored information about a distant ancestor? The Pocket Genealogist will find the information you seek and display it on the screen within seconds.
All genealogy programs for handheld computers will read genealogy data from desktop or laptop computers and transfer the information to the handheld device. You do not need to enter information about hundreds or thousands of people by using a stylus or a tiny keyboard! Anyone who uses Legacy Family Tree as a primary Windows genealogy program will appreciate one unique feature of The Pocket Genealogist: you can also enter data into the handheld while on site at a library or archive and later transfer the updated information back to Legacy Family Tree on the desktop or laptop computer.
The Pocket Genealogist is available as a download file on Northern Hills Software's web site. The company offers a 30-day free trial as a "Try before you Buy" version. This is a fully functioning version, except for some features, such as data entry, direct imports, and the "Tree" views. The trial version also allows for a maximum of 5 "Field Notes" to be entered at one time. You can later return to the web site to purchase either a Basic or Advanced version, as explained later in this article. The Pocket Genealogist is also available from a number of retailers in the USA, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Norway.
The Pocket Genealogist actually consists of two programs. The primary program installs on the handheld device, and a "support program" is automatically installed on a Windows desktop or laptop computer. The support program converts desktop data to the proper format for the handheld and then transfers that data, using Microsoft's ActiveSync program the same way as other PocketPC and Windows Mobile applications. The support program also later retrieves data from the handheld, storing it on the desktop. The same support program also performs a few other housekeeping tasks.
I found the installation of The Pocket Genealogist to be simple although it does require several steps. First I connected my Windows Mobile device to my Windows XP computer, using the cable that was included with the handheld when I purchased it. This is the same cable that is used to synchronize the handheld device with Windows applications on the desktop PC. Some other handheld devices use a "cradle" for this purpose. Next I opened a web browser on the Windows XP computer and downloaded the appropriate file from The Pocket Genealogist web site. Once I stored the file on my computer's hard drive, I double-clicked on the filename to install the software on my Windows XP computer the same way as any other Windows program.
A series of menus appeared, asking for my preferred language, the location to install the program, and similar information. I selected the defaults on every menu. A minute or so later, The Pocket Genealogist was installed on my handheld device, and the "support program" was installed on my Windows XP desktop computer. The program was ready for me to start entering data on my handheld. However, I already had information about nearly 3,000 ancestors and other relatives stored on my desktop; so, I elected to import that data instead of entering the same information manually.
I am delighted with one feature of The Pocket Genealogist Advanced Version: it will import data directly from Ancestral Quest, Genbox, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, or The Master Genealogist. In addition, it will import data from Personal Ancestral File or Family Tree Maker by using GenBridge, not GEDCOM.
GenBridge is a more sophisticated solution that results in more accurate transfers of information than GEDCOM. The GenBridge method imports data directly from your genealogy program's database; there is no need to go through a two-step GEDCOM conversion. However, if you use a genealogy program not listed above, The Pocket Genealogist also supports GEDCOM imports. You should be aware that GEDCOM is notorious for losing data during transfers. Nonetheless, you can export data from almost any genealogy program in GEDCOM format, then import that GEDCOM file into The Pocket Genealogist.
The import process asked a number of questions about the data to be imported, such as which data elements to import, whether or not to add commas at the end of place names, convert surnames to all upper case (or not), and similar formatting options. Depending on the database being imported, you may have options to import regular notes, research notes, medical notes, marriage notes, LDS ordinances, addresses, telephone numbers, ZIP codes, and more. Obviously, this works only if similar items are in your original database. Not all genealogy programs support all of those data elements.
You can store the handheld's information either in the handheld computer's main memory or on an extra memory card, if available. On most handheld devices, you can purchase storage cards (Compact Flash, Secure Digital, etc.), which can hold programs and data. Note that those cards are a lot slower than "main" memory. My 3,000-person database with all text notes, source citations, and more requires about 7 ½ megabytes for storage. That is a modest amount for today's handhelds. My Cingular 8125 handheld has 128 megabytes of internal memory. I also added a one-gigabyte memory card. That's enough space to store information about millions of people! Luckily, it is also cheap: one-gigabyte cards are available for $40 to $50 from a number of retailers.
The import process also asked if I wished to import information about all the people in the originating database or if I wished to limit it to a subgroup, based on any of several selection criteria. After entering selections on a number of screens, I selected START. All the data was converted to The Pocket Genealogist's internal format and then was copied to the handheld device. I was now ready for operation: information about all my known ancestors and many other relatives was residing in my cell phone.
I then disconnected the handheld computer from the cable that had attached it to the desktop system. I launched The Pocket Genealogist and started navigating through my data on this shirt-pocket-sized device. I had the advantage of being familiar with earlier versions of the program, so I was able to navigate quickly. If you have not yet used The Pocket Genealogist, you will want to spend some time becoming familiar with its navigation. There is a lot of information to squeeze onto the tiny screen, so navigation is a bit different from desktop systems that you have used previously. Still, I found the navigation in The Pocket Genealogist to be loosely similar to other programs in handheld computers. Luckily, the accompanying user's manual has step-by-step instructions, lavishly illustrated with screenshots. Even if you are new to handheld computers, I suspect you can become familiar with the menus in this program within a few minutes.
1. Current Couple - In the middle of the screen are the male and female who make up the currently selected "couple." All other information on the screen relates to this "Current Couple".
2. Children are listed in a scrollable list below the current couple.
3. Marriage or union information is displayed immediately above the current couple. To the left are buttons to select other spouses or parents for the male and to the right for the female.
4. Parents are displayed above the marriage box.
The 3-generation screen is used both to navigate through the database and to view information about the currently selected couple. Using your stylus, you can tap on one of the parent boxes. That person will become the "current couple," and the other information on the screen will change, relative to that person. The same is also true for the child list.
Tapping on either person of the "current couple" will display more information about that person. Tapping on the marriage box will display family information about the "current couple". Tapping on the spouse and parent icons will display a selection dialog where you can choose a different spouse or set of parents to display.
Other icons and selections include:
Individual View (new with Version 3) will show a scrollable list of all the individuals in your database. Individual information will display a series of tabs with information for that individual.
The "Main" tab is used to display the main information about the individual. This would include the primary name, the sex of the individual, a "living" indicator, ancestor and descendant interest settings, and other items.
The Names tab is used to work with the primary and secondary names for the individual.
The Events tab lists the events of the person's life. The exact list of events shown varies, depending on the desktop's database from which the information was created.
The Notes tab is for entering notes about the individual. Depending on the desktop genealogy program you are using, you may be able to enter many notes. Pocket Genealogist splits notes up into roughly 30,000 characters per "chunk" (because of database limitations and speed considerations). If the note in question has more than 30,000 characters, you will see buttons that will allow you to switch between the "chunks" so that you can see the entire note.
The Sources tab lets you see all the citations that are attached to all items at the individual level. The drop down list allows you to pick the type of citations you wish to see in the lists.
The LDS Tab is used to display the LDS Ordinances (if any) for the individual.
The To Do tab will be displayed if your desktop genealogy program supports that type of information.
Field Notes are never transferred back into your desktop program. However, the desktop side of Pocket Genealogist lets you display on your monitor any information you enter here, using its Field Note reporting feature. How you use Field Notes is entirely up to you. You may decide to enter them as notes into your desktop program or simply print them for later reference.
The DNA tab provides a means to view/edit DNA information for the individual, if supported by your desktop genealogy program.
The Identifiers tab shows some additional ID fields as defined by your desktop genealogy program.
The Relationships tab is only available for The Master Genealogist imports. This tab shows the relationship information for the individual, both backwards (as a child) and forwards (as a parent).
Family Information displays a series of tabs with information for the "current couple" (family).
The default setting of The Pocket Genealogist is to always display black letters on a white background. However, it is easy to select colors and to set the color of data fields that you can edit as well as those that you cannot edit, as well as the background and text color for push buttons, list columns, and text within the list. You can have the father's information shown in one color, the mother's info in a different color, the marriage information in a third color, and so on. Font sizes are also adjustable, a handy feature when information is displayed on a tiny screen.
Unlike some other handheld genealogy programs, I found that I could navigate from screen to screen almost instantly. Even with 3,000+ individuals in the database, clicking on any icon resulted in a new screen being displayed within a blink of the eye. Some other handheld genealogy programs are not as fast, and they usually become slower and slower as the database size increases. This was not a problem with my database.
One of the things that I love about my Cingular 8125 cell phone is that it has a full slide-out keyboard. I do not have to enter data with a stylus. Note that I said a "full keyboard" but did not say, "full sized." It is a rather petite keyboard, but it does have real keys. I like that much better than using the stylus as required by many other handheld computers. Luckily, The Pocket Genealogist supports either a stylus or keyboard for data entry and navigation.
Another item that often does not always work on programs designed for handheld computers is the switch from portrait to landscape mode and back again on the handheld's screen. With the Cingular 8125 and a number of other Windows Mobile devices, the screen displays data in portrait mode when the keyboard is retracted. When the keyboard is pulled out the side, the screen automatically switches to landscape mode. I was delighted to find that the display on The Pocket Genealogist switches from one mode to the other and back again without difficulty.
The Pocket Genealogist version 3 has a new feature that is not available in other handheld genealogy programs: GPS integration. If you have a GPS device and software that is already working on your handheld computer, The Pocket Genealogist version 3 can retrieve the current GPS coordinates for use with locations, repositories, addresses, and notes. The later use of the coordinates depends on the capabilities of your desktop genealogy program. There is no GPS connected to my handheld device, so I was unable to test this feature.
Note: GPS only works with Windows Mobile 5 and a GPS device that works with the Windows Intermediary driver.
The Pocket Genealogist version 3 also includes:
A Date Calculator to calculate a second date based on a first date and the number of years, months, and days between the two.
A Calendar that displays months in any year. You can use the calendar to pick the date or the calculator to derive a date based on the number of years, months, or days from another date.
A Soundex Calculator is used to calculate the Soundex code for a name.
A Coordinates Converter allows you to enter a latitude and longitude value and then convert it to a different format.
A Relationship Calculator is used to determine the relationship between two individuals.
A History List keeps track of the individuals viewed during a Pocket Genealogist session. You can quickly backtrack to records that you viewed earlier.
The Date Selector allows you to assign a date qualifier to any date being entered. This can be useful for things such as "Before" or standalone items such as "Dead". Stand-alone items make up the entire date value, and no actual date is allowed.
I could go on and on about the various features available in The Pocket Genealogist. However, you can download the entire user's manual, which describes all the features in more detail, at http://www.northernhillssoftware.com. If you are considering using this program, you will want to download the excellent 154-page user's manual.
The Pocket Genealogist fully supports Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, or XP on the desktop or laptop computer. The handheld device needs to be running Windows CE version 2.11 or newer. (That includes all Windows-based devices manufactured since 1999 except for the Casio BE-300.) The only required software is Microsoft ActiveSync, which is provided with your device or as a free download.
The Pocket Genealogist Version 3 is available in three versions:
The "Unregistered" version is a "try before you buy" version. It is fully functioning, except it does not allow data entry, direct imports, or the "Tree" views. (Ancestor and Descendant) - FREE
The "Basic" version has full data entry and supports the display of up to 3 generations in the "Tree" views. Data imports may only be done via GEDCOM. $20.00 (U.S.)
The "Advanced" version has all the features of "Basic" plus support for direct (no GEDCOM) imports from Legacy Family Tree, The Master Genealogist, Genbox, Ancestral Quest, and RootsMagic. It supports the display of up to 255 generations in the "Tree" views. It also includes a backup function for your databases. $35.00 (U.S.)
You can download the Trial version of The Pocket Genealogist Version 3 at http://www.northernhillssoftware.com. You can also purchase the Basic or Advanced versions via a safe and secure shopping cart system from the same web site or from a number of retailers that are also listed on the site. The retailers may offer discounts.
The Pocket Genealogist Version 3 is my personal pick as "the best genealogy program for Windows Mobile and PocketPC handheld computers." It is inexpensive, powerful, fast, configurable, and it holds a lot of data. I don't leave home without it riding in my combination cell phone and handheld computer.