Technology making genealogy easier

Published: Friday, Feb. 8 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Erin Hunt of Taylorsville, Utah, left, looks through Irish land records with family history library staffer Mark Gardner at the Mormon church-owned library in Salt Lake City in this May 4, 2010 photo.

Mike Stark, AP

Continuing improvements and constant upgrades in technology are making genealogy and family history work easier for genealogists and family historians.

But it's all for nothing if people don't use it or stay educated on the latest developments and trends, according to multimedia genealogist Lisa Louise Cooke.

"People are ready to grab their smartphone or tablet, not be tied to a desktop computer. They want to be able to get out and have their own 'Who Do You Think You Are?' experience," Cooke said. "I wanted people to understand that your tablet does more than play Angry Birds and check email. You can take it and hit the road and be just as strong genealogically as you are with a desktop computer. ... But if you don't keep up on it, you're going to start working too hard when everyone else has moved on to something easier."

Cooke, along with Ed Donakey, a specialist with FamilySearch.org, recently discussed the latest trends in genealogy technology, tools and resources. They also offered some tips on how to keep up with the constant changes.

Cooke lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she has maintained her popular website, Genealogy Gems, for almost six years. Thanks to her grandmother’s stories, Cooke developed a love of family history as a young girl. That enthusiasm carried over into adulthood as she made genealogy her career.

“I knew I wanted to teach and help people get involved because I feel so passionate about it,” Cooke said.

In addition to traveling and teaching classes, Cooke's website offers a mountain of family history information through her podcasts, YouTube videos, books she has written and a blog. She describes her website as being like a magazine subscription but with multimedia content about genealogy.

“Rather than just teaching individual classes, a podcast all the sudden gave me a classroom of the entire world,” said Cooke, who just published a book titled, “Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse.” “It’s amazing, this mom from California, all the sudden I talk to people in over 70 countries around the world. We just celebrated one million downloads. It’s just incredible. It shows the power of what technology is doing today.”

Over the last 10 years, the trend has been for people to do genealogy from the comfort of their desktop computer at home. With the mobility of tablets and smartphones, however, people are itching to get out and walk where their ancestors walked, Cooke said.

“The element of cloud computing has come along and said you don’t have to have a full-blown software program to accomplish things, now you have it through an Internet connection,” Cooke said. “You can walk the house of an ancestor, touch the gravestone and have that interactive experience.”

The app that Cooke uses and recommends the most is Splashtop, which gives an electronic device or tablet remote access to a home computer.

“It’s not a genealogy app, but it solves a huge genealogy problem,” Cooke said. “Suddenly your tablet and home computer are one in the same. That’s my No. 1, it's reliable and affordable.”

In addition to recommending her own Genealogy Gems Podcast app, Cooke also encourages people to try RootsMagic genealogy software.

Donakey is the vice president of strategic relations and a deputy chief genealogy officer for FamilySearch.org, a website owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that provides free genealogy resources and historical records. RootsMagic is one of more than 10 third-party family history/genealogy products that have a close relationship with FamilySearch.org. A list of those helpful family history products and services is on FamilySearch.org.

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