Free Mobile Applications For Genealogists

by Heather Kramer | May 1, 2012

Heather Kramer

Handheld devices such as smart phones and tablets have made mobile applications (apps) popular tools to use for personal activities. There are many different types of mobile apps that cover a variety of subjects and topics. With apps individuals can sort music, watch video, listen to podcasts, read a book, record notes, play games, shopping, banking, and a variety of other interests. Mobile apps are added to app stores daily and the availability of genealogy apps has expanded significantly in the past year. However, each company that produces handheld devices can create or maintain specific standards for mobile apps. An individual that has an iPhone or iPad will have access to different apps that an individual with an Android, Samsung, or other device. The wonderful thing about using mobile apps is that the companies that create them constantly update services, so while one mobile app is only available for a particular handheld device today it may be available on a different one tomorrow.

Genealogy On The Go

Although genealogists have just begun to explore the possibilities of mobile apps for family history, with more and more individuals using such devices the likelihood of additional functions and compatibility is increasing. This makes sense given that genealogy is such a mobile pursuit with genealogists visiting libraries, archives, cemeteries, society meetings, and other such places. Bulky items such as binders and folders require constant lifting and physical storage space. It can be arduous to document lineages when on the go because it can be difficult to remain organized and focused when carrying and sorting through papers or files. To aid genealogists, there are a number of free mobile apps that can be used for family history organization and documentation while on the go.


Google is one of the genealogist's best tools on the internet. Whether using Google as a search engine, Google Maps, Google Earth, or Google Books, the Google app is a gateway for access to articles, coordinates, books, and images. Google Books is an important search tool! When searching using specified names, dates, or locations, the genealogist is provided with free information from historical and legal sources.

Google Maps and Google Earth are especially helpful in geotagging points of hard to find places, such as a tombstone or homestead, for future reference. Documenting locations with dates, names, photos, and other information can also be helpful.

Geotagging is an important concept for using mobile applications and is a form of additional documentation. Longitude and latitude coordinates are used as points of reference and citation for places and objects. This is a bonus for genealogists as the location of cemeteries, unmarked graves, homesteads, camp sites, migration patterns, and ghost towns can be tagged and shared with others through social media sites. For a return visit, let Google Maps provide directions for you!


Facebook is the number one social networking site on the internet and presents opportunities for genealogists to connect with other researchers, family members, societies, and the next generation of genealogists. Using the app also gives the genealogist a unique way to communicate on projects, seminars, and links for up to date research tips. Joining genealogy societies and group pages will also keep the researcher in touch with those of similar interests. The site can also be used as an ad hoc bookmarking site as it allows adding links to articles, websites, and photographs to read or browse for later. Many websites also have a share feature which will allow for linking the site to a profile homepage.

Surname groups are also a popular method of sharing family stories or lineages. While many surname groups have already been created if there is not one for the particular surname being researched, consider starting one. Surname groups can be great places of collaborative research. In addition, researchers can also let others know about where they are in their research, if they have hit a brick wall, or if they have found something of great interest.

Billion Graves

Using the built in camera on a handheld device, Billion Graves allows for capturing images of tombstones and cemeteries, attaching GPS coordinates, and uploading the images to the website instantly. Maps available with the mobile app record the exact location of the cemetery or specific tombstone for easy location.

The mobile app also provides information about the nearest identified cemeteries to your current location and if there are any images available for that cemetery. Another great reason to use Billion Graves is to resource share transcription of tombstones with other users.

Tombstones often record vital pieces of information about the individual(s) buried there, such as birth and death information. However, locating an ancestor's final resting place may also yield other clues. Many ancestors preferred to be buried near family. Locating a family plot could provide additional names to research. Being able to record the exact tombstone location through Billion Graves will preserve the context of the burial spots for other researchers.


Evernote is a creative space for text, images, and audio notes. Whether storing notes about family lineages or using a smart phone's or tablet's built in camera to upload images of books or objects, the Evernote mobile app allows for building a library of documentation. Users of the mobile app have the ability to create multiple notebooks for different families to organize and sort information. Notes can be tagged using multiple terms to help researchers retrieve information later on. To add more notes, images, or audio to a specific notebook, there is a click and drag feature available.

There is also a built in sync system from the mobile app to the home computer to allow easy recovery on a personal desktop. There are also sharing features which are important when sending information to other researchers. Information can be shared through social network sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. The mobile app also has the ability to convert notes into .pdf to send them to others via email.

Shoebox (by 1000 Memories)

The Shoebox mobile app through 1000Memories allows for capturing family history photos, albums, and scrapbooks using a handheld device. The images are then uploaded to the 1000Memories website for adding notes, stories, captions, dates, and places. Images are stored on the site for free and may be stored publicly in the Internet Archive.

Those attending reunions or family functions will find the mobile app a handy tool in capturing images. Families can compile photographs and documents brought by attendees into family history albums and tag individual family members to view the photos on the website. The image may also be shared using Facebook or Twitter.


Browsing the Obituary mobile app will provide information from thousands of newspapers across the United States, Canada, and England. The website for Obituary may also be visited for a list of newspapers included and updates for the mobile app. The listings are for current obituaries only. Obituaries have great genealogical information about the deceased such as birth, death, parents, accomplishments, and survivors. This could help locate cousins or distant relatives for additional research questions or materials. Images may also be included in the obituary.

Once an obituary is located it can be shared via social media or email for future use.

Book Crawler Lite

Book Crawler Lite is a free mobile app that allows for the building of a personal library. Many researchers collect books and papers for their own personal use at home. Using the mobile app, researchers can stay organized and on top of books they have already searched through or list books at home.

The mobile app provides three different ways to create a book in the library: manually enter information, import information from Google Books, or scan the ISBN number on the back of book using the built in camera. However data is entered into the mobile app, there are different fields that can be customized for information of each individual book through tagging and comments.

For those that use a library regularly, this is also a good method to save information about books needed through inter-library loan. Using the mobile app to scan ISBN numbers on a library visit, can also assist in saving citation data for later use.

Are you a Droid owner? A similar app is available called Book Catalogue that also allows for manual entry, ISBN scan, or importing information from Google Books, Amazon, and LibraryThing.

Accessing Apps

Mobile app stores are standard on handheld devices. Visiting a mobile app store through the different companies and smart phone providers will allow researchers to search for genealogy apps by using the specific titles or search terms.

More mobile apps are being added to mobile app stores each day. A year ago there were only a few mobile applications for genealogists and family historians to use. The numbers have increased significantly since then and today there are over one hundred given the mobile device provider. Using mobile apps for family history is a growing phenomenon and will be an important method of searching, organizing, and documenting genealogy research in the future.

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