|Purpose of This Page|
This page provides notes and links to accompany the talk "Pocket Your Family Tree" given to the OFHS Computer Group meeting on February 14th 2011, by Alan Simpson. The purpose of the talk was to encourage members to use a small portable device such as a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) or a modern mobile phone to provide instant access to their family history data both at home and when "out and about". This page gives a summary of the topics covered together with web addresses for the programs discussed.
Many of the devices suggested below are available at low cost, by virtue
of being near the end of their product life. A consequence
of this is that although the devices will keep on working for years,
some of the web-sites linked below may well soon
disappear. If this happens I suggest you make use of the Internet Archive
or "WayBack Machine" to view the page as it appeared in 2010 or earlier.
You can find this at:
If you do not already own a PDA and have no strong feelings about a particular program you may wish to skip to the bottom of the page to see Alan's Speaker's Choice for his recommended choice of PDA and program.
If your main computer is running the Microsoft Vista or Windows 7 operating system
you should also view the section on communicating with
Legacy Palm Devices
|Last updated 2012-11-12|
|What did we cover?||Ways of carrying your family history around away from your desktop computer, by means of various
|What did we omit?||Using a laptop or netbook computer - these can just use the same programs as your desktop computer.|
|The Big Decision||To EDIT your data on your pocket device, or just to VIEW it there?|
Editing initially sounds attractive but can waste time "in the field" and is more error-prone than updating your tree carefully when you get home.
Synchronising your changes back to your main program can be fraught.
|Types of Device||Laptop, Netbook, USB Memory Stick, PDA, Mobile Phone.|
|Choosing a Device||The PDA market is "fashion lead" and you don't need the latest gizmo. A five year
old device will do all you need and can be purchased second hand for less than a tenth
of its original cost. For example on eBay|
|Classic open source Linux family history program, now available as a Portable
Application for PC. May be run off a USB memory stick on any PC.|
|Freeware editor for Psion 3A and later. Advantage of a keyboard but very limited display.
No way to synchronise changes with main family history program. http://www.cix.co.uk/~kgroves/kgene/ (via Wayback Machine)
Northern Hills Software
|Commercial editor for Pocket PC. Well respected and probably the most widely
used of the editors. Edited data may be synchronised back to some main family
history programs (e.g. Legacy).|
|Palm Viewer for PAF
Alan's personal favourite
|Freeware viewer for Palm devices. A variant of GedStar v 3.1 prepared by
its author for the LDS Church. Does just what is needed and no more.|
Changes can be made as separate linked "memos", for adding into your main tree when you get home.
http://www.familysearch.org/eng/home/welcome/pafdownload.asp (via Wayback Machine)
|Commercial viewer for Palm devices. A more fully featured version than the
LDS freeware version. Now also available for the Android mobile phone operating system.|
Battery Park Software
|Commercial viewer with versions for Palm and Pocket PC devices. Claims to support
the widest range of GEDCOM tags of any pocket viewer. (Makes for a complex interface.)|
http://www.batteryparksoftware.com/ (via Wayback Machine)
|Commercial viewer/editor with versions for Palm and Pocket PC devices. Permits
editing of data on the PDA with the option of flagging the edited entries.
No way to synchronise changes back to main family history program, so changes
must be re-entered there.|
|Freeware viewer for Pocket PC. Reads GEDCOM directly so no need for PC
conversion program. Makes for slightly slower start-up. Good help system.|
The author's web site was hosted on the now-defunct GeoCities. However it can still be accessed and the program downloaded via the Internet Archive ("Wayback Machine") at this URL:
|Commercial viewer for iPhone. Operates in conjunction with the full
family history program of the same name, for Apple Macintosh or iPad.|
|Alan's "Speaker's Choice"|
The set-up I personally use and would recommend to anyone who does not already own a suitable device and has no strong feelings about the choice of device or program, consists of a palmOne Zire 31 PDA and the Palm Viewer for PAF software from the LDS church.
The Zire 31 is chosen because it has everything needed for this purpose and when first introduced it was very good value for money and so sold in large quantities. As a consequence there are now many fully functional second-hand specimens available on eBay at very favourable prices. It is worth getting one that comes complete with its accessories, these being a mains charger, a USB cable and a CD with Palm's accompanying PC software. One of the original attractions was a version sold complete with a GPS receiver and Mapping Software so that it could be used in your car as a fully fledged GPS navigator. Many of the Zire 31 found on eBay will include this GPS and mapping software. The original ViaMichelin mapping is no longer being updated but I still use it for navigation on occasions, and even if you never use the GPS receiver, just having street-level mapping of the entire country in your pocket is often useful, albeit the mapping is 5 years old. (Most of my paper maps are much older then that!)
Palm Viewer for PAF is my preferred choice of software simply because it does everything I need, it is easy to use and it is free! It may be downloaded form the LDS web site at the web address given above. If you do not already have it you need to download the PAF v5.2 family history program for your PC at the same time, since this is used to convert a GEDCOM file from whatever other family history program you prefer into a .pdb (Palm database) file required by the Palm Viewer for PAF program.
Here is my simple step-by-step guide to setting up this combination.
|Using older Palm PDAs with Windows Vista or Windows 7|
During the course of the meeting a member of the audience made the very valid point that the most recent versions of the Windows operating system can have problems communicating with "legacy" devices such as the Zire 31. If your PC is running Windows XP or earlier, you should have no problem. Just install the Palm Desktop and Quick Install software that comes on the disk with the Zire 31 and you should have no problems. If you didn't get a disk with your Zire 31, this software can still be downloaded from Palm's support web page at http://kb.palm.com/wps/portal/kb/common/article/47831_en.html#zire31. You need the "Palm Desktop 4.1.4 and HotSync Manager (Windows)".
If you have 32 bit versions of either Vista or Windows 7, some users have reported that it is possible to use this same software, though Palm do not support it on these operating systems. Their suggestion would be to use Palm Desktop 6.2 which is designed for use on 32 bit XP and Vista and would probably also work on 32 bit Windows 7 (but you are unlikely to have this last). But this version does not work with the Zire 31. There is a free third-party fix for this but it is all getting messy. If you have a 64 bit version of Vista or Windows 7 (and for Windows 7 this is the normal version) things get worse. Whilst the desktop programs will still run, there is no way to HotSync to the Palm via USB from 64 bit windows. Palm's suggestion is to hot sync using Bluetooth but Zire 31 does not have Bluetooth so that is out.
However there is an easy way around this mire! For our purposes we are not interested in the clever aspects of HotSync that let us keep address books and calendars synchronised between our PC and our Palm. We just want to be able to copy our Palm for PAF Viewer and our converted GEDCOM file onto the Palm and there is an easy way to do this. The Zire 31 has a slot for an SD Memory card. Your fancy new PC may well already have a card reader. If it doesn't you can get one for a couple of pounds, that plugs into a USB port. So here is what you do:
If you have added people to you tree and want to update it on the Palm, just repeat steps 4 to 8 above, using the new data file. (You must always include the paf.prc file so it knows what to do with the data.) In step 7 it will warn you that "A copy of this application already exists on the handheld. Do you want to replace it?", to which you should tap the "Yes" button.
If you want to have more than one tree available on the Palm, just create several differently named .prb files and install them all from the card in one go. You can then select which one you want to view from the Options menu within the viewer.
If you just want to use your Palm to carry your family tree, this should be all you need. If you ever have to reset your Palm or you let the battery run flat, your data can easily be restored as just described. However should you decide to keep notes on the Palm, or use it for your diary and address book, the lack of HotSync could be a problem. If the battery runs flat, all your data is lost. In which case, you need a means of backing it up. For this I would recommend you try the open source program Red Feline Backup written by Daniel Thompson, and freely downloadable from his web site at: http://www.redfelineninja.org.uk/software/rfbackup.html. It backs up everything on your Palm, including itself, onto an SD card, so that in the event of a complete reset, you can just put the card back and restore everything.
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