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Oxfordshire Family History Society

Pocket Your Family Tree

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Past Meetings Monthly Computer Open Day

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

Topic Details
What did we cover? Ways of carrying your family history around away from your desktop computer, by means of various small devices.
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

Programs Details
Portable Application
Open Source
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.
Kevin Groves
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)
Pocket Genealogist
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
LDS Church

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)
Doug Gordon
GHCS Software
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)
Thomas Ward
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.
Pocket Ancestry
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:
Leister Productions
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.

  1. First Purchase your Zire 31
  2. If you use Windows XP or earlier, install the software that came with it
    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)". When you have installed the software you can perform your first HotSync following the instructions provided, to check that everything works.
    If you use Windows Vista or Windows 7, you should ignore this step and instead follow the alternative instructions given below
  3. Visit the LDS web site and download "Palm OS Viewer for PAF 5.2" and "PAF v5.2"
    (If you already have PAF 5.2 on your computer, you do not of course need to download it again.)
  4. If you use Windows XP or earlier, double click the downloaded paf.prc file
    This is the viewer file. If you are using the Palm software described above, double clicking the paf.prc file will automatically mark it for installation next time you HotSync. If not, ignore this step and follow the instructions below instead.
  5. Install PAF 5.2 on your PC
    (Always assuming that you do not already use PAF as your family history program.)
  6. Export your data as a GEDCOM file from your existing family history program.
    You will need top follow the instructions in your particular program to do this.
  7. Run PAF 5.2 on your PC
  8. From the File menu, create a new "Family File" (.paf file)
  9. From the File menu, Import the GEDCOM file you just created
    You will now see your family tree data as displayed in PAF.
  10. From the File menu, Export to "PAF for Palm OS Handhelds"
    This will create a data file with a name such as alanstree.pdb. If you have the Palm software installed, it too will automatically be marked for installation next time you HotSync. Otherwise it will just be left in the directory where your Palm Family File and GEDCOM files are stored.
  11. Transfer the viewer and the data file to your Palm and the job is done
    If you are using the Palm software on your PC, performing a HotSync will transfer the data. If not, just follow the instructions below.

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:

  1. Purchase an SD memory card with a capacity of 1GB or less.
    (Larger ones need re-formatting to be read by the Zire and 1GB is more than enough.)
  2. Plug it into your Zire 31. It will recognise it and tell you it is empty. Now remove it again.
    This step is necessary because the Palm will write some directories onto the card to prepare it for future use.
  3. Plug it into the card reader on your PC
    It will simply be recognised as a new disk drive on your PC and you can look at it in Windows Explorer in the usual way. You should find it has a directory (folder) called PALM, within which is another directory called Launcher.
  4. Copy the two files paf.prc and alanstree.pdb into this /PALM/Launcher directory
    (These are respectively, the viewer program you downloaded from the LDS web site and the family tree data you exported from PAF, in the steps described above.)
  5. Plug the card back into the Zire
    This will automatically show you the Applications screen, showing the card's contents as a PAF icon. Do not try to run it just yet. It will not find the data!
  6. Instead open the Applications screen menu and select Copy from the App menu
    (Check with the Palm's "Quick Tour" if you are not familiar with accessing and using menus on the Palm.)
  7. Select Copy From: Card, Copy To: Handheld
    It will show just the single item PAF as being available to copy on the card. Highlight this and tap the Copy button. It will display a screen showing that it is copying first the PAF program and then the database you created. This latter may take several seconds to copy if there are a lot of people in your tree. When the copying is complete, you can tap the Done button.
  8. Remove the SD card. Amongst the applications available in the Zire's internal memory you should now see the PAF logo. Tap it and you should see your tree. Job done!

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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