best apps for genealogy

10 Best Apps for Genealogy

Technology is an incredibly useful tool in genealogical research, especially when used in conjunction with traditional research methods. We love Evernote for genealogy, and that’s just one app that will help you stay organized.

We were excited when we found this article, “Tracing your family tree? The 10 best apps to help you find your relatives” by Laura Berry. Ms. Berry is the lead genealogist for BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are? In her article, excerpted below, she offers an expert guide to help you in your online searches.

It’s important to note that these “10 best apps” for genealogy are most useful for content that has been digitized. As we mentioned in a recent article on why relying solely on the internet for your family tree research isn’t the best idea, not everything is available online. However, we understand that other than talking to your own family, beginning your search online is the easiest for most people just beginning their family research.

Please enjoy Ms. Berry’s 10 best app selections below!


interviewy app


Interviewing your family is the best place to begin. This voice recording app offers clear sound, good basic functionality and the option to tag audio files that you have saved. If you want to keep the interviews for posterity, using a plug-in microphone with your smartphone or tablet will improve the quality further still.




Start building your family tree and find your ancestors in billions of historic records. This works best when used with a monthly subscription to the Ancestry website. Individual family records can be bought by non-subscribers (up to £1.49 a document), which is useful, but the subscription allowing unlimited downloads is more cost-effective.

who do you



Who Do You Think You Are? magazine is the UK’s leading family history monthly. This forum app gives access to a rapidly growing genealogy community online. Somewhere for newbies to ask for friendly pointers and for experienced hands to share advice. It is also a good place to pick up birth, marriage and death certificates.




Family trees that are easy to build and to view even offline. There are three privacy settings and a function to create a fast family tree by connecting with relatives via Facebook. If you want to view historical documents, including census returns, wills and nonconformist records, you have to pay to subscribe via TheGenealogist website.




Another great tool for creating and editing your tree. A useful feature allows photographs to be incorporated. Has a good but basic facility for looking up records, but you need to pay a full subscription to view search results. It supports 32 languages and is renowned for its worldwide genealogy community, helping you link to relatives overseas.




Designed to help you search for family graves worldwide, but equally useful for those who want to share their findings via crowdsourcing. Add photographs of headstones and transcribe memorial inscriptions to build up the database. Also lets you post a request for local volunteers to search for your ancestor’s headstone in a cemetery. To maximise the results, use Find A Grave in combination with Billiongraves, another great app that’s suitable for Android and iOS.




Links with Dropbox and iTunes so that you can view trees and research logs created with RootsMagic desktop software. Gedcom files can also be converted from other genealogy software companies for viewing as RootsMagic files while you are out and about. Contains tools, including a date calculator, perpetual calendar, and relationship calculator.




Every genealogist needs a first-class filing system and One Note is proving a credible competitor to the popular Evernote app. Incorporate digital photographs of old letters, clippings from genealogy websites, videos and audio interviews into your searchable notes, share them with relatives and sync with all your devices.

reunion app


IPHONE, IPAD (£10.49)

Accompanies one of the best family tree building software programmes, Reunion. Easy to use and with detailed but simple layouts, this app lets you work seamlessly on the go. The one downside is that it is available only for those who already have the full software package installed on a Mac.




Pin old family photographs of a known area on to an interactive map and search for thousands of images uploaded by museums and archives. Great for comparing changes to the places where your ancestors lived or worked, as it overlays historical scenes on to Google Street View. Browse by date or location to find images and stories behind them.

Image credit: By pr_ip Primus Inter Pares [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Original content/source article:  “Tracing your family tree? The 10 best apps to help you find your relatives” by Laura Berry from The Guardian.

Donald Lines Jacobus, Connecticut

Who Was Donald Lines Jacobus?

Who was Donald Lines Jacobus, and why should you know about him?

The Connecticut genealogist, Donald Lines Jacobus (pronounced ja cob’ us), was the founder of the modern school of scientific genealogy and the greatest American genealogist of the 20th century. Jacobus and his protégés taught us how to research and write family histories, how to solve genealogical problems, what sources should be used, how to interpret them, and why we must abandon unsupported findings which, in many instances, were built upon flights of imagination as much as on facts.

Jacobus has a long list of achievements, for instance, in 1922, he founded the esteemed periodical, “The American Genealogist” (TAG). We are more concerned with explaining why this sage’s teachings and writings are of importance to 21st-century sleuths. Jacobus’ book publications may date from 1922, but each one still stands as a model of genealogical scholarship. For example, Families of Ancient New Haven is the definitive statement on the ancestry and relationships of 35,000 residents of 18th-century New Haven, Connecticut, and it is the only publication that succeeds in treating every family of an entire New England region. In other works related to Connecticut, Mr. Jacobus, who built on Mr. Edgar Francis Waterman’s files in Hale, House and Related Families, Mainly of the Connecticut River Valley, succeeded in presenting exhaustive data from original sources, in providing new interpretations as well as additions and corrections to existing literature, and in making the family accounts definitive. The index alone bears reference to some 16,500 persons.

Jacobus’s Families of Old Fairfield is the ultimate authority on the ancestry and relationships of approximately 50,000 residents of Fairfield County, Connecticut. It is a vast compendium of family history, meticulously developed from original sources, and in every way an accurate reflection of the investigative genius of its celebrated author.

Jacobus left us scores of genealogy articles that appeared in the “National Genealogical Society Quarterly,” “The New England Historical and Genealogical Register,” and his beloved TAG. In 1968, the Genealogical Publishing Company assembled a number of those highly respected essays and published them as Genealogy as Pastime and Profession.

Genealogy as Pastime and Profession encapsulates Jacobus’ thinking. It describes the principles of genealogical research, the evaluation of evidence, and the relationship of genealogy to eugenics and the law; it discusses early nomenclature, royal ancestry, the use of source material, and the methods of compiling a family history. Jacobus was a wonderful writer, and he brought all of his wit and erudition to bear in this timeless volume. Beginners and experienced family historians will especially love the case study chapter in which the author the sets out to solve the mysterious ancestries of Ebenezer Couch, Nathaniel Brewster, and John Gill. Whether you do your genealogy over the Internet, by cranking the microfilm reader, or strictly by pouring over old documents, you’ll find that Genealogy as Pastime and Profession is as useful today as when it was first published 35 years ago. Jacobus’ advice, by and large, is as reliable as a wise old grandfather’s.

Image credit: Christ Church, Stratford, Connecticut, USA, second church, built in 1743. By/edited by Lucy Jarvis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

popular names by state

Can you guess the most popular last names in your state?

Let’s play the name-game! Do you live in Massachusetts: Try to list all the Sullivans you’ve met in the last 15 years. How about those of you from Vermont: How many of your friends have the last name Johnson?

Go ahead, keep counting. We’ll wait.

The infographic featured in both the cover image and below, was originally posted by the Ancestry blog back in December of 2014, and has since been featured on and This map shows the three most popular last names by state. According to the data in the Ancestry blog post, every American knows about five Smiths each.

“Smith, along with Johnson, Miller, Jones, Williams, and Anderson make up most of the most popular surnames all across the country,” the blog reads. “But there are still regional differences. If you are in the Northwest, you are more likely to come across an Anderson than a Brown, which is slightly more common on the East Coast.”

Check out the top three results for your state (click image to enlarge):

popular names by state

colonial New York, Genealogy, Family History

Colonial New York Genealogy

If your ancestors were living in New York state at the time of the American Revolution, your line of descent is likely to take on one of a handful of forms. If your immigrant ancestor arrived before 1664, you are likely to be descended from a Dutch inhabitant of old New Netherland. After that date, however, tracing your Colonial New York genealogy down the line means your antecedents are far more likely to have been born in Great Britain (England, Wales, or to a lesser extent, Scotland or Ireland). They could also have been New Englanders who migrated to New York from Massachusetts or Connecticut, once New York was under English rule.

After the turn of the 18th century, a number of emigrants from the German Palatinate began to make their way to New York’s Mohawk Valley; however, as late as 1790 only one percent of New York heads of household were of German or French descent. On the eve of the Revolution, New Yorkers were concentrated in New York City, Long Island, and along the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, and the state trailed Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina in total population.

This picture changed dramatically by the early 1800s, when New York’s population surpassed that of all other states, thanks to the pull of its extraordinary harbor, industries, hinterland, and internal improvements, as well as to the inexorable push of Western European emigrants vying for greater opportunities in a free land.

If you’re researching early New York roots, (the parent publishing company who sponsors this blog) offer a wide variety of publications you could consider. Running the gamut from statewide to regional to countywide and New York City titles, this extensive collection covers they key record sources (wills, deeds, military records, marriages, etc.) that are crucial to 17th- and 18th-century New York family history. In the aggregate they touch on well over 1,000,000 New York ancestors. In the absence of official New York public records, some of titles for Upstate New York fill in the gaps, and the multi-volume sets of New York genealogies, mostly compiled from obscure, unindexed periodicals will save you an enormous amount of time in your research.

There are also some wonderful online resources dealing with New York history, such as the New York History Blog.

Image credit: Engraving depiction colonial New York councilors Nicholas Bayard, Stephanus van Cortlandt, and Frederick Phillipse attempting to quiet revolutionary fears at the time of Leisler’s Rebellion in New York City, 1689. By Art: Alfred Fredericks; Engraving: Albert Bobbett [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


surname history

Name is the Game – Surname History

Editor’s Note: The post below includes an excerpt from Lloyd Bockstruck’s book, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist. We are focusing on surname history, as that can be a common question and potential pitfall to be tackled in genealogical research.

Names, like people, have lives of their own, which is why Lloyd Bockstruck’s recently published book about the serendipity and life’s choices that can alter our family names is must-reading for every researcher. Mr. Bockstruck, one of America’s foremost genealogists and the former genealogy librarian at the Dallas Public Library, has distilled the wisdom of a lifetime about the vagaries of names into this work. Eminently readable, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist is a collection of illustrations and cautionary tales that can help family historians surmount the obstacles or avert the pitfalls associated with naming practices throughout the centuries.

The book is divided into five chapters, and it engages the reader at the get-go. For instance, in the introductory first chapter Bockstruck relates a number of first-hand accounts that fostered his early fascination with names, such as his initial failure to find the tombstone of German great-aunt Barbara Baker (born Barbara Becker). The introduction’s high point is the incredible story of the peregrinating Scots colonist Ian Ferguson, whose name was recorded as Johann Feuerstein when he was among the Pennsylvania Palatine immigrants, and was later recorded as John Flint when he moved to Philadelphia. Two generations later, one of his grandsons, Peter Flint, moved to Louisiana, where he was recorded as Pierre a Fusil, only to end up as Peter Gunn when he settled in Texas after the Civil War.

While we obviously recommend reading the book for yourself, we will be excerpting from Chapter 3, the “Surname” section of the book. This is the longest section of the book, and it covers lots of territory. Topics include maiden names, spelling, surname misinterpretation, aliases, military influences, changes in language, dialects, surname abbreviations, and much more.

Please enjoy Part I below, and visit us again soon to read more from The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist:

The use of an additional name to differentiate among people of the same Christian name in a community began as a byname. It was not until that the second name became hereditary that it became a surname.

The first people to adopt more than one name were the Chinese. It was Emperor Fushi who ordered the use of family names in 2832 B.C.

Family names can be grouped according to five categories. One is for surnames derived from toponyms, i.e. places or features of the landscape or ofnames of actual localities.The Jacob who lived at the edge of the woods would become Jacob at the woods or Jacob Atwood. His neighbor who lived in the agricultural belt of the community might become John Fields. William Hill, Robert Brooks, John Rivers, or Peter Meadows are other examples of people taking a surname from a landscape feature. The Germans and the English have a high incidence of such surnames.

Other surnames are indicative of a trade or occupation such as Smith, Carpenter, Taylor, Shepherd, Teacher, Turner, Cooper, and Wheelwright.

Sometimes people who excelled in particular roles in morality plays acquired surnames from their roles. Sheriff, Duke, King, and Bishop are examples of such.

Still other surnames arose to express relationships . Jeremiah the son of John became Jeremiah Johnson. William the son of Richard became William Richardson, and Richard the son of William became Richard Williamson. Sometimes the suffix “-son” was expressed in the possessive so that the letter “s”was appended to the Christian name as in Williams for the son of William or Harris for the son of Harry.

Sometimes it was the diminutive of a forename which Jed to the adoption of the surname as in Dickson or Robinson . Patronymical surnames predominate among the Welsh, Scots, Irish, Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians. They are also widespread among the Germans and Poles.

Surnames also derived from nicknames indicating a physical or personality trait such as Goodfellow, Short, or Black. The Italians and Irish favor this category.

It was said of the Todd family of Kentucky that their surname had two d’s while God had only one.

Please visit us again soon for Part II!

Image credit: Grave stones These are around the perimeter of the ruined church of St Mary’s. By Dennis Simpson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.