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10 Tools for Your Genealogy Research That You Never Thought You’d Need

Genealogy is full of surprises. One of those surprises is often the tools you need to do it. Here are ten tools you may be surprised to realize you need to do your genealogy research.

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When you have been doing genealogy for a while, you get used to surprises. You make new discoveries in places you never thought you would find anything. You meet new people in unusual places who have information on your family you could never get on your own. And, sometimes, you find yourself needing a tool to do your research you never thought you would need. Here are the top ten tools for your genealogy research you never thought you’d need.

1. Your Cell Phone

Not only can the cell phone be used to take pictures of headstones, archival documents, and old homesteads, it can also be used to research and record information away from home. There are several family tree apps, and, the biggest site for genealogy research on the Internet, also has an app that makes genealogy mobile.  Here’s an article to help you find the best genealogy app for your research, “Genealogy Apps to Help You With On the Road Research“.

2. A Portable Scanner

This is an excellent tool you can use to scan old photos when visiting relatives both well-known and new. Depending on the policies of the archives you visit and how fragile the documents are, you may also be able to scan old documents in the field and take them home in digital form to transcribe into your family tree.  I never go without my TaoTronics® Handheld Document scanner. The only issue I found is that the OCR software does not work on Mac.

3. A GPS Unit

A GPS can show you exactly how to get to certain genealogical sites you want to visit. However, it can also be used to discover and record the exact geological coordinates of genealogical discoveries you make in the field. This make it easier for you, and those who are using your research, to find these places again.  Here’s a neat app that will display your coordinates that you can share your GPS location (My GPS Coordinates).  I’ve found it does not work in courthouse basements… use outdoors.  🙂

4. An Account with a DNA Research Service

DNA has only recently become affordable for everyone to use in their genealogy research. It is definitely something you should add to your research repertoire, and you will need an account with one of the several well-known DNA research companies to take advantage of it.

5. An E-Reader

Sometimes, genealogy research books have excellent information in them that you need to refer to when out in the field. It is difficult and bulky to carry actual physical books around with you. An e-reader with your genealogy books all loaded into them will allow you to get the information you need when you need it and only add about a pound to your other gear, making it easy to carry wherever you go.

6. A Video Recorder

These are really helpful tools when you are visiting a new genealogical location or interviewing older relatives. Not only can you use the recordings to transcribe information into your family tree, the videos themselves become genealogical artifacts for you to save for future generations. Oral histories are a crucial part of good genealogy research. Whether you’re conducting them or reading them, they provide invaluable information. Here’s why.

7. Three-Ring Binders

These old-school tools are perfect for keeping genealogical documents you collect and organizing them on a bookshelf where they are readily available for reference whenever you need them. Record keeping still has an important part to play in modern genealogical research. Click here to read some ways to help keep your records in order without a computer.

8. Acid-Free Sheet Protectors

These are what you will put your genealogical documents in before organizing them into the binders. Depending on how many documents you collect while doing your research, you may be surprised at how many trips to the office supply store you may need to make to keep yourself stocked on these.  I highly recommend and use the Avery Diamond Clear Super Heavyweight Sheet Protectors.

9. An Account with Google Books

Google Books is a super place to find out of print family history books and read them for free online. With your free Google account, you can use Google Books and save books you find to your own personal library for easy reference.

10. A Large Collection of Old Maps

Borders change, especially for counties, but also for towns, states, and even countries overseas. You need a large collection of old maps of the areas where you are doing your research so you can determine if your ancestors’ records may actually be located in a different place than you originally imagined.  Great Maps by DK Smithsonian is a great book to start your map collection.


Will Moneymaker

Will established Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has helped genealogy researchers for over 25 years. He is also a freelance photographer, husband of twenty-eight years, father of four children, and has one grandchild.