Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Todd Powell Goes Mobile at #RootsTech

Todd Powell presented at RootsTech 2017Todd Powell, senior product manager at FamilySearch, presented “Family History on the Go! –FamilySearch Mobile Applications” at the RootsTech 2017 conference.

Todd is used to presenting to youth. He challenges everyone to learn and then go teach someone else.

Everyone has a story and they want it told. What makes a story? Their vital information, their relationships, their jobs, military, immigration, etc. A simplified definition of family history is to discover events about ancestors, and to document and tell their life story.

There are five simple things that you can do each week. Todd calls them microtasks. They only take a couple of minutes at a time. The five microtasks are

  • Add persons and relationships
  • view and upload memories
  • find and attach sources
  • update life events or add new sources
  • share and teach others

The mobile app is the best way to share and teach others. It is difficult to get people to gather around a computer, but easy to pull out a phone.

As of January 2017:

  • 2.1 million people have installed the app.
  • Each week 100 K people use the app.
  • 4.3 million persons have been added through the app.

In the year 2016:

  • 2.2 million persons were added.
  • 4 million sources were attached.
  • 1,800 new accounts were created.
  • 2.1 million hints were reviewed.
  • 1.1 million photos were added.
  • 5.1 million photos were viewed.
  • 600 K stories were read.
  • 45,000 audio files were added.

Why is this important? Because FamilySearch Family Tree has been around for quite a while, but most people don’t know that there is a mobile app. Or they aren’t aware how much can be done with the mobile app. Can you use only the mobile app? Yes, for most things you do each week. FamilySearch does a release every two weeks and are adding new features and fixing bugs all the time. Last Tuesday (31 January 2017) they finished a development cycle and will release this week the ability to view PDF documents. Using the app you can do 95% of everything you can do on the web. There are several things you can’t do:

  • There is no source box.
  • There is no change log. They will be adding that in a couple of weeks.
  • You can’t have a large monitor.
  • You can’t have multiple tabs open like you do on a browser, although that is coming this year.

You can merge. That was released two or three weeks before RootsTech. To keep up on new features, look for a what’s new message that pops up each time you start the app. Do that every two weeks to see what new features were released during that development cycle.

The app does not look like the web, but using it should be similar enough that you don’t have much effort moving from one to the other.

Use your phone as a scanner. It takes a little practice to get the lighting right. We encourage people to use their phone as a scanner. If you see a photo and grandma’s wall, get the lighting right and take a photograph of it. [TAI here: I have problems with this cavalier attitude towards digitization. A cell phone does not do as well as a flat-bed scanner. It is better than nothing, so it has its place.]

As an assignment, Todd told us if we didn’t yet have our photograph in the tree, take one right now.

The photographs and stories you attach to yourself become visible when you are deceased. If you are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, someone will have to contact support after you die to have your record in the tree made public.

The app allows attachment of photos that you already have on FamilySearch, or that you have on your camera roll, or you can take a new photograph.

To add people, use the + buttons on the tree. Alternatively, go to a person and add a spouse, parent, or child.

One features not available on the web is the Ancestors with Tasks list. The app makes a list of persons, starting with you, going up five generations, and adding children and spouses. This is called your scope of interest. Then it looks for hints or research opportunities pertaining to each of those persons and indicates it with icons.

Three little dots on the person page indicate there are more options. One option is to show descendants with tasks. The sweet spot is ancestors about 1800-1850.

Task #2. Find some tasks to do, such as attach a hint. Get with someone; don’t do it alone. That allows you to teach and share.

When you are connected to the Internet, when you make changes, they are automatically updated online. Photographs are the only thing you can do while you are not connected. If you are not connected, you can take photographs and they will upload the next time you are connected.

Todd showed us a prototype of a feature that may never happen. The feature is called “Are We Related.” Several people logged into the prototype and the app showed how they were related.


  1. Absolutely the best thing about the mobile FT app is the Tasks for Ancestors, and Tasks for Descendants. Such fast searching and reporting. The closest thing on the FSFT web client is the descendancy view, but not as good still. I just love it when FS tell us what we need to do and for whom in our tree. Makes family history so much easier. I'd rather use FT app rather than all those other certified apps because Todd has made it do almost all of the things those other apps do that are worthwhile doing. Thanks to all involved.

  2. All of these technical marvels are great if you are able-bodied. Please do not forget the genealogy enthusiasts who are unabled, physically, to use any mobile device. I have recommended genealogy as an ideal pursuit for people with ALS, or similar, who can use adapted computers. My large family tree is the product of many years of immobility.


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