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By Ryan Taylor

I've been facing a dilemma. My laptop is a dinosaur -- in fact, it's extinct. Do I keep on taking notes in archives by hand or do I find myself another travelling computer?

The prospect of hauling a fullsize laptop and accoutrements across the Atlantic next winter filled me with gloom. It looked like I'd be heading to Office Max for a large package of legal pads.

Then I saw a review of a new genealogical software for PocketPCs. This was a new idea, so I've been investigating PocketPCs.

These are handheld computers which can do most things a PC can do, except they weigh about seven ounces (35 grams to you). They have complete Windows functions, including Word, Excel, and most can operate via wireless technology on the internet.

But all I really wanted, for now, was to be able to take notes easily. The size of the PocketPC makes typing difficult (although you can buy folding keyboards to go with them). You use a stylus, much like the older electronic pocket diaries or PalmPilots. The new Palm products are similar to PocketPCs, except that operate outside the kingdom of Microsoft. As with the old Mac/PC debate, it's all a matter of what your personal preference is.

The newer PocketPCs have 32 or 64 mB of memory, with the facility to add huge amounts of extra memory (up to a gigabyte) using a tiny replaceable card the size of a postage stamp. Apparently you can use the cards to take your own movie on a plane and weep with Meryl Streep instead of watching aliens rip off someone's head.

Whew. What more could I want? How about the ability to write on the screen and have the little machine convert it to type?

That can happen too. A system called Graffiti uses a code where you only have to write part of each letter and the machine understands. Of course, you have to learn the code. Newer software helps the machine to recognize your handwriting (or printing) and translate that to type. That sounds like just what I'd like.

There is some debate about how well the handwriting software works, but I'd like to give it a try.

It shouldn't surprise us that some enterprising producers of genealogical software have already joined the PocketPC brigade.

My Family has a system which allows users to see family group sheets or pages about individuals. It will report on the changes you made and then you can GEDCOM the results into your PC. It costs US$20. Their website is at cemyfamily.com .

Pocket Genealogist comes in two versions, basic ($20) and advanced ($35). The Basic allows note-taking and downloads GEDCOM files from your PC to create its database. Advanced has some connections with Legacy Family Tree which will enable you to download without GEDCOM. An interesting feature is that you can ask it to list all events in a single locale. Find out more about Pocket Genealogist at www.northernhillssoftware.com .

There are more choices for the Palm, including a version of Personal Ancestry File, the LDS software (which is free), although Pocket Genealogist is also compatible with PAF. Another specialized program focuses on cemeteries. It allows you to record sites, inscriptions and even photos. The producer also has correspondence and research record software, which can be seen at www.keifferusa.com .

I suppose we'll all have a PocketPC someday, playing music and films, reminding us to take our pills and encouraging us to read all those fascinating blogs while we wait for the bus. Meantime, I'll be glad to find a PocketPC that allows me to take electronic notes without weighing my suitcase down. I'll let you know how I manage.

Posted August 31, 2004
Column copyright © 2004 Ryan Taylor

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