Ancestry is free to use, but you'll need to put your hand in your pocket if you want to search its wealth of historical documents to trace family members. The cheapest subscription costs £10.95 per month (or £6.95 per month on an annual deal); alternatively you can buy documents on a pay-as-you-go basis, with 12 views costing £6.95. A 14-day free trial is available if you aren't sure whether Ancestry for Android is for you.
When you first launch the app, you're invited to either log in or sign up. As a newcomer to geneology software, we chose to sign up. We then had to choose our regional site, and enter our name, email address and password. Interestingly, although Ancestry prompted us for the birth date of each relative added to our tree, it never asked for our own (you can add this as a Life Event, of course). See also: Best Android Apps.
A quick tutorial shows you how to use Ancestry for Android, and a sample tree demonstrates what's possible. You can then begin creating your own family tree. If you have a GEDCOM file containing information about your family history it must be uploaded via the website; the smartphone app allows you to view an existing tree or start from scratch only.
Ancestry first prompted us for our father's name and date of birth, then for our mother's, and finally requested our confirmation that the pair were married, allowing it to create a link between the two. We were then able to enter their parents' details, and those of any siblings and their offspring. Usefully, Ancestry accepts partial records - perhaps you know the month and year but can't be sure of the exact birth date, for example.
Ancestry for Android: the interface
The interface is incredibly straightforward to navigate. You simply swipe your finger to move back and forth through the generations, and can zoom in or out and click on an individual to view their details. A refesh button at the top lets you update your tree if you're simultaneously accessing and editing it online. There's also a magnifying glass icon that invokes a search function, which will likely become useful for quickly finding relatives as your tree grows.
You simply click on an individual within your family tree to view their profile. From here you can upload a photo stored in Android's Gallery or capture one on your smartphone or tablet's camera (provided that they're still around, of course). Via the online site you can also add audio, video and stories.
Ancestry for Android also lets you add 'Life Events' for each relative. The most common of these are birth, marriage and death details, but we also found - among others - adoption, annulment, Christening, divorce, occupation, retirement and even weight on Ancestry's list. You can then add a date, location and description.
A further option lets you search ancestry.co.uk for historical documents that mention your relative, which is where the service makes its money. Here, we hit a small stumbling block: the eldest member of our family tree is our 92-year-old grandmother, who would dearly love to hear that she is too young to be included in any published Census data (these are made public 100 years after their creation). Clearly there are no death records for her either. However, our search did return the results of several people who may well have been related to my late grandfather - and this is where you need that subscription.
(Note: when coming to geneology software with no existing knowledge of your family history beyond your grandparents, it might be worth asking older relatives for their help before you begin.)
Missing from the mobile app is Member Connect, a service whereby Ancestry searches other public member trees for mentions of your deceased relatives (Ancestry won't infringe on the privacy of the living in such a way). A Member Connect search might throw up new photos, relatives and life events that you can add to your research notes.
Ancestry for Android also lacks hints: a green leaf appeared beside my mother's profile on the online version of Ancestry, but not in the mobile app. Ancestry had found a record of someone living in Australia who shared her name, although the two are not related… or are they? Who knows what further use of this app will reveal about relatives I never even knew existed.