An Introduction to Family Bee

Family Bee is a full-featured industrial strength family tree browser. It allows you to view information about families and individuals stored in GEDCOM genealogy files.

Whether you family is large or small, you can carry it with you on your phone. Your GEDCOM files are stored on your SD card, and the system has been tested to provide solid performance on files up to 12 megabytes (32,000 names). Our reader fully understands the industry standard GEDCOM 5.5 format, and supports all official character encodings: ANSEL, ASCII, UTF-8, and UNICODE.

Family Bee lets you store an unlimited number of trees; supports fast searches over the individuals in the trees; and provides specialized views of families, individuals, "pedigree" trees, and descendents. All facts, events, notes, and sources are at your fingertips.


Family Tree file: GEDCOM

The standard format for family trees is the GEDCOM file. This format is supported by every major genealogy program on the market, and by public repositories such as ancestry.com. Family Bee will allow you to load these files on your Android phone and view their contents wherever you are. (It will not create the files for you. There are many fine desktop programs, many of them free, that will to do that job for you.)

There are four primary methods of loading GEDCOM files into Family Bee:

  1. Download directly from the web

    If your GEDCOM is already stored somewhere on the web, you can simply surf to that page in the android browser and download it. The android OS should either automatically recognize it as a Family Bee file and directly load it, or it will ask you which program you wish to use, and let you choose Family Bee.

    If the phone doesn't recognize your particular ".ged" file as a Family Bee file, send us mail with a pointer to the page and we'll figure out how the file types can be adjusted.

    There is a known bug with the android browser which prevents it from correctly downloading GEDCOM files from "ancestry.com". This is beyond our control. We would recommend that you download these files to your computer and then use techniques (2) or (3) to transfer them to your phone.

  2. Email as an attachment

    Any ".ged" file which is mailed to your phone as an attachment (whether via gmail or other email service) can be loaded by "previewing" that attachment.

    Although you can do this using any email program, most of them end up encoding the file so that you have to view every line of the file before getting to the preview button. We therefore have provided a service at http://beekeeperlabs.com/familybee/GEDSend.html which will upload a file, encode the file in a way that is recognizable as a GEDCOM file without being mistaken for an arbitrary text file to be displayed, and mail it to your account. You may freely use this page to send trees to your phone.

    Because the Android OS doesn't tell "preview" programs the names of the files that they are opening, Family Bee will ask you to specify a name for the attached GEDCOM files. You can choose any name you like, and Family Bee will proceed to open and display the database. (If you decide that you don't want to open the attachment after all, you can of course hit the BACK button.)

  3. Copy from your computer via USB

    Your phone should have come with a USB cable that allows it to be hooked up to your computer. When you attach it in this way, you can use the "USB Connected" item in your announcements "window-shade" to show the phone's SD card as a file system on the computer. Copy your file(s) to the "Family Bee" directory on that file system, and then select "Turn off USB storage".

    The next time you open Family Bee, the copied files will be available in the DB list for opening.

  4. Use Dropbox

    If you use the Dropbox service on your computer, you can install the Android client on your phone and use it to transfer your files. Simply drag the files into your computer's Dropbox directory, refresh the file list in the Android Dropbox client, and click on the GEDCOM file in that list. Family Bee will copy the file to its home directory and then open it for you. (Any time you change the file, you can drop the replacement into your computer Dropbox and click on the Android Dropbox copy again. This will overwrite the old version with the new, and everything will work fine.)

    Note that Dropbox is a third party application, and we cannot provide you with help in setting it up. Read the instructions at https://www.dropbox.com/install for more information.

DB Selection

When you enter Family Bee normally (i.e. not as a result of a "file preview" operation), you will first be shown a list of available databases. Click on any of these to load the appropriate database and start browsing.

The first time you open a DB, Family Bee will have to do a thorough scan of the file to index the internal references. Depending upon the size of the file, this could take a few seconds. (On a T-Mobile G1, it takes about 5 seconds per megabyte.) Future loads of the same database will take advantage of cached information, and will load 5-10 times faster.

From the initial load screen, you may also long click on any database name to delete or rename it, or you may use the menu/help to review the database loading instructions from the previous section.

Individuals List

Upon opening a database, you are presented with a list of every person described in the DB. They are sorted in standard order -- first by surname and then by the rest of the name. (The surname is shown in bold for easier reference.) Additional data is provided if known: the gender is indicated via blue or pink coloration; birth year, death year and spouse are shown; and a "*" is shown before the spouse if the family has known children.

You can scroll through the list via normal "flick" scrolling or using the "quick scroll" tab that appears on the right side after a flick.

You can also narrow the list via the search box at the bottom. Each part of the entered search matches against the start of any part of a persons name. Thus, you could match "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" via:

When you find the person you are interested in, click on his name to browse his family information.

Family Information

The family page shows information about all of the immediate relatives of an individual, and about his marriage(s). This includes full birth and death information for each relative (and the individual himself). For each marriage, it shows basic date and location information, as well as any extra facts, notes, and sources which are specific to that marriage.

You can click on the target individual's name to get detailed biographical information about him, or you can click on any of the other relative's names in order to go to a new family information page centered on the new individual.

Certain pieces of information may have "source", "notes", or "extra" buttons, or may have information ("i") icons. You can click on any of these to pop up a window giving more context for that information item. (For example, marriages may often have notes or sources with archival information about the ceremonies.)

If you click the menu button, you may choose to see the tree view of the individual's parent's and grandparents (i.e. "pedigree") and, if he has children, a list of descendents.

Biographical Details

The "details" page for an individual (reached by clicking on the top name within a family page) shows all available information about that person. This can include "facts" such as occupation, education, etc.; "events" such as birth, death, baptism, military service; and buttons that let you access "sources", "notes", and "extras" (typically DB id numbers).

Individual events typically have sub-information such as dates and places. However, both facts and events may also have other arbitrary annotations associated with them. In this case, you will see an information ("i") icon next to the fact/event. You may click on the fact/event to view the additional information.

Pedigree Trees

You can access pedigree trees for any individual's family via the Menu button. These trees show the parents and grandparents (as available) for the designated individual. You can walk "up" the tree by clicking on the box for any ancestor who will be selected as the root of a new tree. Walking "down" the tree involves clicking on the "root" box for the individual: this will show a list of children (if any exist) and one may be selected as the root of a new tree.

Long-clicking on the box for any individual will take you to the family page for that individual.


You can access a list of descendents for any individual with children via his family page by clicking the Menu button. This list will show the individual and three generations of descendents (i.e. his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren). The list will be indented to show levels of descent.

The information shown for each individual is exactly the same as is shown for the initial individuals list. As with that list, you can click on any individual in the list to go to his family page.

FB Notes

FB Notes (i.e. 'Family Bee notes') provide a tool for jotting down useful family information while 'in the field'. They don't modify the tree itself, but provide supplementary information that you can merge into the primary copy of your tree when you get back home.

Note: This is an experimental feature, which should be considered 'beta quality'. Since many people have expressed a desire for the functionality, we have decided to release it quickly, in a potentially unpolished form, rather than going through the usual month-long test program. While it has been tested on 4 models of phones, this doesn't cover the gamut of possible devices and behaviors. If you experience a problem, please contact the developer (via 'Menu/Mail developer' or this link), who will be pleased to work with you to make things run smoothly on your phone.

FB Notes have three primary properties that make them well suited for keeping track of family info:

  1. each note is permanently associated with a particular individual or marriage.
  2. you can associate photos with any note. Thus, you can simply photograph the relevant book page or gravestone rather than laboriously transcribing it on your phone.
  3. you can use gmail to send all of your notes to your home computer for integration into your tree. (Once you are sure those notes have arrived and been merged, you can also delete the notes from your phone to make room for more. You can make sure that you only delete those notes that have already been mailed out.)

Creating and modifying notes

To create a new FB note, simply hit 'Menu' from a family view or from an individual detail view. In the first case, it will associate the note with the person's marriage (or one selected marriage if there are several). In the second, it will associate the note with the individual.

When a note is first created, you will immediately be taken an edit screen which will allow you to type in arbitrary information. When you are finished, just hit the "Done" button to be shown the note.

When viewing a note, you can re-enter edit mode by hitting the "Edit" button. Any changes you make will be "committed" when you hit the "Done" button, or thrown away if you hit "Cancel".

You can also add photographs by hitting the "Add image" button. This will take you to your favorite Camera app and let you take a picture, which will automatically be imported into Family Bee. If you decide that you no longer want a photo, you can delete it by long-pressing it and selecting "Delete".

Important note: Some phones, including the Droid Incredible, have a bug in the default Camera app which causes them to return photos which may be smaller than desired. Since the photos are taken by an external app, this is beyond our control. One workaround is to use a different Camera app. One possibility is "Snap FX", which is known to return properly sized images client applications. (This is a pay-ware app. It is unaffiliated with Beekeeper Labs, and we get no profits from the referral.)

Viewing and deleting notes

You can view all notes by going to the menu from any screen (except the top-level database selection screen) and selecting 'Show FB Notes'.

If you click on any note in this list, you will be warped to the individual or family which is annotated with the note. You can then click on the "FB Note" button to view the note itself.

To delete individual notes, you have two options. You can either delete all of the text and all of the photos from the note: empty notes disappear automatically; or you can long-click on a note on the Notes List screen described above and select "Delete note".

If you wish to delete all notes, or just those notes which have been sent to your home machine via e-mail (see below), you can do this via the "Delete all notes" or "Delete sent notes" items. Because you cannot recover a note or an image once it has been deleted, you will be asked to confirm your actions.

Sending notes

The "Send notes" menu item (accessed from the FB Notes list) lets you send your notes, including attached photos, via e-mail to a location of your choice.

Because your phone doesn't allow apps to send mail 'behind your back' in the background, Family Bee will invoke a standard 'send' operation with all appropriate data, and let you (a) choose which program will handle the operation; and (b) specify the recipient.

Because Family Bee divides the data up into 25MB chunks suitable for sending through GMail, we recommend that you choose your phone's GMail program for sending. If you choose a program that can't handle data of this size, you may encounter unexplained failures. Note also that Family Bee must re-invoke the mailer for each 25MB chunk of data that it sends. For reasons beyond our control, you will not be able to cancel sending of later chunks by cancelling sending of the earlier ones -- our program has no way of detecting the actions you have taken within the mail program.

*After* you have confirmed that your notes have arrived at their destination, you will probably want to use the 'delete sent notes' menu item to clean up old notes. Please do not delete notes before they arrive at their destination. Attached images *will* be lost if you delete their notes before the mail is fully sent. In addition there is always the possibility that e-mail might be lost in transit.

Extra Menu Items

Most pages you will visit have three extra menu items:


I got a message saying that I need an SD Card. I've got a perfectly good SD card -- why can't FB see it?
9 times out of 10, the problem is that your phone is still attached to your computer. As long as the SD Card is "mounted" as a file system on your computer, it isn't visible to the phone. Just disconnect the USB cable, and you'll be set to go.

When I clicked on my GEDCOM database I got a notification box that said "Could not load file". What's wrong?
There are three possiblities: (1) Your file isn't a GEDCOM file. Make sure that you exported the right sort of file from your genealogy program. (2) The file is mostly GEDCOM, but your program doesn't follow the GEDCOM standard properly. Depending on how far off it is, we may be able to extend FB to handle whatever oddity your program put in the file. (3) There's a bug in FB. We've tested FB on a whole lot of files, so this doesn't happen often, but when it does we can usually have a fix on the market within 24 hours. If you suspect that case (2) or (3) applies, feel free to send us a copy of the failing file and we'll figure out why it's failing.

I tried to send my notes via my favorite mail program and it stalled during sending. What happened?
The send capability is designed to use GMail, and splits large messages up into chunks that are the right size for GMail (i.e. 25MB). Other mail systems may have different size limits, and this could cause your send to fail. It's probably best to stick with GMail.

If I buy the full App after my trial expires, will the "FB Notes" that I wrote transfer over?
Notes cannot be transfered between the trial version and the full version. However, you will be able to access your notes from the trial version and mail them to your home machine even after the trial period expires. We don't want to see you lose any of your data.

I'm taking pictures with the 8 mega-pixel camera on my Droid Incredible and all I get are tiny little web-sized images. How can I fix this.
This is described in the FB documentation. FB uses your phones camera app to take pictures, and some phones have a bug in their native camera app. One way to work around this is to use a third party camera app which properly handles the "IMAGE_CAPTURE" action. One such is "Snap FX". If you find others that you like, send us mail and we'll add them to the list.

I loaded a new copy of my GEDCOM database onto my phone, and now all my notes refer to the wrong people.
Notes are connected to individual marriages via their GEDCOM ID tag. Pretty much every genealogy program that we've dealt with keeps a consistent assignment of people to tags, so that the notes will stay properly connected. If yours does not, the best thing for you to do is to always send your notes to your home computer, integrate them with the main copy of your database, and delete the FB notes before updating the GEDCOM database. If enough people request, we can put in facilities to detect a note mismatch. However, because there is no reliable way to identify an individual in a GEDCOM file other than the ID tag, we may have to leave some notes in a "orphaned" state (i.e. visible in the list, but not associated with an individual).

I just upgraded FB from version 1.06 to version 1.1 and it crashed on me. Why haven't you fixed this?
There is an operating system bug in some small number of phones which causes them to "misplace" data files after some sorts of upgrades. Once this happens, there is really no way to fix it. Re-installing the program will fix this and if your old version is less than 1.1 no data will be lost. (Users of version 1.1 or later risk losing their FB notes if they uninstall the program -- they should use "Send notes" before any app uninstall. However, they will also not experience the bug described above, which only happens when moving from version 1.06 to 1.1.)