©2015 Donald R. Snow
This page was last updated 2015-06-08.

These Freeware notes are published in TAGGology, our Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group (UVTAGG) monthly newsletter, and are posted on  where there may be updates, corrections, or additions.


Google Docs is a free office program that is built into Google.  You must have a Google account (free) and you already have one, if you have a gmail address.  It uses your Google account and has programs to create and edit text documents (Docs), presentations (Slides), and spreadsheets (Sheets).  The programs in it don’t have all the bells and whistles of full versions of these programs, but that makes them easier to use.  They are geared more for personal use than for big business use, but anyone can use them for free.  Each free account has 15 gigabytes of storage space in Google Drive where Google Docs stores your files and, if you need more space, you can buy more, but 15 gigabytes stores a lot of normal-size files.  When you install Google Docs, it puts icons for the three programs, Docs, Slides, and Sheets, on your desktop, so clicking on one opens your default browser and asks for your Google account  If you leave your Google account active in the background, clicking on an icon takes you directly to the program.  If you have installed Google Docs, but don’t have the icons on your desktop and want them, just open the 9x9-dot Google Apps icon (upper right corner of the Google screen) and drag the ones you want onto your desktop.  In these Freeware Corner notes I will only describe the Windows version of Google Docs, but I imagine the Mac version is similar.


There are many helpful and free Google Docs tutorials online.  A website with several that are helpful and easy to follow is the following -- .  BTW, to make a URL into an active link in a document in Google Docs, such as in that last sentence, just highlight the URL, click Ctrl-C to put it on the clipboard, and either right-click and use the URL menu option, or else click on the URL icon (chain links - “Insert Link”) on the toolbar.  Now, when your document is viewed (see below), this will be an active link for people to click on.


These are text files such as you make and edit in LibreOffice or Microsoft Word or other word processors.  When you open the Google Docs screen you see the files you have set up.  If you have set up folders to include some of your documents, click on the Folder (upper right corner) to open that and see the documents inside.  Clicking on any document opens it ready to edit.  You can change a document’s format properties such as margins, text font, size, mode, and viewing size on the screen, by clicking on  File > Page Setup.  This allows you to change the properties just for this document or, by clicking on Set as Default, it sets these are default for all new documents.  Of course, you can easily change them again whenever you want.  To start a new document click on the Plus “+” icon at the lower right corner or else right-click and select New in the Context Menu (the “Right-Click menu”).  You never have to worry about saving a document in Google Docs since it saves them automatically; in fact, there is no Save button at all.  To copy and paste something requires that you install the Google Drive app, which, if you don’t already have it installed in that browser, when you highlight and click to save something, you will be asked to approve it and then it will be installed.  In the upper right corner is a Mode icon (a pencil) with three options, editing, showing suggestions, and viewing mode.  When you are writing you are in Editing mode.  The Suggestions mode gives helps and ideas as it sees what you are doing.  The Viewing mode shows what the document will look like when you are done, so you can check your formatting and the Internet links.
The standard Windows commands work, e.g. Ctrl-A copies everything to the clipboard, Ctrl-X copies and deletes the original text, and Ctrl-V pastes whatever is on the clipboard into the location at the cursor.  There are templates that you can select and modify for various tasks, e.g. to produce a newsletter or other type document.

Google Docs has a Sort icon at the top right of the documents screen to see the list of your files sorted in various ways, such as by name or size.  To form folders and subfolders to organize your files go to Google Drive (an icon in the 9x9 app box in the upper right corner), click on New Folder, rename it, and move files into it.  These will then be in folders in the Docs screen and will be shown in Google Docs when you click on the Folder icon (upper right).

Google Docs has a find function that allows you to search for given text within all documents in various places of your Google Drive account.   There is also a search-and-replace function to correct the word or phrase in all files.  This is especially helpful to make corrections in many files, for example, a letter collection in which you want to find and add editorial comments about some person in all the letters.

Since your Google docs are not stored on your computer, but online in your Google account, there may be times when you want a copy on your own computer.  Just right-click on such a document, select Download, tell it the format for your downloaded copy, and it will be placed on your computer for you to use.  Of course, any changes you make to the downloaded copy will not be in the online version.

To include pictures or tables in a document, click on Insert > Image or Insert > Table.  For tables it shows a small table and allows you to move your cursor to select the number of rows and columns you want.  Here’s an example of a 3x2 table.  To enter information just click in a cell and start typing.

This is the first cell.

These cells are "rubber", that is, the height changes as you type more into it.


You can import text files, that is, .doc, ,docx, .txt, .rtf, etc., into Google Docs, but in some cases you lose formatting since Google Docs just has simple formatting properties.  However, for working on a document with a group, it might be helpful to work in Google Docs to get the wording accurate and then copy it into LibreOffice for the final formatting.  To import a file you first upload it to Google Drive by moving or copying it to that icon or space.  With the file in Google Drive right clicking on it opens the Context Menu where you can select Google Docs to open the file.  It will be converted to Google Docs format and saved in your Google Docs list.  This procedure will convert Microsoft files and even pdf files, but you may lose some of the formatting.  In Google Drive the original file is available in the original format, but it won’t be sync’d with any changes you make to it in Google Docs.


You can easily “share” a file with someone else by opening it and clicking on the Share button (upper right corner).  It will ask for their name and email address and what you want to say in your email to them.  It sends them your email note with an invitation to view and/or edit the document, whichever you selected.  When you share and allow editing with one or more people, they each have access to see and edit the document, so you can all work on the same document at the same time and each sees all the changes as they occur.


Google Docs has some helpful uses in genealogy and is worth learning.  It uses enough of the standard text commands from Windows that most things will come naturally, if you already know another word processor.  Google Drive and Google Docs make your files available to you on any computer connected to the Internet, so you don’t even have to carry a flash drive.  And you can save files from a FHC, for example, to your Google Drive account and access them at home.  However, relying on the Internet is sometimes risky, so you probably want a backup storage method anyway.  In later Freeware Corner articles I will discuss more about Google Drive, Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets.