Genealogy a la iPad

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

I frequently suffer from technology envy when I see new hardware or software being used by colleagues and friends. Such feelings often prompt me to buy a product – but then I invariably procrastinate in its installation, mostly out of concern about my technical abilities (no IT department support now that I’ve retired!). My learning style is not one in which I thoroughly manuals and directions, but instead, I “hack around” until I can accomplish the basics, and thus use neither applications nor hardware to their fullest extent.

I recently observed conference and workshop attendees happily consulting their iPads, and, never happy with the mini-laptop that I had purchased a few years ago, I decided that I too needed an iPAD. I had some reticence, however, because I have never been an Apple/MAC user. So, not only did I now have a new piece of technology, but it wasn’t a familiar Windows-based product. Have you noticed that nothing comes with an instruction manual any more beyond a couple of pages about how to turn the item on and what functions the various buttons represent? With this purchase, however, I uncharacteristically decided that I needed to have a manual to consult about operating the iPad2, now languishing on my desk waiting to be turned on for the first time. I hurried to Barnes and Noble and, having looked at almost every applicable title, settled on J. D. Biersdorfer’s iPad 2, the Missing Manual, aptly subtitled, “The book that should have been in the box.” The choice was an excellent one and soon I was confidently entering appointments, reading email, updating my to do list, reading my latest Nook ebook, and listening to music.

Then one day, as I looked at my upcoming list of blog article subjects, I realized that I had scheduled one on genealogy on the iPad. What had I been thinking! Now my deadline forced me to move outside of my very comfortable Windows-based existence and more fully explore the iPad and its applications for genealogy. The AppStore listed twenty-two genealogy-related apps for the iPad (some of which would also work with an iPhone). Here is a quick look at several of them in case you too are tempted to do “genealogy ala iPad.”

  1. Utilities. Downloading utilities first will assist greatly in working with other applications to be discussed in subsequent categories.
    1. Dropbox (current version 1.4.2). This application provides easy upload and download of all of your files and provides you with access to them wherever you may be. In addition, it allows you to make your files easily available to others. By downloading the app to my iPad and then installing Dropbox on my desktop PC, I am able to access files quickly without the hassle of emailing them to myself or synching them through iTunes. The Dropbox app is free for up to 2GB of storage (plenty for my purposes), but additional storage is available at a nominal monthly costs in different packages up to 100 GB. I have used Dropbox successfully and believe that it is an essential download.
    2. Puffin (current version 1.7), costing $.99, allows you to view digitized images on FamilySearch, or similar sites that require FlashPlayer, which is not available when using the iPad’s Safari browser. I downloaded Puffin and looked at FamilySearch images, but found that not only were the images slow in downloading, but the resolution rendered them unreadable. I then looked at the same image on fold3 (the new incarnation of Footnote), and the resolution was just fine. I will keep testing it with FamilySearch to see if I can figure out the resolution issue. Please note that it is not necessary to use Puffin to view Ancestry.com images.
  2. Genealogy Programs and GEDCOM Viewers. There are several genealogical programs available for the iPad, but an important caveat is that PC-based programs such as The Master Genealogist have no plans to develop iPad versions. Several, as noted below, require that you have the full version of the specific software installed on your MAC or PC. GEDCOM viewers will import and export files regardless of your genealogical software of choice.
    1. Mobile Family Tree (current version 2.5.3), costing $4.99, requires that you also have the full version of MacFamilyTree 5 or 6. If you are willing to spend just a little more and step out of the companion software experience, you may find it more cost-effective to purchase Mobile Family Tree Pro (current version 1.0.3) for $14.99. This application allows GEDCOM exchange of data with any software that you may already be using on your PC or MAC.
    2. Reunion for iPAD (current version 1.0.2), costing $14.99, requires that you have Reunion 9.0 installed on your MAC as well as a wireless connection between your iPad and your MAC.
    3. Families (current version 1.2.0), costing $14.99, requires that you have Windows-based Legacy Family Tree installed on your desktop or laptop.
    4. GedView (current version 3.0.6), costing $3.99, was my choice for testing a GEDCOM viewer as it has been mentioned in several recent articles and has received favorable user comments in the iTunes App Store. By using this viewer app, I am able to access information from my The Master Genealogist files on my desktop while on the road. I selected one of my smaller TMG files, created a GEDCOM file, and dragged it into Dropbox. After synching my iPad, I was easily able to access the file via Dropbox. While I don’t find some of the icons on the iPad to be very intuitive, I learned that by tapping   the box with the left to right arrow at the upper right of the Dropbox screen a drop-down box would ask me in which app I would like to open a file. The available choice, in this instance, was GedView. So far so good! I was quickly able to see a list of the family groups included in the GEDCOM (only three in this case as it was a very small file). By tapping a family group name, I was quickly taken to a family group sheet. At the bottom of the screen, an index icon allowed me to quickly scroll through all the individuals in the file. When I selected an individual, I was taken to a screen with their information and could also choose to look at their descendants or a pedigree chart for that individual. By tapping the edit tab, I could add or delete information, add references, images and video, or delete the individual completely. I have not had an opportunity to use this app while researching in a library or archives, nor have I uploaded an updated file back to TMG, but my initial foray leads me to believe that GedView will prove very useful during future research trips.
    5. Other such apps are available in the iTunes store, including iHeritage, MyKinFolks, ohmiGene, and FamViewer. If you have a family tree on Ancestry.com, you will want to download the Ancestry Tree to Go app (free) which allows you to log into your account from any location and access your tree. You will be able to edit your tree, upload photos, add people, add notes, see shared trees, and view records and citations online. If you use an iPhone, you will be able to upload photos directly.
  3. Magazines and Podcasts.
    1. Several genealogical periodicals are available as apps for the iPad, including Family Chronicle ($1.99, version 3.1.3), Family Tree Magazine (version 3.1.3, $2.99) and Internet Genealogy Magazine ($1.99, version 3.1.2). Included in the price of the app is one issue of your choice and you can then download other individual issues or subscribe from within the app. The PocketMags app is also available from within each periodical’s app and registrants will receive protection of app purchases in case of a lost device and, in addition, will be able to read an issue on multiple platforms.
    2. Genealogy Gems: Your Family History Show (free download) offers 103 podcasts about interesting genealogical research topics and often featuring interviews with top researchers, writers, and lecturers in the field.
  4. Support Apps. While I enjoyed looking at the variety of apps available in the previous categories, I was genuinely excited by several which can be used in support of ongoing research.
    1. AA Time Machine (version 1.0), costing $2.99, was developed by the British Automobile Association (the equivalent of our AAA). If you do British research, this app looks very useful. Using historical maps of Great Britain for 1816 (only one including Scotland), 1897, 1919, and 1940, you can search for your ancestor’s residence or the site of some event in which he or she was involved. You can locate a specific address or location etc. on a historical map or quickly progress forward in time through the available historical maps, including up-to-date street-level maps. In addition, you can use current GPS data and progress backward in time. Although I have not tested this app, I think will prove be quite useful at a great price.
    2. Wolfram Genealogy and History Research Assistant (version 1.0.0), costing $4.99, provides a series of useful tools including the weather for a specific day (Do you wonder if it rained on your great-grandmother’s wedding day?); date calculator; relationship calculator; events happening on a specific day; a list of common names at a specific time; and calculator for the value of currency at specific times.
    3. Research Logger (version 1.2.1), costing $.99, provides an easy method of recording and organizing your thoughts, notes, sources, and work to be done as you research. When that light bulb goes off in your mind, or when you need to move between your worktable table and microfilm reader while researching, you can easily pick up your iPad and take all of your thoughts and notes to a temporary location. (When was the last time you could fit your laptop into the microfilm reader carrel?) When you suddenly experience a revelation about a fact or an individual, you can capture your thoughts instantly and have organized access to them later when you are analyzing your data. You can create separate log entries for each ancestor, adding pictures and audio, and then email the file to yourself or to others who might be working on the same problem. This app will search by phrase or keyword, helping you to find specific information quickly. Please note, that if my iPad is in airplane mode (wifi or cell service turned off), it prompts me to turn it on. While I can still use the application in airplane mode, it is a reminder that the email function will not be available until I turn the wifi back on. I am looking forward to Research Logger keeping me much better organized while researching and preserve my wonderful thought process by the time I return home or to my hotel room.
    4. Name Maps for iPad (version 1.3), costing $1.99, can assist you in locating an ancestor, perhaps about whom you know little except a very general geographic location (e.g., “he went West”). In such cases, a surname distribution map may help narrow your search by identifying those geographical areas where the occurrence of the surname is most frequent. This app provides surname distribution maps for the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, and Poland. There is also a separate app for Canada, Name Maps Canada (version 2.0), costing $.99.
    5. TombFinder (version 1002.1), free download, is an online memorial site that appears to be similar to the Find a Grave website in that it relies on input from individual registrants or cemeteries who upload cemetery photos and/or videos that can then be searched and viewed by others. One exciting function of this app, however, is that you can not only access directions to a cemetery, but also can obtain specific-car-to-headstone directions. This information can both speed up finding a specific grave and make gravesite searches in inclement weather (isn’t it always raining, too cold, or too hot?) feasible.

I look forward to using genealogical apps on my iPAD and I hope you will too. You will want to visit the iTunes App Store frequently to search for new apps as they become available. In addition, you may want to attend the RootsTech conference, scheduled for February 2-4 2012, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, to learn more about the technical advances in genealogy.

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