Using The iPad For Genealogy And Writing

by Lisa Alzo | Feb 2, 2012

Lisa Alzo

The iPad 2 is one hot item. For the longest time, Apple and other retail stores couldn't keep them in stock, and more and more genealogists are utilizing them for their family history pursuits. I was lucky to snag one last spring, and have been hooked on it since the moment I slid my fingers across the screen. As both a writer and genealogist, I find my iPad 2 an invaluable tool for interviewing relatives, translating documents, taking notes, family tree work, writing, presentations, and more!

This article will discuss a dozen ways you can unleash the power of the iPad for your own research and writing tasks.

All About Apps

In order to perform specific tasks with your iPad, you'll need certain applications, or "apps" for short. At the time of this writing there are approximately 140,000 apps available for the iPad. Some are built in. Most apps are free or fairly affordable (less than $10). Get a full list at Apple's App Store. To learn about apps available or being developed specifically for genealogy, see Mobile, which is dedicated to news, reviews, and information about mobile devices and genealogy software. You can also Google the name or type of app for a specific task. [Note: Not all apps will work on both iPad version 1 and version 2, so be sure check before downloading.]

Prepare and Share

Armed with the right apps, you can easily take your genealogy with you anywhere you go. Pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard and you can also take notes, or write that family history tome. Here are a few of my favorite iPad activities.

1. Research Assistant. Since I can't afford to hire a personal assistant, my iPad2 is the next best thing! I use the calendar app that came with it for my schedule, use the notepad to scribble down quick notes (with a stylus that costs under $20, I can even scribble them by hand), utilize e-wallet for my genealogy site passwords. Other tools include a free calculator app, apps for tracking airlines/airfares, scanning barcodes, and to keep track of my billable expenses and mileage, and manage my family history research budget. One of my favorite apps, however, is Evernote. Evernote is a dynamic, all-in-one easy to use web-based application for clipping web notes, recording personal thoughts, uploading pictures, audio and more into digital "notebooks" and allows me to easily sync my data with other devices. The iPad app is free, but there is also a premium (paid) version. I also find the free Dropbox app a "must have" so that I can access my documents, photos, etc. from anywhere.

2) Family Tree Manager. Many of the major online family tree building services, including,, and MyHeritage, and some other independent ones such as Family Trees, Reunion, and Mobile Tree (some are free, others you must purchase) have, or are improving existing apps to help genealogists browse, edit, and share trees and family photos. In addition, Name Maps for iPad is an app for viewing a map showing the distribution of surnames. Looking at where a particular surname occurs most frequently may be useful when all you know is a general geographic location for an ancestor. This affordable 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).

3. Writing Muse. As a writer, I work on deadline, so I need to take advantage of any free time to work productively. There are plenty of apps for word processing, outlining, brainstorming, project management, and reading PDF files. Learn about more apps and see a comparison chart on Another app I use faithfully is Dragon Dictation--a free and easy-to-use voice recognition application powered by Dragon NaturallySpeaking--to dictate notes, article ideas, etc. I still like to print out drafts of articles I'm writing. Although a bit pricey ($8.99), PrintCentral enables me to print from my iPad to most WiFi/wireless printers, to all printers through my Mac or PC, or remotely over 3G, as well as transfer files. GoodReader More than a PDF reader, GoodReader (fee-based) reads books, movies, maps, pictures, including huge books, with great speed, and also allows markup of PDFs (text boxes, sticky notes, freehand drawings). It syncs with remote servers such as iDisk and Dropbox. Opens and reads several types of documents--PDFs, spreadsheets, documents, and presentations.

4. Interviewing/Communications Tool. If you want a free way to keep in touch with or interview relatives who live far away, it's pretty easy to do with the iPad. With Apple's own FaceTime, you can communicate "face to face" (virtually) with family, friends or fellow researchers who also use an iPad 2, iPhone 4, iPod touch, or Mac from your Mac. If you prefer, there is also now as Skype app for use on the iPad. I use Skype regularly on my Windows desktop computer to keep in touch with my aunt in Texas, and "visit" with my cousin in London, so it is nice to have a version optimized for iPad.

5. Virtual Grave Spotting. The next time I head to the cemetery to visit my grandparents' graves, I can use the camera in my iPad to snap some pictures and use apps for the sites Resting Spot and Billion Graves (AppTime) to post and share them online.

6. Reader for Books and Magazines. Besides using the built-in iBooks app for downloading iBooks from the App Store, I like being able to read some of my favorite genealogy and writing magazines wherever I go without having to carry paper copies around. For books, the Kindle Cloud Reader App ( and Google Books app for reading eBooks also come in handy.

7. Photo Sharing. In addition to Camera Roll album, which came with my iPad, and stores photos I've taken, there are apps for editing photos (I like Photoshop Express--it's free and lets you edit photos by cropping, rotating, straightening, flipping, adjusting color, using filters, and more). Flickr fans can get use the Photo Session app is a new interactive way to share Flickr photostreams and sets with friends, so you can browse photos and chat together in real-time.

8. Collaboration and Networking Tool. Making use of apps for Facebook, Twitter, help to turn my iPad into a fast and furious collaboration tool. I can also keep up with my favorite genealogy and writing blogs on the go.

9. Translation Tasks. Since much of my genealogical research involves consulting foreign records, apps such as the one for Google Translate, or iTranslate help me to decipher documents that are not in English. There are even translate with voice apps. I also have a Slovak-English dictionary and another Slovak language app.

10. Family History Discoveries. The portability of my iPad enables me to do my family history research on the go whether I'm checking, FamilySearch, or doing quick internet searches. For pages where flash is required to view records, I like to use Puffin (just 99 cents)--an app that provides a fast web browser to view the full version of websites that don't work well or display correctly in Safari, as well as watch video. To keep track of what I've done, I also like Research Logger ($0.99 iPad, iPhone), a compact research log for genealogists. It accommodates separate entries for each person, with the ability to add pictures and audio recordings to entries. Fully searchable, and individual or entire log can be e-mailed. If I need to grab a screenshot, it's easy to do by pressing the Power button + Home button, the screen will flash white and the shot is stored under Photos if I want to add it to a document or presentation.

11. Mapping Madness. The built-in Maps app helps me get from Point A to Point B, but there are other great free and fee-based apps to help search and navigate the world, including Google Earth (free)--enables you to change the view and see the Panoramio layer. Offline Topo Maps offers maps of the U.S. and Canada. Panoramio (free) enables uploading of photos from your device directly to Panoramio. These photos become part of photo layers in Google Earth and Google Maps if accepted by their review process. Or you upload geotagged photos to be automatically mapped but retain control of the access to the photos.

12. Conference buddy. As a presenter, apps such as Keynote (for presentations) and Pages (word processing) have become indispensable to me. But I also think it is great that several of the major genealogy conferences (such as the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree) where I was an invited speaker had apps for their conference that I could quickly access for the schedule, syllabus and other information.


The uses I suggested above are just a small fraction of the ways you can make yourself a more productive genealogist or writer with the iPad 2. For me, being able to create is essential and this little gadget is one effective creation tool. The iPad's size and portability (I can fit it inside my purse or large jacket pocket) is an added bonus. I couldn't imagine tackling my family history or writing tasks without it.

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