Thursday 18 April 2013

Genealogy Apps for Android - still a way to go

This morning I noticed that my trial version of GedStarPro, an Android genealogy app that I had downloaded for my tablet, had expired.  I could still read the data on the tablet, but not update it from my PC.
William Satchell Hutton's individual information screen from GedStarPro
GedStarPro displays the necessary information for carrying your family tree around with you, but it doesn't have some of the functionality I have been used to in the past on my old Windows phone using Pocket Genealogist.  Unfortunately the developer of that program has no plans to produce versions of Pocket Genealogist for Windows Phone 7, let alone Android.

Although I had scoured Google Play using the terms genealogy, gedcom and family tree this app was the best I had found a month or so ago.  Today I thought I'd try again ... you never know.

This morning I looked at Family Bee, ezGED Viewer, FamilyGTG, GedTreeFree and compared the facilities they offered to GedStarPro.  There was another option, GedFamilies, however it did not offer a free trial.  There are also an assortment of linked viewers which allow you to see your Ancestry tree, or your Geni account for example.  I do not use an online tree so these were not suitable for me.

I decided to use my Halls&Huttons Gedcom to test the various apps.  A Gedcom is the standard for moving genealogical data around from one program to another.  This particular one is fairly large at 3.32Mb and contains 3965 individuals.  I use Family Historian on my PC which works directly from the Gedcom format and it also allows me to link to an assortment of images and other files - ideally I would like to be able to view these on my Samsung 2 7.0 tablet.  As many of them are census images it would be nice to be able to see them at a large enough magnification that I can read the entries.  Pocket Genealogist allowed you to upload linked images and provided an external viewer which included a zoom facility to do just this.

GedTreeFree was advertised as displaying family tree diagrams; unfortunately I could not get it to open more than the first person in my tree, so further investigations were called off and it was uninstalled.  An onscreen message suggested my tree was saved in a format that was not currently compatible with the app, but that I could contact the developer to enquire further if I wished.  Not today, thank you.

FamilyGTG looked colourful and the sample screenshots showed a variety of views of the information.  It even hinted that pictures could be displayed.  I installed the free trial version.

On opening the app it searches automatically for Gedcom files on your device. It quickly found my test file and I touched to open it.  A pretty screen opened showing the list of individuals in my tree.  Where was search? Or should I just scroll to Hutton?  Search was in the menu on the bottom left, and it allowed me to enter a part of a name, for example Hutton or William, and retrieved the matches.  Despite the visible example of formatting in the individuals' list it wouldn't accept Hutton, William and entering William Hutton only brought back two people where multiple first names fitted - William Hutton Potts for example.
William Hutton's information on the FamilyGTG app
Once I'd found the right William Hutton (my Master Mariner, star of several of my previous blog posts) and moved onto the screen shown above I couldn't easily work out what to do next - yes his family was displayed, but where was his vital information, birth, marriage, death and so on?  Again the option was in the menu - under Edit Information - not the most likely place in my opinion - and when displayed it only showed a few items including the vital events, his occupations from the census (no other census information, not even residence) and a note.  His baptism appeared under the heading Religion.  Looking at an ancestor I know married more than once, William Harle, multiple spouses were displayed but there was no indication as to which of the children belonged to which wife. 

Also in the menu were options to add a bookmark or a photo and display a tree.

Add a photo allowed me to select an image from either my Dropbox or my Gallery - which I did and it displayed filling the screen ... however once that had been done the option changed to Remove Photo, so you can only add one picture.  I tried adding a birth certificate to another family member, but had great difficulty picking the right certificate out of 60 odd in the appropriate folder in the Gallery option on my tablet.  When I eventually managed to attach a distinctive coloured certificate (my father's red one with genuine George V postage stamp!) it did display very well and I could read it.  A census image might still not work though, it's just too big and there is no zoom functionality.

It was when I asked FamilyGTG to display a family tree that I really decided this app was not for me.  You have to go through the menu at the bottom left again ...

The diagram option in FamilyGTG
Oh dear, it truncates the names displaying my ancestor as William Satche, and even when I turned my tablet on its side I still only got William Satchell Hut.  The spouse(s) are not displayed either.  Not useful I'm afraid - far too many of my relatives went in for more than one forename and limiting the display like this limits its usefulness.  But I do like the little thumbnail picture of William on the tab with his name.

Incidentally when you touch the tree icon on the upper toolbar the app displays the first person in the tree - which is unfortunate as in my Gedcom it's my first husband - not someone I want to be reminded of that often - and although using my Go Back option did return me to William Hutton it was a shame that the clearly displayed icon didn't do what you thought it would and display the tree of the person on the screen.

(In October 2013 Family GTG contacted me to report that they had made some amendments to their app.  They noted that they had added an icon to lead directly to a person's details, enhanced the search facility and amended the tree view to display the person on the screen, not the first person in the tree.  Some edit and export functionality has also been added.  I have not yet tried out their amended version - when I do I will link that post here, but in fairness to them it seemed right to point out that they are making efforts to improve their app and they took the time to track me down to let me know!)

Next ...

ezGED Viewer was a little bit reluctant to start - maybe I should have opened it from the Gedcom file not just opened the app.  After a couple of false starts a screen displayed which offered me the option to view Individuals, Families, Reports, Sources, Database Info or Change GED - I picked that one and navigated to my test Gedcom file. 

This time choosing Individuals gave me the usual listing of the people in my file.  Search was the familiar magnifying glass icon at the top right and the only option available was clearly stated - Surname.  I searched for Hutton, and then scrolled down to the right William.
William Hutton's information displayed by ezGED Viewer
A lot more information was displayed, the snip above only shows the first screen full, scrolling down there were a total of five and bit screens full of information presented.  Unfortunately the last three screens lengths were filled with buttons labelled Multimedia Link - I hadn't made any attempt to set up the Gedcom with the linked pictures from my Family Historian programme so I didn't expect an image, however clicking any one of the buttons I just got the format, title and last updated date and time for each image - none of the associated information, for example citation, source, other people associated with the image.  So fairly pointless really.  There was no option to add an image.

Nothing happened when you touched any of the data items shown in the snip either ... they did not expand to show the rest of the associated information.  One of the reasons William Satchell Hutton has so many lines of information is that I've recorded each and every one of the ships he served on, information taken from his Master Mariner's application and the Lloyds' Captains' Register.  All that can be seen above is a series of dates.  Nope, not helpful.

There's a little Home icon displayed at the top left, which is handy, this gets you back to the screen with the various options I described above. 

In the Reports option on the home screen you could choose to display a 5-generation descendants tree (that was the only option available).  You had to pick your starter person from a drop down list - unhappily I have four William Satchell Hutton's in my tree (I know you'd think it was an unusual name, but once they've got one they like they keep recycling it in my family!)  After a bit of trial and error I found the right one.

The 5-generation descendant display in ezGED Viewer
I quite like this - nothing fancy, does what you expect.  You can even get to the individual records in the tree by touching the names, pretty good.  Shame it's a separate operation to produce the above display.

Back on the Home screen I tried Sources next.  This gives a list of your sources as would be expected, but I suppose it does make a difference how you saved them in your original desktop program.  Mine tend to be one source per event if there's an image or other object attached - that just makes it easy for my web program Gedmill to process.  In ezGED Viewer this produced a long list of Baptism entries, Census returns and Marriage entries; the search icon was visible so I tried it but putting in Hutton just returned me to the individual list, it did not search the sources. 
Source detail for a census return entry from ezGED Viewer
Clicking on a census source at random - well nearly so - turned up a screen which showed the full title I had given the source in Ancestral Sources when I uploaded it to Family Historian and the transcript of the entry.  Another good feature for this app, but again unfortunate it doesn't link to the individual entries and the transcript is cut short - checking on a larger family, one of those Victorian specialities with a dozen children, only the first two were visible, this is misleading and not at all useful.  The big Multimedia Links buttons appear again and ended up on the same fairly pointless screens when touched - maybe they are a work in progress and will link to images in a future incarnation?  I did try a test image, saving an image (the 1851 census) associated with William and his mother to the same folder as the Gedcom, closed and opened the app - however nothing changed and the appropriate Multimedia Links didn't open the image.  Maybe I need to load my images onto my tablet 'loose' so to speak, all in the same folder as my Gedcoms - I'm afraid this is not how I keep my data in Family Historian, I have folders in each family project for different types of image which contain hundreds of images - 599 associated with the Halls&Huttons Gedcom alone. And if it is dependant on the way the images are linked in the Gedcom I would have to change that too - no, sorry too much adaption for little return.

Next ...

Family Bee was available as a free trial and a paid for app.  I downloaded the trial and opened the app - it immediately hunted for my Gedcom and copied it to its own folder.   The documentation suggests using Dropbox to update your files that way Family Bee will find the most recent version and update its copy. 

You can pick white text on a black background or black text on white, I went for the second option as it looks less glaring to me.  Some people may prefer the other option. Touching the name of my Gedcom opened an individuals list immediately, and there was a clear search box at the bottom of the screen with the cursor flashing away happily.  I entered Hutton, W and it jumped to the beginning of my William Huttons.  Result - the best search I've seen so far.
William Satchell Hutton's information in Family Bee
Choosing my Master Mariner again (well he does have a lot of information to display) the next screen, shown above, displayed his family, parents, wife and children, AND all their vital event dates and places.  Swopping quickly to William Harle (the test case for multiple wives) the display shows each marriage separately, as Marriage (1 of 2) and Marriage (2 of 2) followed by each wife and the relevant children.  Very good indeed.

Back to William Satchell Hutton for an examination of the little 'i' icons in the right hand margin of the screen shot above.  The one after William's name opened an Individual screen for him with a listing of his Occupations and then his Events.  Each one had its own little 'i' (for information I suspect) and these now opened a further screen.
The detail of the 1861 census event for William Satchell Hutton
This screen displayed not only the title and transcript, but also William's age, the full address of the census entry and the date of the event, items conspicuously missing from the ezGED Viewer version.  And all linked to the individuals too!  Things were looking up.

The menu at the bottom left gave options to add a note to the person I was on (a warning did pop up explaining this facility was in beta, experimental, version as yet), or I could look at existing notes, return to the individuals' list or choose another file.  You can apparently email the notes to yourself - but I didn't read all the instructions for that option today.  Back on Family View the menu was slightly different offering a tree view, descendants, add note again, view notes again and return to the Individuals' list.  There was also a More option ... this was getting quite exciting ... More offered me Choose File, About DB, Settings (to change the text colours, I'd already done that), Online docs (opened the webpage with instructions) and Mail Developer (for contacting the developer) - quite comprehensive.

The only drawback is no images - not even one.  Ah, well you can't win 'em all.

Finally ...

GedStarPro - now I have left this until last as it is the one I've been using in a trial version since I got my tablet.  The first image in this blog (the dark blue one!) is of the individual display page for William Satchell Hutton, but how does it compare with the other apps on offer?

Firstly it is dependent on a conversion program running on a PC, unlike the others which all run directly from a Gedcom.  I'm not so bothered about this as that is exactly how Pocket Genealogist used to work - part of the process was to do with converting the images linked to my Family Historian program to fit on a phone - however the difference is that although GedStarPro also converts and copies across all my images it does so at such a small size that the census pages and most of the parish records are unreadable on my 7" tablet.  Every one of the apps I have tried so far stores the information on the tablet's own memory rather than on the SD card and when I did contact the very cooperative developer of GedStarPro to ask about this he quite candidly said that it was all to do with the sheer number of different devices that can use an app and how they all work differently.  In other words, this isn't going to change anytime soon.  The full size images for my Hall&Huttons tree come to half a Gb so they aren't really something I want to store on the tablet's working memory anyway.  Fine on the external SD card and in fact that is where I currently hold a copy of everything, just for reference.

William Satchell Hutton's family page on GedStarPro
The search on GedStarPro works well, from the list of individuals accessed from that People icon at the top of the screen I entered Hutton, W and it jumped me down the list to the beginning of my William Huttons.  Selecting him gives the screen above which displays vital events, birth, marriage and death including impressively, addresses as well as places.  Less detail for the children than Family Bee, just their birth year, but touch a name and the app jumps straight to their family page.  Note that a small image is displayed next to husband and wife, touch this and it opens a facility to browse the images attached to that person.
Image display facility on GedStarPro
You can move back and forth amongst all the images attached to that person, and where there is a note associated to the image that will be displayed as well.  Unfortunately as you can see above William's birth certificate is rather too small to read.  Photos of people are OK this small, but as a reference to documents it just doesn't work.  Clicking the X closes the facility returning you to the screen you just left.

Navigation back to the parents from a child is via the Parents' buttons on the left of the screen by each person and you can also swop spouses - a pop up menu appears and asks you to choose the next focus.  Where there is only one spouse that button is greyed rather than blue with a red border.

There are four main screens, you can access them through the couple icon at the top left or by swiping across the screen. Individual - which lists vital events, census entries, births of children, occupations and other events in chronological order (the individual display for William Satchell Hutton is the first example image in this blog post).  Touch any event and a series of other screens open one from another with additional details - the test 1861 census event led firstly to a page showing the principals in the event (in a census that was just William but on his marriage it shows him and his wife) with the address and place repeated - the clever bit being that this is linked to Google maps and should when touched show you the location in question.  It doesn't work with my tree because of the way I've stored the addresses - for example Bishopwearmouth, Dur (using Chapman County Codes).  Then there's a button for the source - this displays the full title of the census image as I entered in Ancestral Sources plus some codes against the label Surety.  There is full online documentation for this app, which explains the terminology, but I'm really just looking at usability today. 
Source Details for the 1861 census on GedStarPro
Then another button labelled Source Details opens the page shown above which is where the transcription of the census entry turns up along with a handy thumbnail link to the associated image - if only the final image size was bigger than a large postage stamp!

There is no quick way out of this series of source screens, you have to use the back button until you get to the individual screen again.  From there you can swipe through to the two diagram screens, the 3-generation ancestor diagram, from where you can jump to any of the people shown, and the 3-generation descendant diagram, the same. 
3-generation descendant diagram showing some photographs (GedStarPro)
Each of these diagrams does show a small thumbnail image against each name, which when they are photos of people is quite nice, but if the default image is a census return or certificate (because that is all you have for that person) then it's a bit pointless.

Look back at the top any of the four main screens, there are three icons - the People one gets you back to the index of individuals, the Favourites allows you to save names to a list for quick access and Lists gives you direct access to Sources, Repositories and Images from their own full listings - and also Research Tasks, which is not applicable to me as Family Historian doesn't support them.  You can't add a note to the program, however using the menu button, that's the little tower of three dots in the very top right, you can export a person's information to Catchnote or Evernote (should you have them installed on your device) where you can use all the functionality of those apps to edit the information, add a photo or a voice recording etc.  I haven't tried this yet, so I can't comment.

So at the end of all that which app did I decide to keep and/or pay for?  I bought GedStarPro and Family Bee in the end.  Each cost around £6.70 (converting $10 via Paypal or Google Play) and I am still hopeful that one day one of them will offer everything I want in a genealogy app.  Currently none of the apps I have looked at today do, but as one of the main reasons for buying a tablet rather than a new phone was to carry around my genealogy in an accessible manner I had to choose something.

To all the developers of the above programs - I'm sure I haven't mentioned all your features and some of them are not appropriate or applicable to my Gedcom or the way I use Family Historian.  I've tried to be fair and this is all just my opinion remember - for a free program ezGED Viewer wasn't bad at all, of the two I bought I think I like Family Bee a little better than GedStarPro, if only because, oddly, it doesn't have any pictures, so I don't get disappointed when I can't read them.  FamilyGTG needs work - truncating the names in the diagrams is a glaring error, but at least you can add a token photo of ancestors where you have one, just to make things a bit more interesting.

Please comment if you use any of these apps, or indeed can recommend any others.
Thanks for reading.


Unknown said...

I have found your blog helpful and fair. Thank you for sharing your work. JanieG

BarnsleyHistorian said...

Thank you for your kind comment.

carlos said...

Thank you for your insight on this very annoying problem. I was soo excited to have my tablet, the galaxy tab3 but so disappointed in the choice of genealogy apps. I am using familybee as the best of the rest and evernote for most snippet info. Come on all you programmers, a massive market is out there just waiting.