Genealogy Apps Part 2: Reunion for iPhone – The Manifesto

Originally posted on 6 August 2009 on iPhonespaz.com.

In the previous review of Genealogy applications, we looked at applications that are stand-alone GEDCOM viewers. As we found, these were helpful for a quick, nitty-gritty search when on-location for hard-copy genealogy research. However, they did not (for the most part) allow genealogists or family historians make changes to their ancestors directly in the apps. There were some notes features, but that was the extend of their ability.

iPhonespazzes who happened to be Windows users have no other option but to use GEDCOM viewers. None of the Windows-based genealogy applications have produced a companion iPhone app. Keep on them, iPhonespazzes, eventually they’ll have to listen to the masses!

Software Linked Apps

Originally, I was going to write this review like I did the GEDCOM Viewer review and lump all the apps into one gigantic review. But then I realized I had quite a bit more to say about each of these apps. So, in order to avoid the risk of information overload, I’ll split this one up and discuss each app individually. But first a quick little bit about these apps in general.

The benefit of an iPhone application that is linked to desktop software is that information can be synced between the desktop and the iPhone, giving the user more control and a wider feature set. Rather than lugging your laptop along on research trips, the footprint of your research tools are greatly diminished. Suddenly, what began as an ordeal complete with bags and bags of items, you only have to remember one thing! And who are we kidding, if you’re an iPhonespaz you’re not going to forget your iPhone. And let me be perfectly clear, since these are not VIEWER apps, but actually fully functional apps you can sync your information between your iPhone and your desktop. That means you can make changes to the stuff in your iPhone and then sync it up to your computer!!! YES!!!! This is possible!!!! Now let’s get right to it.

LeisterPro Reunion for iPhone

First, I gotta say that these guys have amazing customer service. When I started this review I had the original release of their app but I had already upgraded to iPhone 3.0 (I mean, who didn’t rush out and upgrade the moment it was released with all those cool new features?). But I immediately ran into problems. When I was trying to take screenshots of their software to share with you guys I kept having issues with crashing. So I sent a quick email to their Reunion iPhone support team and within minutes I received a response!! They’d been working on the 3.0 compatibilty upgrade, but Apple had yet to release it on the App Store (we all know how that can be). But in order for me to finish my review in a timely manner, they were so kind as to offer several different solutions for me. I ended up receiving a developer’s version so that I could continue my testing and get everything out to you guys. It was simple to install and they kept in close contact with me the whole way. And I’m proud to announce that the upgrade is available on the App Store now, so if you’re so compelled to go out and purchase it and you’ve upgraded to 3.0 you can rest assured that you won’t have any compatibility issues.

Right off the bat, before I even get into the features I’m gonna give them four stars for customer service!

I should mention that I’m completely addicted to Reunion 9 for the Mac. I love it, love it, love it. And I waited and waited and waited for the iPhone version to come out.

Clearly it pays to be patient, because their iPhone app is just jam-packed with features! LeisterPro finally released their iPhone version that works with Reunion 9.09 and later. LeisterPro Reunion for iPhone [iTunes link] retails for a whopping $14.99. And yes, I kind of feel like that’s an exorbitant amount for an app. If I wasn’t so attached to my Reunion software I might have passed it up because of the price. But because I’m so attached to their desktop software, the moment I received my email from LeisterPro I ran out and purchased it.

And was I disappointed? Not in the least! The Reunion iPhone interface looks quite a bit like the desktop application, a pseudo-family group sheet view that begins with your home person. On the outside it looks like a watered-down version of the desktop app, but click the wrench in the top right corner and you’ll find that Reunion iPhone isn’t at all watered down.

The “Wrench” Menu

From that little “wrench” menu you have the ability to sync with your desktop program, search for family members, access your family tree bookmarks (people within your family), see your treetops, view sources, and more.

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Options in the Wrench Menu
Use your finger to drag across and see everyone in the overview The Master List of your family tree Search within the Master List A handy tool to keep your most viewed family members at your fingertips See the Canopy according to your designated Home Person

I simply can’t go into a full scale tutorial for every single feature of this app because we’d be here from here until eternity. And while I’d love to think that you’re as interested in this app as I am, I’m sure you’ve got other things to do… like darn socks and remove squids from your manifolds. Anyway, I would like to touch on some highlights of some of those features I just showed you from the “Wrench” menu.

First, I’m floored by how much they’ve packed into that little menu. Second, I find it slightly annoying that when I finish with something in the Wrench Menu and I tap back, I am taken back to my Family Group Sheet screen and not back to the menu. I think it’s a workflow issue for me, but I often have several things I want to do under that menu and I feel like intuitively it would be nice to return back to the menu I started from.

I like the overview feature, but I think it could be improved upon. I think that this is an excellent place that Leisterpro could use the iPhone’s inherent “pinch” feature so that you can view more on your screen at one time. Instead, with the current version, you are only able to scroll back and forth and to a certain extent up and down.

I also really like the Bookmark feature, I use it quite a bit in my desktop application. But (in both versions) I wish that there was a way to remove individuals from bookmarks. It seems like once you stick them in there they stay for all eternity. Often I just want to put someone in there for a short period of time while I’m researching them, and then I don’t ever need to quickly access them again.

The Treetop function is fantastic quick little overview of how far up the family tree goes… according to the specified “Home” person/family. You do have a little bit of wiggle room, because the app lets you choose the Treetops for either the husband or the wife from the home card.

Syncing with your desktop software

LeisterPro Reunion syncs both ways with its iPhone counterpart. Which means, if you’re out doing genealogy on the fly you can enter some info into your iPhone tree and the come home later and sync with your desktop. Both programs use wifi syncing, so you have to be connected to the same wifi network as your desktop application before you can transfer the data. Unfortunately, the data transfer from desktop to iPhone can take awhile if you enable all the features (i.e., you add all the photos stored, all the sources, all the people in your tree, etc.), I clocked my last upload at 18 minutes (*gasp*)!!!! But, if you know that you want to take everything with you it’s just a matter planning ahead to give yourself enough time to sync up before you head out for some research.

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Reunion for iPhone uses Bonjour over WiFi to sync
Sweet little progress bar so you can follow along TaDa!! Sync finished!

Here’s a video (yes, I said video) screenshot of what it looks like on your desktop while your Reunion data is uploading to your iPhone. And because it took 18 minutes the last time I did it, I thought it was only appropriate to use the Jeopardy music. Don’t worry, it’s not actually 18 minutes long… I cut to the good stuff.

Massive amounts of data!

I am just amazed at the amount of information that Reunion for iPhone stores. It’s incredible. All my individuals have all the same info as on the desktop (vital stats, marriage info, children, pictures, sources)! And I can edit them all!! What’s even better is that I’ve begun to get into the logs. At first I wasn’t sure how to use them, but it’s a terrific way to add on the fly when and where I’ve been to research, what I looked up, what sources panned out, and which fell flat. And since it’s all stored in one easy to get to location I can quickly go back and see what I’ve done before so I don’t repeat my research! I can also plan for future research trips. And with the ability to sync back and forth between the iPhone and the desktop software it’s a breeze! Especially for those research locations that don’t have a continual power source for my laptop.

These are screen shots of everything you can do from the main screen / individual screen. It’s just amazing how much there is!

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The Family Group Sheet (FGS) - the start of everything
Tap the bar with marriage information and you get details about the family Tap an individual on the FGS will bring up their individual details Scroll down to see more information Tap any event on the individual details to bring up event information Tap previous or next to scroll through the events without leaving the detail screen
Tap edit on the individual screen allows you to change info and ADD NEW info! Scroll all the way to the bottom of the edit individual window and you can delete unwanted people - but not in real life! Flags are a good way of tagging people! Tap the Flags bar and you can see all the flags attached to an individual Tapping a picture brings up the photo view windowAt the very bottom of the individual screen (un-edit version) you can add people to bookmarks by tapping the Add to Bookmarks button

Source Citations, The Lifeblood of Genealogy

So far, I haven’t found an app that does this better than Reunion. I’ll admit, Reunion’s desktop app does have some pitfalls where source citations are concerned (including the very controversial topic of whether or not genealogists should subscribe to a particular style of citations), however their decision to integrate citations into their iPhone app was pure genius!

On any event or fact screen that you attached a citation to, you can view (and edit) the citation information! If you used one of Reunion’s predefined templates then the information will appear in the source fields with the source type. If you chose to do freeform citations then you’ll just see a block of text displaying what you typed in originally.

It’s simple to add a citation too! If you’re using Reunion while you’re out researching you can add citations on the fly either directly to an event or via the “wrench menu” under “Sources.”

These are screen shots of how Reunion for iPhone does Citations.

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The Citation appears on the Events detail page
Tapping the Citation brings up a list of citations for that record. In the Citation detail window you can see all the information about the source citation. Tapping the Citation brings up a list of citations for that record. You can edit any of these details by tapping Edit in the top bar Here's a free-form citation. Editing this will allow you to change the text in the text box. Of course you can always view your entire list of citations by tapping Sources in the wrench menu.

That Sums it Up!

There are tons of more features on Reunion… really there are. But in the interest of not making your eyes bleed from having to stare at a computer screen for the next millennium while I review each one, I’ll stop my gushing here. I simply love, love, LOVE this app. There isn’t a whole lot more that I would ask for (maybe faster uploading times on the initial upload). If you’re passionate about genealogy and you’re a Mac user with an iPhone it would be an absolute SIN if you didn’t have this app in your library!

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