I like to carry my entire genealogy database with me at all times, and now I can do so with nothing more than my cell phone. My database is sitting inside my iPhone, the cell phone from Apple. If I owned an iPod Touch, I could use the same program on it. Any time I want to look at something in my genealogy database, I can grab the iPhone, enter a few "clicks" with my finger, and find what I want within seconds.
I find that having my database with me at all times is a great convenience when at a library, a courthouse, or even at a local genealogy society meeting or a genealogy conference. Many times I've run across an ancestor that I wasn't researching at the moment and knew that we were related but couldn't remember the connection. Perhaps I met someone else who is researching the same family or the same county, and I wanted to compare notes. I've found that having all the info at my fingertips lets me do a quick query and know for certain if "John Doe" is really my John Doe or someone else's.
Shrubs is a stand-alone program for the iPhone or the iPod Touch. As such, I can roam the records or search the stacks with cell phone in hand, free of any other computing device, let alone binders full of paper. Unlike some of the other genealogy applications available for these tiny computers, Shrubs does not require any specific genealogy program on your desktop or laptop computer, although you do need to have some sort of genealogy program. Shrubs imports a GEDCOM file that can be created with any modern genealogy program, be it Windows, Macintosh or a Linux program. Shrubs doesn't care where the file comes from. The GEDCOM file must be stored either on a web site or in a computer that your iPhone can reach via the wireless wi-fi network.
NOTE: For information about GEDCOM files, see my earlier article, GEDCOM Explained, at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2008/08/gedcom-explaine.html.
Shrubs is one of the three iPhone genealogy programs that I know of that will work for Windows users. (The other two are FamViewer and GedView.) Other genealogy programs for the iPhone or iPod Touch only work with specific Macintosh genealogy programs on the desktop or laptop system and will not import GEDCOM files.
Downloading and installing Shrubs is a snap. If you have ever downloaded and installed any application from the Apple App Store, you already know how to do it. Simply use the iPhone or iPod Touch as usual, touch "App Store," search for "genealogy" or "Shrubs,” and then touch DOWNLOAD. Wait a few seconds, and the new program will be installed and made operational with no further human intervention. I wish that all software was this simple to install!
I had no problems importing my GEDCOM file of about 3,000 people. The process was easy, quick, and no frills. The program will import somewhat larger GEDCOM files without a problem. Shrubs does have a file size limitation, however: the GEDCOM file cannot exceed 4 megabytes. As mentioned earlier, the other limitation is the method of importing: the program needs either a wi-fi connection to your computer or a web address where you have stored your GEDCOM file.
Shrubs displays trees in a format that looks a bit like a family group sheet. Double click on any screenshot in this article for an example. If you turn the iPhone sideways, the display switches from portrait to landscape mode.
You can use the SEARCH function to search for a person's first, middle or last name. You cannot search for a location, however.
Shrubs allows you to designate one individual in your database as your "favorite." It might be you if you want to have yourself as a known starting place. Then again, you might designate the ancestor you are researching today as your "favorite." The advantage of a "favorite" is you can return to that individual instantly by pressing the star icon near the upper left corner. You can designate a new “favorite” person at any time within seconds.
Shrubs does have a significant shortcoming, in my opinion. The program imports the GEDCOM data but throws away the text notes. I have seen other genealogy programs that preserve the notes. Shrubs allows you to find and search for the names, birth dates, death dates, marriage dates, locations, and more; but, if you have extensive text notes, that information will not transfer to the iPhone in the data import process. I suppose that allows the user to store information about more people in a small amount of storage space, such as is found on many iPhones. However, my iPhone 3G S has 32 gigabytes of storage, and most of that space is still available. I do wish the program would store text notes. It might be an option that the user selects during the import process.
I suppose the loss of text notes is not a big loss for a "read only" device that is used only for quick references. After all, your primary database remains safe and secure, with all the information you have entered, on your desktop or laptop computer. Still, I would really like to see those text notes.
On the plus side, Shrubs does preserve and display citations, albeit in a somewhat abbreviated format. Here again, there will likely be times when I would love to see complete citations; however, a shortened citation is certainly better than none.
Another shortcoming is that Shrubs does not understand all the GEDCOM tags. To be sure, it imports birth, death, marriage, christening, burial, and other common data fields properly. However, if your GEDCOM file contains tags such as "enlisted" or "discharged" or "canonized" or "executed" (don't ask about my family!), the data for those tags as shown in Shrubs will simply say, ""other" and then will list the date and location without defining what the “Other” event is. I find that to be annoying, although not necessarily a show stopper.
Shrubs is primarily a "read only" device. I might call it a "GEDCOM viewer" or a "GEDCOM importer." Once you import your data, you can search it and read it quickly. You cannot update information on the iPhone and then transfer it back to your desktop computer later.
To be sure, Shrubs does allow you to enter text notes. Separate text notes can be attached to any person. I have used the text notes to create a "to do" list for the next time I visit a particular archive: "Look for land records for John Smith." However, those notes remain only in the iPhone; they do not transfer back to the desktop computer. Admittedly, most other genealogy programs designed for handhelds do the same, but a couple do have two-way communications.
Shrubs should work on any iPhone or iPod Touch that uses version 2.2.1 or later of the operating system. I tested it on an iPhone 3G S running version 3.0 of the operating system. Shrubs will need a network connection (2G, 3G, or wi-fi) when importing data. However, that is a one-time requirement, and the imported data is then stored in the iPhone's (or iPod Touch's) memory and is always available to you within seconds. You can go to a library or courthouse basement that has no wireless connectivity at all and still use Shrubs effectively.
The only time you will need a network connection again is if you want to erase the Shrubs data and import a new GEDCOM file that you recently updated. Luckily, that is easy to do: touch the trashcan icon to throw away the present data, then touch IMPORT to repeat the process you used the first time to import data.
All in all, I am pleased with Shrubs. I do wish it did a bit more, but for the purchase price of $9.99, I don't think I will complain. After all, that is a lot cheaper than buying three-ring binders and paper to carry the same amount of information! Of course, the iPhone also slips into a pocket or purse, unlike three-ring binders.
Shrubs works in either English or French. To learn more about Shrubs, go to http://software.benoitbousquet.com/view.php?app=shrubs. To download the program, use your iPhone or iPod Touch and go to the App Store. Search for “shrubs” or for “genealogy.”
In the near future, I will publish an article that describes all the choices you have for storing your genealogy on an iPhone. If the limitations of this program concern you, stay tuned for more on this topic!