The following is the second in a series of reviews of all the genealogy applications for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.
You can carry your genealogy database with you wherever you take your iPhone or iPod Touch. I find that having my genealogy database with me at all times is very useful, whether I am looking at old records at the courthouse, talking with a newly found friend at a genealogy conference, or talking with a distant cousin. The iPhone weighs less than five ounces and yet holds detailed information about thousands of ancestors, siblings, descendants, and extended families.
FamViewer allows you to view genealogy database files on your iPhone. The program is a "file viewer." It allows you to carry your genealogy database in a pocket or purse and to use it to view all your genealogy information. It works in conjunction with all modern genealogy programs designed for desktop or laptop computers; you enter the information into the desktop/laptop genealogy program, export the data as a GEDCOM file, copy that file to the iPhone, and then import it into FamViewer. Because FamViewer works with GEDCOM files, the program will work in conjunction with any modern genealogy program for Macintosh, Windows, or Linux.
NOTE #1: For an explanation of GEDCOM files, see my earlier "GEDCOM Explained" article at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2008/08/gedcom-explaine.html.
NOTE #2: This article contains many images of screenshots showing FamViewer in operation. Double-click on any image to see a larger picture.
GEDCOM files can be copied to FamViewer on the iPhone via wi-fi wireless networking (if available) or downloaded to FamViewer from any web site or web server via either local wi-fi or by wide area 3G cellular networking. FamViewer will import the GEDCOM file and display its contents.
Once a GEDCOM file is downloaded and imported, you can view individuals, families, individual events and attributes, notes, and source citations. You can navigate the family tree with a touch. You can view an ancestor tree of up to eight generations for anyone in the database and navigate quickly to the family page for anyone in that tree.
I found FamViewer to be a snap to install and use. I went to the Apple App Store and searched for "genealogy." This listed all the genealogy programs available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I selected FamViewer, and it downloaded and installed itself immediately. I was up and running within a minute or so.
FamViewer ships with a database of John F. Kennedy's extended family. This makes for a good demo tool, allowing the user to become familiar with the program. I spent about five minutes looking at various screens that displayed the Kennedy family before I decided to load my own data.
Copying the GEDCOM file to the iPhone might be a simple task or, then again, it might be a bit complex. The differences depend upon what file transfer capabilities you have. I already own several web sites; so, I elected to copy the GEDCOM file from my desktop computer to a web site I own, then go to the iPhone and downloaded it from there. The entire process required two or three minutes.
I'd suggest using the "download from a web site" method if you own a web site and if you are comfortable transferring files with FTP or similar methods. Of course, not everyone has a web site available. I could suggest that everyone OUGHT to have a personal web site, but I'll leave that topic for another article.
If you do not have a web site available, you can copy the GEDCOM file across your in-home wi-fi wireless network. To do so, you have to first set up file sharing on the desktop or laptop computer that contains the GEDCOM file. The local computer could be running Windows, Macintosh, or Linux operating systems. You then use the iPhone to connect to that desktop or laptop, and you copy the GEDCOM file to the iPhone. Step-by-step instructions, complete with example screenshots, can be found on the FamViewer web site at http://www.astersoftware.biz/helppush.html. I found this to be a bit more complex but still within the capabilities of most computer-using genealogists. Whether you download your GEDCOM file from a web site you own or you copy files across your in-home wi-fi network, the result is the same: your GEDCOM file gets transferred to the iPhone and is then imported into FamViewer.
The size of the imported GEDCOM file is limited by the amount of memory available in the iPhone. I had no difficulties importing my GEDCOM file of about 3,000 individuals. Importing GEDCOM files that have several thousand individuals should take ten seconds or less. The largest file tested by the software producers has about 25,000 persons and that required about a minute to import.
I found that I could import multiple GEDCOM files and use them separately. For instance, if I am working on two separate families, I can have two separate (or more) databases and can switch between them in a second or two. In fact, I do have two databases on my iPhone right now: the first is the Kennedy family database that ships with the program as a demo and the second is the genealogy data of my own family. I can add a third or fourth database, if I wish. I can switch between databases within a second or two.
You can carry your genealogy database wherever you go, with or without a network connection. The only time you will need a network connection again is if you want to erase the FamViewer data and import a new GEDCOM file that you recently updated or import additional GEDCOM file(s). Luckily, that is easy to do.
I found that using FamViewer was easy and intuitive. In fact, Aster Software (the producers of FamViewer) have even created multimedia movies that illustrate the operation of FamViewer. The movies are on the Aster Software web site at http://www.astersoftware.biz/screencasts.html and you can view them on any Windows, or Macintosh or most any Linux computer. However, I found that I didn't need to watch the tutorials; the use of the program seems intuitive and logical at all times.
The program starts with a master screen that shows information about a couple in the center. This is called the “Family Page.” The example to the left shows John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. The date of marriage was shown above the couple's names and the names of their parents were shown below. At the bottom of the screen were the words, "4 Children" and (below that and off the screen) the names, birth dates, and birth places of the children were listed. I had to scroll down to see the detailed information about the children.
A marriage is not required. In cases where there is no marriage or the date of marriage is unknown, the marriage information is simply left blank. If there is an unknown spouse, the entire entry for one person near the center of the screen is left blank, as is the information about the parents of that person.
Displayed information about the couple on the screen included dates and places of birth and of death.
Touching the info for any person on the screen shifts that person's information to the center of the screen with spouse, parents and children displayed below. In short, the display is obvious and intuitive at all times. For examples of the displayed information, look at the screenshots at http://www.astersoftware.biz/screenshots.html.
Touching the "LIST" icon near the bottom of the screen switches to an alphabetical list of all the persons in the database. The alphabetical list looks a lot like the iPhone's address book, a good example to copy. You can touch the icon that looks like a magnifying glass to search the database, a great convenience if you have several thousand people on the list.
I previously downloaded and installed a competitive iPhone genealogy program called Shrubs. You can read my review of Shrubs at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2009/06/shrubs-a-genealogy-program-for-the-iphone.html.
Comparing FamViewer to Shrubs shows several major differences. Some of them are pluses but with at least one minus:
Plus: FamViewer stores and displays source citations and all text information, assuming that the information was contained in the originating GEDCOM file. Not only do you see all sorts of details about an individual, but FamViewer also will show where that information was found. Shrubs will not do that. The same is true of text notes. For some people in my database, I have extensive text notes that, if printed, would be five to ten pages long. FamViewer handles those text notes with no problems and displays the entire text notes. Shrubs does not.
Neither program can handle multimedia files. After all, there is only so much that you can squeeze into an iPhone.
Plus: FamViewer has an excellent pedigree chart that is visible for any individual in the database. It will display a true chart of up to eight generations rooted at the specified person. Double-tap on a name, or single tap on a name and tap the Open button, and FamViewer will return to that person's family page. The appearance of the tree view is different in portrait vs. landscape. I like the pedigree charts, especially if displayed in landscape mode! In contrast, Shrubs is purely text-based with no charts of any sort.
Minus: FamViewer is more expensive at $14.99, Shrubs is available for $9.99. Neither program has any free "try-it-before-you-buy-it" capabilities.
Plus and Minus: FamViewer's text screens are easier to read but mostly because not as much information is shown on any one screen. Shrubs crowds more information onto a screen, making for a "busier" screen but also providing more information. I consider that to be both a plus and a simultaneous minus, depending upon the user's preferences.
Like the other genealogy programs written for the iPhone and iPod Touch, FamViewer is a "read only" file viewer: you can view information on the screen, but you cannot enter new information while you are at the courthouse and later transfer the new information back to your desktop or laptop genealogy program.
If I was awarding stars, I'd award three stars to Shrubs and four stars to FamViewer. Both are competent genealogy viewing programs. However, FamViewer properly handles source citations and lengthy text notes. It also displays very useful pedigree charts. Those features are missing in Shrubs although I suspect they may appear in a future release. On the downside, FamViewer does cost an extra five dollars: $14.99 versus $9.99.
I don't think you will go wrong with either program.
For more information about FamViewer, go to http://www.astersoftware.biz. To purchase, download, and install FamViewer, go to the App Store.