Saturday, 12 January 2013

Using my iPad for client research

I don't normally do techhy things on this blog, but a few people expressed an interest in a tweet I made a few days ago about some research I was planning to do at the Glasgow Genealogy Centre, in which I mentioned that I was intending to road test my iPad as a possible replacement for my laptop when doing client research.

I suspect I am not alone with a lot of iPad owners in that although I own one, I tend to use it mainly for checking up emails and social networking sites, as a Kindle and e-book reader, a mapreader (Google Maps, not the horrendous Apple replacement!) and as an entertainment platform, primarily for Netflix and some news channels. One of the nastiest things about the device is the screen based keypad - it's not badly designed, it's just that you are effectively tapping a glass screen to input anything. There are also other limitations with the on board keypad that I have yet to learn how to overcome - simple things like how to select text with something like a URL to activate it as a hyperlink (you may have noted some posts on this blog where the links are not active - they were written on the hop with the iPad, and perhaps updated a few hours later to activate the links from my PC). As such, I've usually avoided using iPad programmes like Evernote and the carrying out of any form of word processing on it.

However, another disadvantage when going to an archive or library to do research is having to lug around a laptop, when the iPad itself is about a quarter of the weight. In truth I have often carried around both - the laptop for word processing, and the iPad for internet access via 3G (particularly handy for some repositories such as the National Records of Scotland, which unbelievably still does not offer WiFi). So I decided to try and do something about it.

To prepare for yesterday's research outing, I purchased a Bluetooth keyboard for use with my iPad, with the intention of trying to use that for inputting my data, and an app called Office2HD, which essentially allows you to create documents and save them in a Microsoft Word format. Bluetooth is not some form of gum disease inflicted dental affliction, but something with a high midichlorian count that instead allows you to connect up to a device wirelessly to a range of about 10 metres. The keyboard I purchased was the cheapest I could find at £9.99 from Amazon, whilst Office2HD was just £5.49.

The client work I had to do yesterday involved trying to research a brick wall for a particular ancestor, requiring use of records in the Glasgow Genealogy Centre, the Mitchell Library's genealogy suite (both on the 3rd floor) and the Glasgow City Archives poor law records on the 2nd floor of the building, and there was a fair amount of going to and fro between the various repositories. Normally this involves having to awkwardly unplug the laptop at various stages, not easy in the GGC as the plugs are located on the floor under a circle of tables, and in the centre! With the iPad it was an absolute doddle - it was a simple case each time I wanted to move to another room to simply pick up both iPad and keyboard and walk off, without any hassle. In terms of being able to key in the information being found it was incredibly straightforward. The Bluetooth keyboard does allow me to stand up my iPad within a dedicated slot in the board, but I preferred to keep it separate for this exercise.

I had wondered if the smaller keyboard size would be an issue, it absolutely was not, and made such a difference in two areas - one being the ability to highlight text, and the other to avoid the device's incessant desire to constantly use predictive text. With a laptop I normally back up frequently through the day when doing research by saving regularly onto a USB thumb drive - the equivalent way I did this on the iPad was to just email the document to my home account every hour (so I had five or six emails when I got home!). When later opened on my laptop and my PC, it read the submission as a perfect Word file, with only some minor formatting to be corrected.

Did I have any issues at all? Yes - the Bluetooth keyboard does not have a working hashtag symbol (#), which was a minor hassle when tweeting at a few points during the day! But the real joy was when travelling to Glasgow by train, I was able to blog four news items yesterday with fully active URL links and in half the time it normally takes to do so.

I will still be using both laptop and iPad at various points, but was so impressed with my experience yesterday using the iPad alone that there will be days when I am now confident enough to just use that as my main device and leave the laptop at home. I will be buying another keyboard, one that is integrated into a leather cover for the iPad itself (so combining what I currently have in one handy holder), and giving the test keyboard to my son for his iPod, which it equally works well with.

Another handy gizmo I recently purchased, which might be of interest, is one that plugs into the iPad charger socket and allows you to plug in memory cards from various cameras. The inbuilt iPad camera is, quite frankly, rubbish, and so I only use it in emergencies. I have on a few times though taken a pic with my regular digital camera and removed the memory card (or connected by USB) to the wee gizmo, and have instantly been able to upload images to the iPad's Gallery - a useful back up, but also allowing me to instantly tweet or share on Facebook at a considerably improved resolution. It only cost £2.75 - see

Enough tech nonsense from me...!


Pre-order my new book, Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet, through Pen and Sword (30 April 2013), or purchase early at Who Do You Think You Are Live 2013 in London. For my other genealogy books, please visit; whilst for my online Scottish based genealogy courses please visit the Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd site.


  1. Give Evernote a try and it will save you emailing your docs back to yourself. You should be able to drag and drop Word documents etc into Evernote notebooks too seeing as you have software on your iPad to support editing Word docs. I use it on my iPad, Smart phone and PC and they all synchronise with each other. It also means I always have my research notes handy wherever I am. Skitch for Evernote is really handy for the iPad too. Especially if you are using it for taking photos in cemeteries etc.

    Give it a try. I love it!

    One thing I cannot do on an iPad is comment on this blogpost! I could not type in the comment box at all and had to resort to walking downstairs to my PC! I needed to go and put the kettle on anyhow though. :-)

  2. Same here Chris, I've not got Ipad or indeed I-anything but I am a firm convert to Evernote. Brilliant for copying and pasting stuff you find on the net. Threeps put me on to it.

  3. Lisa Louise Cooke (of Genealogy Gems podcast fame) has written an excellent book about using your iPad for genealogy - downloadable as an ebook too! As for useful apps - there is Dropbox (I use it constantly to transfer stuff between ipad and laptop - and phone - and it is backed up to the "cloud". There is CloudOn which allows to edit Microsoft progs such as Word and Excel documents that are in Dropbox. I could go on ...!

  4. Lisa Louise Cooke is doing a talk at WDYTYA on how to Turn Your iPad into a Family History Powerhouse!