Ulysses for Family History

If you are waiting until your research is done before you begin writing your family history, I’ve got news for you. Your research is never done! Do you find the idea of writing “THE FAMILY HISTORY” so intimidating that you just can’t get started? Me too. Fortunately I discovered blogging and started writing “little” stories about the people, places and things I already knew about along with those I discovered in my research. It didn’t take long before I had quite a collection. I needed a way to organize them and repurpose them into family history publishing projects.

I struggled with Scrivener for several years. It does a great job of organizing but it is such a complex application that I spend more time dealing with Scrivener than getting things written.

Then I discovered Ulysses [Mac – $44.99 iOS – $24.99],  the writing platform for Mac, iPad and iPhone. Ulysses makes it easy to organize and manage my collection of little family stories and watch them grow into a family history. This app offers all the tools I need to stay organized, yet the interface is so clean that there are few distractions when I write.

Ulysses editor on iPad
Ulysses editor on the iPad

Here is the editor panel as it appears with the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. When my external keyboard is attached (recommended), I have even more visible working area. The toolbar across the top of the keyboard is clean and simple, yet very functional. When using an external keyboard, the toolbar rests at the bottom of the screen.

Why is the toolbar so simple? It’s because Ulysses’ native format is plain text using the Markdown standard. Not only does this make it easier to export my writing to any number of formats (ePub, PDF, HTML and RTF), but everything I write in Ulysses is stored as “archival quality” text – my stories will still be readable many years from now regardless of the apps I’ll be using then.

Ulysses manages all my writing projects in one library. The library system means there are no files or folders to manage. I don’t have to open or save documents either. Just tap and start typing. My content is organized using groups, sub-groups, sheets and filters.

View of Ulysses on the iPad
Ulysses on the iPad

Here’s a look at Ulysses on the iPad. The platform is made of of three panels – the sidebar (left), sheets (center) and editor (right). It looks much the same on the Mac. A quick swipe of my finger moves the organization panels off the screen leaving me with just the editor and my story.

The highlighted item in the sidebar above is my Family Stories group. Each item displayed in the sheets panel is one of my little stories attached to that group. Tap any item in the sheets panel to display it in the editor panel on the right. In this example, I am using tags (you see them at the bottom of each item in the sheets panel) to organize my stories with filters. As you can see in the sidebar, I’ve set up filters for surnames, locations, topics and even those stories that still need photos added.

In “normal” writing projects, sub-groups would be a better organizational option than filters. They can be used to help develop a writing project as well as re-arranging sections when the need arises. My family history is not a normal project. There is no logical sequence here and in many cases a single story can fit into multiple niches. Rather than stashing multiple copies of a story into different groups, I just add another tag and the filters will keep track of them for me.

Easy . . . simple . . . elegant.

As my collection of stories grows, I’ll begin creating family history projects using them. Ulysses can export selected stories (sheets) to a number of formats: plain text, HTML, ePub, PDF and RTF. Although it’s quite possible to export a finished publication into ePub or PDF format from Ulysses, I also have the option to export it to RTF (rich text format) so it can be imported into other apps – Microsoft Publisher or Apple’s Pages for example – to create more complex layouts. Ulysses’s export features are quite impressive.

Select the group or filter to find the sheets you wish to export.

In the example below you see the sheets panel on the left with checkmarks to the left of each sheet. These are the sheets I want to export. Notice at the bottom of the sheets panel are commands to Move, Export or More (options) the selected sheets.

Select the sheets you want then tap the Export option at the bottom of the sheet panel.

I want to export these sheets so I tap the Export option at the bottom of the sheets panel.

Choose the format and style you wish to use, then send it to your platform of choice.

Here I can choose not only the format option I wish to export to, but I can also choose from several style options for each format. In this example I’m exporting to ePub format. Then I’ll tap Open In . . . and send my project on its way to an app like iBooks that supports ePub.

Ulysses is designed for large writing projects and the organizational elements make it the perfect platform for family historians building their family history one “little story” at a time. As your collection of little stories grows, you can arrange and rearrange them into all kinds of projects.

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