Documents – the Swiss Army Knife of iOS

One of the most useful apps on my iPad and iPhone is Documents [iOS – free] from Readdle. It can be used to read documents (PDF, Office, text, etc.) as well as books (PDF and epub) but it can also be used to listen to music, watch videos and browse photographs. And, it has some annotation capabilities – bookmark, highlight, underline and strike thru. But what makes it really interesting is its file management functionality. You can save and open files from email attachments, just about any cloud storage platform, and even download them from the Web using the built-in browser. Create folders and build your own file system right on your device.

iOS Search
Results of an iOS search on an iPhone.

The app has been updated to take advantage of the features included with iOS 9. Now you can use the iOS search function to find files stored in Documents. In this example, a search for “FTM” found an article I had saved to Documents.

Combine Documents with another Readdle app – PDF Expert [iOS – $9.99] – and you can fill in PDF forms, add notes and draw on PDF documents from any number of sources and then forward your annotated files just about anywhere. I was able to “fill in” a PDF form that wasn’t designed to be fillable by writing the information on the document using a stylus. PDF Expert then flattens the annotation layers into a standard PDF file that can be read by Adobe Acrobat. In just a couple of minutes the form was completed and emailed back, saving me from printing then snail-mailing a paper form. Do that a couple of times and you’ve paid for the app.

Documents provides tools that bridge the gaps between your desktop and your mobile devices and will quickly become one of the most useful apps on your iPad.

Meet Calibre

If you have a collection of ebooks, you need Calibre. Calibre is an open source library management tool designed specifically for ebooks. Not only can you use it to organize your library and keep track of your collection, but it can sync books with your reader devices and includes its own viewer to read books on your desktop. Calibre has an amazing conversion engine that can convert your ebooks to different formats. Do you have an ePub book you’d like to read on your Kindle reader? Calibre can make that happen. And, if you set up Calibre’s content server you will have access to your library from anywhere you can connect to the Internet.


Calibre is available for Windows, Mac and Linux and there’s even a portable version for Windows users that can be installed on a thumb drive so you can carry your library with you. There is no cost to use Calibre, but a donation to the developer will help insure it’s continued improvements.



Installation is easy and the first time you open Calibre, you will be walked through the welcome wizard to help you set up where you want your library to reside and identify the ereader devices you are using. Once that’s done, you’re ready to start adding books.

The Add Books button can be used to add one book or an entire directory of them. Calibre will look at the book’s metadata (title, author, publisher, etc.) and build the library record using that information. You can add additional details like ratings, tags and comments if you wish. For PDF articles and other items that don’t have metadata included internally, you can manually edit the index record. In the Calibre desktop view shown above, I’m only displaying the title and author. This display is totally customizable allowing you to select the columns you wish to display. The items in the left sidebar expand to allow you to quickly select books matching a specific criteria. I could expand the Authors item and select Agatha Christie to display just her books or, if I’ve used the calibre’s tags to identify publications related to my research, I could expand the Tags item and select just the books associated with a particular family or event.

If you are thinking that there aren’t that many books containing information about your family, consider that in Calibre’s view even a PDF document is considered an ebook. So, that 5-page family history a research cousin sent you can be indexed and managed in calibre as well as those genealogies and society journals you’ve been scanning. And, if that’s not enough, Calibre has an impressive facility to search both commercial and public domain sources to find books that match your criteria. So, if you’re looking for a regimental, county or city history, calibre can help you find it.


This is just a taste of the things Calibre can do for you. We haven’t even touched the device management, format conversions or news service features – yet. There’s a lot more Calibre goodness to come so stay tuned.

Book Building

eBook building just got a whole lot easier with the release of two very interesting apps. Book Creator [$6.99 – iPad] makes it easy to build very graphical books right on your iPad which can then be published through the iBookstore. The few minutes I’ve spent with it so far shows it has great potential for building family story books for young and old alike. The other option – Legend Maker [$49.99 – Mac] – offers even more potential. This is a serious book-building tool that can convert your manuscript to both ePub and Kindle’s Mobi formats. Both formats can contain images and the ePub version can even contain audio and video.

This weekend’s plans are to dig into both apps to see what they can do and how useful they will be for family historians. I can’t wait to get started!