Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Evernote Was Made For Genealogy, Part 2

[ATTN:  This article was originally published on 5 May 2014. It has now been moved here from the old blog host and it will require updating soon.]

In the first post I described what Evernote is and what types of notes we might create for genealogy.
What I didn't say in that first post requires a post of its own. If you aren't already keeping a research plan and research log in some sort of research workbook (physical or virtual), it is time to do so. And the research workbook is why Evernote was made for genealogy.

I became a genealogist in 1980 because of a high school project, a family tree book filled out by my maternal grandmother, and a trip taken by my Aunt Daisy to visit all the relatives in Indiana and Virginia. My first research notes were copies of family group sheets and pedigree charts that she had filled out and had made copies for me. As she started talking about the people she met I made notes in the margins and on the backs of the papers. As I moved on in my genealogical learning process I started my own 3-ring binders for each surname to store those sheets and to insert new pages with notes and documents. When I finally had space for large filing cabinets I was able to keep everything in hanging files and folders instead of the binders. When I started to visit libraries and archives, and when I went on a trip to visit extended family, I began to use individual steno notepads for each surname I was researching. By 1988 my Dad had purchased a computer and a copy of the first version of Family Tree Maker for DOS for me to use. I went to his house to load all of my family information into the software. By the time I got my own computer I moved my database over and started keeping my research notes in Word documents. As I upgraded through new versions of FTM and then on to Generations, The Master Genealogist, and RootsMagic, I also kept research notes in the miscellaneous or notes fields within the software. Several years ago I purchased a copy of MS Office Student which included OneNote, a program similar to Evernote. So, I played with it for research notes as well. For the last 5 years I have been extensively using Evernote as my genealogy research notebook.

That recap tells you that I've done exactly what most of you have done. In 34 years I've accumulated: paper, forms, photocopies, tablets, documents, post-it notes, letters, scraps of papers, envelopes, photos, conference/seminar notes, business cards, flyers, pamphlets, and numerous electronic notes and digital files stored on hard drives, CDs, flash drives, and on the cloud. Everything I need for my research is scattered across more than 3 decades of genealogical educational growth and technological advances. I need to bring everything into one place, cull out the stuff I no longer need, and better organize the stuff I need to keep. Computers and software should make our research easier. This is where Evernote works for me.

  1. I can scan all those scraps of paper and place them in Evernote. The scraps are now all in one place and they all become searchable.
  2. I can keep research notes in folders by surname, just as I did with tablets and notebooks. But now those notes are searchable across all notebooks at one time. So, wherever there is a person that appears in more than one family the search will find them.
  3. I can have more than one type of media contained in one research note. For example: a selection of a web page clipped into a note, marked up with Evernote webclipper tools, and typed notes above/below that clipping that explain why I made the clip, what I intend to do with the clip, and how it applies to whatever I'm doing. Another example: an image and a PDF file can be stored in the same note together, along with typed notes or handwritten markup in the note. I could have a scanned image of an obituary and I can add personal notations and transcribe that obituary in the same note. This would be helpful whenever the scan of the image isn't the best quality. Here's an example of a U.S. census record found on Ancestry.com. I clipped the text from the search results on the site into a note. Then I clipped the original census image into the same note:  http://goo.gl/i7tP94. In the old days we might have printed a page with each and put them together into a sleeve protector in a notebook. Now they are in digital format and searchable.
  4. Having my seminar notes in Evernote along with my research notes means that I find new resources to use in my research. For example, if I do a search on Virginia or Indiana or Dodge County, Wisconsin up pops my research notes for ancestors from those areas along with those notes I took at a recent genealogy conference about how to do research in those areas.
  5. Having my research notes all in Evernote means I can access them anytime and anywhere. I don't have to lug that heavy notebook or multiple tablets with me anymore. And how practical is it to haul around a large 4-drawer filing cabinet with you? I have my notes with me on my phone, my iPad, my Chromebook, and my laptop. And because Evernote is also available on the web I can access it from any library and even when I'm visiting a friend's house.
Recently, while giving my lecture on using Evernote I talked about all of the above. A gentleman in the audience asked me why I would bother keeping all of this information in Evernote. Why not just put it all in my genealogy software program? First, we gather data from numerous sources. We may need to evaluate all of those sources and come to a decision about the evidence contained within. That can take time. I don't enter anything into my genealogy database until I'm comfortable with the data and the research and reasoning behind using it. Also, the Notes or Miscellaneous fields in genealogy software programs generally have a size limit. You may not be able to add large chunks of text or attached files, depending on the program. Therefore, Evernote holds all my research notes, while the database holds my research conclusions with source citations.

If you plan on using Evernote to hold all of your research notes and you have a lot of existing files you may or may not want to bring them all into Evernote right away. It depends on the quantity and the quality of the notes. For example, I have some notes from very early on that I know aren't helpful based on my experience today. That is the quality issue. The quantity issue depends on your Evernote account:
  • Both the free version and the premium version have unlimited storage. So all of your notes and files can be stored within--eventually.
  • The free version has a monthly upload allowance up to 60 MB
  • The paid version has a monthly upload allowance up to 1 GB
  • The free version file size for a single note is up to 25 MB
  • The paid version file size for a single note is up to 100 MB
During initial setup you might bring in notes slowly to accommodate the monthly upload allowance. If you store files on a cloud service such as Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, or Microsoft SkyDrive, you can set up links to those files within a note in Evernote. You are making a table of contents via links/bookmarks to your cloud files. You could even do these in individual notes within each of the surname notebooks. Doing this means you still bring your research focus into Evernote and individuals files can be moved into or copied into Evernote later.

Evernote for Every Genealogist
Copyright © 2014 Cyndi Ingle. All Rights Reserved.


Robin said...

Thanks for this post. I have Evernote but never used it, but I am beginning to see how useful it can be.

Anna Matthews said...

I'm just starting to use Evernote. This is very helpful, thank you!