Evernote and everyday genealogy

I hate paper.

Paper requires time to organize.

Drawers to hold it.

Folders to straighten it.

Paper is messy.

Paper cannot be stored in the “cloud.”

Paper is inefficient.

I have a LOT of paper!

Having been active in researching my family history over the last twenty years, I’ve amassed a wealth of paper.  In the “olden days,” a trip to the library typically resulted in paper.  I’d come home and dutifully file photocopies of book pages and research in folders that were created for each couple in my family.  I had one for my grand parents, another for their parents, another for their siblings, etc., etc., etc.   My home office is equipped with two filing cabinets to hold twenty years worth of research.  However,  thanks to Evernote, bit by bit, the papers in those cabinets are slowly decreasing.

Evernote is truly one of my favorite applications.  It allows you to take notes, save attached files, synchronize your files across computers, and access the information online via your PC/Mac, smart phone or tablet.  In short, Evernote replaces paper documents with electronic records.  It is simplifying my life.

Evernote notebooks

Evernote “Notebooks”

My love affair with Evernote began about nine months ago.  I was seeking a means to organize my professional life.  Splitting my time between my company’s two branch offices, I needed a means of ensuring that I always had access to meeting minutes, program information, notes for new projects, etc.

Evernote quickly became a very good friend, with electronic notebooks for each department and new project I was working on.   I installed Evernote’s application on my laptop, and utilized the program’s web-based application from my desktop at work.  My iPad and iPhone were soon the recipients of Evernote’s mobile apps, making it convenient to access my files at any time, from anywhere.   As often as possible, I encourage co-workers to send me electronic copies of documents, which I forward via email to my Evernote account for future reference.  When given paper handouts instead, I scan them in when the meeting is concluded.  Occasionally I’ll keep important papers, but generally I find there’s no need – I toss them into the shredder as I can reference the electronic, scanned version instead, any time I need to.

It didn’t take long before I realized Evernote could also be an enormous help to me in other areas too.   Like helping me empty out those two filing cabinets full of genealogical research in my home office!  (Okay, that process kinda started when I switched to using RootsMagic a couple of years ago…but that’s a topic for another post, another day…)

While RootsMagic allows me to attach various documents to those in my database, I was still overwhelmed with all of those copies of book pages I’d made, and would often reference when working on a specific family line.  Take, for example, the papers in the folder for Thomas Wasgatt and Margaret Davis, my many-times great grandparents.  Instead of pulling out paper copies from my filing cabinet, I can now easily see what research I have on him by looking in the Wasgatt folder in Evernote.

Wasgatt Notebook in Evernote

Wasgatt Notebook in Evernote

Thomas was mentioned in several books, including the Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire, Old Hancock County Families, Maine Families in 1790, and more.  Now I only need to click on the title, in Evernote, and then open the scanned pages from the books which are now attached to the individual notes shown above.

Not only is Evernote helping me to empty the filing cabinets of old research, it’s also helping me organize what I’m working on today.  For example, when I go online to order microfilm through FamilySearch, I save the confirmation email with the details of the film order in notebooks which I’ve organized by state.  The films I ordered for vital records in Franklin county, Vermont are saved in a notebook titled, “Vermont.”  When I go to the Family History Center, I have the information handy, including the film number and title, and can reference it from a computer, my iPhone or iPad.

Further, Evernote lets me record the results of my research after I view those microfilms.  In the past, I kept very detailed paper notes when I’d go to the library, so I’d know what books or microfilm I’d researched, and had a record of the results of those searches.  The issue with that has always been finding the day and place of the research, as it was kept in a spiral bound notebook.  Now, however, I have one electronic notebook titled “Research Folder”, and keep a note for each book or microfilm viewed, along with the date researched, and the results.

FHC research log

Research Log for FHC 10/13/11

Evernote truly became indispensable on my research trip to New England last summer.  It complemented my digital camera, which I used to photograph documents and pages of books.   As I reviewed various files and documents, I recorded the results in Evernote, and included the numbers of any photographed pages along side my research results.

Farmington, Maine research

Research Log with photograph numbers recorded

When I returned to my hotel room each evening, I uploaded the photographed pages/documents to my laptop, which syncs with SugarSync, an online, cloud-based backup service.   To collaborate with cousins, I emailed them notes from Evernote, and then gave them permission to access the photographs in SugarSync.  With the Evernote details, they could easily identify which photos in SugarSync were of value and download those specific images only.

Evernote has really made me rethink how I store information – both at work and at home.   Like most people, I’m short on time, and am always looking for ways to increase efficiencies and make life simpler.  I’m sure there are plenty more ways to use Evernote that I’ve yet to discover – I’ve probably only scratched the surface.   It is truly a fabulous application, and best of all, it’s free.  :-)


6 responses to “Evernote and everyday genealogy

  • Anne Dalton

    Hello Laurie,
    My cousin just sent me the link to your blog and I’ve enjoyed reading your posts very much. I wanted to introduce myself, I live on Mt. Desert Island my husband ( direct descendent of Job Stanwood) and I moved there 20 years ago and had not learned until 3 years ago that his grandmother’s Stanwood family had been some of the original settlers of our island so this was very special news to us. Let us know if you’re ever back in the area.
    Anne Dalton

    • Laurie Mahieu

      Great to hear from you Anne! How absolutely incredible that you live on MDI! To say I’m jealous is an understatement. We will actually be back at our condo in Southwest Harbor the last week of May – can’t wait! Would love to meet up with you, and in the meantime, learn more about your husband’s family! Do you know from which of Job’s children your husband is descended?

  • Becky Jamison

    Thank you so much for your great information. I have Evernote and SugarSync but just haven’t gotten in the groove of using Evernote as I should. Your post will help me a lot. I’ll be at RootsTech in Feb too. Maybe we’ll meet!

    • Laurie Mahieu

      Thanks, Becky. I use Evernote, SugarSync and ToodleDo daily – not sure how I survived before them! On another note, I’ve visited your Glory and Grace blog and it’s very nice! Enjoy how you’ve brought out all of your research! Would be fun to meet at Roots Tech…hope to see you there.

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