Posted in Digitizing your files, Research tips

6 ways to simplify your digital genealogy life


My digital genealogy life sometimes feels out of control.  Know what I mean? In a single online research session I can download more digitized documents than I would bring home in a whole week of library research. I can connect my digital camera and dump hundreds of digital photos onto my laptop in no time at all.  When my hard drive began to look like my virtual hall closet, I knew I needed to do a little straightening up.

Here are six things that have helped me simplify my digital genealogy life (the hall closet will have to wait!):

1. Establish a file-naming convention

I’m talking here about your digital files – you know, what you name the documents and images you save on your computer. Establish a file-naming convention for yourself and put it on a sticky-note on your monitor until it becomes second nature. Giving some thought to how your file names will work for you after you have created hundreds of files will pay off down the road when you want to find a file for a particular individual or locality or time period. You will also see the benefits immediately as you peruse your tidy file directory. Keep it simple. Some wise advice I received early in my research is, “Everyone knows the alphabet. Use it.” That’s when I stopped using complicated numbering systems and went back to alphabetizing. You might have a first-class numbering system for your paper files, but your digital files are better off alphabetical.  Here’s what I use:  Surname-given name_year_event_details as needed.  Here is how it looks in my directory, filed in the “Hansen, Peter” folder:

  • Hansen-Peter_1855_immigration_ship_manifest
  • Hansen-Peter_1862_marriage_license
  • Hansen-Peter_1862_marriage_certificate

See how easy it is to view at a glance a chronology of Peter’s life as represented by the documents I have for him?  And I can see where my gaps are.  For example, I should try to find an 1870 census. Naming your files in a consistent way as you download them, and saving them to the appropriate file folders (see item #2) are a foundation you can build on as you simply your digital genealogy life.

2.  Use no more than 5-8 main folders to organize the genealogy files on your hard drive

Take a look at your file directory.  I’ll bet you have dozens of categories of file folders there.  I suggest you create no more than 5-8 categories for your main file folders and then file everything—folders and loose files—within those main folders.  Here are some ideas:  Surnames, Localities, Conferences and Workshops, Software Data Files, Forms and Templates, DNA, Correspondence, and General Family History Files. Adapt it to your needs.  You can create subfolders within the main folders, but keeping 5-8 main files on “top” will simplify things.  I am a folder-creator extraordinaire, but I felt like I was so much more in control once I boiled things down to some basic categories and neatly filed away my hundreds of sub-folders and files for easy access.

3.  Establish a consistent workflow for saving webpages, documents, and images

What do you do when you find a webpage you want to remember? Do you save a screenshot?  Do you clip it to Evernote or create a bookmark? Do you copy the link into a document?  Whatever it is, be consistent.  Write down your workflow for this and every other type of situation you encounter regularly.  What do you do when you find a source document on Ancestry, FamilySearch, or other website you want to save? How do you import, name, and process digital images from your camera or other device? Write down your workflow and post it where you can see it. It will become second nature before long, and having a routine will make your research seem simpler.  Your files will also seem to organize themself because they will get filed as you go.  You won’t be re-inventing your methods every other day and then finding your files scattered across your hard drive.

4.  Utilize the basic features of a note-keeping program like Evernote, OneNote, or Google Keep

Note-keeping programs are perfect tools for genealogists, because they are designed to keep track of anything and everything, and after all—isn’t that the definition of a genealogist? Note-keeping programs allow you to clip and save webpages and images, save and annotate documents, write notes and research reports, and keep track of research on the go because it will be synced on all your devices.  It’s a hundred times better than a brief case.  Having all your research in one place and saved across all your devices will simplify your digital genealogy life in a big way. I use Evernote as I research, and then find a home for my permanent files in the main file folders described in item #2.

5.  Keep your files in a cloud-storage and file-sharing service like DropBox, OneDrive, Google Drive, or iCloud

Remember when you had to save a file on your laptop, then download it to a flash drive and copy it onto your desktop computer if you wanted the same file in two places?  Or maybe you became really good at emailing files to yourself.  I hope you are not still doing that, but if you are I have good news for you.  Cloud-based file-sharing services will make your life so much simpler!  With a file-sharing program your files are stored in the cloud but are available on all your devices—your laptop, desktop, tablet, and smart phone.  When you change a file on one device the changes will show up on all devices, instead of having different versions of a file saved in different places. I use OneDrive, but have used DropBox and Google Drive in the past.  Having your files synced across all your devices will make your digital life immeasurably easier!

6. Download a scanning app on your smartphone or tablet

My husband teases me because I have four different scanners—a standard-sized flatbed photo scanner, a large scale flatbed scanner, the scanner integrated with my printer, and a Flip Pal mobile scanner. What do I use the most?  The scanner app on my iPad.  That’s because I find it is so much easier than firing up the desktop computer and flatbed scanner at home, and I also find myself in need of mobile scanning so often.  Why don’t I just take a snapshot with my phone? Well, a scanner app finds the corners of a document to correct the perspective distortion and adjusts the exposure to make a decent-looking well-proportioned scan of a document. I use it to save images of source documents, books, microfilm, handouts, receipts, flyers—you name it.  And my scanner app allows me to name my images and send them to Evernote or OneDrive. For source documents that require a higher resolution scan or are larger format, or for high volume projects, I can always use my flatbed scanners, but more and more I find my iPad and iPhone scanner apps meet my needs.


Posted in Digitizing your files, Research tips

Using Evernote for Paperless Genealogy Research – My Easy Guide

{NOTE: See also the Evernote post from 30 june 2015 for additional ideas.]  Did you make a New Year’s Resolution to reduce those piles of paper in your office? My last post gave you methods for scanning and digitizing your research files and photos, but how do you avoid having it all pile up again?  You might want to give Evernote a try. Evernote is a robust app that organizes and syncs notes across all your devices, and lends itself very well to paperless genealogy research.

Evernote 1

My last trip to Salt Lake City I decided to go paperless in my research sessions, just to see if it worked for me.  I wanted to develop a methodology using Evernote with my laptop (which uses Windows 7) and my iPad. I can report that it worked very well and am sharing my “system” with you today.

PCs and iPads

Evernote has a different look on a PC than an iPad, and the screenshots I am posting are from the iPad.  I was researching at the LDS History Library (not to be confused with the Family History Library) which has both book stacks on a research floor and an archival research room that have differing rules for researchers; no cameras or phones are allowed in the research room so I used the laptop there.  On the research floor I utilized the iPad’s camera, which my laptop doesn’t have.  Since Evernote syncs across devices it was not a problem. When I returned home it was all available on my desktop PC, too.

Before you go

Do as much prep work at home as possible.  It will save you precious research time at the repository.

  1. Create a notebook in Evernote for the individual you will research this session
  2. Create your first “note” in the notebook and name it “Research Report”
  3. Access the online card catalog for the repository you will visit and decide which records you will search
  4. “Clip” images of the catalog entries into separate “notes” within your notebook

First, I created a notebook with the surname I was researching. When you have more than one notebook you can “stack” them and create one big “Research” notebook.

evernote 3

Within your new notebook, you will create various new notes. A note is another word for a document in Evernote, and is the basis for everything you will do in the app. The first note will be your research report, which you will add to as you go through your research session.  It tracks your thought process, records successful and unsuccessful searches, and helps you pick up where you left off when you go back to your research.  If you want to elevate the quality of your research you need to adopt this habit. Here is the format I use.  I usually elaborate on my thought process more, but this abbreviated version has the basics:

A Sample Research Report
A Sample Research Report

I accessed the LDS Church History Catalog online and “clipped” the entries using the Evernote Webclipper add-on, adding each one to a new note.

Evernote 2
Clip online catalog entries and add each one to a new note.

I now had a handy “to do” list in my notebook, which was actually a list of notes I had created from clipped catalog entries plus my research report. Here’s a screenshot of the E.D. Harrison folder I annotated. The list can be sorted by title or date.

Evernote 2

The Research Session

Now you are all ready for your research session.  Be sure to bring chargers for your devices, by the way, and at archives bring your photo identification and a pencil to fill out call slips.

  1. Add to notes you created at home
  2. Create new notes for items you did not have on your “to do” list
  3. Record each step in your research report
  4. Number documents by annotating images in Evernote

Add to each note you have already created by recording your search results for that item, and adding a photo of the document or abstracting the record right in the note. You can type in text above or below an image in a note. The note for a record could include an image from the library catalog giving you a complete citation, comments you have typed in, an extract or abstract of the record, or an image of the record which you can annotate if you like.

You will inevitably come across records you had not pre-planned as your research develops during your research session.  Simply create a new note and add a photo of the record within that note:

Clicking on the paperclip icon brings up options for adding photos.  You can even add audio!
Clicking on the paperclip icon brings up options for adding photos. You can even add audio!

Images can be annotated with handwriting, text, boxes, or arrows by clicking on the image then clicking on a little “clock/arrow/a” icon in the upper right corner that I couldn’t get a shot of.

Use this feature to highlight names and add a document number to each record, and cross-reference it to your research report:

Evernote 4
Images can be annotated with boxes, handwriting, or text

When you get home

  1. Admire your tidy list of records searched, complete with images, extracts, and notations.
  2. Finish up your research report.
  3. That’s it

If you have ever come home from a research trip with a briefcase stuffed full of papers and groaned within you as you sifted through the pile, you will love the feeling of opening up your Evernote app and scrolling down your list of records.  With each click you will see your day’s work unfold before your eyes, all thorough and organized.

If you cannot bear the thought of having no papers to shuffle, stack, and file, just print out your notes.  Silly you 🙂

Posted in Digitizing your files, Familysearch, Research tips

How I digitized my research and gave it all to you

Last week I reached a milestone.  For the past year I have been scanning 27 years worth of research, which amounted to 4 gigantic/stuffed drawers in a file cabinet.  Last week I scanned my last file folder. *happy dance*  In this post I’d like to share my reasons, method and tools. I also have a class handout posted you are welcome to print out. Continue reading “How I digitized my research and gave it all to you”