Tips & Stories

How to Use Evernote for Genealogical Research

Posted by Jordan Jones on 19 Nov 2012

Posted by Jordan Jones on 19 Nov 2012

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Bio

Jordan Jones is a genealogist and director of the North Carolina Genealogy Society. He is also the President of the National Genealogical Society. Jordan finds Evernote to be an indispensable way to gather, store, organize, reference, and retrieve notes, images of records, and research plans.

I use Evernote, Everywhere

  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Mac

I use Evernote for…Genealogical Research

I had been using Evernote on and off for a couple of years and as time progressed, I noticed I was using it for everything from my day job to my personal finances. I wanted to get even more out of it, so I upgraded to Premium and began taking advantage of even more features and monthly upload capacity.

In the genealogy space, Evernote is a popular tool because our work involves building complex databases around the research that we do.

Evernote for Geneological Research

In this day and age, more documents are becoming digitized and the challenge is figuring out how to find and organize them. I use Evernote to capture documents, images, and PDFs I find online, and later add descriptive notes to these pieces of information. Serious genealogists try to keep a record of everything they find, even if it’s full of lies and conjecture. (For example, if you suspect that a document might be fraudulent or inaccurate, you can make a note of it. If you come across it again, you will know that you already saw and evaluated it.) Using Evernote, you can add your own notes, questions, and task boxes to the images of records you find in your research.

Some people outside of genealogy may not realize it, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has the largest genealogical library in the world, a wonderful resource for genealogists. Much of what is in these archives of over 1.2 million reels of microfilm consists of records in the public domain. The church is in the process of digitizing all of these documents, so I’m able to capture a lot of useful information from their website and quickly save it to my Evernote account using the Evernote Web Clipper.

Often times, I find interesting factoids in jpeg, PDF, Excel, and Tiff files, which I save to Evernote and then organize using a hierarchy of tags including ‘genealogy’ or ‘surname.’ I also have a list of tags for individuals so I can quickly search and find all documents I have related to a certain person, family or county. Once I narrow down my notes in Evernote, I can start writing about what I’ve discovered. Having all of the information I’m referencing in one, easy-to-search place saves me a lot of time — not to mention, physical space!

Putting all the pieces together

As I’m collecting my research, I make sure to write source citations so that I or anyone else would know exactly where to find this information and would have some sense of where that document came from, who created it and for what purpose.

If I’m writing the story of a family unit, I add Note Links to information that has an associated notation. That way, I can immediately find where each piece came from, and even quickly refer to related photos and documents that helped me come up with the final write-up, without actually leaving my Evernote account.

“Our goal is to dig through lots of information to figure out what really happened, when, where, and why” — Jordan Jones

The biggest challenge for genealogists is that people jump to conclusions about how history played out. The Internet can distribute these unsubstantiated conclusions very widely. Our goal is to dig through lots of information to figure out what really happened, when, where, and why. Using Evernote to manage the information I find is invaluable to helping me organize my thoughts and never lose sight of my tracks.

Another great benefit of using Evernote for my research and writing is that I have a complete archive of everything I’ve ever worked on. It’s organized by notebooks and tags, searchable, and accessible from virtually any computer or mobile device. You never know where different pieces might come into play later, so it’s important to keep everything I find.

A little background on genealogy, and why we do this

Historically, genealogy has been associated with people who wanted to prove they were related to important individuals such as kings and queens. Personally, I am much more interested in exploring micro history — how common people lived at various times, what I like to call “history at ground level.” Most of the history we learn about from books and in school showcases the lives of generals and kings; it misses popular history, how people actually lived. In my research, I constantly come across things that are interesting, surprising, and hardly covered in history books! For example, I discovered that my great-great grandfather was a ‘galvanized Yankee,’ in other words, he fought on both sides of the Civil War, joining the Union army as a way out of the POW camp. There was a very small group of people who were in this position and as a result, this historical fact didn’t get much coverage.

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11 Comments RSS

  • Evan

    I’ve used Evernote for casual genealogical research for my own family. It fits the job well. Lots of little bits of information that are related in different kinds of ways. The tags are especially helpful!

    • Jordan Jones

      I agree. I mainly use tags, not so much notebooks, to organize and find genealogical data.

  • Helen Brown

    I want to learn about my two (2) Grandmothers.

    PARALEE ARNET Married to my Grandfather James Henry Lucy

    Rachel Matilda Hurley Married to my Grandfather Joseph Hamilton Spears.

  • Lord Fish

    I too found Evernote to be an ideal solution for storing family archives, and then finding a person or event at a moment’s notice due to the powerful search capability.

  • Art

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Evernote. However, ancestry.com does a better job of holding all these documents, AND it will search their records for your relatives. I have uploaded many pictures and death certificates to Ancestry. Meanwhile, they have found a ton more for me, along with their ability search for more. So while I like Evernote, and I share it with everyone, and I definitely think it is a good deal for health insurance fights (as that 9 Tips book explains), I do not think it is the best choice for geneaology because of what ancestry.com provides.

    • Jordan Jones

      Hi Art –

      I like Ancestry as well as many other sites, including FamilySearch, FindAGrave, and so on. By saving files into Evernote, I can see all the files I have in one place, they are searchable and taggable with one mechanism. Additionally, I can make notes about what I have found, and start to document and evaluate my sources in ways that I cannot do on those sites. I also have documents that I have scanned myself, family pictures, maps of the homestead, and on and on.

      I don’t see Evernote as a competitor to Ancestry or something to use instead of it or any of its competitors, but as a helpful complement to those research sites.

      It’s like writing a term paper: You need a library and many books, but you also need a notebook and some 3×5 cards that you can arrange to get your thoughts in order. Ancestry, Footnote, FamilySearch, WorldVitalRecords, and so on, are the library; Evernote is the notebook and note cards.

  • Amie

    Hi Jordan,

    What tool do you use to construct a graphical representation of your family tree? Thank you in advance for your help.

    Amie

    • Jordan Jones

      Hi Amie —

      I used to use something called

      The Master Genealogist: http://whollygenes.com/

      which is a Windows-based product. It’s very powerful and has a lot of flexibility for including multiple alternate “facts.”

      I am running the Mac OS now, and didn’t want to run it in a virtual machine, so I tried

      MacFamily Tree: http://www.syniumsoftware.com/macfamilytree/

      and

      FamilyTree Maker: http://www.familytreemaker.com/

      Both have better user interfaces than The Master Genealogist, but are less flexible that The Master Genealogist. Family Tree Maker is from Ancestry, and integrates with their website, if you use Ancestry.

      I ended up settling on The Next Generation of Genealogy Software (TNG), which runs on a website that you maintain or pay someone to maintain, so it’s not for everyone:

      TNG: http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/software.php

      Hope that helps.

  • Bill Odom

    Sir, I also do genealogy as a hobby and was looking for a method to organize all the support data that I accumulated, notes I have made to myself, emails to other either requesting information or supplying same, etc. you know the list. My question is as these are all separate documents does Evernote store a copy of the document or link to the original? Thanks and good hunting.

  • C Matteson

    Is it possible for Evernote Web to copy an entire page from Ancestry.com When I try this I only get the URL, Title, and Heading but no other content. Am I doing this right?

  • C Matteson

    Is it possible for Evernote Web to copy an entire page from Ancestry.com When I try this I only get the URL, Title, and Heading but no other content. Am I doing this right?