Using Evernote for Genealogy

by Tonia Kendrick on June 24, 2010 in Technology

I‘ve been using Evernote for a little over a week now and I love it.  I wanted to share what I like about it, how I’m using it and, hopefully, gets tips from others.

As a brief overview for those who are unfamiliar with Evernote, it is a note-organizing software program.  There are desktop versions, a web version, and smartphone versions, all of which sync so that you can have access to your notes no matter where you are.  The tag line on the Evernote home page sums it up:

Use Evernote to save your ideas, things you see, and things you like. Then find them all on any computer, phone or device you use. For free.

That’s sounds great, but what does it look like in practice?  Let me start with my general philosophy.  I’m using Evernote as a general notebook for my genealogy research.  Anything that I might have printed in the past and and put in a pile on my desk to refer to later, I’m trying to put in Evernote.  I’m not using it to hold all my source documents.  I already have those online at this website.  I don’t want to duplicate my work and make things more complicated.  My goal is to simplify my research and make sure I have access to what I want when I want it.

Here are some examples of ways that I am using Evernote:

  • Web clippings – when I find something that I think I want to refer back to later, I can clip the page into a note.  I’ve used various other services for this in the past – Delicious, Diigo, Google Notebooks, and plain old bookmarks.  What I like about Evernote is that it captures the page, not just a link to the page, so if the page or website disappears, I still have access to what I wanted.  It also captures the link, so I can get back to the original site.  It lets me add notes as well as tags, so I can remember why I wanted the page and it captures the date and time that I grabbed the clip.

evernote for genealogy

  • In addition to saving the text of a web page, you can also capture a screen shot.  I ordered a military file from NARA a few days ago; in the old days, I would have printed the order to hold on to until the file arrives.  Instead I captured the screen shot and put it in Evernote.

  • PDF files – you can also add PDF files as notes.  I’m experimenting with transitioning my genealogy database to RootsMagic.  I found a RootsMagic tips sheet online, so I added it to Evernote.  That way I can access it from home or if I’m away from home and using RootsMagic-to-Go.  I also have the pdf version of Evidence Explained.  Even though I use the source templates in RootsMagic, I still like to refer to Evidence Explained to make sure that I am capturing all the information I need to for my citations (I’m obsessive like that).  So, of course, this is one of the first things I added to Evernote.

  • Evernote for Blackberry – this is a fun little app and I’m sure the other phone versions are very similar.  I can do a quick text note, snapshot, or audio note from my phone and send it straight into my Evernote notebook.  The only one I’ve used so far is the snapshot.  I was reading the newspaper at work the other day and saw an article about a genealogy workshop to be held that weekend.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to attend it, but I wanted a clip of the article, just in case it worked into my schedule.  In the old days, I would have made a photocopy, which would then sit on my desk.  Instead I took a snapshot with my phone and sent it straight to Evernote.  The really cool part of this is that Evernote has OCR technology and it can read the text of the newspaper article, even though I saved it as a photograph.  As an example, the subject of the genealogy workshop had something to do with tracing one’s Indian heritage.  I couldn’t remember the exact wording, so I did a search on “Indian” and the image popped right up.  I’ve read that the OCR also works with tombstone photos.  I can also see using the audio note feature a lot when I’m driving and think of something I want to do later on.  Lastly, I can retrieve any notes in my account and view them on my Blackberry.

evernote for genealogy

There is a lot more that Evernote will do.  How do you use Evernote for genealogy?

See the follow-up to this post:  More Ways I Use Evernote for Genealogy

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon June 24, 2010 at 6:10 pm

This is excellent Tonia. Thanks so much for putting this together. You’ve inspired me to spend a little more time getting to know this program.
Sharon´s last blog post ..My Canadian U.S. Veteran


Kathleen June 24, 2010 at 7:04 pm

I don’t use Evernote but I use Microsoft’s One Note. It’s very similar to this! Except for the phone part. Being able to access stuff on your phone is definitely interesting! I don’t have a BlackBerry, or a cell phone I use very often, so that’s no loss for me. What I like about One Note is that it is set up like a binder. So I can have Notebooks with tabs and then add pages onto those those tabs. It works very much like a multi-subject spiral notebook. I’ve used the ‘screen clipping’ feature a lot too.

Great look at the program! I was curious how similar it was to One Note!


Taneya June 24, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Nice post. I am just getting started trying to use Evernote myself. So far, so good, though on the current iPad version the ability to edit pre-existing notes is lacking.


Jenna June 24, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Thanks for covering this topic! I’ll download and give it a try!


Thomas MacEntee June 25, 2010 at 12:06 am

Excellent write up of EverNote! I’ve been using EverNote for about 18 months now – I even ponied up money for the premium version. I use this daily to track issues in the genealogy industry as well as for my research. In addition, I’ve been able to create an editorial calendar for each of my blogs using EverNote.
Thomas MacEntee´s last blog post ..Transitioning A Genealogy Society


Linda June 27, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I absolutely adore Evernote, not only for my genealogy fun, but for everything. I have been using Evernote for over a year now, and I have to say, it has truly revolutionized not only my computer filing system (which I’ve been able to almost do away with completely!), but my life! With the tagging and notebook system in Evernote, I just hardly need the old-style filing system at all anymore! It’s SO much faster to find things in Evernote, than the old-style filing method, besides saving tons of memory space on your computer.

Within Evernote, I like having tags for each state. I also have notebooks for particular groups of surnames I’m collecting things about. I even use Evernote for recipe collections. The other thing that’s so great about it, is that it’s also online and offers a sharing capability. So I share my family recipe collection with my grown children, who live all over the US. So easy! I just don’t save “piles” of anything anymore, now that I have Evernote!

I use Evernote in combination with my other favorite organization tool – CarbonFin Outliner. Evernote isn’t quite as good for list-making and research planning as CarbonFin Outliner is, so you might want to check that out also. It’s free, too.


Tonia Kendrick June 27, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Thanks for the comments! Every day, I learn new ways to use this program.

Thomas, is the premium version required to create the calendar?

Linda, great tips! I’ll have to check out CarbonFin Outliner. I’ve never heard of it before.


Rosemary June 28, 2010 at 11:13 am

I’ve been using Evernote for about 5 years now and find it essential. I never upgraded from Release 2, which is PC resident, and if I want to travel with it I use Evernote Portable on a flash drive.


Jordan Jones August 19, 2010 at 12:40 am

Great post. I’m a big fan of Evernote. I have been using it since August 2008, and like Thomas, I have a Premium account. I use it for everything, not just genealogy. And I use the web interface quite a bit. With that, I can get to my content even if I’m on a computer without my Evernote database.

Evernote is something I think of as “Tivo for the brain”!

The fact that it can make searchable almost any image I upload is the transformative part for me. But I also use it to quickly, from my Android phone, type in or record where I parked my car at the airport, and so on.

Be sure to check out the Evernote Trunk , with applications that work with Evernote, and their blog .


Tonia Kendrick August 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm

The web interface is one of my favorite features. I love being able to access my information wherever I am, whether it is my computer, another computer or phone.


Randy Clark November 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Evernote’s Terms of Service have always scared me off.


Tonia Kendrick November 1, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Hi Randy, what concerns you about Evernote’s TOS? It seemed pretty standard to me, but I may have missed something.


Randy Clark November 2, 2010 at 5:51 am

Looked at Evernote’s TOS again. Maybe I’m just paranoid but they are 10 pages long.


Lisa Wallen Logsdon November 24, 2010 at 9:18 am

Thanks for a great write up on this subject. I have not used Evernote and was only recently seeing the blogs about it but yours seemed to cover more and explain better.


Tonia Kendrick November 24, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Thanks Lisa! Evernote really is a great system – I use it all the time. I hope you like it.


Judy Webster July 25, 2011 at 8:59 am

Thanks for your helpful suggestions. I finally got around to downloading Evernote today, and I love it already.
Judy Webster´s last blog post ..Index to Funeral Records 1972-2010


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