Working Evernote into Your Research Process for Increased Efficiency and Consistency

When I decided to include my interest in technology a part of this blog, Trello and Evernote were at the forefront of my mind.

Evernote I’ve used off and on for years, with little consistency. I had my notebooks, my tags, all roughly in line with the organizational system of the McKemie One Name Study. But somehow, the habit never fully formed. The one where using Evernote felt second nature instead of the burden of an additional step. I still felt compelled to print finds out, to bookmark sites, to transcribe online discoveries—which made adding Evernote into the mix seem redundant and too much effort for too little reward. It vaguely felt like something I should be doing, like something I should appreciate. As a consequence, I never quite walked away from Evernote, but I never fully embraced it, either.

More recently, in exploring the assorted tools at a genealogist’s disposal, I’ve come back around to investigating the usefulness of Evernote. And this time around, I feel as though some bright light has illuminated all that I was missing. Perhaps its the new (to me!) addition of Clippings, perhaps its the IFTTT Recipes, perhaps its the realization that I am not happy being limited by Family Tree Maker and when I searched for something to replace my Excel source database, nothing seemed to fulfill my vision of what I needed to be properly organized.

I could see two distinct advantages of Evernote. Organizing for long-term success and storing my research in a temporary (or potentially long-term) sort of way.

So, more specifically, in the past I’ve never fully incorporated Evernote into my research/writing process and I’ve come to recognize that this has been the hitch. I’ve decided that going all-in is the only way to fully grasp the capabilities of this remarkably versatile, strategically structured tool. Very quickly, a few tidbits took root:

  • “Evernote Web Clipper” functionality is essential.
  • Remember categories = big picture while tags = details.
  • I couldn’t expect myself to instantly remember all the categories/tags I’d selected and so a cheat sheet was needed because consistency is absolutely required.
  • I needed to structure things–at least to start–to have a solid, consistent foundation from which to move forward.
  • I needed to stick with this system, without significant modification, for long enough to overcome my contrary personality that likes to balk at change and allow for a fair evaluation of the new process.

At this point, I did a little Googling to see how others managed projects and I included genealogy and projects and researching and even blogging in my searches. I found wide-ranging opinions and a surfeit of information, but the short of it validated this new track I was taking. (By the way, if you are completely new to using Evernote in your genealogy process, take a look at Jordan Jones’ How to Use Evernote for Genealogical Research for a good introduction.) Many people now organize with tags as the dominant filter function, as opposed to notebooks. Some went as far as to have only one to three notebooks and all other classifications made via tags.

That’s not me. At least, not right now.

For me, I like notebooks, but recognize the benefits of limiting the number. The main issue of notebooks is that Evernote allows only 250. This may seem an ample number, but when I sat back and thought out how I plan to use Evernote going forward, I could see how the limited number could eventually become problematic. Conversely, tags are almost infinite (I think there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 allowed).

My structure started to take shape.

My notebook organization.
  • Notebooks correspond to blog categories and the divisions within the website—these overlap. This is intentional and that’s a key point. Know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
  • Additional notebooks to cover things like General Genealogy, Shared Notebooks, Correspondence, and organizational details of the McKONS.
  • Nest notebooks into logical stacks

Note that my “big picture” items have a notebook. All other division of classifications utilize tags. My tags mirror what is seen on the blog and the subdivisions within the McKemie One Name Study, which is also how all my records for all my family lines will ultimately be organized.


One thing to note is that the only truly RIGHT system is the one that you can use, remember, and retrieve information from predictably, and this might be unique to an individual. For instance, some people divide their family research according to parents or perhaps grandparents. I do not. For one, if I did parents, that would create a hassle between my father’s line and the McKemie One Name Study and to be frank, I didn’t want to do twice the work there. I also felt like things became “too big” when I called it at grandparents. I know, funny thing to say when I adore the ONS, and yet call a single family line too big. But regardless, my research breaks down to family lines beginning with my great-grandparents: McKemie (MCKONS), Whatley (oh, what a brick wall), Davidson (my fun country folk), Woodard (my obligatory Indian Princess line), Dorrie (romantically remembered as French, but actually quite German), Anderson (Hans and Christian and Denmark, oh my!), Dougherty (yeah, the equivalent of a needle in the haystack that is Ireland), and Hausner (an exciting Bohemian gypsy line if ever there was one!).

Some guidelines I’ve outlined for myself include:

  • No tag/notebook creation on the fly. Forced use of the ones I’ve created is fundamental to uniformity going forward. Considered evaluation of adding tags/notebooks needs to be done at set integrals, however.
  • Create a shortcut card to have in sight to properly and consistently format notes/tags.
  • Develop and use templates.
  • Use Evernote in place of “favoriting” or bookmarking data found online.

To reemphasize, the goal here is to create a work flow process I can live with, something that is “off campus” in that it is not dependent on my PC for usability: I can use Evernote from any PC, from my phone, tablet, wherever. I’ve routinely backed things up, have copies in lovely places and never felt that I have lost data over the course of twenty years, but I have lost ACCESS to the data or had to manually reproduce something because some platform no longer functioned on a newer system or some other such silliness. Over the next year, I will be moving all my non-personal data into a Cloud-based system, between services such as Drop Box, Google Drive and Evernote, in conjunction with the Creative Ancestry blog and website. (This is in addition to more traditional back-ups that I find less than helpful overall, and yet are still required.) This is a monumental task, as we all know and appreciate, mammoth amounts of research accumulates over the years and so its going to be a gradual process to reach my goal of everything being “online”. Which only goes to emphasize the need to lay solid groundwork now.

So what is that process? And yeah, having prettily sorted notebooks and tags is nice, but how has this suddenly become useful where in the past I never fully appreciated the system?

First, the arrival of Evernote Web Clipper. This is the process whereby I can click a little green elephant in the corner of my browser and have all sorts of options.

Example of Evernote Web Clipper.

I can save a PDF, I can save a website, I can save an image from a website, I can do practically anything AND sort it into a notebook and tag it in practically one step. This is HUGE. Life-changing. Every genealogist researching online should be using Evernote for this, or a similar product. With this tool, you no longer need to bookmark a site or print out every record you find online. Too frequently, I have bookmarked only to want to revisit the page to find it gone, changed, or otherwise not as I expected. Additionally, papers can be lost, easily misplaced and sometimes you simply aren’t near a printer. For instance, I have often browsed online with a smart phone while waiting on doctors or mechanics or LIFE and randomly found a useful site. In the past, I would have saved it and hoped to remember to visit it again, or sent myself an email with the link, both inefficient, to say the least. Now, with Evernote, I can save all those steps with their smart phone app.

There are times I supplement the screen capture abilities of Evernote with Greenshot. If I want to quickly copy something I’ve found online, an image or a snippet of information, but it relates to an existing note already in Evernote, I will often do a screen shot with Greenshot. This allows a simple copy and paste function–copy the image or portion of the image I want, paste into the Evernote note. Greenshot allows me to be as lazy as I want to be on any given day and still be accurate.

Another item I mentioned earlier was IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That. This is an innovative little assistant that automates simple tasks. I want Evernote to be my home base, so to speak, in conjunction with my Family Tree Maker database. I have yet to fully explore IFTTT, but so far, I’m liking what I’m finding. For instance, I can star an email in Gmail and IFTTT will send it to be a note in a designated notebook in Evernote.

IFTTT – Syncing Gmail and Evernote.

The goal is to have everything at my fingertips when I sit down to work. There are other “recipes” connecting calendars, Reddit, Facebook, Pocket and more. And if there isn’t an existing recipe, you can create one to suit your needs.

So depending on the goal for a research session, my workflow might go as follows:

  1. Review Evernote/FTM for my endpoint from previous session.
  2. Review Trello (I know I didn’t talk about it here, but I will soon!) for my immediate goals.
  3. Delve into whatever online resource is appropriate (FamilySearch, Google, etc).
  4. Find something juicy.
  5. Use Webclipper to clip the juicy bits into a note within Evernote, tagged and categorized according to name and subject.
  6. Finish “research” portion, head to FTM for analyzing.
  7. Review Evernote notes (clippings and emails sorted into Evernote by IFTTT) and other notes to determine relevance, usefulness.
  8. Add into Source Database and to FTM Database.
  9. Add to Creative Ancestry website/blog as appropriate.
  10. Move on!

I’ve rambled on long enough, but will revisit the concept of a standardized work flow process and making it make the most of your time and expediting your research—to include the usefulness of Trello, Google Drive, and Google Calendar, especially, in a later post sometime down the line.

If we think of Evernote as being a paperless filing cabinet and a devoted research assistant all wrapped up in one delightful entity, we will make the best use of its functions. And I’m all-in this time around, loving it.

the tl;dr
The tl;dr for using Evernote.

What are some of your tricks to getting and staying organized? How do you simplify without losing accuracy?

Happy Hunting,

Jennifer's Signature


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s