A few days ago I received a comment on this post about getting organized from Shack, the Ancestry Ace, host of the Ancestry Aces page on Google+. He had some very kind and encouraging words to say about this blog and my family history research, and he asked a question that made me think and experiment with new ways of doing things. I decided his question deserved its own post and response rather than just a simple reply in the comments box. He writes:

Hi Niall,

I found your blog today and enjoyed reading about your organizing efforts. I’ve been working with my mom to collaborate in doing some genealogy research. She has a lot of her research documented in paper form which lends itself well to the process you described with labels and binders. I have taken an approach slanted more towards digitizing my research documentation. I prefer to save copies as .jpgs or image files so that I can tag them for easy retrieval. I still find and keep paper versions but prefer to keep my main copy as a digital one. Do you have thoughts/plans about how you may integrate digital copies into your documentation system?

My HP OfficeJet J3680 printer/copier/scanner/fax

Best of luck,

Shack – The Ancestry Ace

Hi Shack! Thanks for your kind words, and best of luck to you too in your own research.

The short answer to your question is I’m just beginning to think about the possibilities for digital filing and archiving of information. I have an “all-in-one” printer/copier/scanner/fax machine, but until now I’ve rarely used the scanner, so believe it or not, this is still relatively new technology and unexplored territory for me. I had an “Ah hah!” moment the other day when I decided I wanted to transcribe some information I had about some Scottish Leslies. The information is interesting, but I’m not sure where it came from, or even if the Leslies mentioned in the document are direct ancestors of mine. I wanted to record this information and have fast electronic access to it, but how? It finally dawned on me that by scanning the document, I could save myself hours of tedious re-typing.

Evernote can be a powerful tool for genealogists

I had another “Ah hah! moment when I read an article by Dick Eastman, author and host of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter about how the free note-taking application Evernote could be a really powerful tool for genealogists. (Unfortunately, the full article is available only to paid subscribers to EOGN, but you can get a three-month subscription for a mere $5.95. Try it and see if you like it. Such a deal!)

In the article Dick compares Evernote to the electronic version of a pad of Post-It notes that could record and store data in a huge variety of formats: free-form text, jpegs, PDFs, audio and video, and even entire web pages; the perfect place to store potentially useful stuff you’re not quite sure what to do with.  If you add tags or keywords or type a few letters of the keyword, notes with those keywords can be instantly retrieved. Evernote also creates copies of your notes and stores them in the cloud, so that if something catastrophic happens to your computer, your notes aren’t lost.

Using my scanner and Evernote, I came up with a solution to the problem of the document about the Scottish Leslies. I scanned each page of the document (I’m still trying to figure out how to scan multi-page documents) and converted each page to a PDF and a note using Evernote. The pages are quickly and easily readable any time I want them, without having to dig through my paper files.

The implications of this are huge. There are many documents I could scan and turn into notes using Evernote. The trick will be figuring out how to make the best use of these new resources.