Tutorial: Note-Taking and Organizing With Evernote

By David A. Fryxell Premium

If you’re like most genealogists—especially those researching online—your finds far outstrip your ability to organize them all. Printouts from websites pile up and valuable info vanishes in the flood of uncategorized paper. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all that “stuff” could be stored electronically so you could instantly search for ancestral names and other keywords? Even better would be a digital storehouse for your research that you could access from anywhere—even your cell phone—and that was safely backed up in the online “cloud.” 
Welcome to Evernote, the disorganized genealogist’s new best friend. This free download lets you dump “clippings” from websites, scanned documents, even photos into a sort of digital soup. You’ll also get a unique Evernote e-mail address you can use to mail notes to yourself. (A Premium version of Evernote, for $5 a month or $45 a year, gives you bigger upload capacity, supports more file types and offers enhanced security. Plus, you get PDF searching, faster image recognition and no ads. For most users, the generous 40MB-per-month upload allotment and barely visible ads in the free version will suffice.)
Once you’ve added raw research material to Evernote, you can create “tags”—ancestral surnames, for example, or research repositories—and use them to categorize your content. Or you simply can search for words in the text of everything you’ve added to Evernote; the program will perform text recognition on images, even your hand-scribbled notes, to make these searchable as well. Evernote regularly syncs the data on your computer with an online copy of your notes that you can access via any web browser. You also can sync with Evernote apps for your phone or iPad.
To get started, simply surf to the Evernote website and click to download the version for your operating system (it automatically recognizes whether you’re using a Mac or PC). Follow the installation instructions and pick a username and password to create your free, secure account. Enter the confirmation code that arrives in your e-mail inbox, and you’re all set.
When you first run Evernote on your computer, it probably will offer to install a “Clipper” plugin for your web browser and e-mail program. (If you’re using Firefox on a Mac, you’ll need to download the plugin separately.) Here’s how easy it is to add online genealogy finds to Evernote and organize them.
1. When you find something you want to save, click on the Evernote “elephant” icon to the left of the web-page address. To clip only part of a web page, select the relevant text first and then click the icon.
2. Evernote launches (if it’s not already open) and creates a new note with your selected page. The web address gets saved, too, right below the title. To edit the note’s title, simply select the text and type. 
3. Once you’ve captured the content, it’s yours to customize however you please. Drop-down menus and buttons along the top of the note window let you change font and type color (useful for highlighting an ancestor’s name), and incorporate bulleted lists or to-do checklists.
You also can add content by creating a new blank note (File>New Note) then typing text or dropping and dragging, or copying and using the “Paste to Evernote” command under the elephant in the Mac menu bar or Windows task tray. Free accounts can use PDF, JPG, WAV, PNG, MP3, GIF and AMR file types. If your computer has a built-in camera, another New Note option lets you snap a picture to create a note. Or click the elephant to snap a screenshot and make it into a note.
4. Now you’re set to start organizing. Select File>New Tag or right-click Tags in the left-hand column and select New Tag. Tags can be nested as subtags. Rearrange tags by dragging and dropping. Click the arrow icon beside the tag name to reveal or hide subtags.
5. Type a name for the tag. You might want to create a tag for each ancestral surname you’re researching, for instance. You can assign more than one tag to a note, so you needn’t fret over whether to tag a record about a marriage, say, with the groom’s or the bride’s last name—do both. Evernote can be a bit flaky about naming tags, so if you hit a wrong key and your tag winds up named “New Tag,” right-click and select Rename Tag. (Mac users without a two-button mouse can hold down the Control key while clicking.)
6. To assign a tag to a note, drag and drop the note onto the name of the tag in the left-hand column. You also can assign tags by typing the tag name(s) into the field below a note’s title. Clicking on the tag will then display only the notes assigned to it. To return to all your notes, hit the All Notes button at the top.
You can search your notes by typing terms in a box at the upper right. Evernote will search within the selected tag, or click All Notes to scour everything.
Once you’ve added a lot of content to Evernote, you can further organize by exporting groups of notes into separate notebooks. Exported notebooks can be shared with fellow researchers. To manage notebooks, use the options under File.
Soon you’ll be hooked on Evernote and managing all your research digitally. Just don’t forget to dust your printer every so often—it’ll start collecting cobwebs.
From the September 2010 Family Tree Magazine