Evernote for Genealogy: Creating a Linked Research Log Index

Evernote for GenealogySome recent comments by fellow genealogists on my prior Evernote for Genealogy posts brought to my attention that I have not yet discussed the hyperlinked Genealogy Index note that I mentioned in my post from earlier this year about research logs and note links. Sorry this is so belated!

I use Evernote to maintain a master Genealogy Index listing everyone I am researching for our family history. My Research Log notes for each ancestor or relative each link back to this Index note, with that Index link placed at the very top of each Log note so that I can quickly move between each note.

Evernote Template Genealogy Log
My Genealogy Log template. Not pretty or fancy, but it does the job quite well for me. Shown on Evernote for Mac. Click for a larger view.
Screenshot: Evernote for Genealogy
One of my ancestor Research Log notes, showing the note link to my Genealogy Index note. In the note title, you can see an example of my Dollarhide-inspired ancestor coding system. Click image for larger view.

If you recall from my post about Research Logs, the main reason for my Evernote system is that I wanted the simplest, easiest, most accessible workflow possible across all of my devices regardless of internet connection.

The Index Note

I actually maintain two separate Genealogy Index notes: one for my side of the family, and one for my husband Jeff’s side. Initially I tried using just a single note for both sides of the family, separating each side’s index list with a large heading (i.e., “Colleen’s Genealogy Index” and “Jeff’s Genealogy Index”), and identifying each ancestor/relative listed with my Dollarhide-inspired ancestor coding system. But that list soon started getting too unwieldy, so I split these into two separate notes:

  1. My side “_Colleen’s Genealogy Index”
  2. Hubby’s side “_Jeff’s Genealogy Index”.

Keeping these Indexes in two separate notes also allows me to better organize each under the appropriate notebook: my side, or Hubby’s side (see this post for an explanation).

Appending each Index with an underscore forces the Index note to appear at the top of the list when I am inside a research notebook and sort alphabetically by note title.

Screenshot: Evernote for Genealogy
The Genealogy Index for my husband’s side of the family. Filed into the research notebook for his side of the family. This should also give you an idea of how I apply the Dollarhide ancestor coding system. Click image for a larger view.

Remember… this is not supposed to be a pretty polished list or database of ancestors and relatives, like what I try to display on our family history website or in my Family Tree Maker program. This system is rough, ugly, meant to be quick (I’d rather spend my time doing research), and is constantly being modified.

Screenshot: Evernote for Genealogy
Appending each Index note title with an underscore forces the Genealogy Index note to appear at the top of the list when viewing all of the notes inside of a notebook and sorting on the Title. Click image for a larger view.

The hyperlinks go to the Research Log file. Usually I work on these as I focus my research efforts on a particular ancestor or relative…so there are a lot of missing Logs.

Mentioned in my post about Research Logs and Note Links, “Part of why I find Note Links so valuable is that they generate a permanent hyperlink that remains intact even when you edit the Title of a Note.”

Coding System

I referenced above, and in my post about Research Logs, that I use a Dollarhide-inspired ancestor coding system. This is to help me keep track of individuals with the same or similar names, and keep track of generations, as well as birth orders. Unlike my Family Tree Maker software or Ancestry Member Tree, my Evernote system provides no way to visualize ancestors and descendants through charts or an automatic way to determine an individual’s relationship to me or my husband. So a coding system is critical here.

Screenshot: Evernote for Genealogy
Creating a Tag for each Dollarhide code allows me to easily and quickly aggregate together all research notes pertaining to a particular ancestor or relative. Click image for larger view.

I can’t claim to have mastered the Dollarhide coding system yet, and am still working out how to incorporate non-ancestor spouses and children of non-ancestors (ancestor siblings). But so far, it functions pretty well for me.

The only modification I make to the Dollarhide system is the inclusion of a prefix to each number, which allows me to quickly identify if an individual is from my side of the family or from my husband Jeff’s side of the family.

  • My Side: Prefix “C” for Colleen is added (i.e., C2.0, C4.0, C4.1, C4.3, etc.).
  • Hubby’s Side: Prefix “J” for Jeff is added (i.e., J2.0, J4.0, J4.1, J4.3, etc).

Because I keep a separate Genealogy Index note for each side of our family, and I keep all of our research notes in a separate notebook for each side of our family, this prefixed coding system may not seem like it is all that important since I can quickly identify if a person falls under my side or Jeff’s side by looking at the Index title or the notebook title. Where it becomes important is when viewing research notes outside of that context. For example, if I search within Evernote for all research notes pertaining to a location (i.e., Virginia) or to a particular topic or record type (i.e., WWII), Evernote displays all notes outside of the context of my side vs. my husband’s side of the family. That gets confusing. So being able to distinguish between a “C” code or a “J” code helps me quickly identify the applicable side of the family history.

Once I assign a code to an ancestor or relative, I then apply that code as a Tag to every single note I save about that person. I apply it to my Research Log note for that person, and to every single note I clip from the web or upload from my computer about that person. For something like a census record, I apply the coded Tag for every individual in the household. Applying the individual’s coded Tag to each note allows me to quickly aggregate and focus on all research notes pertaining to a particular individual, because Tags are hyperlinked in Evernote. I can search on that coded Tag, or go to the Tags view and simply click on the Tag.

In my Family Tree Maker database, I create a custom Fact for each person titled “Dollarhide Number” and assign the appropriate code. Just another way to keep my various genealogy research systems more tightly organized.

Additional Tips

I maintain a Tag titled “key files” in Evernote, which allows me to aggregate and quickly retrieve my most important reference notes and cheat sheets (such as my list of current medications). I apply this Tag to the two Indexes, so they are always immediately found.

Screenshot: Evernote for Genealogy
To save a note Tag to your Evernote Shortcuts list, right click on the Tag name (from the Tags view). Works on a Mac or Windows. I apply a “key files” Tag to my Genealogy Indexes and save the “key files” Tag to my Shortcuts for quick easy access.

Just to reiterate, my Evernote for Genealogy system is not a replacement for a fully functioning genealogy database program. I use FTM for Mac for that, and sync it to my public Ancestry Member Tree. But there are often times where I do not have access to my FTM when I need to look up research notes or have a chance to do some quick research, such as during lunch breaks at work or when I am mobile (my FTM is on my MacBook at home). And I have run into quite a few times, especially lately, where locations I was visiting for research purposes (the Sierra Nevada range, and Shenandoah National Park, just this year) did not have wi-fi or a good data signal. So, my mobile Ancestry app was pretty useless. My Evernote system is invaluable in those situations. Which is why my genealogy notebooks are all set up as synchronized Offline Notebooks (a feature available in Evernote Premium), so that I can access my research on any device even when I do not have an internet connection.

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16 thoughts on “Evernote for Genealogy: Creating a Linked Research Log Index”

  1. Colleen thanks so much for this. I just scanned and organized a huge amount of material kept by my recently deceased aunt. (104 years old).

    Question. Each source usually generates as many questions as answers. Do you update each master sheet with the new questions and observations?

    1. Hi Tyler,

      I *TRY* to update each new master sheet. I like to keep everything in one log. However, if that gets too long and ugly, add questions and observations to your Note for each source, and then create an internal link between the Log Note and the source Note.

      There is no right or recommended way. The best way is whatever works for you…what’s easiest, most convenient, and gets you into the habit of logging your findings.

  2. Judy Tuccinardi

    Hi Colleen-I just started to use your Research Log and Genealogy Index and I am finding that as I enter info into the form (the one that has biographical info) the column for event keeps getting bigger and bigger, making the other 2 columns small plus the header words gets broken up-so Details ends up being on 2 lines instead of one. I reduced the font size to 14 but that didn’t help. Any suggestions? I am really getting into your method! Judy

    1. Glad you got it working, Judy. So sorry for the belated reply…I just never seem to have enough time to squeeze in my research and my blog chores. Thank you for the kind words!

  3. Hi Colleen – Reference “still working out how to incorporate non-ancestor spouses and children of non-ancestors (ancestor siblings)” What I did was use plus sign (+) as identifier and then carry on as normal..e.g. C4.1+1.0 is Starting Person, father is C4.1+2.0 and mother is C4.1+3.0 and sibling C4.1+1.1. Give it a try?

  4. This very helpful. Thank you for posting it. I’m trying to learn to use Evernote for my Family History research. I’ve had Evernote for years but have barely used it. Posts like yours which give step by step instructions and share forms that have worked for you are getting me closer to diving in and trying to really use it. I wanted to let you know that I’ve included this post and your 1/29/14 post on using Evernote for Research Logs and Note Links in my NoteWorthy Reads for this week: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/06/noteworthy-reads-18.html.

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  8. Thank you for posting these articles. I’ve been meaning to keep a research log for years and just never seem to get around to it. I’ve been using Evernote for years for work and had a sense that it would be a perfect tool for a research log, but never started. I had a vague idea of how I wanted to set up Evernote, but your articles really helped solidify everything. Thanks!

  9. Thank you for taking time to post this great information. Over the years Evernote has become my go to software for managing all of my information. Now that I am getting back into genealogy research I am happy to see how well the two mesh.

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