Evernote For Genealogy: Mobile Audio Interviews

Evernote for GenealogyTwo of the features I like best in Evernote are geotagging and audio Notes. Geotagging allows me to attach geographical metadata to my Notes, and the audio recording feature allows me to record audio and generate a Note with an embedded media player for that audio file. The combination of these two features makes for an easy always-handy good quality tool to capture mobile family history interviews since I never go anywhere without my iPhone.

Use Case

This past March, Dad and I had an all day genealogy date, driving around Los Angeles County so that he could show me the different places where he grew up. I wanted to be able to capture the conversations we would have in the car as Dad shared his memories while we drove around these spots, and I wanted to capture the “locations” of each memory without having to scribble all of this down in a notepad. My iPhone Evernote app was the perfect solution. Dad drove, I sat in the passenger seat, and I held my iPhone between the two of us (not right in his face) hitting the audio record button each time Dad would share a memory or answer one of my questions. When he took verbal breaks, I hit the stop recording button, then started a new audio Note when he would resume talking. Having all of these audio Notes, when it came time to write my  long blog post about those memories (it took me several days to write), I was able to playback the recordings from whichever computer or mobile device I was working on at the time (since Evernote syncs across all devices) to make sure I got the chronology and facts right.

Recording these conversations, instead of scribbling down notes, permitted me to focus on the conversation and give Dad my undivided attention. This method makes me a better listener.

My Process

I create a new “Text” Note each time I want to record a new audio segment, selecting the audio record icon. The audio icon turns red when in use. I then just tap the icon again to end my recording and receive the prompt to save it.

You can record several audio clips to a single Note, or break it into segments using separate Notes. I like to create a separate Note for each leg of a mobile trip (i.e., one Note for all of my Glendale area recordings, one for downtown Los Angeles, etc.). A single Note can contain only one geolocation marker, which is the main reason I use separate Notes for separate locations.

Evernote Audio Interviews - Record Audio Note - iOS
The audio record icon from a new Note in my iOS app. I entered a “Test” title for display purposes here. If I had not entered a Note Title, Evernote for iOS would have automatically assigned a title using the words “audio from ” and my general location (like “Los Angeles”).

Once an audio Note is saved, Evernote generates a streaming audio player that is accessible from mobile and desktop apps. This allows me to immediately play back an audio recording and test how it sounds. Later, when using these interviews for blogging or further research, I constantly replay and pause while working on another screen.

Evernote will create the audio file using the native audio file format for your mobile or desktop app. The iOS app generates an m4a file, which is a native Apple format that is part of the MPEG-4 standard. This displays great (showing the media player) within my iPhone, iPad, and Mac versions of Evernote. But if you click on this link for one of my publicly shared interview segments with Dad, depending on your browser and what audio plugins you have installed on that browser, you may only see the downloadable audio file instead of a streaming player. This is a browser and audio file format issue, not an Evernote issue. Some folks on the Evernote forums recommend recording audio in a mobile app that creates the more supported mp3 file format, and then attach those mp3 audio files to a Note(s) after the fact.

Evernote Audio Interviews - Note View - iOS
Note view of an audio recording captured with my iPhone. Recording audio Notes automatically generates a streaming media player, allowing me to listen to to the audio Note from my mobile devices or , the desktop app.

With geotagging enabled (via the Privacy and Location Settings in my iPhone or iPad), each audio Note displays a map view showing where I recorded that particular Note. This is why I use separate Notes for each location, instead of recording all audio segments in a single Note.

Evernote Audio Interviews - Map View - iOS
Places (aka “geotagged”) view associated with a geotagged Note in the iPhone app. While viewing the Note, click on the “info” icon on the Note, which displays the Note Details view showing Tags and a map.

Here you can see the map (Atlas) view in my desktop Evernote. The blue markers indicate the number of Notes tagged with a particular location. Clicking on those blue markers will bring up a list of all Notes tagged in that location.

Evernote Audio Interviews - Atlas View - OSX
The Atlas (aka “geotagged) view on Evernote for Mac. This view displays Notes tagged with a particular location, and displays the number of Notes at that location.

Unlike the mobile Note view that just displays the streaming audio player, the desktop app also displays a link to download the audio file to your computer.

Evernote Audio Interviews - Note View - OSX
The streaming audio player view of my audio Note from the Mac desktop version of Evernote. From the desktop, I can also download the audio file attached to the Note.

Once on my MacBook, I do a bit of cleanup work on my mobile Note recordings. I re-Title each Note using a more descriptive naming convention than the auto-generated “Audio Note from xyz” format. I also remove the Location metadata if necessary for privacy reasons (just click in the Location field and delete the data). From the Note Details view, clicking on the “i” Information icon will get you to this metadata view.

If I had old Notes created without geolocation enabled, I could add the Location data after the fact using this Location field. This field will accept latitude and longitude if you know those coordinates (see the How To section below if you need to look these up) as well as an address.

Evernote Audio Interviews - Metadata View - OSX
Desktop (Mac) version of the Notes Detail view. From a Note, click on the “info” icon. This shows the geotagged location, to a very specific street address level. This Location metadata can be edited from this view, adding latitude and longitude, or a specific address.

Here you can see where my cleaned-up naming convention for audio Notes comes in handy. All segments get grouped together by Title and displayed in order.

Evernote Audio Interviews - Notebook List - OSX
The Notes list view in Evernote for Mac. Here, in my “Research: Family History (Colleen)” Notebook, you can see two of the most recent family history audio interviews I have recorded on my iPhone. After recording interviews, when I get back to my MacBook, I edit the Note titles, applying my standard Note Title naming convention using a yyyy-mm-dd naming convention for easier sorting.

Once the newly re-Titled Notes are synced, these are also grouped together and displayed in order on my mobile apps.

Evernote Audio Interviews - Notebook List View - iOS
The Note List view from my iPhone, after cleaning up the Titles and applying my yyyy-mm-dd naming convention on the desktop app.

Versus Other Apps

There are more polished apps out there to record, edit, and publish mobile audio. But Evernote’s audio Notes automatically integrate into my most used research and information management tool…Evernote. I don’t have to create yet another web account, or remember on what other third party site I stored a particular audio file (Audioboo, StoryCorp, SoundCloud, etc.). I already pay for a Premium subscription on Evernote, so I store as much as possible on their servers.

If I want to polish up an interview or combine all segments, I can download the m4a files and work with them in a local audio editing program. I can also combine these with photos or video segments and publish on YouTube. I would definitely go that route to preserve a full interview that I can share with our family and future generations. But, the purpose of recording my road trip with Dad was just to document these details for further research and writing.

How To

Recording Audio Notes: If you aren’t already familiar with how to record an audio Note in Evernote, their Knowledge Base has good instructions for desktop clients, and for mobile Apple, Android, and Windows apps.

Managing Location Settings: Enabling or disabling geolocation has to be done in each device, and the exact instructions differ by platform and device.

  • From the web interface (method recommended in help forums for Mac desktop).
  • From my iPhone 5 and iPad Mini: Settings > Privacy > Location Services.
  • Windows desktop, and other mobile platforms…sorry, you’ll have to Google those.

Get Latitude & Longitude: I use these methods from the Google Maps help documentation.

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3 thoughts on “Evernote For Genealogy: Mobile Audio Interviews”

  1. Thanks so much for your tip on using Evernote audio, which I got recently. Still learning how to use it but it didn’t take long for it to become indispensable to me.

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