Evernote for Genealogy: Research Logs and Note Links

Evernote for GenealogyWhile I am very faithful at using Evernote to capture, store, and annotate my genealogy documents, I have neglected to keep real research logs during my 15+ years as a genealogist. But the more posts and tips I read from other family historians, the more convinced I have become that I have to start keeping real logs of my findings, searches, leads, questions, and tasks. So early last year I started buckling down. I now keep research logs by ancestor/relative, and have been painstakingly reconstructing log entries for older research. This effort has been ramped up in anticipation of my visit next week to the Family History Library in conjunction with RootsTech.

Evernote is a natural fit for my workflow and needs. I use Google Drive heavily for data management, but a spreadsheet just isn’t easy to read or modify on my iPhone or iPad.  I wanted the simplest, easiest, most accessible workflow possible if I’m actually going to keep up with research logs. And one that is accessible and editable from every single one of my computers and mobile devices. Since I already keep my documentation in Evernote, using Evernote for research logs just makes good sense.

My Template

I keep a master genealogy Genealogy Log template file in my general research Notebook, which I simply copy and paste into a new Note in the appropriate family history Notebook–my side, or Hubby’s side (see my last post for an explanation)–whenever I start a new log for a new person. I rename the log Note’s Title field to reflect my standard genealogy Note naming convention (again, see my last post), add the appropriate surname Tags, and start filling in the data.

Evernote Template Genealogy Log
My Genealogy Log template. It ain’t pretty or fancy, but it does the job quite well for me. Shown on Evernote for Mac. Click on the image for a larger view.

The one difference in the naming convention I apply to the research log versus all other research Notes is that I capitalize the surname so that the log immediately stands out when I search for or browse other Notes with that same surname.

If you look closely at my template as well as an actual working research log (see example below), I also apply a unique code to each individual in the Note Title field, and in other areas throughout the Log. I use the Dollerhide System for my methodology, but I heavily integrate it with Evernote to produce an organizational system that helps keep me sane when trying to remember who is who (especially with identical names). I will blog in more detail later.

Evernote Locating Logs when browsing
Capitalizing the surname on my research logs makes them stand out from other Notes when browsing files.

My research log template and the actual research logs are not pretty. Remember…simple, easy, and accessible are my criteria. But they work great for me. And I’ve been sticking with logging my research. That’s all that matters. After tweaking the layout and fields for about a year, I’ve stuck with this current format for some time. You are welcome to copy my template from this public link.

Using Note Links

Note Links are one of the most valuable features of Evernote. These allow you to create wiki-type hyperlinks connecting Notes together.

I make heavy use of Note Looks in my research logs, connecting research Notes that refer to the same person, and also connecting to research logs for other key related individuals. 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. As you discover new information about an ancestor (a female’s surname, a middle name, date of birth, date of death, etc.), you can modify the Title of their research log and it does not break your Note Link.

Evernote Research Log top for KENNEDY Sarah
Top view of my research log for ancestor Sarah Kennedy.
Evernote Research Log bottom for KENNEDY Sarah
Bottom view of my research log for ancestor Sarah Kennedy.

You may notice that at the top of my actual research log and the template Note, I make reference to a hyperlinked Genealogy Index. I will discuss that index in my next post.

Do you use research logs? And if so, what tool(s) do you use?

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26 thoughts on “Evernote for Genealogy: Research Logs and Note Links”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your template. I tried forever to figure out how to create an Evernote template. Everything I cut and pasted didn’t allow me to type within the spaces. Then when I tried to work within the Evernote note system I couldn’t format. How on earth did you do it?!? Though if you’d rather not tell, I’m happy just to consider you a genius!

    1. Hi J.E.

      I literally just copy and paste from that saved template Note into a new Note, adding a the appropriate new Title. That’s it. I’m able to type within table cells, and next to any of my bullet points or check lists in the other areas. I am able to format text in those areas using the standard Evernote “Format” menu (bold, italics, strikethrough, bullet lists, number lists. etc.).

      Can you elaborate upon what you “couldn’t format”?

      1. I’m not sure if this was his problem, but I’m trying to make a template for census searches and used Evernote’s Table insert. It seems like the table columns adjust to the typing in the cells. Your’s does that as well. No fixed column width.

    2. J E, after a little searching I found this on a Mac forum. I use a PC and made a table with Word, set some attributes to the table like fixed column width and wordwrap, copied the whole thing and pasted into an Evernote. I tried it first with Excel but it wouldn’t keep the borders. Word should work PC or Mac.Evernote has a table creator button but I don’t like it.

      1. Evernote’s native tables are indeed less than desirable. I just haven’t found copying/pasting a Word or Excel table to work all that great in Evernote either (not once you have to start entering/editing data and adding more rows or columns). This is one of the only big failures I have found with Evernote. But, that’s why I say my Log method is rough, dirty, simple. I still depend heavily on my Family Tree Maker for all of this info, but Evernote does the job when I don’t have my FTM with me, and especially when I don’t have an internet connection (when even my mobile Ancestry app won’t work).

  2. When I tried to make a research log template within the note structure of Evernote it looked very sloppy and didn’t format into columns etc. When I tried to make a template in Word or Excel I could copy it in as a note but then I couldn’t type within the cells I had created. I even tried copying others that I found on the internet. Again I wasn’t able to type within the cells. So I was thrilled to be able to copy your template and then keep duplicating it AND be able to type within the cells.
    So my problem was creating/formatting a template that could be used within Evernote. Did you create this within Evernote or did you use another program and copy it in?

    1. Hi Beth. So sorry for the belated reply! I just add a new row in the “Biographical Info” table of my lob, naming it Divorce, and including relevant details. I also note it in the “Research Log” table…date found, where found ,etc.

  3. Charlette Smith

    I am also doing reasearch on the GREENE family. My mother was a Greene. Is there someplace online that I may check your Greene Line? It is a hard line for me to follow due to the fact that my mother passed when I was 4 years old and my dad wouldn’t talk much about her family. I have gotten little bits from cousins that I have located recently.

  4. This appeared at the bottom of this blog post.

    You may notice that at the top of my actual research log and the template Note, I make reference to a hyperlinked Genealogy Index. I will discuss that index in my next post.

    Have you discussed this index? I can’t seem to find it.

  5. Hi Colleen,

    I really enjoyed this post and thought it made a lot of sense! Like Wayne asked above, will you please discuss your linked index? I am interested to hear more about your workflow!



  6. Wayne and Laura: So sorry for this belated reply, and not getting that post up yet! I have been battling some big health issues since April and have not kept on top of this blog. I’ll get that post up next week.

  7. Hi Colleen

    I hope you’re feeling better. I want to thank you for your blog on genealogy and Evernote. I needed a fairly straight forward method for organizing my several years of hodgepodge research to see what I have and where I need to go from here. I’m in the process of setting up the structure – creating a log page for and numbering the antecedents and a simple index in dollarhide number order, with links, of course. I wish I had done something like this at the start! It’s an avalanching mountain of work, but will be so nice when I’m finished.

    I have a question about numbering special cases. I have two Agnes Woodsons who married into two separate surname lines. The first male Woodson is the father of one and the brother of the other. I was thinking about giving the aunt two numbers, the +1 from her husband and a sibling number from her brother. Do you have any suggestions how to handle this?

    Thank you again.

  8. I just found your blog and I am vibrating with excitement at what I see and I really, really hope that I can implement what you have done. I have much more to read but I like what I see. Love Evernote and I decided a few weeks ago that it will become my digital storage program for all that I scan and collect. I am also setting up binders because I am thinking that that format will be what my family will go to see the ancestors but for storage of papers and such, digital is the way to go! So far I plan on keeping my photos and stories in the binders and of course family group sheets.

  9. Thanks so much for sharing! I have used your template as a base and have added a few things to suit my needs and it works GREAT!

    One question though… is there anyway to have the note links change when updated? Say I have a name with a date at the end but no death date yet. When I add the death date I would like it to change the hyperlink everywhere it is linked.

    is this possible? Do I make sense?


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  15. Hi!

    I found your post on Evernote interesting. Currently, Evernote is my platform for recording memories. I am researching a method of recording that will allow my searches to be presented in date order. The date I want is not the creation date, but the historic time line date. Have you found an easy way to do this? I’ve thought of editing the creation date or putting the date in one of the searchable areas.

    Can you help?

    Pete Thorne

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