Evernote for Genealogy · Genealogy How Tos

Your genealogy research process – it doesn’t have to be painful but it does have to work

Quick quiz: if you had to find a genealogical file / doc/ photo / fact right now, how long would it take you to find it?

If you read the title of this post and said what process? you’ve come to the right place.

In this post, I’m going to talk about the factors that will help you figure out your most comfortable process for filing and organizing all that stuff.

Genealogy. I’m dating myself here, but when I started my genealogical journey, the records were only available in hard copy. A research trip involved travel to another city, copious note taking, and lining up to use the photocopier at 25 cents a page. If I got three or four documents in an afternoon’s worth of research, it was a good day.

I had planned to spend my retirement years visiting genealogical societies and libraries.

Fast forward ~20 years to today. The only thing that’s the same is that I’ll still likely spend my retirement doing genealogy.

Everything else has changed. Now I use Evernote. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with understanding your document handling processes.

Process: 6 important factors

The resources: time or money

Process consideration #1 – Are you richer in time or money?

It’s one or the other. If you’ve got lots of time, you tend to have less money to blow; and if you’re making money, you tend to have limited amounts of free time. When I started with genealogy, I definitely had less money.


Process consideration #2 – Have you got the space? Hint: if your family makes dark comments about your stuff taking over the house, it’s a clue.

I really had no idea what I was getting into with genealogy.

Collecting bit and bobs seems so innocuous but over time has the capacity to eat all the free space on the dining room table, in the living room, on the bookshelves, and in every nook and cranny in the basement. Like any collection, genealogy needs a firm hand or it’ll get out of hand.


Process consideration #3 – how often do you move?

In the past two decades, I have gone from homeowner to traveller to student to renter to homeowner again. I have lived in 5 provinces. I stopped counting the moves at 12. Packing, storing, moving and unpacking are not an issue if you don’t move, but if you do?



Process consideration #4 – How much do you / would you like to leverage techology? 

The internet and associated apps and tech tools have revolutionized genealogy. It is wonderful to find and use the thousands of sites and sources online – most of them for free. There are billions of digitized documents now available. In the future there will be trillions. There is a rich vein of media available – in addition to documents, there are webinars, social media chat groups, one name sites, and podcasts. I have met genealogists who have written the code for their own custom databases.

That having been said, there is something profoundly comforting about having all your research at hand, tidily tucked away in binders, files and books. It’s tangible. I understand.

The Future

Process consideration #5 – How will you leave your genealogical legacy?

Who will get your work when you’re done?

I don’t have a good answer for this one, but I know one thing for certain: none of my immediate family are interested in taking over my files. It’s too daunting.

Here’s a story. My aunt and uncle spent their lives collecting photos of the Yip family clan. They had a ROOM filled with photo albums, all meticulously tagged and arranged. When they moved from their house to a condo, they asked me if I’d like to take over “some of the pictures.” That’s how they phrased it. I offered to take “all” of it, not realizing how much of it there was. My aunt just laughed.

I LOVE photos, I’m into genealogy in a big way, and I still can’t take on their collection. This story tells me that however I hand off my work, it had better be in a format that’s accessible and useful to the next person.


Process consideration #6 – does your filing system work?

This is the dealbreaker – is your process working for you?

I know a guy whose filing system is physical piles of paper on the floor. January starts a new pile, and – you guessed it – December is on the top. He’s been following this system for decades, so that’s a lot of piles of paper. Being asked to locate anything causes a great deal of stress, because he’s sure he has it but he’s not sure he can retrieve it.

Take heart. Filing can overwhelm the best of us. If you think you have it bad, here’s a shot from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. I look at this and I don’t see a process that’s serving anybody.

Filing at the US Department of Veteran Affairs (http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-12-00244-241a.pdf) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Next week, I’ll break down paper versus electronic systems, and then I’ll discuss Evernote for genealogy.

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