The Historian’s Sketchbook

sketch
n.
1. A hasty or undetailed drawing or painting often made as a preliminary study.
2. A brief general account or presentation; an outline.

I find artists sketchbooks fascinating. Not only do they capture little moments in time, they are also experiments in technique, color and form. Often sketchbooks are graphical diaries and provide a look at the interests and emotions of the artist.┬áThe word “sketch” is also used to describe short biographies – something we family history types know well.

Historically, researchers are known for their notebooks. In addition to quotations, rough maps and source references, you might also find an occasional photo or clipping stuck into the pages. Thanks to the boom in mobile digital devices – many with cameras – the historian’s notebook is less likely to be paper and it’s beginning to look more like a sketchbook.

The ultimate digital sketchbook is Evernote. It supports both desktop and mobile platforms with apps, plugins and widgets and thanks to its amazing handwriting recognition capabilities even your handwritten notes can be deciphered and made searchable. Using the Evernote app on your mobile device lets you capture both photographs and paper notes/sketches while the Penultimate app for iPad even lets you draw. And don’t forget the audio note either. A little imagination and you can build a sketchbook full of rich, multimedia moments.

Day One journal entry

Journaling apps like Day One [iPhone – $4.99, Mac – $9.99] let us capture photos, videos and text along with location, date and even weather conditions. It’s easy to use yet, by supporting the Markdown standard, insures our captured moments won’t be left in the old technology heap. Android users might take a look at A Day in Life [Android – $1.99]

And, don’t forget mobile apps for blogging platforms like Tumblr or WordPress to document and share your world – both publicly and privately.

As family historians we are documenting today’s family as well as researching those who came before us. A couple of decades from now, an email postcard such as this may be a valuable treasure to future generations. Today we’re delighted to have a journal, some letters or a photo of our ancestors. Think of the rich media treasures we can leave for those coming after us.