Digital devices and platforms have revolutionized the way we research. For me, the combination of Evernote’s cloud-based notes management platform and my iPhone has been life-changing. Not only is it easy to capture information, but I can view any piece of information in just a matter of seconds – from just about anywhere. File folders have been replaced with tags, indexes with saved searches. My phone scans pages in seconds that I used to spend hours transcribing manually.
The file cabinets are gone. Archival boxes contain the precious family photos and ephemera. Copies of the things that have been digitized reside on portable hard drives with backup copies stored off-site at Dropbox and Flickr. Once again, tags and my computer’s search component can find any item in seconds. There’s still lots to be digitized, but the stacks aren’t as intimidating as they once were.
The toughest part of this transformation has been changing workflows and old habits. At first I continued my paper workflows only using digital tools. I made multiple digital copies of a document and saved them in different surname folders. When I first started using Evernote, I used that same process. No wonder Evernote wasn’t the amazing thing everyone said it would be. It wasn’t Evernote’s fault – it was mine. Today there’s only one Family Research notebook in my Evernote account. I no longer make copies of a record for each surname involved. I just add another surname tag to the original note. Surname folders, indexes and research logs have been replaced with saved searches.
When browsing digital archives online, I first use Evernote’s web clipper to capture the page showing the transcribed record and source information. Next I’ll download a copy of the original record when it’s available and import it to Evernote. It only take a couple of seconds to merge the transcribed note and image note into a single one and another few seconds to add the necessary tags. I can even do it on my iPad using the Dolphin browser [free – iOS and Android].
Evernote isn’t the only notes management option. OneNote and others will perform many of the functions mentioned here. It takes time to learn how to use these tools, but the toughest part is changing workflows to take advantage of them.
It’s time for family researchers to start thinking outside the file cabinet and 3-ring notebook.