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Newspaper Obituaries for Genealogy – Episode 73

Newspaper Obituaries for Genealogy – Episode 73

This week in Elevenses with Lisa episode 73 we are talking obituaries and the important role they can play in your genealogy. Obituaries can reveal a lot of really interesting and helpful information about your ancestors! My guest is Shannon Combs-Bennett, the author of the article A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding and Using Historical Obituaries published in Family Tree Magazine

newspaper obituaries for genealogy

Episode 73

In Elevenses with Lisa episode 73 Lisa Louise Cooke and Shannon Combs-Bennett will discuss:

  • The backstory on obituaries (which is vital to understand about any genealogical record)
  • what they can tell you about your ancestors
  • where you can find them both online and offline
  • and strategies you can use when they aren’t where you expected to find them.

Episode 73 Show Notes 

(Please note: This interview transcription has been minimally altered for ease of reading and clarity.)

Lisa: I think of obituaries as being such a cornerstone of the work that we do. It’s often one of the first places people start, right?

Shannon: Yeah, it is, they’re pretty accessible for most people. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper, though the further back in time you go. But they seem to be one of the basic, I guess you could call staples, bread and butter type documents that genealogists try to find.

Type of Death Records Found in Newspapers

(01:28) Lisa: Exactly. And we typically find them in newspapers. So, I’d love to start there. Because obituaries are not the only kind of death record we’re finding in newspapers, right?

Shannon: There are actually several different types of death records published in a newspaper.

Obituaries
Of course the obituaries, which are the most common.

Funeral Announcements
You can also have funeral announcements. So, you might not get the obituary, but maybe you can find the announcement that this funeral home is servicing this family or that this wake will occur at such and such place, or the religious ceremony will occur at this church with graveside services.

Card of Thanks
In addition to that, you sometimes can find what were called for a long time card of thanks where families would put articles in the newspaper, essentially, in the advertisement and personal sections, thanking people for coming and participating in the service of their loved one. 

So, there’s a wide variety of different types of information. And if you don’t know it’s there, you don’t know to go look for it.

Coroner Inquests 
Lisa: Exactly. I remember I was doing some newspaper research in the British Newspaper Archives, from my husband’s family. I didn’t find a death notice, but there was an entire coroner’s inquest published in the newspaper! And I didn’t realize that we could find something like that. So, it’s wonderful to see the depth of the kinds of information that surround the death of a person that could be found in newspapers.

Shannon: And those aren’t as common here in the United States. But if your loved one died in a larger city, you can sometimes find (coroner inquests) in the newspapers. I was doing some research and found in from San Francisco, and they have published books of coroner’s inquests, so they’re not in newspapers, but the announcement was in the newspaper that there was an inquest. Then I was able to go to the library and thankfully they were all digitized. I found them online where I would find all sorts of information about the person, their family, the circumstances of their death. And if you’re doing family medical histories, sometimes those can be real gold mines.

The History of Obituaries

(4:03) Lisa: So, let’s take a moment and talk about the history of obituaries. Because, as you know, when we understand the history of any kind of genealogical record, then we do a lot better job of utilizing it. Please give us a little bit of a background story on obituaries. How long have they been around?

 Colonial Times
Shannon: You can find obituaries in even some of the earliest colonial newspapers here in the United States. Sometimes they were passing through an area and died. Or you might see information that someone had died abroad and there might be a little note in the newspaper.

Early 19th Century
In the early 1800s you can see themes developing around newspaper obituaries. (And sometimes if it was a very important person to the community you’ll be more than likely to find it.) These early newspaper obituaries don’t always have a lot of family information, but you’ll find all sorts of virtuous prose written about them where they were talking about how godly and worthy they were and those types of things.

Then the obituary started to morph and actually became a part of the personal and advertisement section of the newspaper. So, one reason you may not find information in an obituary for your ancestor is because your family didn’t have the money to pay for the obituary to put be put in. And then if they weren’t a real prominent person, they wouldn’t get the prime real estate in the actual reading sections. So, yeah, if your family were on the poor side, you might not find anything about them, unfortunately.

20th Century
(06:06) And then, as the 20th century came in these started to evolve from a celebration of death to a celebration of people’s accomplishments. You start finding late 1800s into the early 20th century is how the obituary as we know it today started to evolve. It went from maybe one or two lines about a person dying to three and four paragraphs about them, their families, especially if they had, you been a pensioner or veteran, or a pioneer of a town, the early 20th century saw a lot of those people who had really struck it out west for their fame and fortune start passing away in those towns. Sometimes you would even find the obituary, not only in the place where they died, but in their hometowns back further to the east. You might find obituaries, especially for those pioneering folk you could call them, back where they came from.

Lisa: That’s a great point. And that’s really kind of a nice newspaper research tip that expands beyond obituaries. It’s that idea that people often started back east, but then relocated out west, and particularly with the telegraph coming into play, they could send that article back to where they came from and get it to all those people who would be interested to know whatever happened to that person.

Shannon: Right.

21st Century
Now in the 21st century we’re moving more and more away from print newspapers for the obituaries. We’re going to almost completely digital newspapers for the obituaries and digital obituary sites. I’ve had several of my close family members in the last 10 years who have passed away, and the funeral homes are offering to put obituaries on their websites. And when my mother passed away, I was speaking with the funeral home director, and they had kept records. This was in Texas. And they had records going back several decades with written obituaries that, if you called the funeral home, you could see if they had one written up. It was not even necessary published in the paper, because the family couldn’t afford it. But the funeral home had it.

Lisa: How interesting!

It really drives home the point that you’ve got to know what kind of timeframe you’re looking at right to see what you can find and where you’d expect to find it.

Obituaries in Small vs. Large Cities

(08:48) I would imagine it’s true that in small towns, you might be more likely to find obituaries then perhaps let’s say in Chicago.

Shannon: Yeah, because you know, everybody knows everybody, in a small hometown. Those would be more likely to have the longer, more in depth information written about a person talking about their family, and where they came from, what they did, if they were the pillar of a community, or even just a local farmer.

And then in the cities, unless you were a prominent citizen, that’s where you’re more than likely to find a paragraph or less, maybe only even a few sentences: first and last name, age, died on this date, and maybe that’s all you get, unfortunately.

Where to Find Obituaries in Old Newspapers

(09:39) Lisa: Let’s talk about where to find these Historical Newspapers. Where do we start?

Shannon: Okay. Well, there are a lot of different newspapers online.

Chronicling America at the Library of Congress
Of course, the Library of Congress Chronicling America is a great start. See if they have one of the local newspapers for the place that you’re researching for the timeframe your ancestors were there. Start there because it’s free – you got to start with the free resources first.

FamilySearch
Family search also has a free obituary, historical obituary site that you can search. (Ed. Note: this link will take you to a resource page at the FamilySearch Wiki which includes many links to sources for obituaries.)

And then you can move into the paid / subscription websites such as:

(Disclosure: Thank you for using these affiliate links. We will be compensated if you make a purchase and that helps support this content which we make available for free.)

(Ed. Note: Of course there are many other websites featuring obituaries, and some are niche websites unique to their location. Google searching can help you locate these resources. Learn more about my strategies for strategic googling here.)

Obituaries at Libraries

(10:36) Sometimes you can also contact the local library for the place the person had died. I’m originally from Indiana, and I’ve had good luck calling around to the various county libraries. Unfortunately, they don’t have a lot of the newspapers digitized. But for a small fee, they were willing to send me a photocopy. And in some cases, now I can get email PDFs for a few dollars. I like to support the local library, so I’m okay with doing that. Because our local libraries need a lot of support.

Don’t give up if you can’t find it digitized, is what I’m trying to say. There’s a lot of information to be found, and there are a lot of places out there, especially for older newspapers. Be resourceful I guess you could say.

Obituary Indexes

(11:29) Lisa: You talked about online indexes. So sometimes we don’t get the actual obit but we could get enough information out of the index that we could then go track it down in person.

Shannon: Yeah, that’s very true. I’ve used those several times. One of the links that is in the article is to the Dayton, Ohio index. And you can put in as much information as you know. Sometimes I find it’s easier to start with a little bit of information, and then sort through and add details to weed through the large number. But all it will give you is the person’s name and the date of publication, so not even the date of death (so you know it’s somewhere in that timeframe) and then the page, issue, column number so that you can contact the Dayton Public Library, and they can help get you the paper. And a lot of the libraries are like that.

Obituary Search Strategies

(12:29) Lisa: When you do online searches for obituaries, do you tend to just go straight in and do a search on the name? Or do you go into the card catalog and find newspaper and obituary collections first and then try to search? Do you have any special tactics that you use to try to make sure you’re successful?

Shannon: That’s actually a really great question. It depends. If I have a really unique name and I am pretty sure of the location, maybe timeframe of the death, sometimes I’ll just start looking for that person. Especially like I said, if it’s a really unique name.

Unique Names
I had an ancestor named Bathsheba Kelly. I’m thinking there’s not many people named Bathsheba. So I was pretty confident maybe if I just started looking for her by name and the timeframe she died in Ohio, we’d be good to go.

Other times, yeah, I first want to narrow it down by collection because you don’t want to just go searching willy nilly, right? That’s going to waste a lot of time. Try to find like a five year, maybe a 10 year span. If you’re not quite sure, having a timeframe will help weed them down.

Common Names
If it’s a common name, you need to add in a lot more. Maybe those advanced searches. It may take you going town by town, or year by year as you go wading through all the names.

Indexes
If there is an index for the database I do like to use those first because that can help weed out a lot of information right off the bat.

Printing
Print it out, write it down, keep it on a separate browser tab or whatever you need to do so that you can methodically keep track of your search.  That can really help. Don’t give up!

Obituary Publishing Timeframes

(14:54) Lisa: I know I had an experience once where I was searching a weekly newspaper in California on microfilm, and I knew that obituaries were always on page seven, because I’ve just had been through so many issues of this particular newspaper. I looked at the obituary column in the next issue following the death of my great grandfather, and he wasn’t there. And I was like, What? I looked at the next week and he wasn’t there, and I went back a week. I wondered if maybe I got the date wrong. It turned out his obituary was on the front page! And that goes back to us saying that some people were kind of considered the pioneer of their town, even though in the family, he wasn’t Mr. Celebrity or anything, but he was revered for that. And they had him on the front page.

I’d love to have you touch on when you don’t see them where you think you’re going to see them. And what’s the timing of when we could expect to see their obituary published? And do you have any other tips on when they’re not where you think they’ll be? What are the kinds of places within the paper where you tend to find these kinds of articles?

Shannon: Yeah, that’s actually a really good question. Again, it depends. Like you said, even if you don’t think that your family member was someone famous, if you’re not finding the obituary where you expect to find it, try going through the newspaper cover to cover.

Sometimes if your ancestor died in mysterious circumstances, there might not be an obituary, but there might be an article about a court case. So that’s always a good thing to know. Because those death records, especially if it was salacious gossip, is going to turn up somewhere.

Lisa: It’s newsworthy.

Shannon: That’s right. If it’s newsworthy, it’s going to be in there.

Where Obituaries are Located in a Newspaper

(16:46) I was recently doing some research on professional genealogists. I wanted to find out when genealogists became a profession here in the United States. I figured if an obituary of a professional genealogist told me they were 80 years old and when they died, then I can kind of backtrack to when, they started became a professional. I did not find these obituaries in the late 1800s where I thought they should be. Sometimes they were in the Personal section. Sometimes they were in the miscellaneous advertisement section. But then once again, it goes back to somebody had to pay the newspaper to put this in it. So, they wouldn’t be in these larger newspapers. I was looking at like the New York Times, The Hartford newspaper, the Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune. I wasn’t finding these obituary pages for them. I was finding obituaries in the Personal section, which kind of threw me for a loop a little bit.

Lisa: You kind of have to follow the money, right?

Shannon: Yeah.

Lisa: It’s so interesting that you’re talking about the history of genealogists, because I remember, quite a few years ago, I went to the census records. I started searching on genealogist as an occupation or the industry. That’s really interesting too to see who was doing it 100 years ago.

Obituaries were not always published the very next week after a person’s death, right?

Shannon: Right. A lot of people think that they are. I guess 1) it depends on the religion and the culture that you’re looking at –  what was done in that time frame. Or 2) it depends on the place. This might sound kind of odd to some of us who don’t live in really cold places, but when the ground freezes in our northern most states sometimes you wouldn’t be able to bury somebody until the next spring. And, and you may have a death notice when they died, but then a full obituary for when the service and the burial took place. So sometimes you may have several months gap in between when they died, and when information was published about them in the newspaper.

The other thing maybe, especially if they were in business, or if they traveled, or if they were in the military, they could have died abroad. So, you’re only going to hear the information see the death notice or the obituary when the ship lands.

Information Found in Obituaries

(20:00) Lisa: Before I let you go, I’d love to have you talk about the Obituary Fast Facts section in your article. What are some of the interesting facts and little bits that you want to share with us?

Shannon: Sure! Well, some of the things that you can find in an obituary can be surprising. As genealogists, we want to find all the family information we can. We want to know when they were born, who their parents were, if possible, family members, that type of thing. But other things that you can find in obituaries are :

Employment Information
employment information, which can then give you clues as to where else they might have been.

Migration Information
If they were a migrant, to that area, it can give you information, you know, where they originated from. If they immigrated to the Untied States, sometimes they list that they landed at the port of Philadelphia, or New York, or New Orleans, or wherever. And that can help lead information for passenger lists and future information.

Associated People
But most importantly, people who are listed in the obituary have to be somebody known to the deceased person, either a friend or a family, or a close acquaintance. I want to encourage people to not forget those associate people and collateral lines, because you might be able to find information about your ancestor while researching them.

Lisa: Great point! 

About Shannon Combs-Bennett

(21:30) Shannon, tell folks a little bit more about yourself and what you do.

Shannon: I’m an author, lecturer, and an educator, full time student – a perpetual student is what my father would call me. You can find me at my blog, which is Trials and Tribulations of a Self-Taught Family Historian. You can also find me on Facebook and LinkedIn and on Twitter, I’m not I’m not on Twitter as much as I used to be. I’ve spoken all across the United States. I’ve even spoken internationally in Scotland and in France for the Heraldic and Genealogical Congress. But I think that’s because I come from a background of teachers. I love educating, writing, lecturing and helping people learn more information about their pasts and about who they are and who their families were. It doesn’t hurt that my undergraduate degree was in human genetics. So sometimes I can throw a little bit of that DNA in there.

Lisa: Thank you so much for being on the show!

Resources

Premium Members: download this exclusive ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF
Not a member yet? Learn more and join the Genealogy Gems and Elevenses with Lisa family here.

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

You can find the Elevenses with Lisa Video Archive here or through the menu: Premium > Premium Videos > Elevenses with Lisa.

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Comments

Do you have a question about using obituaries for genealogy? Have you found something fascinating in an obituary? Tell us about it in the Comments below:

 

 

 

Episode 72 – Fabulous Photo Collection: Frith at Findmypast

Episode 72 – Fabulous Photo Collection: Frith at Findmypast

In Elevenses with Lisa episode 72 Alex Cox of Findmypast joins Lisa Louise Cooke to discuss the exciting new Francis Firth Photographic Collection.

Francis Frith Photos

Watch episode 72

Discover the scope of the collection and the best strategies for finding photos that will enrich your family history. 

 Watch Live: Thursday, September 23, 2021 at 11:00 am CT 
(calculate your time zone

Three ways to watch:
1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above.
2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

Episode 71 Show Notes 

Family History really comes alive when you can see actual faces and places, and that’s why the new photographic collection at Findmypast is so exciting. They’ve just added over 300,000 historical photographs chronicling more than a century of British life to their website. And these photos don’t just cover the UK – you can find images from other locations around the world as well.

Findmypast published these photos in partnership with Francis Frith, the UK’s leading publisher of local photographs since 1860, and they’re available to search online at Findmypast for the first time.

I’ve invited Alex Cox from Findmypast to join us today to tell us about the collection, the history, the scope and most importantly the best strategies for finding just the image you’re looking for.

About Francis Frith

From the folks at Findmypast: “Born into a Quaker family in 1822 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Francis Frith was a complex and multi-talented man who had a formidable instinct for business. After becoming a founding member of the Liverpool Photographic Society in 1853 – only 14 years after the invention of photography – he founded his own photographic publishing company in 1860 with the aim of creating accurate and truthful depictions of as many cities, towns and villages as possible.

Francis Frith portrait

Francis Frith, 1854 (public domain)

Copies of Frith’s photographs proved immensely popular with the general public. Thanks to the rapid expansion of the Victorian railway system, Britons were now travelling in greater numbers than ever before, fueling a huge demand for photographic souvenirs.

To help meet this demand, Frith employed a team of company photographers who were trained to capture images of the highest quality according to his strict specifications.

Manchester Saint Anns Square,1876 

By the 1870s, the market for Frith & Co’s products was huge, especially after Bank Holidays and half-day Saturdays were made obligatory by Act of Parliament in 1871. By 1890 Frith had succeeded in creating the first and greatest specialist photographic publishing company in the world, with over 2,000 retail stockists.”

The Scope of The Francis Frith Collection

Quantity:

  • 300,000 historical photographs

Coverage:

  • UK, Ireland and beyond
  • covering more than 9,000 cities, towns and villages across the UK and Ireland
  • wide variety of images captured overseas. Egypt, Canada, France, Germany Gibraltar, Hawaii, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States.

Timeframe:

  • 1860 to 1970

Depictions:

  • scenes of daily life – people, places, occupations, things
  • Victorian, Edwardian and 20thcentury Britain.
Francis Frith collection at Findmypast

Lowestoft Punch and Judy Childrens Corner, 1952 

Using the Photograph Transcriptions

Each photo comes with a transcription that is worth a look. You’ll find the transcription icon (it looks like a page) next to the image icon. The transcription provides information about the photo such as:

  • Year
  • Country and place
  • Latitude and longitude
  • Description
  • Link to the original photo on the source website (Francis Frith)

The Francis Frith photos are a great way to see how an area has changed over time. Copy latitude and longitude numbers found on the transcription page and then paste them into Google Earth to see the approximate location where the image was taken. Next, use Google Earth’s Street View to see the location up close today. You can save a high-resolution image of the location to your computer for comparison with the photo by clicking the Save Image button in Google Earth’s toolbar at the top of the screen. I love using Snagit to clip and annotate the image more precisely. (Learn more about it by watching episode 61. There you’ll also find out link and current discount code for Snagit.)

Learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy by watching my free class.

How to Browse the Photographs

Sometimes you just want to leisurely browse the photos for a given area. Here’s how to brows the Francis Frith Photo Collection at Findmypast:

  1. Start by searching on the general location.
  2. Click any image.
  3. Thumbnail images will appear at the bottom, all from the same series of photos.
  4. An “eye” icon will appear on the thumbnail of the image currently being viewed.
  5. Click the images on either side to scroll through and browse the series.
how to browse at findmypast

How to browse the Francis Frith photo collection at Findmypast

Frith Photos Search Strategies

Lisa’s Tip: If your ancestors sailed from a British port, search the collection to see what it looked like at that time.

“Be clever with your keywords.” Alex Cox, Findmypast

Alex recommends that before you start to search, look up the locations of your ancestors on a map. Have a look at the area. Doing so may provide additional ideas for your searches.

In addition to searching for locations, use the keyword search field to search for words describing elements of your ancestors’ lives. Try words like:

  • Store
  • Shop
  • Business
  • Docks
  • Factories
  • Mills
  • People
  • Pedestrians
  • Horse

Use the distance slider to expand and narrow your search geographically. Keep in mind that 10 miles on either side of your ancestors’ town really isn’t that far. By expanding your search with the distance slider, you might be able to find helpful representative images, even if they don’t include your ancestors’ exact village or business.

Usage of the Frith Photographs

We’re all mindful about copyright, so Alex and Lisa discussed the rules around the usage of these images in our family history work. Alex says you are welcome to use the Francis Frith images (which include small watermarks and a copyright statement) in a variety of ways for your family history.

Here are just a few ideas on how to use the photos:

  • Add them to your family tree
  • If you find a location in another genealogical record, look up the location in the Frith Collection
  • Download the image (with watermark)
how to download photo at findmypast

How to download a Frith photo at Findmypast

  • Print the image (with watermark)
  • Add images to Google Earth as image overlays (see Lisa’s book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.)
  • Share them on social media
  • Use them in your family history storytelling (videos, books, presentations, etc.)

How to purchase a high-resolution watermark-free version

In each image transcript you’ll find a link to the original source image on the Francis Frith Collection website. Click it, and it will take you to the Frith website. There you can purchase a clean (without watermarks), high-quality version suitable for printing.

Resources

Premium Members: download this exclusive ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF
Not a member yet? Learn more and join the Genealogy Gems and Elevenses with Lisa family here.

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

You can find the Elevenses with Lisa Video Archive here or through the menu: Premium > Premium Videos > Elevenses with Lisa.

Free Newsletter and Bonus Gift

Please click here to sign up now if you haven’t already. You’ll receive a BONUS free eBook with your first email.

Episode 71 – Genealogy Organization and Work Flow that WORKS!

Episode 71 – Genealogy Organization and Work Flow that WORKS!

When you’re working on our genealogy, you’ve got data and records coming from all directions: websites, interviews, archives, downloadable documents, and more. Some of it you’re actively working on, some of it you need to save for later, and the rest has already been analyzed and is ready for archiving. This variety of data requires a variety of storage locations.
 
Genealogy Workflow Organization

Watch episode 71

 
In this week’s special episode of Elevenses with Lisa (episode 71) I’m going to share with you my genealogy data workflow. We’ll talk about how it all fits together to ensure an uncluttered desk and the ability to instantly put my hands on what I need when I need it. If that sounds like something that you need help with, please join me this week.

 Watch Live: Thursday, September 16, 2021 at 11:00 am CT 
(calculate your time zone

Three ways to watch:
1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above.
2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

Episode 71 Show Notes 

Barbara left a comment saying she found our recent videos that we called How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole helpful (episode 68 and episode 69), but she did had a question about Evernote. She asks, “Once you have processed (the genealogy record) and extracted the information you need, do you remove them from Evernote and place them in your digital genealogy filing system? I get a bit confused in thinking about what the other purposes of Evernote might be. Wouldn’t I just save my documents, newspaper clippings, etc. to my digital files on the hard drive and also to my Google Drive folders? Is there any need to also have them in Evernote?”

This is a great question, and I think the best way to answer it is to talk about my entire genealogy workflow in which programs like Evernote play a part.

It really helps to have a consistent way to capture and find what you’re actively working on. My workflow works great for me, but its just one way. Follow along with me and see if this might be a flow that will work for you.

The Genealogy Data Flow

Let’s start off with an overview of my workflow. And there are really 5 major workstations, if you will, that your data flows through. Some of these we’ve discussed previously here and also in several Premium Member videos:

  1. Active Genealogy Work
    This is the stuff we are working on currently. I several different tools to capture and work on these items: Evernote, genealogy website subscriptions, “pending” folders on my computer, pending tabs in my 3 ring notebooks and physical pending box on my desk. We discussed this in Elevenses with Lisa episode 7.
  2. Conclusions added to Master Genealogy Database (Software on your computer)
  3. Archival Digital Storage (your computer.) See episode 8 (Digital Archiving) You can certainly keep archival items in Evernote as well.
  4. Archival Paper Storage (your binders.) See episode 6 (Paper Archiving)
  5. Cloud backup. I use Backblaze at https://www.backblaze.com/lisa (affiliate link – thank you for your support of our free content)

Incoming Genealogy Sources

Not everything I find while researching is ready to be archived the moment I find it. Some items are actively being found and worked with such as:

  • Items I’m exploring for the potential application to my current research project
  • Items pending analysis
  • Unproven items
  • Items playing a role in a bigger research question that I want all together for now.
  • Bright Shiny Objects (BSOs) – stuff I found along the way that doesn’t relate to my current research goals

Not everything is captured on my computer. Many items (photos, audio and video records, typed notes) are captured on my phone and my iPad. So, I need an easy way to funnel everything back to one active workspace. A cloud-based notetaking service allows me to do this because it’s available as software on my computer and an app on my mobile devices. All synchronize through my account on the cloud. I use Evernote  (affiliate link – thank you for your support of our free content) so I’ll refer to that, but there are others out there like OneNote, and Google Keep. (Learn more about how to user Evernote in episode 70.)

Evernote allows me to:

  1. Capture and hold items
  2. search and retrieve more effectively than on my computer thanks to OCR (subscription)
  3. work my genealogy research plan
  4. easily collaborate with another researcher by sharing a single link
  5. Store and share media such as audio and video recordings

OK, so does everything go straight into Evernote? The answer is no. So let’s take a look at what happens to a digital item when I get it. I’m going to call it data, but it could be a downloaded genealogy record, a web clipping from a website, a photo of a gravesite I took with my phone, or anything else that includes information I want to use.

Working Your Genealogy Research Plan

When we work our genealogy research plan, we will inevitably locate documents. Typically, these are digital, but sometimes we find a physical document and make a digital copy of it.

Before a digital item is deemed relevant and ready to archive, we have a lot of work to do. We need to evaluate and analyze the document to determine its value and its possible application to our family history. If deemed reliable and applicable, we then need to extract the data and enter it into our family tree software. We may also decide to add some or all of the information to other places such as our online tree if we have one.

Many times, all of this work can’t happen in one sitting. We may need to be able to review and work with the item several times before we’re finished with it. I call this “processing” the document.

Even after its processed, we may still need the item nearby for reference as we work our research plan in the hopes of reaching our goal. At this stage, I consider this item to be “Active.” The opposite of that would be items I consider to be “Archived.” An archived item has been fully utilized and is no longer playing an active role in my research plan. That’s not to say I may not need to reference it again in the future, which is why it must be archived where I can retrieve it. The point is that the item is not relevant to my current active research. For example, perhaps it pertains to my mother’s side of the family and right now I’m working on my father’s side of the family.

My active digital items are typically added to Evernote, which I consider to be my Active workspace. It is not my archival space. However, this is not to say that you can’t store everything in Evernote forever if that’s what you want to do. You certainly could. I’ve given this a lot of thought and there are a few reasons why I don’t store everything in Evernote.

The main reason I don’t store everything in Evernote is that I’m a firm believer in retaining control of my data. If we store everything on a website or in a cloud service (which Evernote is), they (or their hosting provider) could pull the plug tomorrow and it would all be gone. I certainly don’t think that would happen overnight, although there are real cases of that happening. But I don’t want to take the risk, and I don’t want to have to scramble in a panic to move a mountain of data because I’ve been given a 30 day notice that a service is ending or has been sold to another company. (And let’s not even think about the possibility that the email notification of that happening went to my Spam folder!)

In order to retain control of my family history data, my long-term data storage needs to be within my control: my computer, external hard drives (both backed up with Backblaze) and paper print outs. That being said, when it comes to my active research project, I’m willing to trade the risk for the speed and convenience of using an online tool or service such as Evernote. My active research is a small fraction of my total research, most of which has been archived on my computer.

So, when I first find an item, I have a decision to make: where am I going to put it? Will I save it to my computer or to Evernote? It depends on what it is.

Items I save to Evernote:

  • Items needing OCR to be most useful. Examples: Newspaper articles, web clippings
  • Items created with my phone or tablet. Examples: Photos of gravesites and documents, interview audio recordings, videos of research trips
  • Items needing analysis before confirmed as pertaining to my family. Examples: Record downloaded from a genealogy website. I want these in Evernote because everything is together in one place. Tags and the search feature allow me to instantly retrieve any combination of records I need at any given time for cross reference. And if I need to share any or all of the items with another researcher it’s easy to do with just one share link. A cloud notetaking service make working your research plan much easier. (Premium Members watch my video class Collaborative Genealogy with Evernote.
  • Example: Items pertains to my family but not part of my current research project.
  • Downloaded genealogy records I don’t have time to process right now.

All items are tagged with relevant information to make them quick and easy to find in addition to keyword searching.

Items I save to my computer hard drive:

  • Items to I want to keep that have been processed.
  • Digital scans of visual items. Examples: Family Photos, old postcards
  • Large files created on my computer (audio, video).

I have a solid system for organizing my folders and file on my computer so it’s quick and easy to find them. If you’re a Premium Member you can watch my step-by-step classes on how to set that up for yourself on my website GenealogyGems.com.

The bottom line is that whenever I need to find something for my active research project I’m going to search my notetaking service first, and then my computer hard drive.

Genealogy data workflow

Archiving Processed Items

Once I reach my research goal and I’m done actively using those sources, I’m ready to archive them. I could just leave everything in Evernote, but I want to make sure that all genealogical documents that I referenced as a source in my master database, are archived on my computer for long-term storage that I control, and that is being automatically backed up.

An important thing to understand about Evernote is that you can’t just download everything with one click in its original file format. However, you can save individual digitized items in your note, such as genealogical records, to your hard drive. Since there is no lifetime storage limit, I leave the note intact in Evernote, and I save the image to my computer hard drive. Save the image by right-clicking on it (in Windows, & I think it is Command click on a Mac) select Save As and save it to the appropriate archival folder.  I do this at the end of the research project. Now you may feel like your “research project” never ends! But I’m referring to a genealogy research plan.

how to save evernote image to hard drive

How to save a document image to your hard drive from Evernote.

You can learn how to create one in Evernote by watching my Premium video class Using Evernote to Create a Research Plan. (Premium membership required.) Of course, after I’ve answered my research question I quickly develop the next one and build a plan around it. So, you’re right, it never actually ends – thank goodness!

How Do I Find It Later?

My software database is the brain of my genealogy operations. I may have family tree information on various genealogy websites, on my computer, in Evernote and maybe even on my own family history website. But my database is the final word on what I have found and believe to be accurate. As I draw conclusions and add data to my family tree in my database, I cite my source. Therefore, everything I need to know about my tree is in one location I control on my own computer. If someone asks me a question about someone in my family tree, I can quickly look up the information and also see where I got it (the source).

genealogy database software

“Your genealogy database software is the brain of the organization.” Lisa Louise Cooke

When I want to refer back to one of those sources I would look in one of three places:

  1. My computer archival digital files (especially if it’s not part of my active research plan). This is easy to do because I know my folder system well, and it guides me. I’ve never lost anything yet!
  2. Evernote (particularly if the source is part of my current research plan.)
  3. The surname binder (if my citation tells me or I suspect it would be an archived piece of paper.)

Because I stick to my system, I usually instinctively know where to look. And because of they way each is set up, I can find things FAST!

Final Thoughts

Of course there are always exceptions to any rule, and there may be an item or situation that doesn’t fall perfectly neatly into a category or activity. Use your own best judgement on how to handle those. OCR search capability and great systems for digital and paper items will make it possible to find what you need when you need it. And most importantly, you’ll retain control over your family history legacy.

Be sure to share your Evernote credentials in a secure place and share them with a trusted relative so that the account can be passed on in the future. Learn more about protecting your legacy by watching my video class Saving Your Research from Destruction. (Premium membership required.)

Resources

Premium Members: download this exclusive ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF
Not a member yet? Learn more and join the Genealogy Gems and Elevenses with Lisa family here.

Genealogy Gems Premium Videos including:

  • Organize Your Research with Evernote
  • Making Evernote Effortless
  • Using Evernote to Create a Research Plan
  • Evernote: 10 Projects You Can Do
  • Collaborative Genealogy with Evernote
Evernote for genealogy genealogical sources

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