Doing genealogy research generates a wide variety of research notes: typed and handwritten, audio, photos, video, and screenshots of information on websites. If you want one tool to pull together your current research projects, Evernote might just be the answer. In this video and article you’ll learn the role that Evernote can play, what it is and how to set it up, and your options for using for free or as a subscriber.
Evernote for Genealogy Video Tutorial
In this video and article Lisa Louise Cooke will discuss:
What Evernote is and the role Evernote can play in your genealogy research
Use it for free or upgrade to get all the bells and whistles like OCR and use on all your devices. (We will be compensated if you use our affiliate link. Thank you for supporting this free show.)
In my recent videos on how to avoid research rabbit holes that keep you from your genealogy goals, I mentioned that I use Evernote to capture BSOs or bright shiny objects that are interesting but not what I’m working on at the moment. So in this video I’m going to explain what Evernote is, and how to get started using it.
Evernote puts all your notes in one place and offers an incredibly fast and easy way to retrieve them.
Evernote is a:
software program for your computer (Win & Mac) that you download for free from their website
mobile app (iOS & Android): search for Evernote in your device’s app store
a web clipper for your computer’s web browser
Genealogy can get a big messy. Information can be gathered from countless sources and in a variety of forms. You could funnel things through a cloud service like Dropbox. However, because Evernote is a note taking app, it offers unique and super helpful features:
Create all types of notes
From all of your devices. Thanks to Cloud synchronization you can take a note on any device and always have access to the most current version. (Free mobile app)
Web clipping – It allows you to clip items from the Internet (rather than saving entire bulky web pages),
OCR technology makes notes (such as newspaper articles) keyword searchable (subscription)
Data like URLs and the date you created the note is automatically included
No total storage limit, just monthly upload
You can use it for free, and upgrade for all the bells and whistles.
Install the software on your desktop computer (Windows & Mac)
Download the web clipper to your browser (app store or Google it)
Download the free Evernote app to your mobile devices from the iTunes App Store or Google Play
Features & Costs
(Subject to change. Visit evernote.com/compare-plans)
Evernote pricing plans comparison Sept. 2021 – See the website for the most current offer.
Software Home Layout
Evernote’s Home view gives you a summary of what you’ve got going on in Evernote. If Home is new to you and you don’t see it, simply head to the left Navigation menu and click Home.
Home gives you a place to sort of summarize what you’ve got going on in Evernote. It also allows you to add more personalization.
A fun way to personalize Evernote is by adding a background image. Click Customize in the upper right corner, and then click the Change Background button. Here you can add a preset image or add your own.
By default, Home comes with widgets such as:
Notes (highlighting your most recent notes, and Suggested notes based on your activity)
A Scratch Pad
Recently Captured items by type (web clips, images, documents, audio and emails)
While you’re in Customize mode, you’ll see additional available widgets like:
Calendar (allowing you to sync your Google calendar with Evernote)
An additional Scratch Pad
We’ll explore some of these further in a moment. But first, let’s create our first note!
All Notes View – SnippetView:
Left column = your files and organization
Center column = search for notes
Right column = the note you are currently working on
Change the layout by clicking the View Options icon (in SnippetView it appears at the top of the search column). This will give you a variety of layout options.
Change what appears or is hidden from view, and whether the view is dark or light by clicking View in the menu.
Create a note by clicking the New Note(+) button at the top of the screen.
Creating a new note is as simple as starting to type. Evernote saves your work instantly and without any extra effort on your part. Notes are saved in “the Cloud” on Evernote’s servers. This means all of your notes are automatically backed up. In addition, all of your notes will sync across all of your various computing devices. And Evernote facilitates sharing notes with others for research collaboration.
Click the Info icon at the top of the note to see the meta-data for that note. You can add and edit this information.
Types of Notes:
Note Info has changed and can now be found by pressing Control + Shift + I on your keyboard, or clicking the More Actions (3 dots icon) in the upper right corner of the note and selecting Note Info.
Tagging is the Key to Organization
Add a tag based on important keywords associated with the note.
Examples of tags for genealogy:
Surnames (Cooke, Moore)
Record types (birth, census, land)
Locations (Indiana, Germany)
Time frames (1900-1909, 1910-1919)
Tasks (pending, add to database, follow up, etc.)
To tag a note, click Add Tag at the top of the note and select a tag from your list or add a new tag. Tags will appear in the left column. Click any tag in the left column to retrieve all notes with that tag.
In June of 2021 Evernote added a Tasks feature. It operates just a little differently than how I’ve been using tasks. Evernote tasks are:
To Do Items
Note Specific (versus a tag which can retrieve all notes with that task)
Often Deadline Driven
Assignable to Others
Where is the Trash?
You will find Evernote’s Trash bin at the bottom of the Navigation bar on the left.
Notebooks take organization a step further. I create notebooks sparingly. I use them to divide Evernote up into workspaces: Genealogy, Personal, Business, etc. I also use them for long-term and collaborative research projects that I may want to share with others. You can drag and drop notebooks on top of each other to create Stacks, although Evernote only allows one level of stacking.
How to create a new notebook:
In the menu select: File > New Notebook
Name the new notebook in the pop-up window
Select notebook type – usually you would set it up to synchronize, but you do have the option to have the notebook reside only on the computer it was created by selecting Local
The Cloud and Synchronization
Notes are saved on your computer and in the Cloud on Evernote’s servers. This means all of your notes are automatically backed up, and also accessible from your account on their website. Your notes will sync across all of your computing devices that have Evernote installed. There’s no need to manually sync with the new version. It happens automatically whenever you’re connected to the internet.
As you visit webpages, you can clip just the portion of the page that you want to remember and keep rather than printing the page or bookmarking it. You can type the source citation directly into the note. Clippings appear as images in the note.
How to clip a screenshot using the computer software:
Right-click on the Evernote icon in your computer task bar.
Select Clip Screenshot.
Use the cross-hairs to draw a box around the desired content.
Release you mouse and you will see a quick flash on the screen indicating the content has been saved as a note in Evernote.
In Evernote click on the note to type additional information if desired.
How to download the free Evernote web clipper for your web browser:
Go to: evernote.com/webclipper
The download page will detect the browser that you are using and offer the correct web clipper. Click the download button.
The Evernote web clipper will install in your web browser (look in the upper right corner of your browser for the elephant icon.)
Sign into your Evernote account in the clipper.
Using the Browser Web Clipper:
When you visit a web page and find something that you want to clip, click the Evernote Web Clipper (elephant) icon in your web browser. The browser web clipper can save:
a full page (even the parts out of view)
a simplified article (removing unwanted graphics and text not pertaining to the article)
a screenshot (where you precision clip with cross hairs)
As you clip you can select which notebook to file the note in and add any desired tags. It will also include the URL in the note header.
Search and Retrieval
Type a keyword into the search box and Evernote will locate and display notes that contain the keyword in the center column. This includes typed text from a website clipping or image, as in the example above. With a subscription, OCR technology makes it possible for you to search for words in Evernote to retrieve notes that include those words, both on the clipped image and in printed handwritten text.
Follow these tips to identify old cars in photographs from your family albums. You can often identify the make and model of the automobile; decipher and date the license plates, and even discover additional documents relating to the earliest drivers on your family tree.
Image courtesy of Jennifer McCraw
A listener’s mystery photo question
Many of us have mystery photos in our family archives. Jennifer sent me a creative question about identifying hers:
“Have you ever come across any information on searching old license plate tag numbers to find an identity of the registrant? I have old photos that, according to my aunt, are the family of my grandmother’s boyfriend, Max, before [she married] my grandfather. The photos are amazing. Very ‘Great Gatsby-esque.’ Amazing clothes and car, right?! One photo has a smiling man standing in front of an old car with a portion of the license plate showing. I do not know the identity of this man or children. I’m thinking start with searches for plates beginning with 109 in the years before my grandmother was married in the state of Indiana, where she and Max lived.”I didn’t know if I had a ‘lead’ in that or not. I may be pulling at strings. I’d love your advice.”
What a great idea! I haven’t tried Jennifer’s exact approach to researching license plates as a way of identifying owners. But I have a similar story about researching an old car in my own family photo. My story, below, may help Jennifer and anyone else wanting to identify old cars in photographs. Keep reading for tips on researching the make and model of a car; deciphering the license plate to help date the photo and even on finding early drivers’ records. Owning a car was (and still is) a source of pride and excitement for many families, so it’s really worth taking a closer look at their cars in old pictures.
An old car photo in my own family
Here’s a photograph I love of my grandmother Alfreda as a teenager, beaming as she poses beside the newly purchased family automobile. In her diary, she divulges her excitement for the surprise she came home to after church:
Oct. 21, 1929 Sunday. “Went to Sunday school and when I got back there was our new car waiting for me. Willy’s Knight. I drove it all around, went and gave Evelyn a ride. Made Mama mad.”
This diary entry piques my interest. What year was this? Where did the car come from? What’s a “Willy’s Knight?” And if Mama got mad, who gave Alfreda the keys? I suspect Alfreda may have been a bit of a Daddy’s girl, but alas, this photo may not be able to reveal that family dynamic. However, the photo does contain important clues that has helped me answer at least a few of these questions.
1. Identify old cars in photographs
Before you start trying to identify an old vehicle in a family photo, it will help to know whether it’s categorized as a veteran, vintage, or classic car. What’s the difference? According to ItStillRuns.com:
“Veteran cars were manufactured before 1903, vintage cars were made between 1903 and 1933, and classic cars are considered to be vehicles manufactured from 1933 until fifteen years ago.”
I already knew from Grandma’s diary that the car in the above picture was a Willys Knight. But I wondered if I could nail down the make and model. I ran a few Google searches and found some fantastic websites.
Paul Young’s Willys Overland Knight Registry website had just what I was looking for. The site features dozens of photographs of all the different makes and models of Willys Knight automobiles in chronological order. So I scrolled down to the late 20’s and compared each photo to the photo of my great grandfather’s car. Bingo! The 1928 Willys Knight 70A Cabriolet Coupe America matched the car to a T. Everything from the convertible roof, the headlights, bumper, and side view mirrors all matched up.
From there I clicked on the Willys Knight History link, which led to not only a written history of Willys Knight but a chart of Willys Knight Specifications. A quick scroll down led me to the specs for Grandpas 1928 70A series car. I learned that great-grandpa’s car was introduced in August of 1927 for the starter price of $1,295. (Here’s a free online inflation calculator. Try plugging in 1927 and $1,295 to find out what the car would cost in today’s money.)
I also learned that the car was a 6-cylinder, as well as specs on the horsepower, the wheelbase, and even the range of serial numbers that the car would fall within. This website was jammed packed with everything you could ever want to know about the Willys Knight car. (If you’re interested in chatting with others about Willys Knight cars, you could also visit this site’s Facebook page.)
Family Photo Detective by Maureen Taylor is your ultimate guide to identifying old objects in pictures to help you learn more about your family history.
In Family Tree Magazine a few years ago, I read an article called “Motor Trends,” written by my friend Maureen Taylor. She said that said that by 1918 all states had adopted license and registration laws. It recommended that you look for a license plate in old photos. License plates often have a year on them and possibly even the owner’s initials.
Unfortunately, the license plate in my photo is so dark I couldn’t read it at all. My guess is that this is probably the situation in many cases when someone has a photo of a car. So here’s what I did to solve this problem:
I opened a digital copy of the photo with the basic photograph editing software that came with my computer.
I cropped the photo to just show the license plate and then zoomed in to make the image as large as possible.
I increased the brightness of the photo and adjusted the contrast. Often when you play with these two features, adjusting first one and then the other, you’ll get pretty good results.
The final touch was to apply an auto-sharpening tool which defined the image even more.
As you can see in the “before and after” images below, what once was a blob of darkness now read: 2L 67 24.
There was something printed under the license number, but I still couldn’t quite read it. It looked like CAL 29, which would make sense because they lived in California and the year they bought it was 1929. But I couldn’t be certain. So I ran a Google search for “old California license plates.”
Several websites proved interesting for learning more about old California license plates:
For example, I learned that California has required license plates since 1905. In that year, there were over 17,000 registered vehicles in the state. I found a replica 1929 license plate that read “CAL 29” across the bottom of it. Just what I’d thought mine said! And thanks to WorldLicensePlates.com, I was even able to determine that the license plate in my black and white photo had a black background and orange lettering.
What about the license plate in Jennifer’s photo? Only a partial plate is visible, but it’s enough to compare to images of Indiana license plates at WorldLicensePlates.com:
identifying old license plates
Jennifer can take several important clues from this comparison:
It quite a dark plate with very light numbers. Even though it’s a black and white photo, based on the contrast, I think the license probably doesn’t have orange in it. (Eliminate 1929, 1930, 1931, 1935)
There is no dash between the first 3 numbers and the next set (eliminate 1929)
The style is more of a Sans Serif font (we can eliminate 1929, and 1930)
Indiana appears at the bottom (eliminate 1931, 1933, 1935)
From these clues, I’d say that the 1932 plate is certainly the closest match.
3. Find records relating to early drivers
California state statutes of 1901 authorized cities and counties to license bicycles, tricycles, automobile carriages, carts, and similar wheeled vehicles. Owners paid a $2 fee and were issued a circular tag. Later, tags were either octagonal or had scalloped edges.
Motor Vehicles Records
So this got me curious. Could I access records associated with my great-grandfather’s license plate and automobile registration? Typically states move records of this age to their state archives. I started by Googling California State Archives. The Online Archives of Californiahas a searchable database that includes the state archive holdings. The online catalog has motor vehicle records (61 volumes!) for the first several years they were issued (1905-1913).
A description in the online finding aid stated: “Motor Vehicle Records, 1913 transferred those functions from the Secretary of State’s office to the Department of Engineering.” There are actually two clues here: 1) the phrase “motor vehicle records” is what I likely want to use when searching for records, and 2) the office that likely kept the records for my time period (1929) was the Department of Engineering. A followup search using these search terms got 13 results. Unfortunately, none of these records included 1929, and an email inquiry to the State Archives wasn’t fruitful, either. But this showed me that driver registration records may exist.
So may other driving-related records. I did several searches in ArchiveGrid, an enormous online catalog for archival collections. No California motor vehicle registrations popped up. But I did find a collection of 1928 maps and guidebooks for the Automobile Club of Southern California, held at the Brigham Young University library in Provo, Utah. There was also a collection of thousands of images collected by the Automobile Club of Southern California (mostly in the 1920s and 1930s) at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA.
If I really wanted to learn more about the early-1900s “sport” of automobile driving in California, I could spend some time with record collections such as those.
Does this discovery change the course of my family history? No. But it was a heck of a lot of fun to learn what I did about the oldest automobile I’m aware of my family owning. It’s exciting to discover these little gems: they connect me to the past in such an interesting way. Even better, it gave me something to share with my husband, Bill, who loves old cars!
Listen to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast in favorite podcast app.
Hear inspiring stories and learn hands-on, try-it-now strategies for discovering your family history in my free Genealogy Gems Podcast. There are more than 200 episodes to get your genealogy motor running, with a new episode published each month. You’ll find the latest news, try-it-now online search strategies and inspiring stories to keep you on the road to genealogy research success.