During this giving season, why not give back to the community of global genealogy lovers who quietly and continually enrich our family history research? Here are 4 ways to pay it forward in genealogy from the comfort of wherever you are! One gem you may not have heard of: the British Library’s project to index old maps.
4 Ways to Pay it Forward in Genealogy
1. Help with global gravestone research.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably discovered the final resting places of many an ancestor–perhaps along with important biographical data and even additional relatives–with the help of websites such as BillionGraves and Find A Grave.
BillionGraves says it’s “the world′s largest resource for searchable GPS cemetery data, and is growing bigger and better every day.” Its volunteers take GPS-tagged pictures of headstones in cemeteries around the world and transcribe them for their free searchable database.
How you can help:
- Image headstones: download the free app to your smartphone from the App Store or Google Play. Take images of headstones in cemeteries you visit, whether it’s your own ancestor’s burial place or a local graveyard.
- Transcribe personal information found on gravestone images. You can transcribe the images you take or you can visit the site and transcribe images that someone else has uploaded. Click here to get started.
- Upload additional source documentation to BillionGraves tombstone images, such as obituaries, cemetery records, and the like. You’ll make these virtual gravestone sites even more genealogically valuable! Click here to learn more.
Find A Grave has a slightly different model for collecting global gravestone data. Here you can create free memorial pages for ancestors, which “generally include birth, death, and burial information and may include pictures, biographies, family information, and more.” You can also upload your own headstone images and transcribe them (or someone else’s images), and you can even upload a spreadsheet of cemetery burials you may have already transcribed.
Who’s behind Find A Grave? It’s owned by subscription website Ancestry.com, but it’s a separate, free site powered by volunteers: “Thousands of contributors submit new listings, updates, corrections, photographs and virtual flowers every hour. The site simply wouldn’t exist without the million+ contributors.”
Find A Grave has recently updated its site to make it more secure, faster, easier to use, and accessible to new devices and other languages. More than 100 million graves from over half a million cemeteries worldwide are already searchable at the site. To get started, download the Find A Grave app at Google Play or the App Store, or just visit the website.
2. Transcribe old documents and maps.
Millions–even billions–of digital images of old documents contain genealogical clues, but those names, dates, and places need to be extracted from those image files before they become easily searchable. Transcribing that information is also known in genealogy circles as indexing (or creating indexes). Here are four places to contribute your indexing skills:
FamilySearch Indexing. Thousands of you have likely participated in this best-known volunteer record transcription project out there. (We blogged about it recently in honor of their worldwide weekend indexing event.) Their indexing platform recently became fully cloud-based, so you can index more easily on your computer or mobile device. Volunteers are especially needed right now who can read Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Polish, Swedish, and Dutch.
British Library Georeferencing Project. The British Library is recruiting volunteers to help geo-reference thousands of old maps that are already online. Geo-referencing, or geotagging, means assigning geographic reference points (longitude, latitude) to points on a map image. Doing this with old maps allows them to be linked to their modern-day locations, allowing us to compare the past and present (as Lisa teaches about in her free Google Earth video class). Over 8,000 maps have already been “placed” by participants (and subsequently checked for accuracy and approved by their panel of expert reviewers). The latest phase of the project includes 50,000 maps, mostly 19th-century maps from books published in Europe. The British Library says that “some places have changed significantly or disappeared completely,” increasing both the intriguing challenges for volunteers and the value to those who will benefit from their map sleuthing skills.
Ancestry World Archives Project. “The Ancestry World Archives Project is thousands of volunteers from around the world with a passion for genealogy and a desire to help others discover their roots,” says the project home page. “And all it takes is a computer, some basic software we provide and a little of your time.” Even though Ancestry.com itself is a subscription website, any records indexed through the Ancestry World Archives Project remain free to search on the site.
Here’s a screenshot of their current projects (click on it to visit the site):
National Archives Citizen Archivist Program. “A Citizen Archivist is a virtual volunteer that helps the U.S. National Archives increase the online access to their historical records,” reports Melissa Barker in a recent blog post. “This is done by crowdsourcing metadata about their records through tagging, transcribing, and adding comments to the U.S. National Archives catalog.” Click here to read the full article and get started.
3. Reunite heirlooms with long-lost relatives.
Probably millions of “lost” family items are out there: in flea markets, second-hand shops, online auction listings, perhaps even your own closets or attics. Genealogy Gems has reported many times in the past about genealogy heroes who claim these “orphaned heirlooms” just long enough to research and contact living relatives who would love to find them.
Whether it’s a family bible, an old marriage certificate in a dusty frame, a fading photo album, or a pile of old letters, each “orphaned heirloom” is unique–and so is the experience of tracking down its family and reuniting them. Here are several stories to inspire your next visit to eBay or a secondhand shop:
- World War II dog tag finally returns to family
- Packet of labeled photos, school records, dance cards and letters home to Mom and Dad returned via Ancestry
- Orphaned WWI medal comes home via Facebook
- Facebook users reunite a bible with its family
4. Solve “unclaimed persons” mysteries.
“Many people are aware that it can be a real challenge when a coroner obtains a John or Jane Doe, an unidentified person,” writes Lacey Cooke, Genealogy Gems service manager, who has a forensic anthropology degree. “It presents the difficult task of identifying the person. But few people know that in fact the even bigger problem consuming morgues today is unclaimed persons, rather than unidentified ones: individuals who have passed but with no trace of living relatives to come and claim them.”
Lacey is the one who introduced us to the Unclaimed Persons project earlier this year. With Unclaimed Persons, an online community of volunteer researchers joins forces with medical examiners, forensic investigators, and coroners to help reunite families and bring closure so that the dead can finally be laid to rest. Click here to read more about that effort.
How will you pay it forward in genealogy?
Click on one of the opportunities above–or tell us about one you’ve tried–to give back to your genealogy community this season. This largely-invisible community is all around us and enriches all our efforts, from late-night research sessions by ourselves (in records indexed by volunteers!) to local societies who host classes that inspire us or who answer our obituary inquiries and Facebook posts about their locales. If you are already one of those volunteers, THANK YOU. You are a gem and we here at Genealogy Gems are grateful for you.
P.S. You can also “pay it forward” by sharing free content like this from our website with your genealogy friends and society members. Why not link to this post on social media or in an email and challenge those you know to do good in the genealogy world?
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
- How to get started with Evernote
- Using it for free or as a subscriber
- Best Practices for tagging, notebooks and more.
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.
Give Evernote a try with our link
(Using our link helps support the free show. Thanks!)
What is Evernote?
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.
Getting Started with Evernote
- Sign in for a free account at https://evernote.grsm.io/genealogy
- 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)
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)
- Filtered Notes
- Pinned Notes
- 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 – Snippet View:
- 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 Snippet View 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)
- an article
- a simplified article (removing unwanted graphics and text not pertaining to the article)
- a screenshot (where you precision clip with cross hairs)
- a bookmark
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.
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
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.
In early 2007 when I published the first episode, podcasting was in its infancy, having just come into being in mid-2005. It was like being part of a new Wild West of technology. For the first time anyone with an interesting idea, a computer, and a willingness to work long hours could produce a worldwide ‘radio’ show. The day I listened to a podcast for the first time, I knew this medium was what I had been waiting for to reach genealogists.
Apparently a lot of other folks were also anxiously looking for new and valuable genealogy information. From long time genealogists to dabbling family history newbies, they flocked to the free podcast available through Apple’s iTunes Store and the Genealogy Gems website (www.GenealogyGems.com). Over the next five years they listened in to soak up genealogy research strategies, expert interviews, tips on harnessing the power of technology in their research, and creative ideas for sharing their findings.
There’s a lot of noise out there online that can be overwhelming. My goal has always been to spend my time sifting through all of that information, and chiseling out the gems – the items that are really worthwhile – so that you, my listeners, can have faster and greater success . Ultimately I hope that the genealogy gems I provide on the show lead to your own genealogy gems: your precious ancestors!
What started as a single podcast episode has turned in to a multi-media genealogy publishing company. Genealogy Gems now encompasses offerings, many that are free, that accommodate every learning style: audio, video, articles, books, dvds, toolbar, live classes, and online webinars. The Genealogy Gems mobile app (available in the iTunes App Store, and an Android version through Amazon) gives genealogists the flexibility to hit the road and take it all with them. I’m very proud of the team of talented individuals that I’ve assembled who have made this expansion possible.
I speak at events across the U.S. and internationally, but not everyone can get out to a genealogy conference. It’s critical to me that we meet people where they are, and that’s what the Genealogy Gems website, YouTube channel, app, and toolbar are all about. The fact that the podcast has now been downloaded 1 million times confirms that that we are accomplishing that goal.
I hope that you will share this fun, celebratory infographic on Facebook, Pinterest and other social networking sites to help spread the word to others interested in discovering how podcasts can help them reach their genealogy goals.
Fun Facts about Genealogy Gems:
The Genealogy Gems Podcast launch date: March 1, 2007
Number of free episodes published: 146
Number of countries with listeners: 126
Top 10 Listening Cities in the U.S.:
Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Salt Lake City, Washington DC, Dallas , Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Phoenix.
Genealogy Gems App publish date: 2009
Podcast rating in iTunes: 5 Stars (including 53 written reviews)
Number of views of the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel:
191,000 and counting (www.youtube.com/genealogygems)
Celebrities featured on the podcast include:
Lisa Kudrow (Friends, Who Do You Think You Are?),
Henry Louis Gates (Oprah’s Roots)
Tim Russell (Prairie Home Companion)
Darby Hinton (Daniel Boone)
Kathy Lennon (The Lennon Sisters)
Ali Selim (Sweet Land)
Tukufu Zuberi (History Detectives)
Linda Chavez (Fox News, Finding Your Roots)
Genealogists all over the world are harnessing the power of Evernote to organize their family history research. This free software (and website application) can bring all your research materials (text notes, photos and images from mobile devices, video, audio interviews, web content and URLs) together in one place.
Then it goes even further by making all the text items keyword-searchable. So you can much more easily locate that one little piece of information you recall only as “that bit about the fire station he worked for.”
Better yet, Evernote goes with you. With the Evernote software and companion app, your genealogy notes will be accessible from and fully-synced across all your computing devices. Sigh! It’s wonderful!
Here’s how to get started
1. Download the free Evernote software here.
2. Create your free or premium Evernote account. (Click here to learn more about Evernote account options.)
3. Go to your Account page and make note of your unique Evernote email address. (Help>Go to My Account Page>Account Summary and scroll down to “Email Notes to.”)
4. Download the free Evernote web clipper for your web browser.
Now you’re ready to use Evernote to collect your research content and source citation information!
Here are 5 ways to add content to Evernote
1. The Web Clipper: Pull data from websites with the handy web clipper and Evernote will often automatically capture information about the site you got it from.
2. Drag and Drop: Images, scanned documents and other multimedia content can be dropped right into new or existing notes.
3. Smartphone and Tablet: Snap a photo of a record, tombstone or any other genealogical item. (I like to do a quick photo “Edit” cleanup to get it in the best shape possible). Tap the Share button and send it to Evernote.
4. Email Content: Use your unique Evernote email address to send content from anywhere to your account.
5. Good Old Typing: Click “New Note” and start typing. You can always add other content including merging notes together.
Resources for Success
There’s so much demand for learning to use Evernote for genealogy that I’ve created a variety of helpful resources in video, audio, print and online formats (because everyone learns differently!).
FREE YouTube Video Series: Evernote for Genealogy
I’ve posted two videos so far on my free YouTube series:
- Evernote for Genealogy: What It Is, and Why You Would Use It and
- How to Use Evernote for Genealogy and Family History: Handwriting, OCR, Video and Upload Answers.
Evernote for Genealogy Quick Reference Guide
My laminated reference guide is super handy for every day support! This guide includes:
- A Getting Started Checklist
- Quick Keystrokes
- Getting the Most Out of Clipping
- Maneuvering the Desktop Client
- Genealogical Organization
- Little-Known Search Strategies
- Specialized Genealogy Focused Techniques
- Comparison of Evernote Pricing Tiers
The guide is available for both Windows and Mac users, in both print and digital download format. Click below to view:
- Evernote for Windows for Genealogy (print version)
- Evernote for Windows for Genealogy (digital download)
- Evernote for Mac for Genealogy (print version)
- Evernote for Mac for Genealogy (digital download)
The Ultimate Evernote for Genealogy Education
Genealogy Gems website Premium members have a full-year’s access to my popular in-depth video classes, which include The Ultimate Evernote for Genealogy Education video series. This series includes the following full-length and mini-series classes:
- How the Genealogist can Remember Everything with Evernote (Beginner)
- How to Organize Your Research with Evernote (Intermediate)
- Making Evernote Effortless (Intermediate)
- Collaborative Genealogy with Evernote (Intermediate)
- Using Evernote to Create a Research Plan (Advanced)
- Enhance Your Genealogy with Evernote: 10 Projects (Advanced)
Keep up on all my latest Evernote news and Q&As!
Click here to read my Evernote blog posts.
Sign up for my free email newsletter (that sign-up comes with a free bonus e-book!).
Who else do you know who would benefit from getting organized? I hope you’ll share this page with your friends, relatives, family history buddies and fellow gen society members using the share icons below. Thanks!