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April 2, 2014

Using Evernote to Make Virtual Binders for Genealogy Organization

Using Evernote to Make Virtual Binders for Genealogy Organization
Last week Renee Zamora left a comment on my blog post Spring Is Supposedly Here and My Spring Organization Fever is High. 

Renee mentioned that she is using Evernote to create binders in order to digitize all her paper files. I'm not sure I want to go totally digital for my genealogy but the idea of organizing my computer files using Evernote appealed to me. I use Evernote daily for gathering and organizing recipes, for saving receipts for items I purchase online, etc. But I'd never thought of pulling in files from my hard drive and organizing them into Notebooks.

I should preface this by saying that my computer files are a mess. I'm terrible at organizing them! My thousands of family photos, scanned documents and saved images from genealogy documents found online are a hodge-podge. Some are in the Documents folder on my laptop. Some are in the Pictures folder on my laptop. Some are on my desktop computer, some are on my Western Digital MyBookLive, some are on one of 3 Western Digital Passports, and some are in the Cloud - and more than one cloud! I use Dropbox, Bitcasa and Google Drive so depending on my mood that day I might put the 1851 Census for Levi Peer in any one of those spots.

You can see the problem I have when trying to find something specific. I know it's in one of those spots and I know it will be in a sub-directory of my Genealogy directory, but where?? Sure I can search for  what I want but it's not always easy to find, and it's certainly time-consuming.

Using Evernote I'm able to pull each file in to a binder (Notebook) that I've created. I can see at a glance what I've got on each ancestor and even better, I can click on the item in Evernote, choose to view it in Picassa or Preview or whatever program I want, and then I can easily move or copy it to the proper directory on my hard drive. Killing two birds with one stone! I am making it easier to see my saved files and am able to organize my hard drive at the same time.

My Genealogy "Binders" on Evernote
The first thing I did was create a Notebook (I'm calling Notebooks "Binders" in this blog post) called "Genealogy Binders". Then I created separate Notebooks (Binders) under this main Binder. My individual Binders are set up to suit me, so I have one Binder for each direct ancestor. I am also making individual Binders for documents and photos I have for siblings of my direct ancestors. Each of these individual binders goes into what Evernote calls a "stack". Think of a stack like the folders and sub-folders on your hard drive. You can see my setup for this in the image on the right. By the way I'm nowhere near done with setting up my binders!

Then I opened a binder and began creating individual notes within that specific binder. For example, I opened Peer Gen 1 Stephen - Mary Elizabeth Vollick. I click on "New Note". Then I go to the drop down menu called FILE and choose ATTACH FILES. I am then able to search for and insert an image or document from my hard drive. You can see the marriage registration I put into a note inside the Stephen Peer & Mary Vollick binder. The other notes I've added are on the left sidebar. I can also view these notes in different ways if I don't like the sidebar view.

Creating a Table of Contents for one "Binder"
Once I have all the notes I want in a binder, I can do lots of different things. I haven't finish playing around with all the choices but one I really like is creating a Table of Contents for a binder.

All I have to do is select all the notes in a binder. Evernote lays them all out for me in a pile and then I choose Create a Table of Contents and it's done. The TOC displays as a new note in that binder.  Update: Apparently creating a TOC is only available for MAC users. Sorry to all you Windows users out there!

Table of Contents for One Binder
I like that the list of contents in the TOC are linked to the individual note so I can click on any one I want and immediately view it full-size. I also chose to give each of my notes a title that began with a year because then I was able to sort the notes in chronological order. This helps me see at a glance what I have as a timeline for each ancestor and what I'm missing.

This is as far as I've gone in discovering how to set up and organize my genealogy files as virtual binders in Evernote but I am loving it! Once I have everything organized as I want, I'll decide what my next step is. I already shared one binder with a family member (easy to do from the Evernote program) and I'm going to check out my other options at some point.


Lynn said...

Lorine, I love Evernote and use it to organize my genealogy research however it should be noted that the table of contents feature is only available for Mac users. I'm a windows user and would love the table of contents feature.

Rita A. said...

This looks very useful. I may just give it a try.

Unknown said...

Lorine, I've taken the past month off from blogging over at Genealogyframeofmind to do some organizing and cleaning up of my office. Its been a long month but oh the difference it makes having it all organized.

I like what you did with the "binders" - I'll have to take a second look to see if I can make it work for me. I am on a Mac so that's a good thing! With the desk cleared and a lot of my paper issues under control its time to get the electronic side done. Thanks for the inspiration!


Renee Zamora said...

I got all excited about the TOC, thinking I somehow missed that feature in Evernote. So sad to see its only in the Mac version. Thinking positive it means one day it will be a new toy in the Windows version. Just can't wait!

Diane Scannell said...

I have been trying to train myself to use Evernote more effectively -- and to learn what the program can really do for me so I can get the best use of it. I read every post on how to use Evernote and have been to Lisa Louise Cook's lecture at NGS 2013, so I'm getting there.

I have used my Livescribe pen for taking notes at genealogy seminars and workshops, so those are filed in EN, but I haven't gotten into web captures so much.

Long before EN I developed a filing system that worked for me in downloading genealogy images (census, vital records, photos, etc). But like you described, they are filed in several different directories on my computer.

I like the "binder" system you have outlined, and am now trying to customize it to gather all my various folders in one place in Evernote.

Thank you for sharing with us and describing (with pictures) one more good use for EN.

Jana Iverson Last said...


I use OneNote more than Evernote, but this is a great idea!

I want you to know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a wonderful weekend!

Mountain Mama said...

I love the "tag" feature. I dump everything in the 'Genealogy' or 'Genetic Genealogy' folders and then tag with the surname, type of document, topic or what ever else seems relevant.

I also love that saved Webpages are live with links and videos working - something OneNote doesn't do.

Diane Scannell said...

Lorine, I have been making Genealogy Binders on my Windows7 laptop (synced to my iPad and iPhone), with your guidance in your blogs -- thank you for blazing the trail! Today I signed up for Evernote Premium and decided to try making a Table of Contents. It worked for me just now!

Happy Easter to you and Brian and the family.