Saturday, July 20, 2013

Using Evernote, OneNote and askSam for genealogy

Evernote, askSam and OneNote are notetaking programs that allow you to organise the kind of miscellaneous information that one collects in genealogical research -- the kind of information that makes you say to yourself, "I don't know where this fits in, but I'll make a note of it in case I need it later. The trouble is that when you need it later, you can't remember where you put it.

These notetaking programs help you to store such information, and to find it again.

Since I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, I've noticed that a lot of other people also seemed to be blogging about it, and so I thought I would list some of the useful blog posts I've found, thus reverting to the original purpose and meaning of a blog, a weB log of web sites one has visited and found useful.

I've been using askSam for more than 20 years, beginning with the DOS version, and I still use the DOS version (though I have the Windows version as well). It is powerful and has the advantage of being both a structured and an unstructured database at the same time. But you have to buy it. If yoi want to know more, see the askSam website here.

If you have Microsoft Office, however, you probably have OneNote as part of the bundle, so then you don't have to go out and buy it.

And Evernote is free, unless you become really addicted and start adding more than 60 Mb of data a month. Then you can get a paid version that does more.If you would like to try it, see the Evernote web site here.

So how do you use these programs for genealogy? Here are some links with useful tips:


  • Genealogy Insider - Using Evernote to Organize My Genealogy Research: My former method of genealogy research organization was to email myself notes and records, or use notekeeping gadgets on my iGoogle page. But with the emails getting buried in my in-box and the impending retirement of iGoogle, I wasn't very organized. Then I started hearing more about the Evernote web clipper and note-taker, and we began planning an Evernote for genealogists webinar with Lisa Louise Cooke (it's July 25—more details below).
  • How to Use Evernote for Genealogical Research | Evernote Blog Evernote Blog: I use Evernote to capture documents, images, and PDFs I find online, and later add descriptive notes to these pieces of information. Serious genealogists try to keep a record of everything they find, even if it’s full of lies and conjecture. (For example, if you suspect that a document might be fraudulent or inaccurate, you can make a note of it. If you come across it again, you will know that you already saw and evaluated it.) Using Evernote, you can add your own notes, questions, and task boxes to the images of records you find in your research.
  • Evernote: Your Virtual Genealogy Assistant | Thomas MacEntee: Evernote is a genealogy researcher's best friend and one of the best tools you can use to capture almost anything. This means not just items found online, but also images, documents and more! The best way to understand Evernote features is to imagine having your own personal assistant, but one that is virtual (meaning they cost practically nothing and never call in sick or complain about the workload!).
  • Genealogy Class - Evernote for Genealogists: clip sources anywhere & organize in the cloud - Rootfinders Genealogy Research: “Evernote” is a program or app that synchs notes, pictures, audio, and pdfs from many devices including PCs Macs, iPhones, iPads, Android Phones, tablets and Kindle Fire. How can we use it for genealogy? Snap a photo of Uncle Pete’s headstone with your phone at the cemetery. Scan a document to the laptop at the library. Record the story Great Aunt Martha told in the car. Clip an article from the web. Then tag and store them all in Evernote. When you get home, they’ll all be synched to all your devices and computers. You can share notebooks with others. And if any of your devices crash or get lost, your notes are still safe in the cloud with Evernote.
  • UpFront with NGS: Evernote -- is it part of your genealogical arsenal? Should it be?: Thomas MacEntee (High-Definition Genealogy) recently posted on Facebook a link to the Beginner’s Guide to Evernote and he has an article at, Evernote: Your Virtual Genealogy Assistant. So, if you’ve been dilly-dallying about trying Evernote (cough – this author falls into that category), you may have run out of excuses ... 
  • Anglo-Boer War photos | Hayes & Greene family history: I’m quite chuffed with Evernote. It can do lots of different things, but one of the things it excels at is compiling a digital photo album.

Or just Google for "Evernote genealogy"


  • Research Planning Using OneNote & Evernote - Try It! | The In-Depth Genealogist: Family history researchers are constantly planning their next research move. Whether you realize it or not, you probably are using some form of a research plan in your genealogical endeavors. Perhaps you do it the old fashioned way using pencil and paper to compile a “to do list.” Maybe you use a word processor to write a formal research plan or an electronic spreadsheet to organize your look-ups for your next trip to the Family History Library. The options for which tool you use to prepare a research plan are numerous. Lately, I’ve become fond of two relatively new tools: Microsoft’s OneNote and Evernote.
  • The Paperless Genealogist: Introduction To OneNote For Genealogists: Well, I've started using Microsoft's OneNote to organize my digital files, and I realized as I started that there a lot of videos and "How To" articles on the internet about organizing your genealogy, but most of them assume you are dealing with stacks of paper, which of course, I am trying to avoid. So, after a little bit of use, I put together this "Introduction To OneNote For Genealogists" video.
As I noted in an earlier blog post, I tend to prefer Evernote to OneNote because there's more documentation available and it's more explicit. Most of the stuff on OneNote seems to be in the form of videos, and when it comes to learning to use software, I'm a verbal type -- I like the instructions to be in words I can read and refer to while I'm using the software. 


Unfortunately nobody seems to have written much about how they use askSam for genealogy, other than me, that is.

So if you, or someone you know, is using askSam for genealogy, I'd love to hear from them.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

At last I'm getting the hang of Evernote

I've had Evernote on my computer for several years, but haven't used it much until now.

It came on one of those discs that come stuck to the front of computer magazines, and I installed it, and when I read the description of how it worked I thought it must be useful, but I somehow never managed to do much more than write a few test notes. The description made it sound as though it must be useful, but I could never get the hang of using it.

But when, on genealogy forums, people asked, as they do surprisingly often, what you do with all the notes scribbled on bits of paper, I would sometimes suggest that they have a look at Evernote. Though I didn't use it much myself, it sounded as though it could be useful.

As recently a couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on that topic, Genealogy notes and news: Managing research data: hastily scribbled ideas, scraps of paper and sticky notes, and I forgot to mention Evernote.

But after writing the article, I thought I must really make an effort to get to grips with Evernote, and so I sar down with the book, and re-read it. And then sat down in front of the computer with it, and tried out everything. It worked.

So what is Evernote?

Do you know Microsoft OneNote?

It's a program that comes with Microsoft Office, but none of the books you can buy about using MS Office tell you how to use it (sometimes I get nostalgic for the days when softwere came with actual documentation). I couldn't even get a third-party book for using OneNote. But my daughter who is studying for a doctorate in Greece discovered it, and said it was very useful for taking notes.

Well Evernote is something like that, but it's free. And I found a book about it.

My EvernoteMy Evernote by Katherine Murray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read the book a couple of times, and some parts several times, and I think I'm beginning to get the hang of it now.

One of the useful things about Evernote is that it synchronises across all devices. That means that I can have a copy on my desktop computer, my cell phone and my laptop computer, and I can enter and access data in all three places. And you can also access it on the Web, as the Evernote server is where all the synchronisation takes place. And if that isn't enough, you can send entries to it by e-mail, or even by tweeting from Twitter.

So what does it do for genealogists who want to know what to do with all those notes scribbled on scraps of paper, and on paper napkins and the like?

My method, described in my other post, is to make notes in a text database program, which means that even if I lose the original scrap of paper, I can find the information again, which makes it much more useful. But some people, like this blogger, don't like retyping, Marian's Roots and Rambles: Taming all that Information! - Part 1:
Ok, I know some of you are thinking, how does she get those handwritten transcriptions into the computer?!! Most of the time, unless there is a very good reason, I will scan my original notes and capture them as a pdf or jpg. That way I can save time by not retyping them and I don't have to worry about introducing further errors.
But if you have a zillion pdf and jpeg files, how do you find them again? She does it by typing long descriptive file names. But how much easier to scan them directly into Evernote (Yes We Scan!) And Evernote claims to be able to read and search for text in graphic files (I haven't tried that yet).

Evernote lets you have up to 250 different notebooks (one for genealogy, one for recipes, one for gardening, one for your PhD notes etc.) And its free. If you really need more, there's a premium version you can pay for.

Evernote also lets you clip web pages -- either the whole page, or a particular article, or selected text. It even advises you on which way to do it, but you don't have to take the advice if you don't want to.

And what if you really like working with pieces of paper? I know some researchers do like that. Well Evernote can print out your notes for you, on 3x5" cards, if that's what you want, so that you can shuffle them and spread them out on the dining-room table.

So why not go to and give it a try? There's nothing to lose, and it could solve your filing problem.

What about Microsoft OneNote?

Well Evernote can import that too.

View all my reviews


I've just discovered that some other bloggers are also discussing the genealogical uses of Evernote, so check for more tims and resources here UpFront with NGS: Evernote -- is it part of your genealogical arsenal? Should it be?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Last chance to get PAF

The FamilySearch operation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be discontinuing support for its Personal Ancestral File (PAF) program from 15 July 2013.

If you are using PAF, and you might want to continue using it in future, you might like to download a copy of the latest version, and to store a copy of the installable program in a safe place, so you can reinstall it in case of hardware failure, or if your computer gets stolen.

I have found, for example, that I need PAF 4.0 in order to import GEDCOM files into the Legacy Family Tree program without errors.

For further information on how to download PAF before 15 July 2013, see here:

How to download Personal Ancestral File (PAF)

and here:

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Managing research data: hastily scribbled ideas, scraps of paper and sticky notes

What do I do with the small scraps of paper, hastily scribbled ideas and the sticky notes plastered everywhere? This article suggests scanning them with long file names: What do I do with the small scraps of paper, hastily scribbled ideas and the sticky notes plastered everywhere! | Genealogy Circle, and quotes another article, which you can find here.
Most of the time, unless there is a very good reason, I will scan my original notes and capture them as a pdf or jpg. That way I can save time by not retyping them and I don’t have to worry about introducing further errors.
That's all very well, but how do you find them again?

I can think of at least two ways to deal with it that may be better.

One is to use a program like Evernote,which can store (and automatically back up) all that stuff in a single file, or series of linked files (called "notebooks"). This saves having to fiddle your way through lots of long file names.
Something similar to Evernote is Microsoft OneNote, which comes with Microsoft Office. Unfortunately it is poorly documented, and while you can buy third-party books that tell you how to use the other components of MS Office, the ones I've seen devote only one or two uninformative pages to OneNote. Evernote can import stuff from OneNote as well. And Evernote is free, though you can get a paid version that will do a bit more.

Another way of dealing with small scraps of paper and hastily scribbled ideas is to write them out in a text database program like askSam (where you can also store a scanned copy, if you like).

This is a screenshot of the askSam for DOS version of my note storing template:

Sorry if it's a bit distorted, but the "new and improved" Blogger editor makes it extraordinarily difficult to get graphics right and readable.

The Windows version of askSam looks slightly different, but the principle is the same. I write the contents of the note in the Note[ field, and askSam will let me produce a report that will sort on any of the fields.

And having written it there, and backed it up, I throw the sticky note away.

You don't need those things cluttering up your life, with dirt and bits of hair adhering to the sticky bits. At least I don't need them. 

One can use this for any kind of sticky notes, scraps of paper, stuff written in your Moleskine notebook/diary, or on a cigarette packet or paper napkin. I use keywords like "famhist" or "genealogy" to select the genealogy ones. askSam will search, by default, in every field, though you  can also tell it to do more selective searches. But with such notes typing "Hayes genealogy", for example, will bring up all notes containing those two words.

In this post I'm talking about fairly short notes that occupy no more than one sheet or scrap of paper. Multi-page documents are a bit different, and with those I don't usually throw away the original, but I file them, and use computer programs to keep track of where I put them. If you want to know more about that, see my article on Keeping track of paper files.

But if you really can't face the prospect of retyping all those notes, there's also Evernote. See my review here.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

PAF to be retired

Beginning July 15, 2013, PAF will be retired and will no longer be available for download or support. For full details and for information on alternative products, please visit

Frequently asked questions

From PAF users

What does it mean that PAF is no longer supported?

FamilySearch will not assist users with features of PAF. FamilySearch will provide limited support for moving PAF data to a compatible third-party app.

Can I continue using PAF?

Yes. PAF will continue to work on all versions of Windows as of 2013, including Windows 8. Just be aware that it will no longer be supported or improved. We strongly recommend choosing an alternative product (see above).

Can I put my PAF data online in FamilySearch Family Tree?

Since PAF does not integrate with FamilySearch Family Tree directly, you will need to use an alternative product, as suggested here. These products will be able to import your PAF data directly, enabling you to connect to FamilySearch and copy your data to and from the web as desired.

Which third-party app should I use?

The answer to this is completely subject to your preference. Therefore, we suggest you check out each of the apps and compare for yourself. We have provided a simple set of links to information and downloads about the products with our recommended partners (see above).

Does FamilySearch endorse the use of third-party apps?

Yes. The Family History Department has made significant investments in conjunction with our partners in order to offer great solutions for everyone. Using third-party products in conjunction with FamilySearch online services is something we encourage and fully endorse.

Will Family Insight continue to work?

Yes. Just bear in mind that PAF itself is no longer supported. Please contact Ohana Software for more information and support.

Will Charting Companion for PAF (previously known as PAF Companion) continue to work?

Yes. Just bear in mind that PAF itself is no longer supported. Please contact Progeny Genealogy for more information and support.

Will FamilySearch make the source code of PAF available to software developers?

At this time, there are no plans to release the source code as open source or in any other structure. Continuing development of PAF, even outside of FamilySearch, would still put FamilySearch in a position to support it (by perception, if not obligation). Our support staff is targeted toward other goals and priorities after JULY 15, 2013.

That is rather sad, especially the last bit. It would be a nice gesture if the PAF source code were to be released as open source, to allow others to develop in in new and more interesting ways.

What is also difficult is that there is nothing on the page to show where you can download the most recent versions of PAF before the cut-off date. I still use PAF 4.0 and will continue to use it, as an essential adjunct to Legacy.

The problem is that when Legacy imports data from Gedcom files, it messes up the record order, and the RINs are all wrong. My workaround has been to import the Gedcom files into PAF 4.0, which Legacy can import directly, and when it does so, the RINs are correct.

But if PAF 4.0 is no longer going to be available, perhaps Legacy will drop the ability to import files directly from it, and then I won't be able to upgrade to future versions of Legacy.

Perhaps it's time to start looking at RootsMagic, which many have spoken highly of.

In a blog posting today, FamilySearch announced the retirement of it’s Personal Ancestral File (PAF) genealogy software...

The linked page recommends that PAF users upgrade to family history software from one of the FamilySearch parters.  Of the three options listed, RootsMagic is the only software certified to utilize the full capabilities of FamilySearch Family Tree, including sharing data, ordinances, discussions, sources, and change history.

We understand that change isn’t easy, so we’ve worked hard at putting together some new tools and supports to make the transition as painless as possible for PAF users.
Well that's nice, but I wonder if RootsMagic can replace PAF in the way I've used it. One of the things I've used it for is quick-'n-dirty research files, where I've typed stuff on people who may or may not be linked, imported state from various sources, some of them dubious, and then tried to make sense of them before putting verified data or at least data that I'm reasonably certain of, into my main Legacy file.

The thing is that in my main Legacy file I never merge records, because that would mess up the RINs. If I find a duplicate record, I change the name of the person to ZZblank, and reuse that for the next new person I enter.

In my PAF quick-'n-dirty research files, I merge records all the time. I wonder if any of the PAF replacements on offer can do that kind of stuff as quickly and easily as PAF could?

Of course PAF had limitations -- it could not search or filter on locations, for instance. But it would make it dead easy to enter a lot of records from the same location by automatic fill in. In Legacy one sometimes has to wait up to a minute during which it is "not responding" while it looks things up, which slows down data entry considerably.