Giving Evernote another try

Evernote logoI know that people rave about Evernote, for genealogy and for other aspects of life. Over the years, I keep dipping my toe and withdrawing it quickly. The user interface has just never clicked for me.

I blogged back in February of 2013 that I was exploring Evernote for genealogy. That didn’t really pan out, but late in 2013 I started using Springpad, which has a more graphical interface than Evernote. Thanks to Springpad, I became hooked on cloud-based, synching organizing and storage systems. After Springpad announced it was shutting down this month, I exported my data, including my family history research logs, to Evernote.

So now I’m ready to give it another try. I’m trying to be open minded about Evernote’s interface. I bought and read the e-book Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly, and I’m going to be checking out genealogy-specific information about Evernote. (This morning, I found this great page on Cyndi’s List with genealogy templates for Evernote.)

I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime I’m wondering whether any of you have either great tips using Evernote in genealogy or  recommendations of more resources to help me learn to use and love Evernote. If so, I’m all ears!

Springpad shutting down on June 25

Springpad shuts downI was so excited to partner with Springpad on the Family History Organizer custom notebook late last year and early this year. I used it for tracking my research and to-dos and when I worked with them to create it, I had no reason to think that I wouldn’t be using it for years to come.

But, alas, on Friday I was notified that Springpad is closing its doors on June 25. I don’t know why, I’m assuming it has everything to do with it being a start up, funded by venture capital. It’s surprising, though, since Springpad is a venerable start-up; it’s been around since 2008, a long time in that world.

In any case, I wanted to announce it here. If you’re using the Family History Organizer notebook, you’ll want to find a substitute. Evernote is probably the most logical choice, since so many resources are available to learn how to use it for genealogy. (I’ve dabbled with Evernote over the years, never fully clicking with its interface, but I’m giving it another try.)

I have dozens of Springpad notebooks, so I was relieved to learn that they are developing an export tool to make it easier to access my data in other apps. That is supposed to be released this week. On June 25, user data will be deleted from Springpad’s servers, so it’s important to export your data by then, or it will be lost.

I really enjoyed working with the folks at Springpad and I wish them all well. I am going to miss Springpad as a resource; it really did help me organize information and it was the first electronic task manager I was ever able to successfully use.

But now I’ll explore other options for task management. (TeuxDeux is the current frontrunner.) And I’ll let you know if I can make Evernote work for my genealogy resources.

The Research Tracker in Springpad

researchtrackersampleOne of the features of the Family History Organizer custom notebook I created for Springpad is the Research Tracker tab. Since I started getting serious about family history research about 18  months ago, I knew I needed to do a better job of keeping a research log. I tried a spreadsheet, but failed to keep up with it. I think the problem was that I had so many columns to fill out, it felt overwhelming.

So when Springpad asked me to create this notebook, I requested a place to easily record research sessions. It includes headers that can be copied and pasted into a fresh note for each research session. (I made up the headers that make sense to me, but you can easily edit them so that you’re copying and pasting headers that work better for you.)

I’ve been using the Research Tracker for a couple of weeks and have found that it’s really helpful. I start creating a new note at the beginning of each session, which helps me identify the information I’m looking for in the session. I like that when I finish filling it out at the end of the session, I identify next steps in the research.

I think what I like most about it is that it’s simple and non-intimidating. It may not be as thorough as a formal research log, but it’s way better than what I was recording before (which was nothing). Since I’m trying to do research five days a week (or at least work on organizing my research), I have plenty to enter and am feeling optimistic that this will keep me on track.

If you’re interested in trying it out, simply download the Family History Organizer notebook into your free Springpad account. (Or learn more about the notebook before downloading.)

Looking for my grandfather’s birth home

Looking for my grandfather's birth homeI’m in Portland, Oregon, doing some business planning my friend and colleague, Shannon Wilkinson. (This is something I try to do annually, and it really pays off.)

As I discovered earlier this year, my paternal grandfather, Dave Adams, was born in Portland. The birth announcement I found for him listed a street address for his parents, 749 Roosevelt Street. So I thought while I was here I might see if I could find the home his parents were living in when he was born on November 12, 1904.

Last night, after dark and in the fog, Shannon and I found ourselves near Roosevelt Street. (I had told her about it on the phone when I first found the birth announcement, and she remembered.) As it happens, due to the addition of freeways and an industrial plant in that area, only one residential block of Roosevelt street remains. So it was easy to narrow down our search.

However, some time in the 1930s, Portland changed its numbering scheme for its addresses. The block we were in was the 2200 block. My quest today was to find out whether the last existing residential block of Roosevelt happened to be the same block my great grandparents lived in.

Thankfully, Shannon is savvy about online resources available in Portland and she pointed me to Portland Maps, a city-run website that provides loads of information on each property in Portland. I had written down the address of one of the houses, so I looked it up.  I was able to click on historical permits on that house and the houses around it until I found a permit old enough to reveal the original address. I learned that 2354 Roosevelt was 780 Roosevelt back in the day. I clicked on the next house west and saw that it had been 782 Roosevelt, so I knew I was going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, there were only a couple of houses east of 2354 Roosevelt, so it became apparent that my great grandparents’ house was one that was destroyed in order to make room for the freeway.

A look at the plat map of Portland in 1906 showed that the whole area had been residential. Shannon and I agree that the turn-of-the-century houses we saw in the last remaining block of Roosevelt probably are a good representation of where the Adams family had lived.

While I was ultimately disappointed in the outcome of this fun little research project, I’m thrilled to have a feel for the kind of housing my ancestors lived in 110 years ago. I’m so grateful to have this information available to me at my fingertips but also glad that I saw those houses in person.

Incidentally, I used the Research Tracker in my Family History Organizer notebook in Springpad (available to you by clicking here) to track this project. I’m finding it a really easy way to keep track of my research without feeling overwhelmed by a big spreadsheet.