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!

Exploring genetic genealogy

Exploring genetic genealogyWhen I was at the RootsTech conference in February, I was inspired to check out getting a DNA test to help me in my genealogy research. I hadn’t been tempted before, primarily because genetics always made my eyes cross when I studied it in biology class. But I grew to understand at RootsTech (primarily from the great keynote from Dr. Spencer Wells) that the more people who get genetic testing and open their results to others, the more valuable it becomes. It’s part of that genealogical generosity I blogged about after the conference.

Today I was reading a primer on DNA testing for ancestry on the terrific blog Family History Daily. It was really informative, but I have to admit I’m getting a little paralyzed by the options. I did a little Google search and found myself wishing I could find an article in which someone would just tell me what test to take. I did find this terrific roundup, Top Genetic Genealogy Tools by Blaine Bettinger on Family Tree Magazine’s blog, and was struck by the last sentence, “Having a clear purpose in mind–such as finding out where your maternal roots lie or whether you’re related to someone else with your surname–is essential to choosing the right genetic genealogy test.” That makes so much sense. Keeping your goal in mind is always helpful in making choices.

Now I realize I don’t really know my goal. I’m motivated by curiosity and the desire to be helpful but that’s not much of a goal to guide my choice of which test to take.

So I thought I’d turn to the helpful readers of this blog. Have you had a DNA test to help your genealogy? If so, what was your goal? And what service did you use? Were you satisfied with the test results? Would you recommend that testing service?

I appreciate any advice or experiences you’d like to share!

Photo by Alf Melin via Flickr

My research trip preparation

Preparing for a genealogy research tripI leave today for my research trip to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri. It’s about 3.5 hours from my home in St. Louis. I am really excited!

When I initially decided to take this trip, I felt a little anxious. I didn’t know what I would research and I knew that without a plan, I’d feel overwhelmed and incompetent the minute I walked in the door. Then I’d berate myself for not making the best use of my research time. And I’d wonder whether I could have done more.

So you know what I did to counteract that? I actually created a plan! I spent a good amount of time this weekend going through the holdings of the library online and checking my family tree to see what documents I needed. It was loads of fun to discover what I need when I have the potential to get the actual information.

Is started with a simple Pages document (Pages is the Mac’s version of Word) where I just kept a running list of what I might find and where. Then yesterday I created a Numbers document (you guessed it, Numbers is the Mac equivalent of Excel), sorted by family branch, of the info I need and where I might find it.

Because of other obligations today, I won’t get to Independence until late afternoon. The library is open until 9. My plan is to check into my hotel, grab something to eat, then go to the library to get the lay of the land and plan my day tomorrow. I’ll have a full day there tomorrow and will be able to go back to research in the morning and early afternoon on Wednesday.

I’m meeting my friend and fellow researcher, Lori Krause, whom I met at RootsTech (thanks to this blog) for some research and dinner tomorrow. Life is good!

Next week, I’ll post the list of items I brought and let you know whether I used them and what items I wished I’d brought.

Taking my research on the road

The Midwest Genealogy CenterUntil now, most of my genealogy research has been conducted at my desk, using online sources. I did have the pleasure of visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in February for a couple of hours.  But for the most part, I search away on the various databases I have access to.

Yesterday I received a notice from the National Genealogical Society about a research trip to Washington, D.C., that they’re planning. A group of 25 people will spend a week together in Washington, D.C. and visit the National Archives, the Daughters of the American Revolution library and the Library of Congress. Professional genealogists will be taking the trip with them. It sounds a bit like heaven! But it does come with a price tag: some $1500 before airfare.

I’m tempted. And I know I’d better act fast if I want to go, because it will sell out. But for that kind of investment, I’d better be sure to know what I’m looking for. So that got me thinking about how I might organize such a trip and whether I’d be better off venturing out closer to home at first and saving my NGS research-trip dollars for later. (NGS also offers trips to Salt Lake City and elsewhere.)

I’m lucky in that I live in the state where many of my ancestors lived, some as far back as the mid-19th century. I live on the opposite side of Missouri from those folks, but I still have resources available to me within a day’s drive. As I contemplated the Washington, D.C. trip, I thought maybe I’d be better starting out with a research trip to the Mid-Continent Public Library’s Midwest Genealogy Center (pictured above), in Independence, Missouri, a mere 3.5-hour drive from my home in St. Louis. I wouldn’t have a professional genealogist to guide me, but it would be a more economical alternative, one that feels very much in reach.

Of course, I’d still need to organize myself to make the most of the trip. I know that when I walked into the Family History Library I felt overwhelmed and, while I did come prepared with a question I was trying to answer, if it weren’t for the help of a staff genealogist, I wouldn’t have known where to turn.

So here’s what I decided to do to make such a trip a success.

  • First and foremost, I’m going to set a date for the trip. That will ensure it will happen and help me get started in my preparations.
  • I’m going to do research to understand the library’s holdings.
  • After I know what the library offers, I’m going to go through my family tree software to see which relatives are pertinent
  • Once I’ve narrowed it down to individuals, I’m going to make sure I know what info I have about each of them and where the blanks are.
  • I’ll analyze the info see what questions I have so that I can have clear goals for this trip.
  • I’ll reach out to my western Missouri cousins to see if I can pay them a visit

This feels really good to me. This morning, when I started contemplating this, I started to feel overwhelmed and my head started spinning a little. But breaking it down into these clear steps, so that I can make the most of my time at the library feels really good.

I do know there are local resources I haven’t yet exhausted. The central library of the St. Louis Public Library has a renowned genealogy department. There’s the library of the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center. And, of course, there’s the St. Louis Family History Center. But I’m keen for an overnight visit, which I think will really enable me to focus on my research, rather than being distracted by daily life. I anticipate that after I’ve made this type of research trip I’ll be in a better position to use local resources.