Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sorting Saturday - Note Taking

This post is a response to a query made by Amy Coffin over at We Tree.  She is looking for input on how other researchers take notes.  Since this a topic that grabbed my attention, I thought I'd do a post on how I take notes.  I'm always interested in how others take notes too so that I can improve my methods.  I encourage readers to head over to Amy's blog and see what she and other bloggers have had to say on this topic and leave her a comment if you have something to add.

One of the tools I've found to be extremely helpful is Microsoft Office OneNote.  I use it not only as a research log but also a document log, data collection, transcriptions and much more.  For instance, when I was at the Family History Library last week, in the Genealogy Notebook that I created, I have a tab for Research Log.  I just started a new page titled FHL with the date and listed the items that I searched, including the call number or film number, who I was looking for and what the results were.  If I found something of interest that I didn't want to bother copying, I made a notation right there of the pertinent information, including citation.  The next time I am doing Family History Library research, I can quickly review the FHL pages to see what I have/have not done and where I left off if I wasn't finished with something.

In the genealogy data base that I use (The Master Genealogist), I extensively use the Memo field for the individual Tags (events) to make notes.  I also can create a Tag called Note that can be used for those items that don't fit neatly into the other Tags.  This is similar to what Amy is doing with Roots Magic.  Since I give the documents I obtain a document number, I can use this in the notes to refer back to the document.

As for the actual documents, I am now trying to follow what I learned in Pamela Boyer Sayre's BCG Workshop, "Synchronized Research & Reporting."  I am taking each document and writing down what I've learned from it and then put the relevant information in TMG.  Maybe it's a formal research report, if there is a lot of information gleaned and analyzed, or maybe it's just a few lines.  I'll keep the document and notes together so that when I need to refer back, I won't have to relearn the document.

One of the really interesting tips I took away from the workshop was that it takes almost as long to write a report as it did to do the research.  It's a lot easier to write as you go instead of trying to go back and write up a report on a ton of research that you have done.  By writing up little bits on each document as you examine and analyze it, you are really giving yourself a head start. So I am trying to follow that format in research, notetaking and writing from now on. As a side note, I've got a lot of catching up to do in this area with the stacks of research that has been accumulated but not processed.

Amy, I hope this helps.  It's a subject that I'm really interested in too.  So if anyone has any comments on how you take notes, I encourage to pop over to We Tree and leave Amy a comment.

© 2010, copyright Michelle Goodrum


  1. I just started using onenote too, and I am finding it really easy to keep things organized. There seems to be so many neat features to onenote though then I currently am aware of. Will have to explore future.

  2. Michelle, are you new to genealogy or have you been at it for a while? I've heard that TMG is a more difficult program to learn and use than some of the others. What do you think? What are its advantages over some of the other programs?

  3. Hi Nancy,
    I've been doing genealogy seriously for the better part of the last 16 or 17 years. I started using The Master Genealogist several years ago. I didn't find it at all difficult to learn "out of the box."

    The program allows you to customize pretty much anything. You are the master of your genealogy. That's where some classes on how to use the program or a good book or video really comes in handy. It's a VERY powerful program but if you don't customize anything it's still great to use.

  4. Great tips on note-taking. I'm struggling with coming up with a research-log system that works for me and this just might do the trick.

    I also liked what you said about writing up what you learned about a document so that you don't have to "relearn" it the next time you refer to it.


  5. Tonia, I know how you feel. It is hard to come up with a good notetaking system and even harder to have the discipline to stick with it. Glad to be of help!

  6. Hallo Michelle,

    This is a bit late for when you originally posted this but I am gradually working my way through your blog!!

    Just wanted to say that I am so pleased to "meet" another who uses OneNote! I got it as a Christmas present and think it is the greatest thing there is. And just so wonderful for getting things organised for genealogy!! (As well as for all sorts of other things).

    I just found Google Reader and your the first blog I have added to it!! Wasn't sure how it worked, so hopefully it lets me know when you add posts.

    Kind regards,

    Christine (rootsresearcher)

  7. Christine,
    Welcome! Whoever invented OneNote must have been a genealogist. I'd like to find a class to take and find out what I'm missing as far how to use it. Surely I'm not using OneNote to it's fullest potential.

    Good luck with Google Reader. I just started using it myself this year and love it.

    Cheers, Michelle