Going Paperless??

Anyone doing genealogy research knows there is paper…stacks and stacks of paper.  There are books, there are copies of newspaper articles, death certificates, marriage records, pictures, census records, military records, letters, land records, funeral cards, funeral books, spiral notebooks and other notepads full of miscellaneous notes.

I usually handle all the paper by scanning the paper, saving the scanned image on my hard drive and on Dropbox and then filing the originals in my file cabinets.
When I receive a paper record, if I don’t have time to scan it immediately I place it in a bin in my office and wait for a nice rainy day to scan everything in my bin.  Since electronic delivery is becoming more popular, my bin does not fill up nearly as quickly as say 10 years ago.
Scanning allows me the flexibility of attaching the records to my genealogy database for that particular event.  Additionally, since I have a copy in the cloud, I can easily email or share files directly with family members.

I am very comfortable with this process for most of my paper “stuff”.  MOST.  I do not follow the above process for my notes, and boy do I have notes!
I am a serial note taker.  I think it stems from my school days.  Many of my teachers were “lecturers”.  They talked, we took notes.  There were minimal handouts.  We had textbooks but the majority of the classroom time was spent taking notes.
So in my adult years I jot down things all the time, for everything from reminders to pick things up at the store to reminders to call people, etc.  For my “personal life” notes I typically use the Notes app on my phone, or I set up a reminder on my phone.  This works fine.
But what about my research notes. The main problem is that my research notes largely have no organization.  I grab whatever is at hand, scribble a note and throw it in the pile.  I have at least 15 spiral notebooks and probably 30 notepads of various sizes with no more than 10 pages written on each, some pages may have just a single line.  There are also post-its, napkins and scraps of paper, some even just corners of papers torn from something, who knows.
I will come across something, a name, an address, a reference and think “oh, I have a note about that” but then I can’t find it because there are so many notes to wade through (if I am even at home when it comes up).  So, how do I resolve this?

Well, since most of my genealogy stuff exists digitally (the exception is large maps and portraits that are hard to scan), why not convert my notes to a digital format??  If my notes are digital then they become portable if they are “in the cloud” without lugging around a big box of notebooks.
OK, well, since I embrace technology this is a no brainer…digital it is!

Next, where do I store these digital notes in the cloud?
I am a heavy user of both Dropbox and Google Drive.  I started using Drive first and like it because it integrates so well with my other Google apps.  Then I started using Dropbox, liked it as well, and it is easy to earn extra storage space.  I earned a bunch of free space and then moved much of my genealogy stuff to Dropbox.  I still rely on Drive for my personal on-line storage.
So, either of these services would be a natural choice right?  Hmmm, maybe not.  Drive and Dropbox are great at storing files, any kind of file.  If I scan my existing notes as PDFs I can store those PDFs.  But besides naming the file it really isn’t an “intelligent” note and not searchable.

Then I thought about Evernote. It is made specifically for notes, all kinds of notes.
I have had an Evernote account for several years.  I have never really used it because I wasn’t committed to using it.  In fact I haven’t even logged into my Evernote account in probably 2 years.  However, I’ve read several articles recently about using Evernote for genealogy and it has made me want to dive head first into the Evernote world.  It seems much more evolved than when I first got an account.
Evernote allows users to create notes and notebooks. There is also the ability to add tags and text is OCR’ed, making notes searchable.  It allows the user to “clip” items from webpage, so all my notes from some page I saw on the internet can not be captured more accurately (because we all know websites change).

My next week or so is going to be spent reading and watching tutorials on Evernote to figure out how I should import all my existing notes.  Then to wade through all those paper notes and get them into Evernote.

I guess I need to hope for a lot of rainy/snowy days in the future!

Part One of Computer Upgrade – Storage and the Cloud

Continuing from yesterday regarding my preparation and evaluation before upgrading my laptop, here is Part 1 – Storage and the Cloud.

The first thing I am considering before upgrading my laptop is storage.  How much space am I using now and how much space will I need going forward?
I started with this one because for me it is the easiest.

My current laptop has a 320 Gb hard drive.  Except for a few downloaded documents that were used temporarily, the hard drive space is occupied by the operating system and installed programs.  I still have 85% of the hard drive space available.

This is because about a year ago I made the decision to put as much of my family information “in the cloud” as I could.  So far this has worked great.

I store my family database in Dropbox.  I open my genealogy program on my laptop and the database file is opened from the local Dropbox folder. Since it is a hard-coded path on my hard drive there is no latency or issues with speed.
My genealogy program allows the program to be installed on a desktop and a laptop (as long as only one is used at a time), and I do have the software installed on my desktop as well.  Typically, I only work from my laptop. However, if I do use the program from my desktop and then later want to take my laptop and visit the library or another remote location, I do make sure all the files are synced before taking my laptop anywhere.  This is because I either may not have an internet connection to sync my database or a s-l-o-w connection that takes forever to sync.  Because I am diligent about this, I have never had an issue with unsynced data.

Another advantage of storing my database (and other files) in the cloud is that it gives me a couple additional backups.  I use Google Drive as a backup location for my most important files.  I physically copy anything I want to backup to my Google Drive service.
I have Dropbox and Google Drive installed on both my desktop and my laptop.  Therefore all my files stored in the cloud get copied to both computers.  I also generate a backup of my database directly from my genealogy software that I store both in the cloud and locally.  Finally, I have backups set up of my desktop and laptop (which includes those local cloud folders) to my WD My Drive Live Duo (set up with mirroring).  This makes me feel comfortable that I am pretty safe from disaster.  Granted, my desktop, laptop and external hard drive are in the same physical location but having the data also stored in two different clouds I think this is enough. Luckily I have never had to test this theory!! 
I have considered a commercial on-line backup but so far have not pulled the trigger.  I have been able to store everything in the free Dropbox and Google Drive clouds. I have earned extra storage through referrals and such and so far cloud storage space has not been an issue…and it is free.  At the point I outgrow the free storage I will pay for extra storage through at least one of the cloud services.

Lastly, I love having all my stuff in the cloud because I can access my genealogy documents from any computer, my iPhone and my iPad.  Although I cannot open my actual family database directly from the cloud remotely, I do use a couple different apps that allow me to see my family trees from anywhere.  I have found many times where this has been extremely helpful to have it all at my fingertips.

I have also been asked if I am scared about having all my stuff out there in the cloud.  Personally, I do not have that concern.  I figure that if my company is storing their data in the cloud, I should feel safe.  My company is very conscientious about security and storage of data.  So when they rolled out Google services to replace email and much of the server storage, I figured it was worth a look to store my personal stuff that way too.

Since I love having everything on-line and I don’t have terabytes of stuff, hardware storage is not as much of a priority for me.  I think I can probably get away with most standard configurations as far as hard drive space (if I can control myself when configuring my new laptop) when I upgrade.

Stay tuned for Part Two – Organizing Electronic Files…