The Paperless Genealogist – myth or reality?

This was a class at Rootstech 2013 by Joshua Taylor – his handout is available at – click on Main Schedule – or try this link – there is a lot more in the handout than in my notes!

Gave the challenge to himself – do it for 45 days – no paper – no notebooks – no printouts – no stickies – no scratch paper

He set strict rules for himself

Could not use any old materials gathered if they were in paper form – no carrying papers

Could fill out book request at library and use paper docs in a library

Banned from printed books at home

Could use any technology but no new technology purchases during 45 days – no new flash drives! no new website subscriptions

Pre scanned papers before 45 days

Used templates – created 20 to 30% more files than usual

25 lessons learned:

1.  Technology is really distracting – social networking, incoming emails, IM can be distracting – but IM can be very helpful too

changed way he did research

OK to turn off wifi once in a while

2.  Spreadsheets are our friends

– to do lists

– census entries

– research logs

– research notes

Much more organized when got home from a research trip

record type /call num/floor/looking for/found = headings on spreadsheet

Saved a lot of time in library

tabs for types of records – then record details and if copy made

3.  Advanced preparation absolutely key

Time well spent

Organize before

Saved time in library

The more organized before the trip the better the success

4.  Evernote is an extremely powerful tool if you use it correctly (personal comment by Peter – heard lots of good comments about Evernote)



Voice messages

Mobile apps

Tag people, places, project

Still use as main resource for notes – even on iphone

Scan into evernote

5.  Wifi access is key

Cloud computing – may not always have laptop with you

Continuous access

6.  Back up your devices and data


Mobile back ups?


make sure you back up photos

7.  A large second monitor is an absolute life saver

Large display – 27″ imac

Handwritten docs can be hard to read – so get them large

8.  Organization organization organization

– digital resources

– easy access

– messy desktop

– copies

– systematic naming system – used numbers

Folder system

9.  Develop a system

– when returning home

– step by step process – naming storing orgqnizing

Do tags at the time you create notes


active research documents

digital images

Permanent storage – grandparent surname plus number

Variety of files – active vs inactive

Have same set of subset folders in main surname folders – docs, pics, geds, back ups etc

10.  Not all libraries offer digital scanning – don’t even allow camera


11. Tablet cameras work in a pinch

quick pictures – indexes, table of contents

better to scan – but time to do this?

12.  Mobile devices are required

Quick access



13.  Digital cameras fill up fast

– have additional memory cards

– download to create space

14.  Label your power cords

or short out equipment (he plugged one device in with the wrong cable and shorted it out)

15. Flash drives are a mixed bag

lost data – put near something magnetic

organizing drives

space limitations – portable drives instead

16.  Cloud computing is essential

– transfer files

– upload data

– sharing information

17.  Methodologies can change

– because of restrictions – did a lot of analysis by typing – so get ahead on written narratives versus handwritten version

18.  ebooks and digitized books are tremendous resources

access from home


internet archive

can search by phrase or keyword – which you can’t do with paper

19. ebooks are not the same as paper books

on hand

paper still preferred

20  Paperless genealogy can be cost effective

mobile devices vs paper copies

Saved a lot of money

Just copy it – just take picture – never know when you might need it – no cost limitations

21.  Digital copies have advantages






22.  Embed your citations in images

– photo editing software – look for annotate – put citation right on document – can decide where to put box on image – stays with image when sharing – can do in iphoto

–  can do in presentation software

23.  Digital files are easier to share

– instant

– email

– facebook

– share though dropbook or other cloud services

24.  Treat online time as library time

Limiting time – avoid distractions

Increase efficiency

25.  You will always forget something

Final thoughts

– a delicate balance

– know now that can keep better notes electronically

Advanced preparation

Efficient researcher

The key? Organization

Still uses stickies

Collateral lines can be essential to overcoming roadblocks

File the names of witnesses

Save as tiff files

Scans at 600 dpi = overkill (in his words)

Now 99% digital

But for critical finds – also gets paper copies

Now entirely digital on research logs

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