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29 April 2017

Subscription Savings | Digitizing | + Evernote

So I have three related items for today's post. This is essentially a combo follow-up to both last week's post on saving on your genealogy subscriptions and the lecture I gave Wednesday, "Evernote for Everything Else."

More on Saving on Subscriptions | Digitization first steps | Evernote

Alternative Subscriptions

First, I mentioned in last week's post that one way to save while doing more genealogy is drop a more expensive subscription in favor of a cheaper one (even if that is just a temporary option).

I realized I had emails from Family Tree Magazine with a newsletter-only deal to GenealogyBank. They are one of my top recommendations of a "cheaper" subscription to consider.

I could not find a way to share the offer so it appears to be available only to newsletter subscribers. They have this type of offer regularly so if you're interested, just sign-up for the free newsletter from Family Tree Magazine.

Newspaper records are a great "alternative" subscription. They take a lot of time to use so why not have just a newspaper subscription for a little while? You'll be more motivated to use it if it's a short-term subscription and you won't have an alternative subscription distracting you.

With all newspaper subscriptions, though, check for your top time and place choices. I don't think I've ever seen a subscription (excluding ones for a single paper) where the site offers a complete run of the paper.

That means just seeing there is a paper for a town of interest isn't enough. It could be one day of that paper, a few years, or extremely spotty coverage (which will be listed as xxxx-yyyy making it appear continuous). What is offered varies drastically from site to site so you have to check.

Also, make sure you're checking for free newspaper sites including the Google News Archive and Chronicling America, too. My personal research gets more from those two free sites than all the paid sites combined (plus a free state digitization project). I have gotten better coverage for client projects from paid sites several times. It really does vary drastically.


Next up, a reader asked a question about digitizing. It relates to the suggestion I made about "gathering" material to use while taking a break from a subscription. But she wanted to know about options for digitizing physical records.

I know I've seen information about this but I don't recall a specific site. I am crazed getting ready to head to Raleigh for #NGSgen2017 so I know I won't find a recommendation until after Mother's Day. I will also take advantage of being at the conference and ask some people while I'm there (and maybe checkout some booths on behalf of my readers).

I'm mentioning this in case anyone does know a post or site with a good review of the different products you can use to digitize genealogy materials at a repository. Leave a comment to help out fellow readers before I get a chance!

However, I do want to tell you what I think is the FIRST issue to consider, plus what I do. You'll see that my choice for digitizing doesn't require I know about different options. It's sort of self-updating, as well, I don't have to keep up with anything.

Considering Digitization Options: First Step

Before even thinking about actual digitization tools, you HAVE to think about where you will use them. And I mean exactly where you will use them.


Rules for using digitization tools vary dramatically from repository to repository. You can't have one solution for every situation you might ever come across. For one thing, some places allow you to bring in nothing. I mean nothing, they provide a pencil and paper.

That's obviously the extreme. However, it is quite common for many of the specific digitization tools to be forbidden. These often touch the materials and this is why (or, even if they don't touch them, misuse of the tool could touch the material and a repository doesn't want to stand over you and watch you).

The most common "scanner" I've seen forbidden is the wand style scanner. You run this down a document to scan it. This is probably the hardest to use, too. However, I've also been in courthouses and seen attorneys, heir searchers, title searchers, etc. using these.

A wand scanner is the most portable so if it's allowed where you research, it might be the best choice for you. If you can't use it where you research most, why take time to learn more about it?

The tool I hear genealogists talk about the most is the Flip Pal scanner. This may also be forbidden at many repositories for similar reasons. It has some advantages because you can use it on physical objects (think of at a relative's where you are "scanning" an heirloom instead of trying to get a photo).

There are reasons so many genealogists love the Flip Pal so figure out if you could use it at enough places to make it worth the cost. If so, you can then look into if it offers the features you need (obviously you should be noting the other options you can or can't use where you research at the same time, so you don't have to start from scratch if the Flip Pal isn't for you).

My Method

Personally, I use a camera to digitize records. A flatbed scanner can get a better scan but is bulky and forbidden some places.

When I used to work for clients at the National Archives digitizing documents (where you are allowed to use flat beds), I chose not to because I could do the same work in half to a quarter of the time.

Really, a quarter of the time and easier to carry. I almost always spent more time waiting on records to arrive than digitizing them. It actually made it hard to be profitable!

The picture was just as legible as a scan, just maybe not as perfectly straight and sometimes the lighting wasn't as good. If you cared, those could be fixed in software. If a document wouldn't fit entirely on the flat bed, I preferred a camera.

For that work, I carried a camera stand and I had a "nicer" camera because I controlled it from my computer. The first month I photographed documents for clients, my back ached terribly from leaning over the camera so I found a better solution.

Today, I rarely get to visit repositories so I often go with the quickest solution. At NARA, I do actually still lug my camera stand and camera with me. Even a camera stand can be forbidden some places, though.

The Georgia Archives does not allow camera stands but does have plenty of microfilm readers with scanners (bring a USB drive). So, I usually just use my smartphone. (They do have a book scanner but once again, it's faster to use my own camera, I do the same at the FHL).

I have my smartphone with me, I know how to use it, and it's lightweight. There are app options that make it great for document capture. Note that the camera on an older cell phone probably will not work. The camera quality isn't sufficient.

Most people with a cell phone have been forced to upgrade to a newer phone which will have a decent camera, though. If you need to check, you can Goolge using a cell phone camera for genealogy to learn about megapixel requirements and more.

Today, some smartphone cameras will do a better job than your actual digital camera. Phone manufactures know people take pictures of documents and that a smartphone can shake more than a camera. When I first started, my digital camera always did better. Today, my smartphone is easier and with one app, is a MUCH better choice than a standard digital camera (the camera stand and nicer camera is still superior but not as practical).

And that brings me to our third topic...


There are a million options for using a smartphone to take pictures of documents. I haven't tried very many of them because I LOVE the Evernote camera. This is the camera you access from within Evernote. Obviously, it just uses the actual camera on your device, but it is basically software (like "scanning" apps for your phone).

Since I use Evernote anyway, this is a great option for me. I have even had great success using it on microfilm readers. This is great if you can't scan microfilm or just want a quick image of the index to use as you scroll through.

The Evernote camera is super awesome for printed material (yes, it's so good it's worthy of that ridiculous set of adjectives). It obviously wasn't designed for historic documents so it doesn't offer features specifically for them but will work as well or better than just your phone's camera.

With the Evernote camera, it tidies your pictures of book pages and full pages (if the page is recognizable as a page, discoloration of old documents can affect this option). Remember I said the difference in my camera and flatbed was often how straight the image was? The Evernote camera gives you the flatbed-esque straight image if it recognizes a page (book or single page).

This isn't a comprehensive post about using the Evernote camera but there are a few more advantages. It has several shooting options---they may have been updated since the last time I used all of them so I don't want to get too specific (they may also differ by device---iOS or Android or Windows phone).

In automatic mode, the pictures will be taken automatically which can be vital if you need one hand to hold a book open. You'll be able to work much faster in that situation. I've been in some situations where this was an absolute lifesaver.

An example where this saves a lot of time is if you want to capture a finding aid to use at home. These are often printed, sometimes printed off a computer and put in a three-ring binder. The automatic mode can fly through these.

I just have one problem, though.

I don't like storing my documents in Evernote. Finding aids, yes, but not copies of books, microfilm, or documents. This was a major issue for me previously. You can save a photo from an Evernote note to your computer but if you've been working all day, it will take time to do all the clicking.

There's an App a Zap for That

I realized there is an automated solution to this! And it works when you take a picture with the Evernote camera and when you save a screen shot on your computer. I haven't tested it with other ways of saving notes from your computer, yet.

If you want a copy of any document pictures saved directly to Evernote, you'll need to use a service like Zapier. I couldn't get this to work with the free service IFTTT, but Zapier does have a free plan and this will work on it.

Zapier is a service that connects apps so you can automate tasks, in this case, saving copies of photos in Evernote to somewhere else. I chose my backups to go to Dropbox. You can't connect this to just any folder on your computer, it has to fit within the constraints of an app.

If you are on the free Zapier plan, you will need an extra manaul step of "filing" your copies but that is a bulk step. To save the pictures from Evernote to your file folder manually, you have to work on each individual picture, not a bulk step so much more time consuming.

Once again, this post isn't step by step instructions (I might write that up later, let me know if you need it).

Here's the overview of what to do.
You'll need a Zapier account. Connect your Evernote account to Zapier. Connect your destination's account (in my case, Dropbox).

To prevent having photos that are't genealogy documents being saved, I created a specific Evernote notebook where I'd save my pictures. This isn't required but I'd do it if I were you. This is about saving time and this will.

You need your Evernote notebook and your destination file created before creating your "Zap" in Zapier. The type of Zap you are creating is saving attachments in your specified Evernote notebook to [Dropbox].

To create the Zap, start with Evernote and fill in the requested information. Zapier will walk you through the process after you've selected the choice of saving an Evernote attachment. Make sure you expand the option where you specify attachments from a certain notebook, otherwise it'll save every attachment you create in Evernote.

Once the Evernote information is filled out, complete your Zap with the information for Dropbox (or whatever service you are saving your backup copy to).

The free Zapier plan is currently limited to five Zaps which is why you will have to file your images manually. It would take a separate Zap to specify each unique set of from/to folders.

You want to file as soon as you finish a set of images that belong together. That way you can cut and paste all of them where you want without figuring out which ones go together (you can also double check they are all legible).

If you aren't connected to the Internet, you'll have to wait until you are. Still, don't leave the filing, it'll take forever!

It's really hard to automate genealogy so I'm not sure there's a good way to try and fully automate this process, even with paid apps. Using this Zap can save you a ton of time if you don't want your only copy of document pictures in Evernote.

I discovered saving a screen shot works, too (simply save it to the Evernote notebook you created). I like to save newspaper clippings to Evernote because Evernote's OCR is better than most OCR services on the newspaper sites.

You do need a paid Evernote account to use the OCR but this could be a game changer and well worth the cost for you. If Evernote successfully OCRs the image, any name will come up in an Evernote search for that name in future, even if you didn't make a note of that note when you first saved the picture. The same applies to any typed document, really. Evernote can sometimes manage handwriting but don't count on it.

That wraps up this combo of digitization (which you can use as your subscription alternative) and Evernote. I had mentioned the Zap when I gave my lecture recently and thought a few written details would be helpful. If you need step-by-step directions, let me know. If you know of a review of digitization tools, leave a comment. Other questions, leave a comment. This was a quick post prompted by events so there may be more you want to know, let me know!

More on Saving on Subscriptions | Digitization first steps | Evernote

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