about me
blog author
Meet the Author
I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

Read These Posts First

Posts contain affiliate links. See my disclosures page for details.


Evernote for Digitizing Genealogy Records

Do you want to bring home copies of genealogy records to reference later? This is a great strategy to save time at a repository you don't get to visit often or even to bring home finding aids.

Maybe you know there's something you don't know. Referring to a copy rather than just your own notes can help you learn more later.

Maybe you just like keeping a copy in addition to your notes. It's not a bad idea.

But paper copies can be expensive and a pain to manage. Digital's the way to go, right? But how do you digitize records when the repository doesn't give you an easy way? And then how do you manage your digital copies (that is, how do you file them and find them again).

In my previous post, I talked about options for DIY digitization and the extremely important considerations you need to make before investing in a scanner. You might want to read that post first, so you understand why I recommend this method instead of different equipment. I'll wait while you do.

How do you digitize records when the repository doesn't give you a way? How do you manage your digital copies? | The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory #Evernote #organizing

So let's dive into my method for DIY digitization.


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. It is basically software (like "scanning" apps for your phone).

Love Evernote for genealogy? Get all my Evernote genealogy "templates" plus my free course. Click below to learn more.

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.

This is great if you 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 historical 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, pictures of book pages and recognizable full pages are tidied up. That means it straightens them and makes them look better (white pages, black text, etc.). Usually, this means the image is black and white, like a photocopy.

Note this only works if the page is recognizable as a page. Discoloration of old documents can affect this feature. Also, it doesn't whiten pages that aren't perceived as white. Pages yellowed with age (or that were on blue paper, etc.) will just be a color photo)

In the related post about DIY digitization options, I said the difference in the images created by my camera versus a flatbed scanner 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 case. 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 screenshot 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 manual step of "filing" your copies, but that is a bulk step (you can move multiple images). To save the pictures from Evernote to your file folder manually (not using a Zap), you have to work on each individual picture, so it's much more time-consuming.

Once again, this post isn't step-by-step instructions.

How to Automatically Back-up Evernote Images to a File Folder

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 Zapier.

To prevent having photos that aren'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. So...

  • Create a special Evernote notebook where you'll store the images to be zapped.
  • Create a folder in your destination app [Dropbox] if you don't already have one.

You need your Evernote notebook and your destination file created before creating your "Zap" in Zapier.

The type of Zap you are creating is creating a new note in your specified Evernote notebook to [Dropbox].

  • Create the Zap

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 note.

Make sure you expand the option where you specify notes from a certain notebook. Otherwise, it'll save every attachment you create in Evernote.
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.

File Your Records, You Must

(that's a Yoda reference, FYI)

If you aren't connected to the Internet, you'll have to wait until you are for the Zap to run. Don't leave the filing, it'll take forever! If you're on a multi-day trip with no Internet while you research, find some free wi-fi each night and take care of your filing. McDonald's is an option most places in the U.S. if your hotel isn't.

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 without figuring out which ones go together (you can also double check they are all legible).

If your repository does have wi-fi, it's often worth taking a few minutes to check the legibility and file each batch. This way you have a chance to retake photos before you move on to the next source.

This is especially important if you "return" a record and won't be able to immediately get it back, such as with closed stacks where you have a wait while records are pulled for you. At the National Archives, I've had to wait weeks before they got some records refiled and they could be pulled again. That's an extreme case (and I was returning a different day, not just an hour later).

You know how important the records you photographed are versus how important it is to photograph more records, so you have to decide if it's worth filing on-site.

If you don't get to research very often, so you'll forget which folders are part of your Zap, create a workflow. This is one of the suggestions you'll find in The 2018 Occasional Genealogist Planner.

I can't take a bound object like a Planner to the Georgia Archives (one of the places I research the most often), so I'd save my workflow using the digital suggestions I made in this post about keeping a to-do list.

Automating Genealogy is Hard, Save Time When You Can

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 screenshot 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 the name 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.

Recap: Why Use Evernote to Digitize Records

There are many options for capturing digital copies of genealogy records. I haven't tested very many of them because Evernote's camera option fits flawlessly into my workflow.
Below are the reasons I use it. If you have been using a different option, consider if it meets all these points. If so, great! If not, consider giving the Evernote camera a try (and connecting it to the Zap I described).

  • If you carry a smartphone, you probably always have it with you.
  • Smartphones are often allowed when scanners are not.
  • The Evernote camera can automatically take a picture.
  • The Evernote camera can automatically optimize pictures of typed records (books and loose papers, sometimes microfilm).
  • The Evernote camera can capture images of microfilm (better than many cameras, whether a smartphone or an actual camera).
  • Paid Evernote accounts include OCR, great for newspapers as well as books or other typed documents.
  • Connecting Evernote with a Zap can auto-backup your images, so they aren't just in Evernote.
  • The Zap works with Evernote screenshots, too.
Do you have a favorite app for capturing digital images of genealogy records? Leave a comment and tell us about it. Try and give us the exact name and which operating system so others can find it and try it out!

How do you digitize records without a scanner? How do you manage your digital copies? | The Occasional Genealogist #genealogy #familyhistory #Evernote #organizing