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My Favorite Genealogy Tool for Evernote

I've been using a "third-party" tool for Evernote for over two years now and I wanted to share how much I love it AND how it can be a great genealogy tool (I use it for everything but it's really great for genealogy).

[If you use OneNote, this will also work and it also works with other apps like Dropbox and Google Docs---and more--- so you don't have to be an Evernote user to use this.]

What's this tool?

image of laptop user and text "My Favorite Digital Organizing Tool for Genealogy"

Rocketbook.

OK, technically it isn't one tool.

You might have seen Rocketbook on SharkTank (I didn't but even my mom says "oh, that was on SharkTank!" so I guess I'm just weird).

I started with a Rocketbook notebook set I found on Amazon. Seemed like a cool idea and right up my alley. I love paperless.

I also love paper (not storing on paper so much but actual paper and pens. I love pretty pens). 

I also recognize that sometimes it's easier to work with an analog tool. That doesn't mean I want the results to stay analog. I really love digital organizing, especially everytime I have to pack up my books and files and move!

Rocketbook is also a greener solution which I appreciate.

I've talked before about how I love the Evernote camera. It's great but Rocketbook products actually take things a step further (FYI, for genealogy you'd still use the Evernote camera to digitize books and records you are using on-site. Not doing much of that in this pandemic world? Me either, but I'm using my Rocketbook products all the time).

So what is Rocketbook?

The heart of Rocketbook is an endlessly reusable notebook. I'm not talking about a binder you put paper in. It replaces a paper notebook completely.

It has pages made of proprietary material so you can write on them with Pilot Frixon pens and markers and then erase the page with water (note, Frixon pens are those erasable pens but they erase with friction, i.e. heat, whereas the Rocketbook notebook erases with water).

It is much faster to erase pages of Rocketbook notes with water than line by line, word by word, letter by letter on actual paper. There's more to this, though so don't wander off if that doesn't sound that interesting to you, it's only the start.

OK, reusable notebook. How does that help with genealogy? You can't file away these pages.

The pages are set-up to be photographed with your mobile device through the Rocketook app. You don't store the analog results but a digital copy. This is how it involves Evernote or your choice of app.

This is also why this is one of my favorite tools.

First, I really like the Rocketbook app. It isn't perfect but it works quite well (I have awful handwriting and it deals with it surprisingly well). I haven't had any problems unrelated to my handwriting (when things haven't worked right it was because the app struggled with my handwriting, not because of a glitch in the app). 

I would not say I'm a Rocketbook power user so you might run into problems if you want to get really fancy but I know most of my readers will use this in a similar fashion to me.

I want to add something here.

I try really hard not to use too many apps. It gets confusing. Consistency is important with both genealogy and running a business. The Rocketbook app is an extra app I'm willing to use. That means something and I'd rather keep it short by saying that than writing multiple paragraphs telling you about why I like the app. Do you trust me?

So let me recap the basic advantages of a Rocketbook notebook (including some I haven't mentioned). Then we'll talk about genealogy in particular.

  • Reusable notebook. That means lightweight and green.
  • Great digitizing app. That means it easily converts your handwritten notes to a digital note (with the option of auto-transcribing which does a decent job on my poor handwriting).
  • Great app for auto-organizing. The app doesn't just digitize. You can set it up to automatically send the note where you want it. I'll talk more about this in a moment.
  • The writing experience is more natural, like paper. They say it's just like paper but it isn't exactly like paper, especially not thick textured paper. It is fairly similar to a slick paper like for a thermal/laser printer. It is MUCH better than a stylus on a device or other non-paper items. I love a fountain pen on thick paper so I don't find it like that but the writing experience is comfortable.

The main con hasn't been an issue for me but could be a big deal for some people. This issue is you must use the Frixion pens and erase them with water. 

If you use the Frixion eraser it can ruin your notebook. (Also, they have a product the "Wave" that isn't erased with water but by placing the notebook in the microwave. None of the other notebooks are microwave safe so if you are careless and don't pay attention to details, you could ruin a notebook and this isn't a $0.50 notebook!).

I know some people won't like needing a specific pen but this is a pen you can get tons of places and I personally love the colors so it's no big deal. We already had some Frixon pens when I got my first Rocketbook because both my husband and I wanted the erasable feature on paper. The notebooks also come with a pen. Plus, there are also some other Rocketbook products that don't even need the pens---read on.

Why Use Rocketbook for Genealogy?

I find a Rocketbook has one big advantage for genealogy. This is acting like a second monitor. This can be helpful in several ways.

For me, the "huge" advantage is one you may not need anytime soon but you never know.

Genealogy Idea #1: Lecture/Webinar Notes

Last time I attended an institute (like a conference but you take a class for a week instead of picking and choosing individual lectures), I took my iPad and an executive-sized Rocketbook to class (I had a laptop back in the room for homework). Turned out this was a great combo.

I put my syllabus on the iPad. I took notes in the Rocketbook. 

I've tried:

  •  taking notes on a digital syllabus/handout in the past, it works but it can be a pain. 
  • taking notes on the paper handout at a lecture and then digitizing it. OK results. 
Both have the problem of possibly wanting to take longer notes in the margins of a document. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's a mess.

I still highlighted on my syllabus on the iPad but the Rocketbook notes worked so much better for me for three reasons.

  1. I gave myself enough room. No worries about running out of space (or trying to lug tons of paper around to facilitate notes of any length). This made my notes much more legible.
  2. The Rocketbook app is so convenient I could upload my notes ASAP if I wished. I didn't have to wait for the right lighting, or until I had plenty of time, or a flat surface, or...
    I could spend two minutes at the next break and upload my notes and link to any specific parts of the syllabus if I felt it was necessary.
  3. Most importantly, I paid a LOT more attention than my classmates. Let me explain...

I had a couple of friends in the class with me and at one point I asked, "is something going on behind me?" I was sitting near the front and I felt like I was answering too many questions, and that was after I waited to let someone else answer, first (no one likes a Hermione). Their answer? "Well, everyone else is playing on their laptop."

This was an advanced class, most (if not all) the people were professional genealogists. Maybe some people were playing games but I bet I can tell you what was happening. Their laptop was handy so every time a speaker mentioned some new online tool or website, they hopped over to it and went down a rabbit hole. I've done it soooo many times myself.

By limiting myself to a small device for my syllabus plus the Rocketbook, I actually got a lot more out of the class. I have used the notes from it multiple times (which is how I know they are more legible). I hadn't realized how pulling up something on my laptop was causing such a distraction during classes or lectures. I only pull up things that are relevant but it's still a distraction.

If you're really an Occasional Genealogist, your time is precious. If you choose to spend it on education, spend it on education, not looking at a website you can look at later.

At-home Education (webinars)

This same technique should work to help you focus on a webinar. Normally I'd try to take better notes by watching a webinar on one monitor and taking notes on the other. But then I can so easily check out websites the speaker mentions. 

A way to force you to focus is a smart phone (particularly with headphones) plus a Rocketbook. You could use a tablet. You can see better with the larger screen. 

These suggestions are about avoiding the temptation to also do something else so try for a device that isn't ideal for multi-tasking. 

You could also cast the webinar to a TV and take your Rocketbook away from the device that is casting (i.e. you've removed the ability to multi-task online).

For years I've been trying to get all my lecture handouts and notes digitized so I can finally use them. This is the big reason I love digital organizing. There are so many gems in handouts/notes. They were so hard to find when they were paper.

For me, Evernote is THE place for this type of information. Most likely whatever digital format you like, Rocketbook works with it. Using a Rocketbook gives me all of the advantages of digital organizing plus the advantages of paper notetaking.

Genealogy Idea #2: Analog Second Monitor for Online Research

So I find the Rocketbook great to focus more during education. You can also use it to speed up online research if you only have a single monitor.

I often don't want to come into my office (to use my dual monitors) in the evenings or on weekends. I hate flipping back and forth to take notes on a laptop, though. 

The Rocketbook is a great option. 

If you prep your research (like you should), you could even print out a list of sources and cut them apart and lay them on the Rocketbook notes when you digitize them (this will likely get OCRed correctly making your notes more searchable as well as saving time writing out all the citations parts).

[NOTE: Do NOT skip recording your source on the page of notes unless you digitize it and add the source BEFORE moving on to the next source. If you are taking lengthy notes (like reading a book or court minutes) don't skip it no matter what. It is vital your notes have a source or they are useless. Never say "I'll add that later." More often than not, later never comes. And even if it does, sometimes you can't add the correct information for any number of reasons. Just don't do it.]

Genealogy Idea #3: Traditional Research Notes

I think Rocketbook would be great for on-site research, as well, but I know a lot of locations that don't allow pens or bound notebooks (you should be able to remove the spiral if that is the only issue). 

In those cases, the sources aren't on my laptop so I would type. I type faster than I write but maybe you don't. This is a great way to get the storage advantage of digital without typing.

I haven't had a chance to see if I can create a Rocketbook "digitization" option to take advantage of how Rocketbook straightens the image. Let me tell you about another Rocketbook product you might like that is related.

Different Product: Rocketbook Beacons

Oh, how I love these.

Rocketbook Beacons are little orange triangles that adhere to a whiteboard so you can digitize it (straightening the image no matter where you stand to take the picture). 

I find the image of the actual text isn't always as good as the notebooks. This is due to glare on the whiteboard AND I tend to use colored markers. It still works and glare makes the biggest difference, especially with paler markers and that's not always an issue (I've moved since I first wrote this, I had a lot more trouble with this at my old house where the lighting wasn't consistent. In my new office with lots of even, natural light, the images are as good as the notebook, usually).

The Beacons use static/micro-suction, not adhesive to stick (they are a very slick material to go with the slick surface of the whiteboard). They come in a little carrying case so you can take them to meetings at other locations (a great option for classes, lectures, or meetings).

Rocketbook also makes peel and stick whiteboards with the beacons built-in. Both types open up options for genealogy groups and societies as well as the potential to digitize written, physical documents without so much fussing over the angle. 

I'm not thinking archives are likely to allow the peel and stick whiteboard because they usually have more rules to protect the material than a local library. (The whiteboard would be a background you set the item to digitize on, not perfect but would adjust for the angle based on where you stand).

However, when I used to go to the National Archives, people were allowed to place a piece of plexiglass over documents to hold them flat (not books, just documents that were originally flat but had been stored folded).

The Beacons could be attached to the glass. If libraries or repositories did get on board (or you're at a relatives' or just digitizing something at home), you could put the peel and stick whiteboard on a (not fine wood) table or foam core to get you a slightly better picture (this would allow you to avoid excessive "squaring up").

There are a variety of options I can imagine but it's hard to be sure what will work under what circumstances (and maybe you aren't as worried about "squared" images of documents as I am. FYI, squared-up images are more likely to OCR successfully).

As a final note related to the beacons, I've used them a lot since I bought them in 2019. They've been so helpful, I bought this giant double whiteboard for my new office when we moved. I LOVE having it for DNA work (as well as any type of planning). If I would have known how great it was, I would have bought it for my old office where I had a complete lack of wall space (my office was only part of a room, hence no walls on some sides). I'm hoping to write a post about how I use it for working on traditional brick walls (did I mention it's magnetic, on a stand, and double sided? So much room to write!). 

Knowing I can easily digitize what I write via the Beacons or a Rocketbook allows me to work on genealogy however I wan. On my desktop, standing at one of my whiteboards, outside using a Rocketbook notebook, or on a mobile device. It's a lot more freedom and tough genealogy problems often benefit from the freedom to work in different ways, even if we're talking standing vs. sitting or typing vs. writing.

Wrap-up

So there's an explanation of what Rocketbook is and some of my favorite genealogical uses for the products. BTW, Rocketbook just recently released index cards, too. 

I love index cards when I need to move concepts around. Although genealogy is chronologically linear, getting them out of line can help you think differently about a problem (think mind mapping). This product is so new I haven't had a chance to check it out so I'm not sure it'll work for the genealogy uses I imagine but just FYI.

Have you tried Rocketbook to digitize items? Tell us more, leave a comment!


4 comments

  1. I LOVE MY ROCKETBOOK!! I have one for work, one for genealogy, and one for randomness.

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    1. Yes! I have multiple sizes (plus the two with different types of pages---the Panda Planner and the Fusion). I can't believe how having the mini in my purse helps so much. For some reason I won't use a paper notebook of that size in case I run out of pages (which is not likely to happen). I carry a water pen in my purse so I NEVER run out of space. Worst case, digitize, erase, and keep going.

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  2. I am very interested in this product- any thought as to whether left-handed people would have an issue? Gel pens and dry erase markers are a disaster for me.

    Unrelated- thank you Jennifer for the BLW pdf with search tips, I am using your example to create a spreadsheet. Incredibly helpful!

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    1. Hi Trudi, I understand about the left-handed concern. I feel like the ink dries pretty quickly but I'm not left-handed and I get what I consider "quick" might not be quick enough for you. I'd recommend Googling something like "Rocketbook for lefties" or whatever phrase seems appropriate to you. I'm sure there are people who have mentioned this online. I don't want to lead you astray since I'm not left-handed. (I'm sure there is mention of this in online reviews but I don't know how easy it would be to find other than using a general search).

      I love that you created a spreadsheet from the BLW PDF. I did that when I was working with Eastern Cherokee applications (the process was similar since they're both NARA records---or rather at the time the Eastern Cherokee apps weren't online, now they are so it's much easier).

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