Using OneNote for Genealogy

Using OneNote for Genealogy

It’s the end of Genealogy Do-Week 2 and I have to admit, I got a little off-track. Week 2’s theme is “Back to the Beginning” and covered the topics of interviews and setting research goals. The good thing about the do-over is that you can be a hybrid, either following the program exactly as it is laid out, or modifying it to meet your needs. I didn’t need to do interviews and I have my goals written down, so my ‘back to the beginning’ tasks centered around organizing. Organization has become an underlying personal theme as I have years of work in various states of disorganization. It will take a long time for me to get things in a better state.

One of my distractors this week was the discovery of Microsoft OneNote. I have been an Evernote user for quite some time but I have to admit that OneNote is more appealing visually and has some great features. If you have never used OneNote, here are some of the features I like the most:

  1. It is structured like a real notebook, something I am use to;
  2. It is a Microsoft product so the learning curve was fairly quick;
  3. It is better than a physical notebook because I can easily add pages or rearrange sections, based on my needs;
  4. It allows me to link data between sections and pages so I only have to capture the information once;
  5. It allows me to copy webpages, photographs, and other documents into my page and then add additional notes or information;
  6. It feeds my creativity by letting me color code;
  7. My notebooks are available on all my devices
  8. It is free!

OneNote is very popular among genealogists and I spent time reviewing YouTube videos and reading blogs in order to learn how others use it. I even joined a Facebook Group specifically for using OneNote for Genealogy. While there is a lot of information to be found, it’s hard to digest. Before I can understand a system, I have to understand how it is used, and most of us have our own styles. I am also a visual learner, so seeing a picture tells me a lot more than words. I did get some great ideas, however, and have put together a prototype of my virtual notebook, which I share below.

Notebooks and Tabs

One of my bad genealogical habits was not keeping everything related to a family in a single notebook. I realized just how bad a habit this was as I was going through my old papers that needed filing. I noticed I would find one page of the notebook for one family and a second page for an entirely different one. Needless to say, this was a haphazard approach, one that I look to correct by setting up notebooks by Surname.


My tabs reflect categories of information I want to keep about my chosen surname, and the good thing is I can expand tabs to my heart’s content. So far, I have a Surname Index, which will link to my individual ancestors; a tab for research plans, which will most likely be by individual; a tab for my direct line and a second tab for my indirect line; a tab for a Location index (which will include the places the family lived) and a task tab that will include all outstanding tasks to be worked on.


Individual information will be stored on pages and grouped under the ‘Direct Line’ tab or the ‘Indirect Line’ tab. This is the method I use in my physical notebooks. Females will be listed under their father’s page until they are married. After marriage, they are listed under their husband. Sexist, I know, but I don’t have a better solution.

This is how the individual pages within the section may look.


This is it so far. I feel good that in the span of a week I was able to learn how to use OneNote and set up the foundation for my notebook. The Internet is full of information on using OneNote for Genealogy. If you are interested in learning more, see the link below. It is a blog that goes into quite a bit of detail and allows you to actually see pages in OneNote.

There is also a Facebook Group devoted to OneNote called ‘OneNote for Genealogy’

Until next week….


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