How I Use OneNote to Organize My Genealogy

OneNote is possibly one of my favorite computer programs ever.  It keeps my life organized.  It keeps my genealogy organized.  It keeps me sane.

OneNote is a note-taking program created by Microsoft.  If you have Microsoft Office, there is a pretty good chance this handy program is sitting on your hard drive.  If it wasn’t included in your Office purchase or you just don’t have Office, you can download it from Amazon for $49.99 or buy the PC Key Card for $65.00.

What makes this program so awesome, you ask?  Well, it’s simple really.  OneNote organizes everything from the random bits of information to full thought processes when working through a problem.  It can hold text, pictures, PDFs, video, audio, tables, and just about anything else you can think of.  And it’s all searchable and can be synced to your phone, tablet, and the web so you can take it all with you wherever you go.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I lived life without it.

OneNote Overview Photo

OneNote is set up just like a three ring binder – only digital.  On the right hand side, you’ll see all of my “notebooks”, which are essentially binders.  Along the top, you’ll see “Sections”, which are essentially tabbed dividers.  To the left are pages and subpages.

When it comes to my genealogy, I like to create tabbed dividers for the surnames I’m working on.  Then I can create pages and subpages with document images, research plans, lists of documents to order, etc.  Here is just a short list of how I use OneNote to organize my genealogy:

  • Transcribe records – I’ll often put the image of a document in a page and then transcribe.
  • Create research plans
  • Write out theories on difficult problems – this helps me document my thought process.
  • Create lists of microfilm or documents to order
  • Create timelines using tables
  • Create research logs
  • Store correspondence with cousins
  • Analyze documents before entering them into RootsMagic (my favorite genealogy program ever!
  • Write random helpful notes to myself
  • Keep information about my society members
  • Keep links to my favorite genealogy websites
  • ….and more!

OneNote has become the place where I put nearly everything and free up my brain.  It keeps it all in one searchable place and syncs to my devices so I can take it with me on the go.  OneNote is easy to use and has the familiar Microsoft OneNote feel to it.  If you are looking for an easy to use program to organize your genealogy, I highly recommend OneNote.

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13 responses to “How I Use OneNote to Organize My Genealogy

  1. I learned something new (even though I feel I know a lot about OneNote)! I didn’t know you could have subpages. I’ll have to check into that. Thanks, Elyse!
    Miriam Robbins´s last blog post ..Tuesday’s Tip: Early Ontario Marriage Registers and Vital Records, 1786 – 1870

    • Creating subpages is super easy. Just create a page, move it under whatever page you want it to be a subpage for, right click and select “Make Subpage”. Super simple and adds even more organization – I can create pages for people/couples and subpages pertaining to the couple.

  2. I started to use Evernote before I realized that One Note was on my Office package. Right now it would be too time consuming to move things. Is One Note have cloud storage like Evernote does?

  3. I am presently visiting family in France and don’t have access to a printer. I have been using One-Note as my printer to keep all the things I discover or scans while here. Great tool!

  4. Pingback: Saving Internet Information Handout | What's Going On @ ACGSI

  5. Elyse,

    I love OneNote too!

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!
    Jana Last´s last blog post ..Follow Friday ~ Fab Finds for August 2, 2013

  6. OneNote is awesome! I use it in much the same way as you describe. I create a General information page that includes the individuals full name, date of birth, date of marriage, date of divorce (if applicable) and date of death. I also then create a timeline (table) that records where they were living – I use census records, city directories, WWI and WWI Draft cards, etc. to help with this.

    This process has really helped in my being able to focus in on any ‘holes’ in my research and planning my research strategy from there. Can’t say enough good things about it.

    Enjoyed your post.

  7. I use and love OneNote also. However, I almost converted to that ‘other’ notetaking software because OneNote and microsoft, in general, was not very good and syncing with my idevices. But, to my surprise and happiness, microsoft updated their stuff and it now syncs pretty done good. I also found an iApp called Outline+ that syncs even better with OneNote – I am back to loving and using OneNote for classes and genealogy.

  8. I have tried both the “notes” but struggle to come up with research plan and research log templates. Did you create your own or did you find a useful source on the internet? Any advice would be great!

  9. I, too, am looking for more details about using Evernote (since that’s what I’ve been using with ancestry and FTM). If you have any resources regarding using Evernote with genealogy, I would appreciate knowing about it. I agree with Janet Brooks request about the templates. In the mean time, keep me posted about new ideas and I’ll try to convert it! I appreciate the article and the ideas I’ve gotten already!

  10. I’ve recently started using Onenote and it’s really amazing! Before using it I also found it difficult to live without! Another vote for Onenote!

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