Making Use Of OneNote for Genealogy Research

Are you a Microsoft Office user? Do you need a way to organize the plethora of documents, photos, emails, and more that come with research? The Microsoft Office suite includes OneNote which has many applications for organizing our genealogy. It may be just the tool you have been missing in your genealogy toolkit.Today we have a blog post from a guest blogger, Nancy Avis, who shares the way she uses OneNote.

Using OneNote for Genealogy Research

by Nancy Avis

What is OneNote?

OneNote is part of Microsoft Office. It is a digital notebook organized by notebooks, sections and pages. You can have multiple notebooks for separate subjects or topics and add online videos, tables, pictures, audio notes, to-do lists, screen-captures and text.

OneNote can contain multiple digital notebooks. Think of the notebook like a hard copy notebook with tabs and then multiple pages under each tab. Each notebook has sections (like tabs in a hard copy notebook) and then pages under each section. OneNote for Windows 10 operates in the cloud, so your information can be accessed from multiple devices like a desktop and a laptop. You will need to sign in to your Microsoft account to access your OneNote file from a different device.

Besides genealogy, OneNote can also be used to help organize other things in your life, like vacation plans, schedules for your children, research on other subjects and much more. If you use Outlook email, it’s very easy to send an email to a specific OneNote page. Additional information about OneNote can be found on the Microsoft site or the links below.

OneNote video training

Microsoft OneNote for beginners: Everything you need to know

6 Reasons Why OneNote is the Ultimate Note Taking Tool

5 Ways OneNote works Great with Outlook and Other Office Apps

Using One Note for Genealogy

OneNote has many uses for genealogy. Organize and conduct your genealogy research. Add web clippings, attachments, photos, newspaper articles, text, emails, typed notes, URLs and more. You can also add sections for locality guides, keep track of your genealogy education, and add lists of look-ups for repositories, etc.

The screen captures below are from OneNote for Windows 10 which features a smaller, single-line ribbon near the top of the screen. The navigation pane displays colorful notebook section tabs vertically on the left side of the screen. The list of page tabs is shown immediately to the right of the section tabs.

Create a Notebook

The first step is to create a notebook. On the bottom of your OneNote screen click the plus sign next to “Notebook” and you will get a dialog box. Name the notebook and click “create note book.” I have created one Notebook for all my genealogy research. I also have separate notebooks for vacation planning and genealogy resources.

 Create a Section

Select the plus sign next to “section” and type the name or title you want for the section. In my OneNote notebook, I have created separate sections (think of them like tabs in a notebook) for each family name I’m researching. I also have a separate section for Locality Guides.

Create a Page

To create a page under a section, select the plus sign next to the page and type a name for that page. In my example below, under the section “Carmichael” I have multiple pages. This family was from Northern Ireland, so I have included a page for “Griffith’s Valuation” records, the 1831 Ireland Census, and individual names or couples.

You can also create sub-pages under any page and organize them or move them around. I have a “Roots Ireland Records” page and have sub-pages of couples underneath with records of them I found on Roots Ireland.

Example of Notebook/Section/Page in Genealogy Research: Notebook: Genealogy Research > Section: Carmichael > Page: Griffith’s Valuation

Creating More Pages

You can have as many pages as you want under a section.

If you find a record where you want to copy the abstract or the actual digital image, it’s very easy to copy and paste into your page on OneNote. I use the Snipping Tool found in Microsoft Windows and snip/screen capture the image I have found online. Then I copy that image and paste it on the appropriate page. I will also add a citation, and sometimes the URL or header from that particular record. Do whatever is easiest for you to find that record again online. You can add shapes, or highlight a section, which are all under the draw section.

Example: In my Genealogy Research notebook I have the section titled “Sell Family.” Within that section are pages separated by individual names or other subjects. Under the individual name (page), you can add text, screen captures, headings and other information. and then below that are the citation, screen captures of the record, and a URL to the direct record. There is an option to insert or remove extra space, so if additional records are found they can easily be inserted below or above existing information already on that page. You can insert extra space and then add the record.

For this example, the section is for the Sell family, and highlighted is a specific section named “James Sell – Orange County, NY.” I’ve added a heading named “Census Records” and shown is the citation, the image and abstract from Ancestry of one census record.

Record page in OneNote

Locality Guides

You can also use OneNote to organize and create Locality Guides. The screenshot below shows a section I created named “Locality Guides” and then separate pages for each locality guide. Under the page, you can organize by subject/headings, the URLs, screen captures, maps, websites, and other information. Create sections for however it will help you with your research.

Locality Guide in OneNote

Searching OneNote

Search results for “Wessell”

What if you can’t remember exactly where you stored a document or link. OneNote provides a search feature that allows you to search all your notebooks, sections or pages for a specific term. Click the search icon (magnifying glass), type in a name, place, etc. and OneNote will bring up all the pages where that search term is located.

Menu Options for OneNote

If you are a Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint user, you’ll recognize the menu tabs at the top of the page in OneNote: File, Home, Insert, Draw, History, Review, View, and Help.

The Draw menu has options to use various colors to draw, highlight and option to use shapes.

The Home Menu contains different fonts, highlighting, headers, check boxes, and other features you can use with your text.

The Insert menu features items you can insert into your page such as a table, an attachment, pictures and much more.

The screenshots below give you an idea of the menus and options.

Draw Menu in OneNote

Home Menu in OneNote

Insert Menu in OneNote

Hope you find One Note as useful as I have in your genealogy research!


Thanks Nancy for giving us these great tips. Best of luck in all your genealogy research!

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