13 April 2008

Using Google Notebook for Online Genealogy Research, Part 1

If you haven't yet begun using Google Notebook for your online genealogy research, I have one word for you: why?

I'll be discussing this tool in two parts, first briefly discussing the merits and mechanics of Google Notebook, then, in the second part, showing you how I apply it to my own research. A word of warning, though: Google Notebook is only supported in IE 6 and Firefox 1.5+. Safari users, Netscape users, Opera users, etc. are out of luck on this one. As always, I don't get paid by Google for this, I'm just an eager young technophile in love with innovation.

Change is Good

How do you make sure that you return to interesting websites that you run across while browsing the web? Perhaps more importantly, how do you save small items--a small entry regarding an ancestor in a page of transcriptions from a newspaper, one-line entries in cemetery surveys, or even photos? Do you bookmark the page with your browser? Do you copy and paste lines of text into a text document? Do you right-click and save photos to a folder on your hard drive?

Most of us have done (or do) one or all of the above, then, somewhere along the way we realize that things are being forgotten because these systems of saving fail to stand up to the ways in which we tend to use our computers, and the ways in which we tend to browse the internet. Bookmarking with the browser can be cluttered and unwieldy, unless you spend precious time making folders and managing bookmarks. Posting and annotating footnotes with an online bookmarking site like del.icio.us may work for a while, but I have found that in the scope of a well-used account, special nuggets of information or sites tend to get buried in all the links and notes.

By far the best organizational tool I have used, which suits well the tendency of online research to meander and ramble, is Google Notebook. Why? Because Google notebook allows me to keep actual snippets of text and photos visible, collected in one place, with links back to the original pages on which I found the items in the first place. By organizing my research by surname, I have virtual scrapbooks of information I have found on my families from across the internet. Here's a sneak peek at my notebooks, which I will discuss in more detail next time:

For today, let me nudge you with the basics of Google Notebook and how to get it working:

The New Way

First, here's the video from Google that gives you an idea of how using the notebook works:

In order to use Google Notebook, you have to have a Google Account. If you don't, you can sign up for one. Once you have an account, you can go to the Google Notebook Homepage and get started by installing the browser extension appropriate to your browser.

(I have to note here that I use Firefox pretty much exclusively, and never use Internet Explorer, so I am much more familiar with the operation of Google Notebook in Firefox. It is also my understanding that IE users must install the Google Toolbar in order to get the Google Notebook extension. As a screen real-estate junkie, I find this disappointing, but I will poke around more and see if the toolbar can be avoided. Suffice to say that in Firefox the notebook addon sits quietly in the lower right-hand corner of my browser and doesn't take up any space at all until asked.)

Once you get the extension installed you are off to the races, and can begin creating, editing and adding to your notebook(s). Using the notebook is easy, it doesn't take much to get going. If you get lost, you can always check the Google Notebook FAQ to get started. Play around with it and see what you think. I'll be back in the next installment to show you how I this tool has revolutionized the way I research online.

Till then, I remain,

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