Two Tools to Analyze Your Genealogy Data: OneNote and Blogs

by Jennifer Holik | Apr 4, 2013

Jennifer Holik

In a previous article I examined using spreadsheets and maps as a way to visualize your family's data to help move your research forward and write their stories. This article continues to focus on ways to visualize your data by pulling it out of your genealogy database and into OneNote or a blog. Doing so will help you locate gaps in your data, help you create research plans, and ultimately write the stories of your ancestors.


OneNote looks like a notebook in which you would keep research notes. Think of it like a giant sheet of whiteboard paper. OneNote can help you organize information on an individual or family from your database; brainstorm a research problem; and create a research plan, all by pulling data from your database to view it in a new light.

Organize Information

My focus is James E. Shannon who fought in the Civil War. I want to know as much information about him as possible so I can write his story.

In OneNote I created notebook pages, or tabs, for the information I wanted to collect. These tabs are: James E. Shannon, Civil War, Maps, Brainstorm, and Research Plan.

Within the James E. Shannon tab I list all his vital information, names of his family members, locations where he lived based on census records, and any indication I found that he may have owned property. The Civil War tab contains information on his unit, his particular service, and other sources to examine. The Maps tab contains a map I created that shows where he lived from birth to death. While I do not have an exact migration route I do have a visual of where he lived throughout his life.

Brainstorm a Problem

I want to find out if James' wife Elizabeth belongs to the Galbraith family that appears to have lived and then migrated with the Shannon family.

In my Brainstorm tab I can list all the information I know about the residences of the two families during each census. I note if they were listed on the same census page. I attempt to find the dates they migrated from Tennessee to Arkansas. I list information on when vital records, probate, tax, and land records were available in both states to help locate information.

Create a Research Plan

I want to prove, disprove, or say it is possible Elizabeth does belong to that particular Galbraith family. To do that, I need a research plan.

In the Research Plan tab, I write the questions I have about this family. I follow that up with a list of repositories I need to visit, online resources I need to investigate, and the records I need to search.

Using OneNote I am able to look at the data laid out in a different way than my genealogy database shows me. Rather than looking at facts for one individual at a time, I can examine multiple individuals and pieces of data in one place. This allows me to see the gaps in my data, find inconsistencies and things that are just not right because we all make data entry mistakes from time to time (like a child born before a parent), and put myself on a new research path to help tell his story.


There are several ways blogging can help you see the gaps in your data, create research plans, get help, and write your family's stories.

Share Family History

As you write your family history, you will begin to see where the gaps are in your research. Posting parts of your written history on your blog allows others to read and provide feedback, connect with you as a potential new family member, and help you fill in some gaps in your information.

In addition, the more you write and post, the more story pieces you will have to put together in a book format later. You can refer back to these when you start piecing together your family history and most of the work will be done. Just edit where needed, add your sources and your book will be completed in no time.

Break Down Brick Walls

All of us at one time or another hit a brick wall and can see no way over or around it. Sometimes just by writing down the problem makes us view it in a new light. Posting the problem on our blog allows others to read it and suggest possible solutions. Once you have posted the brick wall on your blog, leave it alone for a while and focus on another area of research. In time you may re-read your post and have a light bulb moment and know where to go or what to do to solve the problem. It is also possible someone will leave a comment on your blog post that will help you break down that wall.

Connect With Family

Blogging allows family members to stay connected, to learn about their past, and share the information and stories with their family. It also allows potential new family members to find you and share information. As you blog your family stories or research problems, a family member might contact you to share information and help you put more pieces of the puzzle together.

Discuss Ideas

Post an idea you heard at a conference or problem you are having. Use the blog to discuss the idea and for ways to solve the problem. Share the research processes that have worked for you and the ones that have not. Through sharing, others may provide feedback and perhaps a process that was not working, could work if you looked at it differently or tried a different approach.

Share Resources

I love reading other blogs because I learn about so many helpful books and websites I may not find for days, weeks or years! Isn't a little of genealogical research about timing? Just when you need that one piece of data or resource, it magically appears? The same happens when you read other blogs. Something you need for your research may magically appear.


OneNote and blogs are two ways to write out your research that give you the opportunity to view it in a new light. Writing out the issues rather than looking at them as facts in a database can provide many "ah-ha" moments. These moments may show us where we have gone wrong in our research or where we still need to look for answers. Experiment with both avenues and see what discoveries you make for your family.

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