I taught Organize Your Research with Google Drive at RootsTech this year and I enjoyed preparing for it immensely. I already loved Google Drive and used it with my usual genealogy workflow; but my preparation helped me find even more ways to use it to become a more productive and organized researcher. In this post, I’m sharing an overview of what I covered in the class, as well as links to my syllabus and presentation slides. I love sharing and I hope you will benefit from viewing the course materials.
Organize Your Research with Google Drive Expanded Syllabus PDF – I added additional materials to this version right before teaching
Do you work from multiple devices? Laptop, desktop, work computer, home computer, smartphone, iPad? Learn how to utilize the free tools at Google Drive and Google Docs to help keep your genealogy research organized. You can create research logs with Google Sheets, transcribe records into Google Docs, add document links to records you have saved within your Google Drive files and share your work with other genealogists. The comment feature is a powerful collaborative tool that allows you to give and receive feedback from others. Upload your image files, scanned records, and saved research documents to Google Drive to access them from any device. Sync your devices to back up your precious research online. Search through your Google Drive to easily find documents. No longer will your research documents be scattered in dusty file folders, desktop computers, and under-the-bed boxes. Putting all your research in one place will help you find what you need and make more progress.
The class was divided in to seven sections. I started by explaining that I could not give a step-by-step walk through of all the features of Google Drive showing how to use them, because that would take several hours. The purpose of the class was to give an overview of how I use Google Drive to keep my genealogy research organized and productive. The areas I discussed included the following:
What is Google Drive
In the first section, What is Google Drive, I talked about the difference between cloud storage and online backup. The main difference is that cloud storage’s purpose is productivity, while the purpose of online backup tools is disaster recovery. I emphasized that Google Drive is a cloud storage system that is beginning to venture into online backup. For those who want a full service utility for online backup, most people recommend Acronis, Backblaze, Carbonite, or similar programs.
Set up and Use Google Drive
Next I talked about how to set up and use Google Drive. In the syllabus you will find links to Google Support articles detailing how to do this. You can also find video tutorials on Youtube for using Google Drive. Here is one example: Google Drive Full Tutorial From Start To Finish – How To Use Google Drive by Dusty Porter. I also reviewed the free plan, if you use 15 GB or less, or the paid plan, which allows you to use more storage. I personally use 2TB of storage and keep all my photos and files in high quality.
Store and View Files in Google Drive
This section was about putting your documents and files into Google Drive by uploading files or folders. There are a couple ways to do this, and links in the syllabus point your to detailed articles in Google Support with step-by-step instructions. It’s pretty straightforward to upload – just click “new.”
One of my favorite tips from this section is that you can convert PDF and Photo files to text files. Imagine having a .jpg image of a newspaper clipping, and instantly having that transferred to a Google Doc file where the text is transcribed automatically. Amazing, right?! You simply upload the file to your Google Drive, right click on it, and select “open with google docs.” Google Drive then opens a google doc with the text from the image or PDF. You can now copy and paste that and use it! It’s not perfect, but you can easily edit the problem words and fix it up the way you like it. This only works with typed text, not handwritten. It uses OCR technology. Below is the video screen capture I showed during class.
Organize and Find Your Files
Next I shared my tips for organizing and finding your files. First, you should create folders for each person you are researching.
Next, you can decide on a file naming protocol. Here’s mine:
The best thing about finding files in Google Drive is the search bar. If I want to find a file quick and I remember the title, I just type that in to the search bar. You can search by type of file and other keywords within the file as well. My best tip from this section is that you can save a document to multiple folders without creating copies of that document. To do this, select the document you want to add to another folder, and use the Shift + Z keyboard shortcut. A popup appears and you select which folder you want it to be in. Now both of these folders point to the same item.
In Google Drive, the real file name is the URL. You can have multiple folders all pointing to one file because they are just pointing to that one URL. Now you can easily put census records into each family member’s files. Hooray! Here is a video showing how it Shift + Z works:
Collaborate with Google Drive
Google Drive is a wonderful way to collaborate with others and work on projects together. In our Research Like a Pro study group, we view each others work and comment on it in Google Drive. You can even comment on images, PDF files, and Microsoft files when previewing them in Google Drive. This makes it easy to collaborate with clients, professional genealogists, relatives, and colleagues. When sharing a folder with someone, you can choose to let them view the folder only, or allow them to edit and organize the files within the folder. Here is an example of commenting on an image of a pension index card in Google Drive:
Docs, Sheets, Slides, Photos and other Apps
I could teach a separate class about how I use each of these Google apps. There are so many things to learn and do with them. One of my favorite tools is voice typing function in Google Docs. If you want to easily take notes about a research project without typing, you can open a google doc on your computer or phone and click tools > voice typing. You need to have a microphone or a webcam/microphone. Here is a screen capture video showing what it looks like:
One of my favorite ways to use a Google Doc is to create a sources document. I copy and paste the image of the source, add the citation, then number each source and place the number in my research log. This is helpful for clients or when researching yourself. The great thing about pasting images into a Google Doc is that it doesn’t count against your Google Drive storage quota. You can have unlimited Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides files.
I use Google Sheets for research logs, timelines, organizing DNA matches, citation templates, and relatives’ contact information. When creating a research log, I love to “freeze” the top rows with the column header data. I also love to sort my research log by different columns depending on what I’m doing. I may add a column for the record type and then sort by record type to reveal which types of records I am lacking.
Google Slides is a great way to collaborate on presentations with others, especially when preparing for family reunions where you are presenting family history information.
Google Keep is a wonderful tool that I highly recommend for saving web-pages and transcribing them. You can install the Google Keep Chrome Extension and then right click on any web page to save it to your Google Keep. You can save images too. You can tag your notes in Google Keep, color code them, and convert them to Google Docs.
A wonderful way to use Google Keep Chrome extension is to transcribe document. If you right click on the web page (not the image) you can open the keep note window in the top right and start typing your transcription. I typically do my transcriptions with two screens/monitors, but if you only have one, this is a great solution.
Lastly, I have to give a shout out to Google My Maps. I’m just mentioning this really quick because you can save these to your Google Drive in your ancestor’s folder. You can create a custom map with information pertaining to a specific research project or family in your tree. I imported a KML file showing the county boundaries of North Carolina into this custom map that I made for a client research project.
Sync files to Your Computer
The last section of the class was about using the Google Backup and Sync program on your computer to select which files you would like synced to the cloud. This is a way to backup more folders than just your Google Drive sync folder. It’s similar to a disaster recovery option, but it doesn’t allow you to schedule backups or restore your entire file system like Acronis or Backblaze. However it is a good way to ensure that your precious files and photos are not lost if your house is destroyed in a flood or fire.
I recommend choosing the option to “don’t remove items everywhere” so that if you delete something on your computer accidentally, this isn’t also deleted in the cloud.
Google Drive and the Google Apps are a great way to enhance your organization and research!