Zotero for Genealogy

I’ve been aware of Zotero for a while, but never looked into the product or what it does. The name stuck in mind mind, I think, because it is an unusual word that begins with Z.

Recently, while browsing possible Kindle books to read on a cruise, I found Zotero for Genealogy, just published in January 2019 by Donna Cox Baker, who has a PhD in history and who teaches and writes about genealogy.

Although I’m writing about details in the book, this isn’t really a book review. It’s more of my reflections about learning to use Zotero.

Have you ever used Zotero? Or, are you like me and possibly have heard about it, but only recognize its name?

Zotero, as described on its website, is a “personal research assistant” and is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share research.” Zotero is available for use with Mac, Windows and Linux, which pretty much covers most computer users.

It is widely used in the academic world to organize research project details. That sounds a lot like what genealogists do, doesn’t it?

Next, we need to take a look at Donna Cox Baker’s book, available on Amazon for $9.99 (Kindle) and $21.99 (Prime, paperback):

I have to say, right from the start, that my only mistake here was buying the Kindle version of the book. As I began reading it on the cruise, I realized that I would need to be at my computer with a hard copy of the book in front of me while I worked my way through the starting exercises outlined in Baker’s book. I should have just purchased the paper version.

Disclaimer: As stated, I actually purchased two versions of this book and have never had any contact with the author or received any material consideration in any kind.

Zotero for Genealogy

The book is 133 pages long with an index and contains 14 chapters:

Part I: Zotero General Overview

1. Introduction to Zotero for Genealogy
2. Getting Started with Zotero
3. Documenting Your Research
4. Organizing Research Collections
5. Managing Your Attachments
6. Searching, Writing and Finding Your Research

Part II: Zotero Add-ons

7. Zotero Connectors & Instant Data Entry
8. ZotFile & Advanced PDF Management
9. Word Processing & Painless Citations

Part III: Applying Zotero to Genealogy

10. Organizing Your Filing System
11. One Source Record or Many: A Choice
12. Working with Evidence Explained
13. Research Logs & To-do Lists
14. More of Zotero for Genealogy

Under each of the chapter titles is a sub-list describing topics covered in the chapter.  For example, Chapter 1 explains what Zotero is, how it serves genealogists and how the book can be used. (Note that the sub-list does NOT appear in the Kindle version.)

Once back on land and in front of my computer, I registered for my free Zotero account (needed even to download sample files for the author’s practice activities) and found it very easy to get started in the program.

Completing the practice activities made it simple to see how Zotero can be used and how it can be applied to genealogy projects. This utility tool can be a source citation creator, but offers so much more than just spitting out citations.

The Zotero Connector is actually an add-on for Chrome, Firefos and Safari web browsers, while ZotFile can create what the author calls a reading stack from your Zotero collection, which can be transported to a tablet or other reading device. It also turns notes into searchable text in Zotero.

For those of you who are Evidence Explained buffs, you will find that some types of citations follow EE format. However, because there are so many types of sources in EE that are quite unique, like Auntie’s scrapbook, Johnny’s diary and Mary’s sewing sampler, Ms. Baker outlines ways that Zotero can be used that come close to capturing the EE format.

Quite honestly, Zotero looks like a terrific product. It does far more than I can write about in one post and it will take me some time to master some of its features past the source citation tool, which is simple. The chapter titles give but a hint of Zotero’s capabilities.

My recommendation for trying out Zotero is to purchase the book (unless you are adept at flipping through pages on a tablet) so you can read, practice and learn easily. Be sure to read the entire book for further tips. For example, if you have piles of paper research logs, the author suggests to just begin using Zotero from today onward if you don’t want to spend hours transcribing those logs into Zotero.

It will be especially useful for collaborating with others. If you are a fan of OneNote or Evernote, you will quickly discover that Zotero is much more powerful. However, like OneNote and Evernote, Zotero is cloud storage so internet access is necessary to use it remotely.

When I feel more proficient and adept at using Zotero, I will share a follow up post and will discuss specific features of this open source program.


12 thoughts on “Zotero for Genealogy”

  1. I’ve been using Zotero for my genealogy organization for over a year now and I LOVE it…it’s so much more than a citation generator – I keep tons of web bookmarks in it, research notes, location notes and links, and so much more. I don’t have the book (tricky ordering from Canada if I want the hard copy because I boycott Amazon), but I might have to figure out how to order it at some point.

  2. I had never heard of Zotero before. But after reading your post, I realized that my research would benefit from this app/browser extension. Thanks for the tip, Linda.

  3. I heard Donna Cox Baker interviewed about her book on the April episode of the Genealogy Happy Hour podcast but haven’t bought it yet, thanks for the review and reminder.

  4. Linda, in 2am Googling, I came across this post. Thank you so much for putting the spotlight on Zotero and my book. It has been a thrill to see fellow genealogists discovering what this product can do for us. We are learning from each other, expanding its value as we apply it to the ever-new problems of documenting complex ancestry. Welcome to the adventure!

  5. Zotero for Genealogy, just published in January 2019 by Donna Cox Baker
    This book actually starts out fairly well and I thought that it was really going to be useful. But, when it got to the specifics of entering information for genealogical records it dies. I mean that it drops dead in the water. Truly less than useful.

  6. I finally devoted the time to looking at Zotero, and I think it’s going to become one of my new favourite tools, along with Evernote, MacFamily Tree and Asana.

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