Category Archives: Zotero

Jumping into Zotero: January Tech Moment

NOTE: Tech Moments is a new series that will post once a month in 2024. Please remember that a “moment” is meant to bring an awareness of tech tools that can aid genealogists. It’s most definitely not an in-depth lesson on how to use a product.

Zotero Website

It’s been a long time since I blogged about my first steps into using Zotero. In fact, it’s been well over four years. Since we are just beginning a new year, I’ve decided to add a new series to my blog, which for lack of a better term, will be called “Tech Moments.” Why “Moments’? These new tech posts will be a quick introduction to lesser known technologies that can be applied to the genealogical research setting. They won’t be full, in-depth teaching lessons. Posts will appear once a month and Zotero opens this series.

Back in 2019, Zotero was just beginning to be noticed by the genealogy community and while it has its superfans, Zotero hasn’t exactly become a household word in the genealogy community. If you aren’t familiar with Zotero, click on the link above to read my 2019 post before continuing with this one, as it will provide an introduction to this great research tool.

Why am I writing about Zotero once again? Well, to sing its praises. At the close of my 2019 post, I commented that I would do some follow ups detailing my experiences. That’s a ball that got dropped and now is the time to retrieve it!

Why now? Last year, I attended a two part virtual seminar given by Donna Cox Baker to the Bucks County (PA) Genealogical Society. Donna is the author of Zotero for Genealogy: Harnessing the Power of Your Research, published in 2019 and I understand a revised, updated edition will be coming out soon.

I originally loved the idea of Zotero, but looked at it from the point of view of “What is this program?” and that limited my view and subsequent “playing around” with the program. I even commented to a fellow blogger that while I liked Zotero, I never really bonded with it is the way I expressed myself.

While attending Donna Cox Baker’s seminar last year and listening to all the ways in which it could be used, I asked myself a new question. I want to compile a Collection (Zoteros’ term for folder) of Carpatho-Rusyn Resources. Will Zotero accomplish that goal for me? Instead of completing practice exercises in the book (which are helpful to get started), I instead created a Collection that I titled “Carpatho-Rusyn Resources) and began adding links.

I had already created an account with Zotero years ago, so I logged in and got started. Here is just a quick view of the basic Zotero tools:

Zotero Work Page

The two arrows point to the most important icons I use – the File folder with the + sign creates a new Collection (which, remember is the folder in which items are stored.) The green + tab to the right adds items to the collection.

Source citations are created using the menu that opens to the right of an item.

Source Citation Box

Zotero offers a choice of source citation styles. However, since Zotero was developed for and is widely used by the academic community, Evidence Explained citations are not an option. However, given the number of fields in the menu box, citations can be tweaked to approach EE.

How can Zotero be used by genealogists? It’s a true research assistant! Any number of collections can be created and, if links are used to sources rather than uploading large files, very little space in the free version (300 MB limit) is used up. I believe at the seminar it was mentioned that the presenter had more than 7,000 items in her Zotero collection and hasn’t reached a limit in the free version. The paid plan offers 2GB for $20 per year, 6GB for $60 or $120 per year for unlimited storage.

What types of collections can be created by genealogists? Look at my menu list – I created an ethnic collection, reference library, a place collection, my to-do list, Loyalist links and even Family Histories, for links to digitized family history books I come across online.

I don’t like nesting one folder under another, unless it’s for surnames. I’ll be adding Surnames as a collection and then nesting more “collection” folders with surnames I am researching. Because most of my collections contain urls, when I click on the item in the collection, the link takes me directly to the online website or page.

In her seminar, Dr. Baker answered the question “What if I have XXX number of years of items stored in a different format?” Her reply, e.g. for a to-do list, is to just start with Zotero today. That way it won’t be overwhelming.

I have touched on just the very basics of Zotero. It’s a powerful program that even has a plug-in called Zotero Connector (a browser extension) to further boost its capabilities.

While I prefer to be a single user of Zotero, a collection can also be shared by a group of researchers.

I think this time around, I’ve “bonded” with Zotero. I highly recommend purchasing Baker’s book (print copy unless you are adept at flipping through ebooks and have two computer screens to use) to learn many more details of all that Zotero offers.

I hope January’s Tech Moment has encouraged you to learn more about Zotero. It’s a terrific organizational tool for researchers!

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.