Research Notes


Research Notes are a new tool in Family Historian 7 that are designed to enable notes about your research (such as To-Do lists and Visit Reports) to be kept separate from notes about the subjects of your research, e.g. individuals, families, events, places, etc.

Common Features of Note Records and Research Notes in FH7

  • Both are essentially just text documents, with no predefined content or structure.
  • Both use the same new Rich Text Editor.
  • Both can include links to other Records or external websites in the body of the note.
  • Both can be linked to an unlimited number and combination of other records, such as Individuals, Families, Sources, etc.

Differences Between Notes and Research Notes

  • Traditional notes can be either local notes for a particular item of data or a shared Note Record.  Research Notes can only be created as shared Records.
  • Notes are always blank when recreated, although Autotext can be inserted in the Rich Text editor after creation.  Research Notes can be created directly from an Autotext template.
  • Research Notes are omitted from most predefined ƒh Reports, which are generally about the subjects of your research, not the research process itself.
  • Notes and Research Notes are displayed on separate tabs in the Records Window, and can have different sets of fields to display.

Research Note Formats

Research Notes are created in the same way as any other record.  The most common methods are to either select Add > Research Note from the main ƒh menu, or right click in blank space in the Research Note tab of the Records Window  and select Create Research Note.

Both of these options present a list of available formats to choose from, as illustrated below.

The available templates are managed in the same way as any other ƒh7 autotext, via the Tools > Manage Autotext… menu.  The Manage Autotext Window is shown below with the Research options expanded, and these are the available templates for new Research Notes.

New Autotext templates can be created for Research Notes in the same way as any other Autotext.

Research Notes use the Rich Text format, so are capable of extensive customisation through use of tables, different text fonts, and directly embedded links to other relevant records such as Individuals and Families.

Records Window Display

The Notes tab of the Records Window displays four fields by default; Note Records (the text of the note), the Record Id, the number of Links to other records, and when the Note was last updated.  The Research Notes tab displays all of these, plus three additional fields; Type, Date, Status.  If the Research Note is just a text record, where do these additional fields come from?

The image below shows the default Records Window layout for Research Notes, along with one freshly-created example of each pre-defined format.  The “Type” of each note is highlighted, and the contents of the Records Window display match the values in the individual records.  More specifically, the Type column has been pre-configured using the techniques described in Customising the Records Window and the GetLabelledText() function to return text following the ‘Type: ‘ label.

The next image shows the same Research Notes with other fields completed, and Date and Status columns follow the same format.  You are not restricted to the pre-defined labels, and in these examples we have created a new field called Priority: and tabulated it in the Records Window display.

Functions such as =GetLabelledText() have two significant limitations when used to define Records Window fields in this way.  What follows the label must be normal text.  It must not be a hyperlink, and must not be within a table, although formatting such as bold or italic text is permitted.

There are no special fields in the Research Note, and all data are represented as text (or Rich Text).  As a result, the dates as written here can only be sorted in alphabetical order, not chronologically.  This is not particularly useful, but unfortunately there are no options in the Records Window configuration for a text date to be read as a true date field.  One workaround is to store the dates in year-month-day ISO format, for example 2021-03-31 for 31 Mar 2021, as alphabetical and chronological sorting produce exactly the same sequence.

Querying Research Notes to Create Research Logs

Even when used individually, Research Notes provide a powerful tool for keeping a record of your family history research.  In the example above, relevant links have been created between the Research Notes and other records.  Note #1, Scotland’s People searches, has been linked to that Repository record, and Note #3, an Ian Monro checklist, has been linked to that Individual.

A simple custom Research Note Query could be used to collate notes by any defined field, such as all open notes sorted in priority order.  As with any other Query, linked records can be included to enable queries such as all Individuals with linked Research Notes, or all Research Notes linked to a given Repository.

Direction of Query

Links between Records are not symmetric in ƒh, and the direction of the link determines how the links can be listed in a Query.  Each link has a “parent” and a “child”.  For example, if an Individual Record has a linked Research Note, the Individual is the parent, and the Research Note the child.  It is easy to determine which way round links run by expanding a Record in the Records Window by clicking on the small + sign at the start of the row.  If the selected record is the parent, you will see the child records listed.  Typical child records for an Individual parent record are links to the Parent family, their own family, Media, Notes, and Research Notes.

Conversely, if you expand the child record in the Records Window (Media, Notes, Research Notes, etc), all you see is details of that record.  You cannot determine which other records link to it.  To see these links, highlight the record in the Records Window and select View > Record Links… from the main ƒh menu to be presented with a list of linking records.

ƒh Queries are generally designed to go from the parent to the child.  For example, to generate a list of Research Notes linked to a particular Repository, you would start with a Repository Query, and include the linked Research Notes.  You could not get the same information from starting with a Research Note Query and trying to link Repositories – the link is in the wrong direction.

This can make it extremely difficult to link multiple selection criteria with links in different directions.  It is possible to do so using links embedded in the body of the Research Note, but the required syntax is complex.

More sophisticated searching such as this is possible, but only via the extra functionality of a custom plugin.  Research Notes are a new tool in ƒh7, and it is expected that complementary analytical tools will become available as they become more widely used.

Portability and Compatibility

Standard notes are part of the GEDCOM specification and generally very well supported by family history apps.  As a result, they export and import cleanly, with little if any corruption or loss of data.  By contrast, Research Notes are a proprietary feature within ƒh, and are not understood by other apps.  Even if they have a similar feature, such as To-Do lists and Research Log in RootsMagic, the formats are incompatible.

File > Import/Export > Export < GEDCOM File… has the option to exclude them from an export, and the Export Gedcom File plugin will offer to retain them, exclude them or transform them into Shared Notes.

Most of the functionality described in this page could be achieved with standard Note Records.  This would, however, require a lot of detailed customisation, and the Research Planner Plugin addressed this in earlier versions of ƒh.

Having a specific Research Note record type in ƒh7 provides greatly enhanced recording of your research directly within FH, and future plugins and program developments are likely to enhance this further.

Last update: 08 Apr 2021