Using Notes To Track Your Research


There are a number of things to be aware of when using Notes to track your research. Please consult the Family Historian manual for generic instructions on using Notes, as well as the advice at Notes. What follows here is guidance specific to using them to plan and track research.

Note: Version 7 introduced Research Notes, which you should consider rather than Notes as they overcome many of issues mentioned below.

Hiding your notes in reports etc.

You will almost certainly want to ensure that your ‘work-in-progress’ is not visible when you publish anything (report, book, website…), so remember to mark your notes as private using privacy markers e.g. [[private text]] AND to configure your reports etc. to exclude private text (see the ƒh documentation for instructions to configure this).

Locating your notes

It will be easier to locate Notes (or collections of Notes) being used to track research if you adopt a consistent way of working and/or some conventions for the note contents.

  • If you’re using a Shared Note as a “Jotter pad” to record to-do items, you can set the First Line to start with an underscore (e.g. “_Quick To Do”) and the Note will automatically sort to the top in the Record Window.
  • If you consistently link Notes to the (e.g.) individual concerned, you will always be able to find the Research related to that individual on the Notes tab of the Property box.
  • If you consistently use Shared Notes to record research activity, the menu item View > Records Lists> Notes will bring up a list of all your Shared Notes; if you adopt a convention of beginning a research note with (e.g.) To-do, you can filter this list to just the relevant Notes (version 6 and later).
  • Jane Taubman describes an excellent technique at Using Private Notes for Research of ‘tagging’ research note text with (for example) #RN wherever it appears and locating it using either the menu option Edit > Find (version 6 and later) or a plugin (version 5 and later) that you can download from her blog. This technique will work with research notes anywhere as long as you include the ‘tag’ text somewhere within [[private text]] markers, which is very useful if you choose to use a variety of note types and/or are using an older version of ƒh. If you use Edit > Find you can then choose to display the results in a Results Window (which you can lock against re-use); if you use the plugin, again you can lock the results window – in either case you can keep your to-do list easily accessible during a session.
  • In Version 7 this technique has been superseded by Private Hashtags which allow you to include private notes with a distinctive background colour and a hash tag, which are easy to spot and search or query for.

There is no way of asking ƒh to open a particular note, query etc. at startup to present you with a ‘To-do list’ as a reminder of what you were working on.

Structuring your notes

You may wish to include some specific information in your research notes (Priority, Status, etc.) to help you work with them. There are a number of ways of doing this, each with advantages and disadvantages, but it is most easily done using Shared Notes.

If you include Labelled text in your note (version 3 and above) you can construct queries or reports, or configure record lists, to display this text. Labelled text is text that appears in a single paragraph prefixed by (e.g.) “Status: ” (the label). Search the ƒh help file for more detail on how to use this function.

With Shared Notes you can also use the Custom ID field to hold e.g. a Status (e.g. Planned/In progress/Complete). The Custom ID is accessible via the All Tab in the Property Box for a Note; the Main Tab can also be customised to show it with a custom label (e.g. Status), and the field can be included in Queries. (It will also appear in Reports, but will be labelled as Custom ID.)

You can include more than one Custom ID field in a note so could use additional instances for other purposes (such as Priority).

If you use customise the Main Tab in this way, be aware that the customisation will apply to ALL Shared Notes, just just ones you are using to track your research.


Because there are so many ways of working with Notes to track research, it is not possible to provide example Queries that will suit everyone.

However, there are some Standard Queries that provide a good starting point to customise, depending on how you have chosen to work.

Note that, for all queries, long text such as Note fields will be truncated at 150 characters, so you may wish to explore the workaround at Display long text such as Notes

The output from all queries can be saved in a variety of formats, including txt and csv (which will allow you to use a spreadsheet to work with the results).

The Contains Text query

If you’re using Local Notes or Shared Notes (but not Fact Notes) the Contains Text query may be helpful.

Finds all Individual records that have text fields (e.g. Name fields, place fields, address fields, note fields, etc) that contain the entered text. The match is case-insensitive and is not an exact word match. For example, “Shire” would match “Hampshire”.

If you enter more than one word, the query will find records that contain fields which match all of them. The words do not have to be contiguous, or even near each other, but they do have to be part of the same field.

As well as checking text fields within a record, this query will also check all shared Note records that the record is associated with, all spouse family family records that the Individual is associated with, and all Note records linked to those spouse family records.

The Contains Text query will be useful to generate a list of Individuals who have Research Notes if you have included a ‘tag’ e.g. #RN in your Research Notes, or standardised on a convention for naming Research Notes.

You can copy it to create a Custom Query and (for example) display columns to show one or more Local Notes associated with the individual, and/or one or more Shared Notes.

And if you’ve structured your Notes using Labelled Text you can use the GetLabelledText function to extract elements of text into columns (as many as you wish), e.g.

=GetLabelledText( %FACT.NOTE2%, "Baptism:" )

 to extract a Baptism field from an Individual’s Local Note.

This query is less useful if you have made extensive use of Fact Notes to track your research, as it is hard to customise it to work with all the Facts you might want to query; you will get a list of Individuals with relevant Fact Notes but will have to open the Property Box for each Individual to find out more.

The All Facts query

If you’re using Fact Notes (combined with a ‘tag’) to track your research, you can customise the All Facts standard query:

  1. Add the Fact Note to a column: %FACT.NOTE2%
  2. Customise the Rows setting: Add if %FACT.NOTE2% contains (e.g.) #RN (or tick the Parameter box so you can specify the text when you run the Query).

The results will be a list of all Facts containing the specified text. You can further customise it to display columns containing Labelled Text if you have used that feature in your Research Notes.

The Last Updated Note Records query

If you’re using Shared Notes exclusively to track your research, you can create a custom Notes query based on the Last Updated Note Records query:

  • Query type: Note
  • Columns: Note, Text, Last Updated
  • Rows setting:
    • If you’re using a ‘tag’, Add if %NOTE.TEXT contains (e.g.) #RN (or tick the Parameter box so you can specify the text when you run the Query).
    • If you’ve standardised on a convention for the title of a To-do Note, Add if %NOTE begins with (e.g.) To-do (or tick the Parameter box so you can specify the text when you run the Query).


Reporting is NOT one of the strong points of this approach.

In Version 7, you can use the Notes with Record Options report plugin to generate a customised report for Shared Notes.

If you are using Shared Notes in any version, you can use the Record Detail – Notes report (selecting the notes to be included via a Contains Text Query or a Notes Record query).

Last update: 23 Feb 2024