Mind Mapping A Genealogy Research Toolbox

by JL Beeken on 2-07-2011

FreePlaneFollowing on from yesterday’s introduction to mind mapping a Genealogy Research Toolbox, you’ll need two things for this project; free mind mapping software – FreeMind (or FreePlane) and a free Dropbox account.

If you’re going to be moving around I would suggest a portable version of mind mapping software.

If you go to genealogy conferences and take notes that you bring home and lose, mind mapping will be your new best friend for that too. But, today, we’re making a research toolbox. A research toolbox is your personal list of most-used genealogy websites in one easy-to-access location.

If you don’t want to go portable, install the desktop version of FreeMind or FreePlane instead.

2014 update: Nowadays there are more options including online mind mapping that didn’t exist when I wrote this post. Updating and maintaining a mind map of resources in your browser would work just as well as this more roundabout process described below. Or you can take a mind map already created with desktop software and import it. Mileage may vary depending on the software.

Coggle  (online)
Mindjet  (Windows or Mac)
MindMeister  (online)
Mindnode  (Mac app)
Popplet  (online and iPad)
Scrapple  (Windows or Mac)
Spiderscribe  (online)
XMind  (Windows)

Genealogy Research Toolbox, Method 1

All you need to know to create a research toolbox as a mind map is how to add hyperlinks to a mind map and how to export a mind map as a web page. This is very easy to do.

If you’d like to see an example, this is my genealogy research toolbox. Advantage of this over bookmarks:

  • Instead of having a thousand bookmarks cluttering up your browser, you can have one page that contains them all in an easy-to-view format.
  • You can have dozens of categories and sub-categories and hundreds of links without being bothered by them scrolling off the end of your browser window.
  • In the upper left of the window is a Search box. Type in a word. As you repeatedly click the search icon (or click ‘Enter’) it will cycle through the search results. (Search covers link names and URLs, but not included notes.)
  • If you have a website you can link to the mind map and have all your links easily accessible by others.
  • Keeping your research links in plain view might entice casual passers-by to do some research for you. :)

Start a new document. File/New. This will give you a root node in the middle of the screen. Click on it and rename it anything you want.

Creating A Mind Map

  • ‘Ins’ will make a sibling node.
  • ‘Enter’ will make a child node.
  • Ctrl+K will open a box for pasting (Ctrl+V) a URL.

Click your ‘Ins’ key and type a category name into the new node. Repeat for other categories.

The easiest, although not the best way to add links is to drag and drop them from your bookmarks or from web pages, or wherever else you find them, onto the appropriate category.

The category will turn gray as you hold the link over it. Let go and the link will be added to the bottom of the list.

Dragging Links, FreePlane

The red arrow next to the text represents a live link. If you don’t see one, you’ll have to paste it in manually as described below.

If you drag links directly from your browser address bar into FreeMind/FreePlane, you’ll get the link in the http:// format. I’ve also discovered some other problems with the drag-and-drop method that you won’t notice til you try some of the other Export options. You’ll end up with messy HTML or paragraphing spacing where you don’t want it. It probably won’t matter in this project but it could get in your way later.

To get around this, don’t drag links in directly. Name your node first and copy the URL to your clipboard. Then click Ctrl+K to open the ‘Edit Hyperlink Manually’ box and, continuing to hold the Ctrl key down, (+V) the URL into it and click Enter for “OK”.

Add Hyperlink, FreePlane

FreeMind/FreePlane creates virtually every link in http:// format. To find the link for any anchor text, right-click on the text and click ‘Copy Link Location’.

Copy Link Location, Context Menu

To alphabetically sort your list, highlight the category node, go to Tools on the menu and click ‘Sort Children’.

Sort Children, FreePlane

Save your mind map periodically. You can name it whatever you want; research-toolbox, for instance. This will save in the FreeMind/FreePlane file-type ‘.mm’. Save it somewhere you can find it easily. I have 40 mind maps now so I have a folder for them.

Exporting Your Mind Map to View in Your Browser

Make a folder in your Public Dropbox folder. Again, it doesn’t matter what you name it; genealogy, for instance.

Go to File/Export in FreeMind/FreePlane and click on ‘As Flash’. Save it to the Dropbox folder you just created. This will generate an HTML file and a folder called …..html_files.

Right-click on the HTML file, go down to Dropbox and ‘Copy Public Link’. Then paste it somewhere for safe-keeping. Also paste (Ctrl+V) it into the address bar in your browser so you can view your mind map. You can link to this URL from a web page or just make note of the link as a private bookmark and keep the link to yourself.

Copy Public Link, Dropbox

Anytime you make changes to your mind map, export it again. It will synchronize in your Dropbox almost instantly since the file is very small in size. It would take about 2,000 links to make 1MB.

Genealogy Research Toolbox, Method 2

If you already have a gazillion links bookmarked there’s no point re-inventing the wheel.

FreeMind/FreePlane has an Import option called Explorer Favorites. What this means is that you can import all your present bookmarks from Internet Explorer to create a mind map with one click.

If you’re already using Internet Explorer, open a new mind map, click on File/Import/Explorer Favorites, browse down Windows Explorer to the Favorites folder, click Open and wait a few seconds. I don’t use IE so my mind map’s a bit wimpy looking.

Import Explorer Favorites, FreePlane

If you use another browser, export your bookmarks, import them into IE and do the same thing. Theoretically.

You might want to organize your bookmarks first. If I was trying to make a genealogy-specific mind map I’d make a backup of my bookmarks and then clear the Favorites folder of everything non-genealogy first. But you can still delete or drag and drop nodes around on the mind map after the fact.

Having said all that I’m now using TiddlyWiki instead. See Research.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joan Miller (Luxegen) 2-26-2011 at 10:21 AM

Great article. I love freemind and use it to brainstorm research ideas and to capture educational tips such as you mention above.

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