Monday, April 17, 2017

Using TextExpander to Speed up Source Citations

I’ve recently started creating source templates for source types that I use quite often, such as census records and cemetery markers, to save time when I’m writing research plans and reports. I’ve been placing them in Evernote, creating a linked table of contents so I can quickly find the correct source template. Here’s my Table of Contents and template for the 1930 U.S. census:

Table of Contents for Source Templates in Evernote

Template for the 1930 U.S. census in Evernote

While these templates did save me time on the research report I wrote last week, I couldn't help wondering if there was an even better way to automate the process. I’ve been using TextExpander at work, but not using it to its full potential. TextExpander is a great time-saver for those things you type over and over again. To use it, you set up a “snippet” for your text, and create an abbreviation that expands to the text when typed. The snippet can be used in Word, a web browser, genealogy software – basically anywhere you type information. For example, I can type “;name” and the abbreviation expands to my first and last name - Marceline Beem.

Today I decided to see if I could make a better source template in TextExpander, and it works beautifully! The program has the ability to use macros and variable fields in snippets, which make it ideal for source templates. After some experimenting, I came up with the following snippet for the same 1930 census shown above:

TextExpander snippet for the 1930 U.S. census

For reach variable, the left bracket was replaced with "%filltext:name=" and the right bracket was replaced with "%." TextExpander makes it easy to do this by pushing a button and typing in the name of the variable.  I use a semicolon to start each of my abbreviations, and my pattern for the federal census records is "fed" followed by the year. My abbreviation for the 1930 census is ";fed1930". 

Now when I type the abbreviation ";fed1930" into my Word document, I get a pop-up that allows me to input the variable data (Note: Be sure the cursor is where you want the text to appear when you type the abbreviation):

TextExpander form to fill in variable data for the 1930 U.S. census snippet

After completing the form, the text is inserted into my footnote:

 Completed form for the 1930 U.S. census snippet

 Footnote in Word, created from the TextExpander snippet

Of course, I would pick an example in which used an FHL film, instead of a NARA publication, as its source, but that is easily fixed by editing the inserted footnote:

Corrected footnote, citing FHL microfilm instead of the NARA publication

From here, it was pretty easy to add templates for the remaining census years. To speed things up, I pasted each full reference note into Word (all remaining census years) and used the "search and replace" function to quickly edit the {brackets} with the correct syntax for TextExpander variables. I also changed the "accessed date" to record the current date, using TextExpander's native macros for date formatting. 

Do you use TextExpander or other software to automate your source citations outside of your genealogy management program? Which ones, and what do you like best about your system? Tell us about it in the comments!

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