Remember when everyone talked about how we would someday become a paperless society? Now it seems like we use paper more than ever. Let’s face it – everyone still uses paper. Getting rid of paper in your life is one of the greatest joys imaginable. Digitizing everything makes life easier as everything can be found quickly by every-word searches. Going digital saves space, cuts clutter, and also reduces frustration. It’s also easier to make backup copies of digital files than it is to make backup copies of paper.
Genealogists are especially susceptible to clutter and filing problems. We often collect photocopies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, deeds, census records, and much, much more. We soon encounter issues about how to file all this information and, even more important, how to retrieve what we want at the moment we need it.
Most of us can benefit from better organization of paper documents. However, the problem is not limited to genealogy purposes. Almost all of us end up with piles of paper – bills, receipts, financial and insurance statements, medical prescriptions, and more.
The trend toward government and business entities wanting digital documents is growing. In fact, ruling Rev. Proc. 97-22 from the Internal Revenue Service stipulates that the agency will accept digital documents in place of paper. The changes in health care also makes it more important than ever to be organized. With a good digital document scanning and retrieval system, anyone can file and instantly retrieve needed documents that are in a database of hundreds or even thousands of documents.
A program called Paperless for Windows and for Macintosh allows you to organize all your receipts and documents simply and easily. In fact, the program reduces your need to keep paper documents of any kind. Simply scan any document you would normally file in a drawer on any type of paper, and the OCR function of Paperless recognizes the data and adds it to the program’s Details window. From here you can use the Paperless tools to assign fields that help you to build and maintain a neat and clean digital filing system. The digital documents that it produces also fulfill the IRS requirements, should that need arise.
Of course, filing is only half the story. Being able to quickly and easily find and retrieve a document when you want it is just as important as filing it. Paperless excels at both.
NOTE: I wrote earlier about using a scanner designed for use only with Evernote. That combination of hardware and software works well for anyone who uses Evernote, but it is expensive at $450. It includes a scanner designed for the purpose. The software does not work with any scanners other than the one sold by Evernote. In contrast, Paperless is a program that works with a long list of scanners, not just the $450 Evernote scanner. If you already own a different scanner, or if you are looking for a lower-cost solution, or if you prefer to not use Evernote, Paperless for Windows and for Macintosh may be a better solution for you. Any scanner that supports WIA or TWAIN should work with Paperless for Windows. Macintosh users will find that Paperless works with nearly any scanner that supports Apple’s Image Capture method. Check the scanner’s documentation to see if it is compatible with WIA or TWAIN on Windows or with Image Capture on Macintosh.
While paperless will work with scanners that only scan one side of the paper, you will find it to be much more convenient to use a scanner that scans both sides in one pass. The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500, the S1300i or the S1100 scanner all have been tested and work well with Paperless although many scanners from other manufacturers will probably work as well.
I would not want to use Paperless with a handheld “Magic Wand” or “Flip-Pal” scanner, however. Those are controlled manually and do not have an interface that allows the computer to start and stop scans. Paperless also is not designed to work with cameras that snap digital pictures of documents. To obtain the most out of Paperless, you will want to use it with a scanner that includes WIA or TWAIN on Windows or Image Capture on Macintosh.
You can use Paperless for Windows and for Macintosh to scan your receipts, bills, statements, warranty cards, business cards, genealogy photocopies or any other type of paper. The size of the paper is only limited by the size of document that your scanner can handle. The built-in OCR (optical character recognition) function of Paperless recognizes the data and displays it with the program’s Details window. As with all scanners, the OCR capability works well on clear, typeset documents but is useless for handwriting. However, you can use the Tools available with the Details window to manually add notes, assign categories, and even insert additional text, should you wish to do so.
To use an example dear to my heart, let’s say I have an 1910 U.S. Census record for my Theriault ancestors. The family spoke only French, and the census taker apparently spoke only English; as a result, the name was almost unrecognizably spelled as “Tahrihult.” I could scan this record (or, in my case, allow Paperless to import the previously scanned page), and display it in the Details window. I might then add the proper spelling to that actual image, where it will also appear when printed or placed in a report that I generate with my genealogy program. I can also enter a note to explain the different spellings—or to remind myself to check this against other records—which would not appear in print. I will want to create a Library for all my genealogy, as opposed to libraries for expenses, medical, automotive, and others. As with my old paper files, I will also specify a collection and one or more categories for this record, such as “Theriault Family,” “Census Records,” and “1910 Census.” I can also tag this image with other words that can serve as search terms when I want to retrieve it, like “French” and “Ashland, Maine.” Any fields I choose to use for this record, including any I create, can be used later to sort my database or search for this record along with other records that meet the same search criteria.
With Paperless, you can create a database for everything from financial records to medical to those product manuals for all your tools and appliances. Besides genealogy photocopies such as the one described above, you could also use it to scan and organize your 2nd grader’s pictures and all the other cool stuff she or he brings home from school. Everything is safely and securely saved on your computer’s hard drive.
Needless to say, you will also want to make backups, stored locally as well as online “in the cloud.” After all, your hard drive may crash someday, and you don’t want to lose all your documents. By making both local and online backups, your documents will be safer than they would be on paper. Even better, those documents will also be safer and easier to find when they are electronic.
If you already have a large number of digital documents, Paperless will import them easily into its database. You do not need to re-scan anything. You can also rename, change the creation date, categorize, sub-categorize, tag, and add notes to those existing documents as well as to any future documents you create.
I have used Evernote for some time to scan, store and retrieve documents. I even purchased the Evernote Scanner to make the process simpler. I find that comparing Paperless to Evernote produces mixed results. Evernote is superior at some things while Paperless is better at other functions.
Paperless is better than Evernote at searching and retrieving documents. The search algorithms in Paperless are better than those in Evernote. Paperless has a better method of finding words you search for that are buried inside a scanned document, such as a doctor’s name.
On the downside, Paperless is available only for Windows and for Macintosh. Unlike Evernote, Paperless has no Android or iOS version for iPad or iPhone retrieval. You won’t be able to retrieve a document while standing in the doctor’s office unless you have a Windows or Macintosh laptop computer with you. Carrying your iPad or Android tablet will not help retrieve anything from Paperless although an iPad or Android tablet will retrieve similar documents from Evernote. I hope the producers of Paperless for Windows and for Macintosh will add an iPad and an Android version soon in order to compete with Evernote on these devices.
In short, I am impressed with Paperless for Windows and for Macintosh but will not be switching to it for my own use. I already have thousands of digital documents stored in Evernote, and I use an iPad frequently to retrieve documents when at a doctor’s office, at an insurance agency, and once when renting an automobile at an airport. (I needed proof of insurance that covers rental cars. I have that included in my normal auto insurance but needed to show proof of that coverage to the rental agency.) As good as Paperless is, I won’t use it until the company releases versions for handheld computers. If you do not use a tablet computer, or if your requirements are different from mine, you might prefer Paperless for Windows and for Macintosh because of its superior OCR and retrieval capabilities. Of course, if you have a scanner and no OCR software or did not invest in the Evernote scanner and software package, Paperless may be the right solution for you.
Paperless for Windows and for Macintosh sells for $49.95 U.S. If you are already using a competitive scanning and OCR program, the producers of Paperless may offer a “competitive upgrade” price of $34.95. Details may be found near the bottom of the page at http://marinersoftware.com/products/paperless/.
The manufacturer also offers a package that includes one of three Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner models along with the Paperless software for Macintosh or Windows at prices ranging from $239 to $495 U.S. For details on these bundles, see https://marinersoftware.com/products/paperless/paperless-bundle-u-s/.
Before investing in the Paperless software, you might want to first read the entire user’s guide. You may download the guide at http://marinersoftware.com/products/paperless/#open-userguide.
You can read more about Paperless for Windows and for Macintosh at http://marinersoftware.com/products/paperless.