Practically Paperless with Obsidian, Episode 9: Associating Notes with People

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Welcome to my blog series, “Practically Paperless with Obsidian.” For an overview of this series, please see Episode 0: Series Overview.

Like my Going Paperless series, this series is an experiment. I began to slowly migrate notes from Evernote into Obsidian a few weeks before I outlined this series, and little-by-little, notes from Evernote have been making their way into Obsidian. I’ve still got a long way to go. It is a process because I’m trying to avoid migrating the stuff I never used, and also trying to capture elements of the process along the way. I’ll have more to say about the process of migrating notes from Evernote to Obsidian in Episode 14.

In Episode 7, I described how I think about finding notes when I create them by thinking in terms of 4 question. In Episode 8, I described how I used templates in Obsidian to standardize my notes, making things easier to find. In this short episode, I’ll give a real-life example of how I recently used Obsidian to answer what I call a “who” question.

Answering the “Who” question

“Who” questions involve finding something related to a particular person. My primary method for doing this involves tags. If a note I create is associated with a person, I tag that note with the person’s name. If it is related to more than one person, I’ll tag the note with the name of anyone associated with it.

I do limit the “who” to immediate family. So there are tags for “jamie”, “kelly”, as well as each of our kids. But I don’t create “who” tags for notes that are associated with people who are not part of the immediate family because I’ve found that I don’t really search for “who” questions for people other than family members. Your mileage may vary in this regard.

Here is an example of a note tagged with my name:

a note tagged with my name

When I create a new note, I ask myself: would I ever need to search for this note based on a family member? If so, I add the tag to the “tag” line in my note. (As we saw in last week’s episode, thanks to templates, most of my notes already have this “tag” line already in place.)

Searching for notes by person

It turns out that I had migrated a number of the kids’ school records from Evernote to Obsidian recently. Not long after, Kelly said that she needed a copy of our older daughter’s 4th grade report card for something. Didn’t I have this scanned in somewhere, she asked.

I went into Obsidian and began with a simple search: tag: #grace. That resulted in the following matches:

search results for an obsidian search for tag: #grace

This is a relatively short list of matches, because I am still in the process of migrating notes over from Evernote. Just by skimming this list, I could easily see her 4th grade report card, select the note, and sent it to Kelly.

Suppose, however, this was a much longer list. I could add to my search to narrow it down. For instance, I might search for tag: #grace 4th grade, which would result in:

search results for an obsidian search for tag: #grace 4th grade

In this example, my list is whittled down to two matches. The first is the note containing the 4th grade report card I was looking for; the second is a “Map of Content” note that aggregates all of my older daughter’s school records in a single notes, kind of like a table of contents, making it easy to find things.

What if Kelly had asked, hey, do you have all of Grace’s reports cards? In that case, my search might have been something like: tag: #grace report card, which gives me this:

search results for an obsidian search for tag: #grace report card

Finally, Kelly might have asked for any report cards we had for Grace from 2019. That search would have looked like: tag: #grace file:2019, which results in just a single match:

You get the idea. When I am searching for a note that answers a “who” question, I search for the who first because it is the most specific thing, and then narrow the search from there. In this way, when I need to find a note related to a who question, I can usually find it very quickly. Having templates that pre-load the tag-line makes it easy for me to remember these tags when I am creating the note.

Next week, in Episode 10 (already!), I’ll continue the searching these, and talk about how I answer the “what” questions for notes, often a combination of tags and title. See you back here soon!

Prev: Episode 8: Note Templates for Consistency
Next: Episode 10: Associating Notes with Document Types

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