Taking a trip to do genealogical research can be a rewarding experience
and is the highlight of many genealogists' vacations. Whether you travel
30 or 3,000 miles to do genealogical research, there are many things you
should do at home before you begin your journey. Planning for your genealogical
"vacation" should begin at least two months before the proposed trip.
While you may not be the only person involved in planning your trip,
you must decide if the main purpose of your trip is genealogical or non-genealogical.
This is in part dependent upon whether or not your traveling companions
are interested in doing genealogical research. Once that decision is made,
there are six important steps to take:
1. Know What You Want
Adequate preparation can make your trip more fruitful and prevent some
frustration and aggravation along the way. Deciding what family or person
to focus on is the first part of the planning process. There might be
specific facts you would like to prove or disprove. Do you want to learn
great-great-grandma YUSKIS' maiden name? Do you want to locate great-grandpa's
tombstone in Bedford County, Pennsylvania? Is it to research a certain
family in Bourbon County, Kentucky? Having a purpose in mind for your
research trip will help to keep you focused while on your trip and make
the planning easier. Just deciding to leave tomorrow to do genealogical
research 1,000 miles away might sound tempting, but planning can help
you to make more efficient use of your time and money.
2. Know What's Available
Once you have decided which areas you would like to visit, make certain
that you are generally familiar with record sources in that region. If
you are an Iowa native who has never done genealogical research east of
the Mississippi and plan on going to Virginia to do research, learn about
general Virginia sources before your trip. The LDS research guides are
available through the LDS Family History Library and provide excellent
background information for most geographic areas of research. It's not
possible to learn (or remember) everything, but a general idea of what
to expect will serve you well. The research guide should make the trip
In addition, check out the county or state GenWeb
page to learn more about sources for that specific location. Are there
any individuals who will do free lookups for records in the counties you
are planning to visit? Getting these lookups done in advance may save
time when you get to the actual record site. These sites might even provide
links to information about local record sources. It may also be beneficial
to check out city or county Web pages to assist in travel preparations.
If you are planning to visit any libraries, look and see if they have
a Web page. Do any of the libraries have their catalog available online?
Searching the catalog at home, before you leave, will provide you with
information about specific books, so you can spend more of your time in
the library actually looking at books. Check out the Library
of Congress Card Catalog to determine what books have been published
on the county or area you are planning to visit. You cannot get them on
loan from the Library of Congress, but you might learn of some titles
that might be at the county library you plan to visit. Write the libraries
that don't have online information to find out about their genealogical
collection and hours of operation.
3. What Do You Mean You're CLOSED?
While it would be nice, the world does not revolve around genealogists.
Contact the county courthouses, libraries, and other record repositories
you plan to visit to determine their office hours. Will they be closed
while you plan to be in town? Also determine if there are any local festivals
occurring during your expected stay. If you inadvertently arrive during
a local festival you may find all nearby motels full (and waste time looking
for a vacancy). Staying during a busy time is your own choice, but it
is a choice best made from the comfort of your own home before your trip
(and not during).
4. Practice Makes Perfect
Are you planning on taking photographs of tombstones or making tombstone
rubbings on your trip? If you are, and you have never taken a picture
of a tombstone or made a tombstone rubbing, practice on some local stones
before you leave. The time to learn is not at a cemetery 2,500 miles from
home, on the last day of your trip with a thunderstorm quickly approaching.
5. Do I Have it at Home?
Double-check sources where you live. Does your local library have any
statewide indexes or published records for the area to which you are traveling?
Searching these indexes before you leave may provide microfilm roll numbers
or book page numbers which will cut down on research time on your trip.
It may be your local library has a book or two that may be useful in your
research. You don't want to travel 2,500 miles to look at something your
local library has. If the LDS church has microfilmed records from the
area, you may wish to view some indexes to local records on microfilm
at your local Family History Library before your trip, making note of
book and page numbers.
Are there any regional archives or special collections that you should
visit? Frequently genealogists focus on the courthouse, local library,
and cemetery, and ignore other possible sources. There are states that
have regional archives or regional libraries that may contain records
useful to your search. Perhaps a nearby university library has a collection
that may be of use to you in your research.
Take your charts with you, but leave your original documents behind.
No one will probably steal them, but forgetting them somewhere is a definite
possibility. Fill out the family group charts, pedigree charts, and research
logs as completely as you can. Traveling a distance to check a source
you have already checked is a waste of time.
Make certain you have all your genealogical and office supplies you need.
There are record repositories that do not allow pens to be utilized in
the facility, have plenty of pencils. Either bring a sharpener or use
an everpoint pencil (making certain that you have plenty of lead). Have
a sufficient number blank charts and forms for use during your trip. Family
group charts, pedigree charts, research logs, and abstract and extract
forms may prove useful. Unless you are traveling to a major genealogical
center, forms may not be easily purchased. Laptop computer users should
even have some of these forms handy in case of machine failure.
6. How Do I Get There?
Mapping out your trip is an important part of the research process. There
are sites on the Internet that will calculate driving distances and directions
for your trip, such as Mapquest.
You may wish to print out detailed maps of the areas in which you will
be staying and doing research.
My great-grandmother was born near Gothenburg, Nebraska in
1882. I would like to visit the local library and other places that might
have information on her and her parents. Going to Mapquest, I request
driving directions between my residence of Galesburg, Illinois, and Gothenburg.
I learn that Gothenburg is just off Interstate 80 and is an estimated
605 miles from my home.
To learn more about Gothenburg and Dawson County, I check out Yahoo!.
I find a site for the city
of Gothenburg. A casual surfing of this site indicates when local
festivals are and that the city even has a sod house museum. I next
checked into the site for Dawson County on the USGenWeb and located
information on the County Historical Museum (with hours) and a link
to the county seat (Lexington). The site for the county seat included
information about local government, including the address for the courthouse
and phone numbers of the county offices located in the courthouse.
I suspected that my ancestors attended a local Lutheran Church and
a search on Bigbook, provided
the names and addresses of many churches in Gothenburg, including one
that was Lutheran. They don't have an email address, but I could write
them and inquire about their records.
Traveling to visit an area where your ancestors lived can be a rewarding
experience. Seeing the homestead where my great-grandmother was born in
Nebraska really added something to my research. Planning for your trip is
an integral part of the process. It is one thing to have to take a detour
because of road construction. It is entirely another to have to cross a
library off your research list because they were closed for remodeling.
Good luck and good hunting.