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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Preparing for a Genealogical Trip
by Rhonda R. McClure

September 26, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Traveling genealogists have long had to weigh the lines they would work on when visiting a library where they had the potential of researching many. Deciding which lines to work on is sometimes hampered by not knowing what records might be available. The question for a traveling researcher to as himself is, "Do I try to bring everything or just pick a few lines and hope for the best?"

Getting Ready for the Trip

Being the pack rats we are, genealogists would like nothing better than to take every file in their ten file cabinets with them on the plane. I am hear to tell you that the airlines do not appreciate such an approach — something about needing to allow other passengers to bring their luggage as well.

The Internet affords a chance to prepare.

With the Internet and the many online library catalogs, I can prepare in advance and know which of my lines have the best chance of proving fruitful in the research department. I know of some researchers who prepare for a trip to the Family History Library by using the Family History Library Catalog entries to create a road map that they will stringently follow when they go to the library.

Many libraries these days offer an online library. In addition to the Family History Library, you will also find similar online library catalogs for the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana; the Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois; the New England Historic Genealogical Society's Library in Boston, Massachusetts; and the Daughters of the American Revolution Library in Washington, DC, just to name a few. Archives are also putting their catalogs online.

There are two different approaches to this. The first is to print out page after page of the entries in the format displayed by the catalog in question. The other way is to create a document in your word processing program, copying and pasting the pertinent details, including the source citation, the call number, and any special restrictions or directions for using the records. If you have a notebook computer, you don't even need to print this out. Simply create the document and have it on your notebook. This way you are not adding any additional weight to your luggage.

Of course you can also use the Internet to book your travel needs including airfare, car rentals and hotels. It has been years since I books these items in any other way and I have never been disappointed with this system. In some instances I have had more control over my hotel room through this method, selecting just the bed or amenities that I wanted.

Preparing for Library Research

Once you have gone through the online catalog, then sit down and evaluate your lines. Look at the ones you sincerely want to and are prepared to work on. Then look at the others and have a couple of back up options. While we would love for every research trip to be positive, there are times when our ancestors just refuse to cooperate. In such instances, it is nice to have a Plan B.

If you have a notebook computer, then you are not faced with the same problem. After all, you have your entire database with you and you can switch to any other line you want if you need to. If you don't have a notebook computer, you might want to consider it as an option the next time to are looking to upgrade your computer. If you get a notebook with a docking station or port replica, you have the best of both worlds as a normal keyboard and normal monitor can be hooked to these. Then, when you are ready to travel you simply detach the notebook and everything is there for you to use.

Another way to get ready for your trip is to check the weather, especially if you are planning to travel to any cemeteries. There is nothing more frustrating than planning your cemetery trip for Tuesday and the only day that the sun was shining was Monday. Knowing the weather forecast ahead of time will help you to better prepare for such an eventuality.

Finally, it doesn't hurt to visit the library's site and see if there are any special rules you need to be aware of. For instance, are you restricted to a pencil and paper or can you bring in whatever you want. Such restrictions will dramatically affect what you take and how you take it. Above I suggested leaving your research list on your notebook computer. If you are prevented from taking the notebook into the research room, then the research list will do you no good as you cannot access it. Instead you would need to remember to print it out before you head out for the airport, unless you will have access to printer at the hotel or wherever you are staying.

Packing for the Journey

Once you have done all your preparations you are ready to go. Remember that if you have a notebook computer and you are flying that you will be required to remove it for scanning as you go through the security check.

Make sure you have any necessary papers with you but keep in mind that your luggage has a weight limit and that airlines do not take kindly to your going over it. Also, I know many people who plan to take their important papers in their carryon luggage so that they don't get lost in transit (this is an especially good idea if you are going to have to make a connection somewhere). There is nothing worse than getting to your final destination only to discover that your papers and research didn't make it.

If you do not travel frequently, it is a good idea to make up a couple of different packing lists. The first is for your clothes and other personal necessities. The other has to do with the research aspect of your trip. Make sure you have the batteries for your camera and a couple of extra pens and pencils. It is a good idea to print directions from the airport to the hotel so that you don't have to rely on verbal directions you get from the car rental staff. Better to be prepared than frustrated.

Above all, roll with the punches. Remember that no trip goes off as perfectly as we have planned it. There are always unexpected things that pop up. However if you have done your homework, you will find that you the unexpected doesn't completely throw you off your game.

In Conclusion

I didn't mention doing the online research in the various databases that are available because it is safe to assume that most researchers are already doing that part. Remember that the Internet is a great tool, one that I rely on heavily, but don't limit your research to just that. Instead you should put it to work in many other areas as you plan my research trips.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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