With the weather warming up, many family historians are planning their research trips to libraries, conferences, or their ancestral homeland. It is very exciting to get out into the “field” and explore genealogy in a hands on way but it is also important to do a little preparation to make the trip efficient and fun. Below are some of my tips for taking a research trip:
Learn The Procedures
If you are traveling to a library to learn about any rules or procedures that are in place. What hours are they open? Does it cost to go in? How much are photocopies? Can you bring your laptop? Is there wireless internet? All of these things are important to consider and be aware of before you get there.
If you are going to a genealogy conference, you should familiarize yourself with the conference program. Begin studying a map of the conference hall or hotel where the classes and registration will be held. When and where will registration be? Any special requirements for classes? What types of restaurants and fast food places are nearby? Will there be wireless internet?
No matter where you are going, it is important to understand how you will get there. Book any flights, hotels, and rental cars early. Make sure you have a map and directions if you are driving.
What Will You Research?
It is very important to have a research plan so that you stay focused. Write down exactly what ancestors or family lines you will be focusing on. Check the library’s catalog so that you understand what books and other resources are available. Make a list of resources that you want to check while you are at the library and check those books once you are there. Make a list of questions that you want to ask.
If you are going to a conference, then make a list of classes or presentations that you want to attend. Create a shopping list of items to buy from the vendors since discounts are generally offered at conferences. Create a list of questions to ask vendors or presenters.
Pack Your Bags
When on a research trip, it is important to pack your bags with the right stuff. While what you bring will vary by where you are going and the purpose of your trip, I want to give you a list of what I love to bring:
- Digital Camera with extra memory card and battery
- Clothing to dress in layers
- Light nonperishable snacks like protein bars, granola, dried fruit, or trail mix
- Any medications that you must take plus something for allergies (if you are allergic to dust or pollen) and Advil or Tylenol (for headaches – staring at old handwriting can make your head hurt)
- Your family tree – I like to bring a flash drive with RootsMagic 4 on it so that I can easily access my tree from any computer without downloading the program to that computer.
- Pens, Paper, and Highlighters
Bring Your Family Tree
While on your trip, it is important to be able to access your own family tree. Some people prefer to do this by bringing copies pages of pedigree charts, family group sheets, and notes. Personally, I find all of this to be a bit on the bulky side and prefer to put my family tree on a small flash drive. But then you are reliant upon the computer that you are using having a family tree program on it. Unless…
As I stated before, I use RootsMagic 4 because of a very handy feature: I can run RootsMagic from the flash drive without having to download anything to the computer that I am using. I can easily use Aunt Mary’s or Cousin Sally’s computer without downloading it. I can also view my tree on a library computer. (Just to be clear, this isn’t the only reason I use RootsMagic 4, but it is about the coolest feature).
However you decide to take your family tree information with you, be sure that you do.
Sometimes before a research trip, it is helpful to make lots of lists to help you keep track of everything. I like to bring along some file folders (or a binder) that has all of my paperwork in it – Maps, directions, questions list, packing list, contact information, business cards, etc. That way, everything I need to find is in one central place.
I also like to bring Ziploc bags to store pens, pencils, small notebooks, or coins. This method keeps like items together and easier to find.
Talk To People
In my honest opinion, what makes a research trip truly amazing are the conversations that you have. While it is a little intimidating to start a conversation with a complete stranger or genealogy “celebrity”, it is important to do so. There is so much you can learn just by talking to people. I had so much fun last year at the Southern California Genealogy Society Jamboree mostly because of the people I met! I loved talking to the people sitting next to me, going to eat meals with them, and talking to the presenters and exhibit hall people. Truly, the wonderful people I met made the Jamboree a wonderful experience.
With a little preparation, your trip has more of a chance of running smoothly and efficiently. What genealogy research trips will you be taking this year?