Know Before You Go
By Kimberly Brown, Family Historian
Are you planning a research trip? Are you traveling across the state, across the country, or even across the Atlantic Ocean to conduct genealogical research? If so, you can make the best use of your research time by making a few simple preparations before you go.
There is no reason to spend your precious on-site research time searching records like census records or death certificates that you can access at home. Conduct all that research before you go. If you will be traveling to an archive or library to research, use their online catalog to see exactly what records they have available. You should also verify the addresses and hours of the archive or county courthouse so that you can plan your schedule accordingly. Then make a detailed list of who you are looking for, in what records you will search for them, and what date range you will search. For example, if you know that your great-grandparents married in 1910 in Orange County, Indiana, you may write as your list item: "Search for the birth of great-grandmother Mary Jane Wilson in Orange County birth register from 1880 to 1895.
You should also prepare pedigree charts and family group records before you go. Even if you bring your laptop, you should still print out copies of these documents. That way, if the library or archive doesn't have a place for you to plug in your laptop, you will still have all your charts at a glance. Back up all your data before you go and make a second copy of everything, either on a second flash drive, an external hard drive, or on CD or DVD. That way, if you lose your flash drive or your computer crashes you can still make use of your research time because you'll have your information saved to a second location. Take small bills with you so that you can quickly and easily make photocopies of documents (some archives don't allow you to take digital photographs or scan digital images, so photocopies are your only option).
If you're going to be in the area where your ancestors lived, you don't want to be stuck in the archive the whole time. If possible, go see the house where your ancestors lived or the church they attended; soak in the ambience of the places they frequented. Check plat maps or interview older relatives before you go to find out where, precisely, your ancestors lived. One of my most rewarding genealogical experiences was driving four hours into the middle of the sagebrush desert in Southern Utah to see the homestead where my great-grandfather lived as a boy. On research trips, you should always take a camera with you, as well as extra batteries or your camera charger, so that you can take photos of headstones, houses, or even records. Doing on-site research is a unique and rewarding experience, and you may not return to the location for a long time, if ever. Make the most of it.